The Trolley Persecutor

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!)

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And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Secrets…

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…

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Uh Oh, Spaghetti-Ohs!

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.

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Messages in a Bottle #8: The Right to Say “I’m Sorry”

animals_misunderstood
Image: Lyrics from The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Full song playable on Youtube here.

On three separate occasions recently, I have found myself writing about apologies. I wrote about how my Partner always apologizes for hurting me in an argument – even when we have both said hurtful things – because he knows that wasn’t something I ever heard growing up. Then I wrote in another post how abusers never truly apologize. (Saying “I’m sorry you took it that way” doesn’t count!) Never receiving a true apology – even when I begged for anyone to understand just how badly I was hurting – is part of my personal abuse history. Heck, it’s part of my abuse present. I haven’t yet met an official from the 9th Circle of Hell who gives a damn about the hurt that has been done to my sibling and to those of us who have to deal with the guilt of not having been able to stop it. I’ve only met abusers, bullies, and officials who wanted to sweep the issue under the rug as quickly as possible.

But, there’s another side to talking about apologies that I haven’t written about until now. I haven’t written about how I was never allowed to truly apologize. I made mistakes as a kid – of course, I was a lonely, neurodiverse, traumatized kid – and I learned early on to respond to others using all my weak spots against me by trying to do the same to them before they could hurt me first. If someone had shown they’d go for my jugular, I tried to go for theirs first. (Spoiler alert: it’s actually virtually impossible to truly hurt those who are willing to do that to you, so it never did much good.) I’ve also said stupid, impulsive things just because I have ADHD, I’m hyperactive, and rejection sensitivity hurts like Hell. I’ve responded to my Partner like he was part of my past because arguing itself made me forget my present.

My current therapist would say that I didn’t really need to blame myself for the hurtful things I said to people who had a history of saying hurtful things to me, especially when there were rather large age differences and power dynamic differences. But, when I truly decided I did not want to recapitulate my own family dynamics in another generation, it felt like I had to at least try to reach out my hands. It felt like maybe the first one to show vulnerability could make the change. We were a family broken by The System, and, thus, maybe – since we hurt each other because outsiders had hurt us first – we could find our way to healing once we understood trauma dynamics.

Another spoiler alert: showing vulnerability just made going for my jugular easier. It just opened me up to another long list of all the ways I’d screwed up over the years – dating back to age 6 at least – and how all of my failings justified anything that “might” ever have happened to me. Maybe vulnerability might have worked with one family member who is no longer with us (or maybe not) – I’ll never know – but it didn’t work with one with whom I tried it.

I’ve never received a genuine apology while growing up, but I also was never given the chance to offer one, either. I wrote in a previous post about how I was upset and triggered by some things another blogger wrote about ADHD. It hit me in a lot of the “it’s okay to hurt you because you should be normal but aren’t and it’s your choice” abuse buttons. That blogger apologized. She broke the cycle. She saw that I was upset, and she cared enough to write. That really was enough for me.

I also know the legacy of my past is that – even if I try to no longer allow others to hold past mistakes for which I’ve attempted to make amends over me – I’ll hold mistakes over myself forever anyway.

I’ve written a lot about fighting internal stigma within the chronic physical, mental, or developmental illness communities, but I initially forgot to include the most important caveat when we do so:

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. 

That’s ironic, given that the very earliest journal entry I ever wrote was about the right to be forgiven. It’s likely naive and dangerous to forgive those who hurt us intentionally – they’ll take it as permission to keep doing it – but it’s cruel not to forgive those who hurt us unintentionally. It risks making us into the voice of the bully-in-someone-else’s brain. I wrote in my earliest journal entry how I didn’t want to ever be that again. My subconscious thus thinks that I should post that earliest entry to make sure that I’m always truly keeping myself honest to advocating for calling out stigma in a way that opens arms, not closes fists, since I know too well how easy it is to wield a litany of past mistakes against yourself for years.

The Messages in a Bottle blog post below is the very first homework I ever completed in my leather-bound journal in my very first twelve-week CBT course at student mental health services. It is the earliest Messages in a Bottle I will ever post unless, by some miracle, I find something buried on Dropbox that has survived transfer across literally every external hard drive in every state in which I have ever lived.

