Content Warning: I began my Reality Journal on March 7th, 2018. Astute readers might realize that, if we are almost to the one-year anniversary of the creation of that journal, we have already passed the one-year anniversary of its inspiring event. I can somehow concurrently not remember enough details of that night because of dissociation and have vivid emotional flashbacks and nightmares about what could have happened. I’ve tried to process that night in therapy recently, and I’m revealing more details by default in this post. Those details are dark, but they are in the past. Though I write about something horrible, know at least that it is not something horrible from my present. With the 9th Circle of Hell, I know I must be very clear about time or it could be confusing. Be safe when choosing to read this post. If you are not in a good mental place to read about the abuse of the vulnerable in 2018, please don’t. If you do read, please read to the end. The emotions in this post are not directed where they might seem from a cursory glance. Given that this post addresses the Disability Day of Mourning, please also be respectful that, though the worst possible outcome of that night in 2018 did not happen for my family, it did happen for others. My nightmares are others’ realities. The Disability Day of Mourning honors those realities.
CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, descriptions of child abuse, discussions of death and systemic abuse, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.
I’ve said before that I’m open to being challenged on even very sensitive topics on this blog, as long as basic trust and safety is maintained. One blogger I really respect, Mishka of Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting, challenged me with her comments on my last blog post exactly because she never doubted me when I said that, in the 9th Circle of Hell, a profoundly disabled minor child in the foster system would probably have died without a protector. If that same disabled adult nearly died from systemic abuse as an adult even with multiple guardians attempting to protect him, what hope would the same child split up from his sibling have had?
And, since that is true, what choice really did any “family” member have but to stay silent about my own abuse – the same way I did – to protect him? I was struggling with that question in the post itself, and, knowing more now about Mishka’s history, I can see why she was struggling. The stereotype of the “abused child” is that they become the abuser. But, really, that is quite rare. The vast majority of us only abuse ourselves. And, well, was that adult who warped my reality by not only staying silent really not also destroying herself? How do you “choose” between one child’s possible death and the warping of another child’s soul, sense of self and continuity of memory through denying what is true until they have to fragment their reality into a dissociative disorder to survive it without tearing off pieces of your already tattered soul too?
I struggled with that question when I wrote the post. I struggled again when I thought how to answer Mishka. I – who has written on her own Glossary of Terms that ADHD’s one upside is that it enables me to think so far outside the box that I “don’t know where the box is” – couldn’t think outside of “pick one abusive situation or another.”
Trauma keeps us in a box of our abusers’ making. We are ever so good at convincing ourselves that we are both all-powerful and powerless at the same time. We are so powerful that somehow if we’d just said the right thing, done the right thing, recognized the tells, and played the game, we could have prevented what happened to us. We are so expert at controlling others that if we fail to keep them from abusing us, we believe at heart that we are to blame. Yet, we are simultaneously so powerless that when an abusive system sets up two abusive choices, we are too powerless within our abusers’ reality to ever question the foundations upon which it was built.
My Partner, who has no ACES, has no such coercively imposed limitations, and no such moral doubt as to whether my “family” member should ever be excused. My Partner called my life the ‘Murican Red State version of the good-old philosophical “Trolley Problem.” If an out-of-control trolley is going to run over five people if it stays on the track it is on, but you could flip a switch and have it only run over one person, would you? Most people would say yes, but the vast majority of people never even consider any of the other options. Most people never think outside the box to realize that staying within two fundamentally abusive choices is victimizing to the switch-thrower as much as it is to the six people on the tracks and that perhaps the only solution is to break the rules themselves. A person could throw themselves in front of the trolley. They could daringly leap aboard the train and try to speed it up to the point where it derailed when it hit the track switch at a dizzying rate of speed. (I live in the Northeast. More than one Amtrak train has derailed by taking a track change at too high a speed. It could work!)
CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, the aftermath of systemic abuse in the present day, family secrets, intergenerational trauma, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.
I’ve run away from this topic for a good three posts now, but I guess it’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shit show. It’s time to give an update on life in the 9th Circle of Hell. One might assume I’ve been running away from the topic because it involves more of the same present-day Hell, but I’ve honestly gotten pretty damn used to calling out abusive group homes on this blog. I’d feel no compunction against describing the latest in the series if needed.
The complication here isn’t about what’s happening in the present. It’s the fact that the moment the present vaguely stabilizes, there’s always, always ways the past can still betray me in the 9th Circle of Hell. It is the land of betrayal, after all. Writing about the past abuse that happened to me – or anything that relates to it – is always so much harder than writing about the systemic abuse I substantiated in this very year 2018. A “family” legacy of secrets and lies is so very hard to shake…
You know what they say: if you’re stuck in
bowl hole, don’t keep pigging digging.
I grabbed a few spoons – and I don’t mean of the good kind – and dug in this week. That’s the nature of executive dysfunction coupled with a tendency to dissociate.
I am not the best at self-care in general, and I am generally worse at it when I’m alone or dissociated. My Partner has left me in the awkward position of being alone in our apartment on the East Coast (well, alone except for our kitty*) twice this year.
