Messages in a Bottle #12: Six Degrees of Kevin Broken

CW: descriptions of systemic abuse, abuse statistics, speaking out about past abuses

This Message in a Bottle was literally previously a published blog post in March. But, the original version of the post was first password-protected, because, at the time, I worried that putting it out there simultaneously would somehow undermine the credibility of what I was attempting to accomplish in the non-blog world.

Now, a couple of months have gone by. We’ve received our reply, and our story, for whatever it is worth, is in the hands of one of those task forces charged with “getting to the bottom of things” in hopes that the failures of the 9th Circle of Hell will at least teach the East Coast how to clean up their own act for vulnerable populations. Will it accomplish anything? I don’t know. I’m justifiably jaded, and I know that systemic abuse within and by state-funded agencies across the nation has no easy solution. But, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. So, in theory, taking action anywhere is metaphorically striking a blow against the 9th Circle of Hell, as well? Or something like that? I don’t know. But, my Partner and I tried offering our experiences as an example of what never, ever should happen to those in care facilities in any state anywhere in the U.S. – or across the globe. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Individuals with disabilities experience sexual assault and other abuse at rates at least seven times higher than the general population – making them the most at-risk population – even before rates of assault in institutions and other state-funded agencies are factored in. As this NPR article states, accurate statistics can’t even begin to be reported for such places. I know this first hand – because I’ve tried to get them – so I concur that the true rate of abuse and neglect are, in reality, almost certainly even higher than what is reported.

I also know that PTSD is an incredibly common response to traumatic experiences such as abuse and neglect. PTSD is a common mental health challenge across demographics, and individuals with disabilities aren’t somehow immune to it as they experience these unconscionably high rates of abuse and neglect. PTSD is a response to trauma, and individuals with disabilities experience a disproportionate amount of trauma. It is no surprise that many disabled individuals develop trauma triggers and PTSD as a result.

It is unconscionable that there isn’t more awareness that a more frequently traumatized population will also be more likely to require sensitive, trauma-informed mental health care from caregivers and agencies. It is even more unconscionable that – rather than getting such care – that those same trauma responses that Mental Health and Trauma Awareness campaigns try to normalize within the wider population are still dismissed in individuals with disabilities as unexplainable, meaningless “bad behaviors.” Then, these “bad behaviors” are not only misattributed but are commonly used by agencies as an excuse to evict clients who have already been through plenty (quite possibly at the hands of the agency trying to use their trauma responses to evict them in the first place!) 

For Mental Health Awareness Month this year, I want to remind people that the toll taken on my own and my Partner’s mental health by the evil actions of the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 were also extracted on my sibling. I may have to be the one to tell the story because the system isn’t really set up to give my sibling a voice, but I want to be clear to people that just because I am the one writing the story, that does not imply that I was the only one scarred by the events of 2018. I’m just the one with the most current capacity to shove it in the system’s face in an attempt to create change.

The post below was written as I worked through my own trauma responses in an attempt to use our experiences in 2018 to shove such awareness into the faces of some of the members of the “system” on the East Coast. I write most frequently about Hell itself, but I am well aware of the East Coast’s failings in the same areas that have recently come to light in a 2019 report on my current state’s “behavioral health” system. I don’t know if my story of being spurned by the East Coast while desperately seeking a way out of the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 will ever help reform either state’s system, but, well, I keep banging my head against the wall.  The East Coast asked for personal narratives of systemic failures.  I’m perfectly fine with both relaying the literal Hell we went through last year and how if any of their state services – which I guess were busy continuing to fail in the ways outlined in that recent unpleasant report of their own – had gotten off their behinds when I requested emergency placement, we might have been spared several iterations of last year’s Crisis. I also blame the East Coast for failing to be the resolution to the Crisis the 9th Circle of Hell created.

Shockingly, the One-Horse Townhouse remains a genuinely decent-seeming place. I’m as jaded as they come, and I am forever waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, at the moment, they seem like a rare exception to the literal nation-wide travesty of care. I won’t claim anything other than blind luck led us to them. I mean, in the 9th Circle of Hell (as in too many other states) there is no way to look up whether and how many prior abuse cases a provider has had. So, clients literally have nothing but blind luck to go on when attempting to keep themselves or their family members safe from those sky-high abuse rates I described above.

Maybe sharing the trauma echoes I had to work through in March in an attempt to create broader awareness of the trauma and mental health needs of disabled individuals across state systems will somehow up these odds for families. Or, at the very least, maybe it will at least raise “awareness” during Mental Health Month of the need for trauma-informed mental health care for one of the most marginalized demographics this May as long as high abuse rates remain their norm. 

