The reason I am awake at 4am is below. It is also, apparently, in the papers (or, at least, the digital online copies of the “papers” since it’s 2019 and I don’t remember what any dead-tree paper looks like outside of my intimidating sketchbook…)
I’ve been noticing an uptick recently in the number of media reports of horrible things happening in psychiatric inpatient facilities and other state-funded “care” facilities of various types. There probably hasn’t really been an uptick in the number of them happening, just an uptick in the number of them that I’m immediately aware of given that I now follow a number of blogs that share such things. Sadly, many of these blogs have shared them because the blogger was/is a patient of one of the facilities involved in the scandal, and they aren’t surprised by it. Or, the blogger has shared a personal story of a recent experience at the hands of the system to draw awareness to how even facilities that aren’t in the papers can still act humiliating and degrading towards their clients. These bloggers are trying to create awareness of the full range of mistreatment that occurs at such places via their own past and present experiences. To these bloggers, I’m very sorry for what you’ve experienced and very proud of you all for speaking up, often non-anonymously.
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.
Emotional flashbacks are tricky to recognize. You can become thoroughly caught up in the fight/flight/freeze responses of the past without even realizing you have shifted. And, even if you do realize you are in one, it can be tricky to recognize to what, exactly, you are flashing back. There are, after all, so many discreet instances of various types of trauma in C-PTSD that they all blend together into one continuous mess. Emotional flashbacks rarely have a clear visual component, whether projected in the real world as per the traditional public conception of a PTSD “flashback” or just replaying a memory from your personal mental mindfield.
Nothing about 2018 was unique, except possibly learning for sure that others knew all along about my childhood trauma and, frankly, my dear didn’t give a damn. I’ve had to testify against abusive group homes before. I’ve had my grad program tell me, “Defend the same week as I fought past abuse or forgo everything by dropping out.” That’s not really that different from a boss whose first words upon learning about the life-or-death stakes of 2018 were that bothering him with that knowledge constituted proof that I was a poor-performer, that I’d always been one, and that I’d probably always be one and whose last words before I went on not-FMLA were, “You have three months. Deal with the issue and return to being useful or this company will have no more use for you.” (Let it be known that his claims about my performance have no official backing. Threats aside, my boss has always managed to be in the right mood on my actual performance review day to rate me a high performer on paper, even if he gaslights that reality later whenever he finds it convenient. But, that doesn’t help much when it’s his company.) Hell, I’ve even had to testify to abuse enablers in the 9th Circle of Hell both of those times the same week as my birthday. And, I already hated my birthday because not correctly perceiving social schemas around birthdays as an undiagnosed ADHD child made them dreaded dates as far back as I can remember.
It really comes as no surprise, then, that it’s typically hard for me to determine what I am reliving in an emotional flashback (or even that I’m in one). It comes as more of a surprise when I do realize. There are only two instances where I can even predict that I’ll have an emotional flashback, much less to what specific memory.
CW: mentions of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve that did not result in any injuries or financial loss. Mentions of past acute traumas, including a threatened mass shooting, that I have experienced, fortunately also without injury.
Does acute trauma add to the mental trauma load if you’ve already experienced the 9th Circle of Hell? I know that every experience of abuse – past and present – in the 9th Circle of Hell has been one more piece removed from the fragile Jenga tower of my mental health. I know that 9th Circle of Hell trauma compounds, but should I count non-9th Circle of Hell trauma? Does something that I would definitely call traumatic if it happened to others – but that will never take up residence in my nightmares because the price of that mental real estate was set too high by the 9th Circle of Hell – count as part of my “trauma narrative?”
I read a post recently from a blogger with a severe trauma history who witnessed a guy open-carrying a gun in a coffee shop. She was triggered, but she had her coffee there anyway. She had to ask if she should have left or if she was overreacting. Go through enough childhood trauma and your perspectives can get very skewed on things. I commented that the statistics on mass shootings in the U.S suggest that it is wise to leave such situations as soon as it is safe, and maybe even to hang out down the block to call 911 if shots are heard. I almost added that I am very wary of guns “even though guns aren’t a part of my trauma history.” Then I stopped and realized I might be being an idiot. I do have a prior scary history with guns, though I don’t think it is contributing to my PTSD symptoms. I briefly considered writing a future post about whether it is possible to be “triggered” by something while thinking you were unaffected by an event. Then I promptly forgot about it, because ADHD, until my Partner was on the receiving end of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve.
We both recovered from the fear within hours, but I wonder – given that other post – if that’s completely accurate, or if we’re just a bit too numbed from the 9th Circle of Hell to respond normally to things that should shake us up for a few days. The robbery wasn’t successful – or I guess very successful – but threats were involved. My Partner did take them seriously until he was able to get into a place with others around to not take them seriously anymore. It was a scary situation while it was happening, even if it ended ok. What is considered “normal” for recovering from acute scares – as that other blogger similarly asked – if your baseline isn’t Hell?
We were heading home from dinner on the subway. Our subway system isn’t accessible in many places. In some places, it’s only “accessible” if you get off at a stop on a line close by, take an elevator, and walk through an underground ramp at a gentle grade that can handle a wheelchair at least a block to the other station. The alternative to walking a block is to have to climb what I unaffectionately refer to as “Stairs of Death.”
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…
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.