The first time he didn’t leave because of an active crisis, and I was generally aware and present the entire time he was gone. Or, at least I was as aware and present as anyone with ADHD ever is. I have now entered into my second year living on the East Coast, but I haven’t quite gotten used to having to keep food on hand for Nor’easters in March. By the time my ADHD brain worked out we were having one the last time I was alone – which was, basically, as the snow was starting to fall – our grocery delivery service had already stopped deliveries. I had to resort to stock ups for the next three days from what I could find at the CVS on the way home from work.
Remember how I said that despite all my efforts, the first abusive group home my sibling was in never actually closed? Because, well, in the 9th Circle of Hell: 1) There’s a chronic shortage of providers (because the state itself effed its own finances and healthcare so thoroughly that no provider can afford to provide decent care, so only the lousy ones seem to stay in the business, but *shh* we don’t mention that part…) and 2) The state regulatory agencies have their noses so far up the providers’ @$$3s that they help sweep abuse under the rug to keep their favorites open? Slaps on the wrist are usually the most one can ever expect.
Well, the second abusive group home – the reason I had to take not-FMLA this summer and basically had a breakdown that broke the last latch on the vault that all my trauma memories were stored in – was closed. I found that out today. No one cares about the abuse itself in the 9th Circle of Hell, but screw with financials in a state that cannibalized its own treasury and sometimes things happen, I guess? Money is all that matters, not compassion or decency.
I think I claimed at one point that I would consider it a victory if ever anything I testified to or reported or uncovered ever managed to help to force even one of the most abusive group homes in the 9th Circle of Hell to close down. I assume I can claim some credit for this place closing. And, it certainly deserved to be closed for its practices.
I just probably should have been more specific about my victory conditions. It should feel like a major victory whenever a horrible place closes, especially in a place like the 9th Circle of Hell, where they virtually never do. It should feel like maybe I did something good in the world. Because, trust me, that place really needed to close! I will reiterate that again just in case a summer’s worth of despondent blog posts hasn’t made that clear enough before. That place needed to close.
It doesn’t quite feel like a victory since I mentioned before that there are basically no placements left anywhere that will accept clients with trauma histories, and now all the rest of the clients previously served by that horrible home will also have to find emergency places. Their substantiated histories of trauma, however, won’t make that easy for them. It doesn’t quite feel like a victory when exposing what’s wrong in the system only leads to the same catch-22 that my family is currently caught in for the rest of that place’s victims. It doesn’t quite feel like a victory when my own sibling was still able to be summarily evicted from the Bedbug Motel because its emergency management didn’t feel like dealing with someone with a trauma history and probably engineered their own loophole conditions to be able to kick him out legally as a result.
It just doesn’t quite feel like a victory since even that place’s closure didn’t actually end the crisis…
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.
“The Bright Side”
“The Bright Side Who?”
“The Bright Side Who Doesn’t Actually Exist”
“Oh. Then I guess this is just another dissociative conversation with the bully-in-my-brain, then?”
“You catch on not quickly at all, don’t you? Also, your joke sucks.”
I’m fairly sure the first rule of building a blog audience is “own your domain name so you can engage in SEO and promote yourself across social media.” I failed that rule the moment I set up my account because I was too afraid to pay for an anonymous blog with a non-anonymous credit card. I also do not have the spoons to maintain more than one social media site, period.
I maintain a free site even though my lack of spoons has gradually led me to dial back on the other paranoid hoops I used to jump through to maintain anonymity. Part of my expression of a PTSD sense of foreshortened future is a fear that, if I did dare to make that all-of-$36-dollar annual investment in a domain name, I’d immediately go broke. I would be inviting the wrong kind of irony magnet. Then, my audience accustomed to something simple like “lavenderandlevity.com” would all abandon me as soon as continuing to follow me required the modicum of effort to bookmark “lavenderandlevity.wordpress.com” again. If you follow me while I use the free version, I suppose you’ll probably follow me on a paid version. But, would those who would only follow a paid version ever bother to reverse course? Do I really even want followers for whom I have to write witty, engaging content all the time? C-PTSD says just stick with free: I’ll never have to fear inevitable future rejection from potential future financial disaster. C-PTSD is dark.
Which sucks because…
First, I want to say thank you to everyone who talked me through the past two days. I made it out of that Sheraton break room eventually, and I did manage to give my presentation the next day. I know some people asked what I was presenting on, but in the world of research – startup, policy, or academia – your research is probably the most tell-tale marker of your identity. If I told you about my presentation, I’d be telling you who I was, who my bully-of-a-boss was, and – by extension – who my sibling and all the various systemic abusers in the 9th Circle of Hell were all in one easy Google search. I’m sorry, that doesn’t feel safe. Hopefully, the grad students and professional researchers among you understand.
The bedbug place lost its license, albeit not for the reasons I originally expected. I still don’t know the reason. They also appear to have chosen not to undergo the appeals process they – as providers – are entitled to in the 9th Circle of Hell. (The 9th Circle of Hell, of course, has no corresponding client appeals process or any independent way to determine the outcomes of license inspections. Yes, this is technically a violation of federal law, for those few of you in the know who are wondering, but it has been ignored by the feds for at least two years.) They packed up, fired their employees, and for hours it seemed like they were prepared to dump several facilities worth of patients on the street.