March 10, 2019

Hi, those few of you who consented to the effort it took to read this password-protected post. I could use some friendly encouragement from you all.

I assume you interpreted my reference to Degree of Separations in my sister post the way I assumed you would – as a reference only to how similar the circumstances of the story were to my own. In that one instance, though, that second thing I read that I didn’t name can also be interpreted literally. The Degree of Kevin Broken between that second story and me, Lavender, is definitely one. The Degree of Kevin Broken between me and that other story is also, at least possibly, one. Let me explain.

Years ago, a younger Lavender had a horrible meeting with an official who shall henceforth be termed Dolores Umbridge because that is literally what Lavender nicknamed her in her meeting notes on that day. Nothing came of that meeting, and Dolores Umbridge was a major reason why nothing came of it. Later, Dolores Umbridge went to work in the administration of another facility, henceforth termed Statistical Anomaly. Lavender wanted nothing to do with Statistical Anomaly, as the very fact that Dolores Umbridge did want something to do with it told her all she figured she would ever need to know about that place.

The world continued to move on, for better and for worse. Other horrible things continued to happen in other horrible places, including many in the 9th Circle of Hell itself. 2018 came and went.

Then, in 2019 Lavender read two articles in close succession that, each in their own way, managed to get through her mental armor. The first was a report that her current state was in a sorry state. The second was a tiny line item that a horrible thing had happened at Statistical Anomaly that couldn’t quite be covered up, even from the depths of Hell. It wasn’t the first such innocuous little line item Lavender had ever read. It wasn’t even the first sorry report of a sorry state that she had ever read. (Though, she has never yet read a report about the sorry state of the 9th Circle of Hell because they aren’t required to write them!) The two together were a bit too much, and Lavender responded by angrily sharing something about her own story in a slightly different arena than she normally does. This was not the first time she had shared her story, but it was the first time she wasn’t immediately dismissed.

On an otherwise innocuous day, Lavender received a reply from someone who claimed to be interested in “getting to the bottom of things” somewhere else and recognized that tiny line item about Statistical Anomaly as a potential cautionary tale of a potential future CYA situation for their situation. This forward-thinking CYAdept suggested that Lavender write about why she thought there were so many tiny line items speaking to so many horrible things in so many Statistical Anomalies across the country. Lavender was genuinely surprised that anyone bothered to even ask her this – likely CYA or not – as that hadn’t exactly been the response she was used to getting to her story. So, Lavender immediately donned her “I can handle anything” mask and replied, “of course, just tell me what you need me to do.” Lavender pretended that writing about horrible things was something that would be easy to do, not something that would be terrifying to her very core. She pretended, because how could she do otherwise? Be the light, she told herself, and all that.

Of course, Lavender knows realistically that even something that feels huge and almost impossible to her – writing her story not just as Lavender but under her real name – is not that huge a deal at all in the grand scheme of things. She knows that what she writes will most likely ultimately become just a few thousand words hidden amidst many, many thousands of more words. She knows, realistically, that writing feels like a mountain to her, but is just a molehill compared to the scope of the problem. She knows, realistically, that much grander and more official things have been written in more official places to “get to the bottom of things” than what she is writing. What could her words matter against all the weight of all those words that still have failed to move the world? By the standards of so many other places, one CYAdept asking if she’d write about one tiny little statistical anomaly – or all of Hell – is nothing, really.

But, it’s never really “nothing” when it involves speaking of the 9th Circle of Hell, is it? It’s never really “nothing” to share “Lavender’s” story publicly for any audience that is dealing with any horrible things anywhere, is it? And, it always feels more like sharing horrible things is somehow more like confessing to crimes than witnessing them, doesn’t it? Even though that makes no sense at all when the criminals are the only ones that should have anything to fear, and they are the ones nestled comfortably in the 9th Circle of Hell feeling – even with Lavender around – that there is nothing at all for them to fear?

It’s never really “nothing” because there’s always that bully voice that castigates Lavender for not having found a way to speak up before that mattered – but that simultaneously fears that if she ever does speak up and gets taken seriously that it will only cause more harm than good. There is always that feeling that the weight of the world rests on her – not as an inspiration, but as an idiot who will try to speak the truth and end up tripping over her words – such that in the end, she will somehow make people less likely to believe the truth. There is always that fear that any attempt to use her story for advocacy under her real name will mean having to write the perfect piece at the perfect time or it will all somehow get worse. There is always that old fear that what if the other bad experiences of her life – that can’t be 100% laid at the feet of the system as per a Statistical Anomaly – somehow get tangled up in her testimony and trainwreck it. (Though wasn’t that her whole justification for staying quiet about her past before?…) There is always that fear that Lavender herself is so fundamentally flawed that she would be better off just giving up and dissociating into sleep instead of writing anything at all because how could she possibly ever write anything good enough when she’s not good enough?