The song is by The Animals. There are a couple of their songs that hold personal meaning for me. Maybe I’ll write about the others eventually, but, per my notes, this is the one I was listening to when I wrote this first entry that I have never actually shown anyone until now.

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For Better or Worse

CW: Anonymity is so inconvenient sometimes. I can’t, for instance, tell you the actual state motto of the 9th Circle of Hell. “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here,” while appropriate, is actually not nearly as morbidly satisfying as the true state motto. If I ever write a memoir of my experiences in Hell – or, better yet, find a way to channel its traumas into some kind of a black-comedy stand-up – the title will simply be the unadulterated state motto. Some things are just too darkly ironic in and of themselves to be able to be embellished by even the most skilled satirist.

That said, the aforementioned “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” is appropriate enough as a placeholder that any post I write about the 9th Circle of Hell from now until eternity probably warrants a content warning. Keep that in mind. This post is a darkly ironic reminder that trauma really does affect everyone, whether they grew up in Hell or married into the family.

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Frozen in Time

CW: Don’t read this if you are in any sort of a bad place. I’m physically safe. I’m mentally shattered. You don’t need to do anything. There’s nothing anyone can do anyway unless they had serious political connections. I am not a danger to myself or others. No, the danger, as always, is from others, and this post is more about trying to survive their latest devastation. This post is about how it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to try to survive. It just never ends. It’s a dark post – even though I promise I’m safe – so please read with caution. I’m the scant protection someone else has from the 9th Circle of Hell. I won’t ever abandon that responsibility to ease my own pain. I’ve been on the other end of that type of abandonment and still feel the hurt and weight of the responsibility it left me with. I will survive this and keep fighting as best I can. I just wish deeply right now that I didn’t have to.

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Absent without (Family Medical) Leave

I know the DSM-V no longer includes the term “nervous breakdown” anymore. I’m fairly confident even if it did include it, since the origins of my panic attacks, crying, dissociation, and depression are quite well known, I’d still just end up labeled with the “dissociative subtype” of PTSD (aka the compromise that is supposed to cover C-PTSD).

I have had to deal with the 9th Circle of Hell about this damn most recent abuse and medical-neglect-leading-to-multiple-medical-crises case three times within four weeks. I will have to go back to Hell again this month. I’m fielding calls on top of that. I’ve spent a quarter of my take-home pay for the past few months on that shithole, be it in travel fees, medical bills, lawyer’s fees, etc. I’m not even the only one financially contributing to fighting for “care”, but when the cost of failure is potentially life and limb, I’m not questioning it so long as I still have the money. The origins of my distress are not a mystery and fit neatly into the DSM-V trauma disorders bucket. I doubt I’d be said to be having a nervous breakdown even if the term was still diagnostic.

Add on top of the trauma situation itself a boss who lost it with me over email when I politely sent him a notice that I could no longer attend a scheduled internal presentation because I had to speak to state regulators in the 9th of Circle of Hell during that time and was given no choice of times, though, and – all technicalities aside – I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.

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Empty “Next” Syndrome

Happy Mother’s Day to those who are mothers or have the kind of relationship with theirs where they can celebrate them. Happy Mother’s Day also to the newly pregnant. Two of my friends delivered that other form of joyous news today. It’s kind of an auspicious day to announce that, I guess. I wish them the best for the next stage of their lives, but I have to admit it makes me kind of sad for reasons that I keep telling myself make no real sense.

I look at a baby announcement or a Mother’s Day card and feel a kind of wistful, painful longing. I’m not the classic type of woman you’d expect to feel conflicted about anything to do with babies. I’m not single. I have a Partner who would make a great dad. I’m not infertile – or at least if I am I don’t know it yet. So, effectively, I’m Schrodinger’s fertile, and that’s good enough. I could stop my birth control tomorrow if I wanted to. And yet…

PTSD has as one of its many frustrating symptoms something called a sense of foreshortened future. Sometimes it expresses as a feeling that a person’s life will inexplicably be cut short. For me, though, it expresses solidly in the alternate type wherein I just never meet the same life milestones as others. For me, it means a kind of empty “next” syndrome. I could choose to start a family with my Partner at any time. And yet…

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