*In the 9th Circle of Hell, bed bugs warrant a CW. Respect your mental health when reading.*
I have a standard caveat on my blog that I will change minor details or abstract timelines for the sake of maintaining anonymity. Despite that claim – sensible though it probably would be to actually do that – to my knowledge, I have only actually changed two tiny details about my life for my blog. Both have been about the specifics of what my workplace produces and to whom it markets it, which are probably sensible precautions given my bully-of-a-boss’s penchant for firing people. The 9th Circle of Hell seems to think themselves so far above the law I probably could call out the abusers by name and they’d just laugh that they were still invincible, but my boss might just be the kind to fire a person on suspicion alone because he thinks a random anonymous blog with less than 1,000 followers could possibly be about him.
I’ve not changed any details about the 9th Circle of Hell. All the crap I’ve written about it – past and present – is true. It really is that bad. In fact, if anything, what I’ve written to date on my blog remains only a sanitized version that leaves off a lot of the nitty-gritty everyday horrible things I’ve experienced dealing with that state in favor of sharing the biggest atrocities. I’ll stay anonymous forever for my own and others’ veil of pretended protection, but it turns out I can’t actually alter details of my life when talking about the 9th Circle of Hell. I can’t even always be as vague as my PTSD hypervigilance thinks would be prudent. My PTSD brain simultaneously wants to protect itself by maintaining a veil of “generic everyman-ness” to my story, yet also keeps demanding I share details that are very specific to my story. It can no longer contain all of the things that have happened within and because of that state without the refuse overflowing, and my blog seems the safest place to dump the trauma wastewater.
Update: I also posted this in the comments, but then I remembered that smarter folks than I often skip the comments. The author of the original blog post that inspired this one contacted me. She has taken it down and apologized. She also seemed like she was still beating herself up over it even after I accepted that apology, so I want to state openly that she doesn’t need to. In talking to her, I’m reminded again that being non-neurotypical so often means communicating is terrifying and awkward and hard. It definitely still is for me, especially in person. We all make mistakes. We all struggle with what we mean to say not ending up being what we actually say. Character is in how we respond to our mistakes, and she showed she had character by caring when her post so severely triggered me. If (when – I have ADHD after all!) I ever upset someone with my writing, I hope my readers will tell me so I can have the chance to apologize, too.
That is something that none of the other déjà voodoo writers I have ever contacted about internal stigma – including Dysautonomia International, who puts that kind of stuff on main public pages – have ever done. I think it was very brave of her. I’m leaving this post up because I’ve seen a lot more than just one déjà voodoo post out there, and, to date, only one person has said: “I’m sorry.” There are a lot of folks who still need to see this post.
But, the author of the post that originally inspired this one is no longer counted as one of those people in my book. I genuinely wish her the best in her blogging tenure, and I hope others will too. Being non-neurotypical is rough. We both know it. It’s important to call out internal stigma, but it’s equally important that we forgive mistakes within a community of people for whom just communicating at all is often fraught with fear and memories of years of failed attempts. Point out mistakes, then welcome their makers back into the community with open arms immediately as soon as they make a genuine attempt to correct them. If we continue ostracizing our own internally long after they have apologized, then we risk becoming abusers in yet another way. We risk becoming those emotional abusers who keep torturing people for their “mistakes” years later without ever giving them a way to move on. I’ve also been on the receiving end of that type of abuse, and I don’t wish it on anyone who cares enough reach out to me.
Do you ever experience blog post déjà voodoo? You know, where you’d think you’ve written about a topic so many times by now that you could cease having to keep writing about it? Where you’d think you could finally put a pin in it? Yet, somehow, the thing that upsets you so much just keeps creeping up, zombie-like, such that you can’t let it rest?
I owe my subconscious an apology. I mocked it a few days ago for being so far up on its soapbox that it wrote an entire novel in my dreams about the need for internal unity among those of us with chronic physical, mental or developmental disabilities. I laughed because I’d written multiple blog posts on the topic already, and shouldn’t that be enough?
I should have understood that my chronically traumatized brain is so obsessed with the topic because it knows firsthand from too many years of experience what my heart doesn’t quite know how to accept: people don’t change. People will always seek to protect themselves first by selling others out. Or, at least most will. So, I’ll probably be writing about why that doesn’t work and desperately trying to appeal to the better angels of the blogger community for the rest of my blogging days.
I read another déjà voodoo blog post just now. This time it wasn’t dysautonomia vs. anxiety or PTSD vs. “true” mental illness. In this one, the author felt that the only way to express how life-altering it is to have ASD was to compare it to how life-altering it isn’t to have ADHD. The only way to gain acceptance for one type of neurodiversity was at the expense of another. The author stated their opinion that ADHD – while technically a form of neurodiversity – barely qualified for the category because it was simply an “accessory” diagnosis that could be “practically nullified” by treatment. (Yes, those were their chosen words.)