What if she writes of the 9th Circle of Hell as a cautionary tale to try to make things better – points out a Statistical Anomaly and truly shares why its existence in 2019 feels like such a personal failure – and she only manages to make another place somehow more like Hell than less? What if she shares what is supposed to be a cautionary tale, and she bungles it so badly that it would have been better if she’d just stayed silent? What if she makes a mistake in relaying the order of her own life events or the tiny details of her story – because trauma memories are funny things even when true – and those details somehow derail everything and discredit her? What if she makes some yet-to-be-anticipated mistake that somehow discredits the entire nascent movement along with her, even as she tells her truth?

What if she fails to relay her truth with enough “truthiness” to be a light at all, and she somehow creates more darkness? What if somehow the fact that she is still so traumatized by the 9th Circle of Hell that she connects two separate stories from two separate places through her own deep-seated feelings of failure dooms her to failure? What if she still hears Dolores Umbridge in her head on that years-ago day, speaking on record of the things Dolores believes to be wrong with her, personally, as she writes?

What if she knows these fears are irrational? What if all her years of knowledge of the way the “system” works tells her that the most likely outcome of any witnessing she will ever do will always be most likely to remain a footnote? What if she knows that the very fact that it is so very hard to “get to the bottom of things” means that any one story isn’t really any more likely to lead to a different outcome in 2019 than it ever did in 2018 or in the further Hell of the past?  So why should she fear, if the default outcome is still what it has always been (obscurity?)

What if she must try anyway? What if she has all these thoughts and goes, “and if I don’t try, then how am I better than Dolores Umbridge?”

That, privileged readers with the password, is when she asks for your help. Those of you reading this – who cared enough to have asked for the password and are known enough to have received it – can you offer me a little encouragement? Can you tell me I am strong enough to write about things that I don’t know how to write about? Can you tell me that it isn’t my fault if I write about these things and they don’t change anything in 2019 any more than they have ever changed anything before? Can you remind me that it’s enough to speak, even when your voice shakes?

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.


4 thoughts on “Messages in a Bottle #12: Six Degrees of Kevin Broken

  1. Lavender,
    I hope to come back and thoroughly read the links and this post again as I just didn’t have the time today to digest it properly.
    I wanted to at least encourage you somehow, if only by saying that I relate to a lot of what you said here, as always is the case when I read your blog.
    I am growing ever more aware, and alarmed, at the rates of abuse to the disabled. It is not OK. It is evil that this is happening. Kudos to you for shedding light on this! You have my support!
    From what I have learned about people ignoring sexual and other egregious abuses, there seems to be a ‘mechanism’ in our brains that actually predisposes the average human to DISBELIEVE such stories. I think those of us who know someone, or lived it ourselves, are far more likely to believe. But speaking in averages–I don’t think that’s the case, I think its the opposite. Therefore, some of the trepidation and concerns you, and I, and others, feel in regard to sharing such stories of our own abuses–is VALID. We can expect that many folks will choose to not believe it, for whatever reason–and perhaps in part because our human brains, to protect our own brains, will ‘choose denial’ (dismissing it, disbelieving it). Knowing this reality certainly doesn’t make it any easier to share our stories. However, I think it is good to be sober minded, rather than too optimistic and unrealistic before we go forward on any matter. Expect some blowback, expect to be disbelieved and it isn’t as hard.
    For me, the following words have been a life line for the past five years of owning my story, as I very nervously navigated who to tell what to, how to tell it, when to not say anything, etc. “So do not be afraid of them. For there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 10:26)
    Truth is truth. It comes to the surface eventually. This verse is not necessarily commanding US to tell the truth. It is simply encouraging us to not be afraid, the truth is going to be known one way or another. Sometimes that is through our own words. Sometimes not. It all depends. My thought is we survivors all first need to take care of ourselves and when we have the energy for it, go ahead and lob some arrows of truth at the evil that victimized us and others. I think you were wise to conserve your energy and approach this ‘battle’ as you have. Hugs❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand what you mean on the “some mechanism that predisposes people not to believe.” That’s a really good way of describing it, and your reminder that it’s okay and actually important for our own safety and mental health to be cautious and go at the pace we can handle from ourselves – and the less-than-perfect response of others – when we share is any incredibly important and needed validation for all survivors. Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

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