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I'm eighteen. I've already moved out. At this point I'm living in my bf's grandma's house. I come to visit my mom because she says she has something important to tell me. So I drive a half hour over to the house and we talk. She's nervous. We walk casually out to the garden. It's only a few yards from her horse's fenced in pasture. Crescent comes over near the fence to say hi. It's been a few months and I've missed him. His chores used to be my responsibility. I'd bring him home my apple cores or banana peels from lunch at school. My mom stops the small talk and abruptly I understand why she is so nervous. The news she has is probably the most shaken I've ever been, up to that point. Your dad is not your real dad. What!!? I'm waiting by the locker room across the hall from the gym in my elementary school. The school building is shaped like a big letter L. The kitchen is on the end of the short hall, next is the gym. At the end of the hall is the set big doors that lead out to the playground. We're waiting in line to go out for recess. While I wait I'm working on a math problem in my head. I keep rolling it around. I must be doing something wrong. This isn't adding up. Literally. But maybe I'm just doing the math wrong. I'm seven. I know that, even though we don't celebrate birthdays. I know that for sure. But...my parents anniversary is at the end of summer, and I thought mom said it was their 5th anniversary. They had me before they got married. This literally just doesn't add up. I might be making a math mistake? I ask her about it later at home, and her face turns pink. She sheepishly admits that I was born before they got married. I remember being shocked. That was a sin. Jehovah doesn't like that. So I'm standing in her garden, remembering that lie years later after she confesses that he is not my biological father. I mean, it was a lie that she let me assume I was his. Standing in her garden surrounded by rows and rows of veggies and weeds. Crescent was standing grazing in the edge of his field. He is getting anxious, tossing his head around and making nervous horse noises as I grew more upset. I'm pacing now. Looking down at the rows of plants. Being careful of where I stepped. Wanting to smash her stupid lying face in. Asking, trying to understand, the lies - hundreds of them buzzing in my ears. She says that the reason she's tellingme this now is because we had each had a close call health-wise recently. I was bitten by a brown recluse spider, and she had a severe allergic reaction to a medication when she was out of state for a religious convention. She said she thought she might die in that hotel room. She says that she wanted to tell me, but didn't know how and now she's scared and feels guilty. What if one of us had died? I say she lied to me so many times. She denies the lies. I tell her that it's a lie of omission, she says that's not a lie. I ask how many thousands of times she referred to him as "your dad". That's thousands of lies! Thousands! So...who's my real dad? She tries to say he is real, he raised me. I scream at her. She says that she doesn't know. She starts that fake crying thing. Might be two different people. I might've been either two weeks premie or two weeks overdo. I know I was a big baby. She told me that before. I call her a w**re! Scream it. I am livid. I feel so dismissed. I wasn't even important enough for her to tell me my own truth! I feel like she is lying to me about this too but my whole world has just been upended. I feel so betrayed. So abused. So used. She didn't even respect me enough to tell me the truth. What a lying fucking w**re! She knows but won't admit it. She wants to make it half-right, but won't tell me the whole truth. There's something else here...I know it. I can feel it. I storm off angrily towards the fence, careful not to crush the rows of plants. I give Crescent a big handful of clover and a little scratch on his forehead goodbye and I then I get in my car and drive away. Her "guilt" about not telling was so self-serving. And, as it turned out, that was a fucking lie, too. My spider bite and her allergic reaction. Her fear of one of us dying while she still held this secret. It was pure bullshit. Years later I learned that my sister was the one who prompted my mom to finally tell me. Blackmailed her, really. Threatened to tell me herself if mom didn't. She'd added the pieces up. Ls and Lb look like twins. Very similar bone structure. Similar blonde hair and blue eyes. Skin that turns a light shade of caramel in the summer. Nothing like me. I look like my mom, not him. Red hair and dark brown eyes. I was not a sun lover. My freckles get darker in summer but my skin would burn red as a tomato, blister, peel twice and still be as white as my siblings hair underneath. Somehow Ls added this up on her own. Not surprising though, she always was better at math than me. When I was born I had my mom's maiden name. My birth certificate listed only one parent. Later I got my s-dad's last name but I wasn't adopted. My birth certificate got changed/edited to add the missing name of the father. This was not legal. But back then you didn't have to prove paternity to change a birth certificate. My mom stole me from my real dad. Snatched me and he didn't even know he was robbed. He didn't know I existed. I wonder how she saw it. I wonder if she actually thought about using my innocence to pay for her "happy marriage." Did she think about it like that? As a quid pro quo? Sacrificing my innocence in exchange for a ring on her finger. It's hard now, with the benefit of hindsight, not to see it as a swap. I don't know when, exactly, but somewhere along the timeline she traded my pain for her relationship. I wonder what the clerk at the public records office thought. Did they realize that they were assisting in a kidnapping-by-forgery? Probably not. Probably whoever they were they just thought "well that's sweet, a family reunited." My mom probably did that fake crying thing that she does to tell the sob story of how at the time of my birth they were separated and now they are back together and newlyweds and they just want to make this right. Aaahh, what a happy ending. I'm wondering about what the train of thought was behind that for both my mom and for him. He always knew I wasn't really his. I was born before she met him. So is that why he saw me as expendable? As disposable? Was marrying my mom a package deal? Was there abuse before they got married? If there was, did my mom know about the abuse before they got married? Did she really think that he was her best option? That a single mom with a bastard mini-me in tow was such a horrible position to be in that he was her best option? My own oldest turned 21 recently. It's strange to ponder. He is the age I was when I had him. I remember the surge of Mama Bear hormones that flooded through me just looking at him. Knowing I would do anything in my power to protect him. Anything. His cries were a secret code that unlocked my previously hidden ability to feed him. His presence upgraded my body's creation ability. Not only did my body create a person. A whole. magical. living. person, but the mere thought of him gave my body the enhanced ability to turn water and sandwiches and pizza and hotdish into baby fuel. He needed me in a way that no one ever has. I learned his language so I could understand him. His asking for love, for food. When he told me he was hungry, I fed him. When he just wanted love, I gave it to him. I was thinking alot about how my caring for everyone else shaped my personality. Does the abuse define me? Does my reaction to it? How did I manage to care for Ls and Lb with no real example to follow? Underneath all the neglect am I just a reaction to my situation? Am I a reaction to a toxic environment? Am I the way I am because of having to take on the roll of caregiver so very young? What is my real personality? More urgently, in my thoughts anyways, is this question - Why have I managed to survive my life so remarkably intact? Why has it taken me this long to have a breakdown? Why now? How did I survive? I've been thinking about this a lot, so I talk to my T about it. Where did I spend my first two years? With people who loved and doted on me. Who showered me with love. Who nurtured my personality. Those first two years were critical to shaping my ability to form connections. To be bonded. To have commitments. To know what love was. So in an odd way, even though I have no actual memories of him, at a very basic level the person who had the most influence on me might've been my grandpa. And instead of just relying on nature, I was given nurture too, if only for a very short time. The faint smell of pipe tobacco is a happy memory for me. My mom told me many times I was allergic to cigarette smoke as a baby. Grandpa smoked a pipe, or cigars (I can't remember which). After I was born he'd smoke outside. I think the reason I have a warm fuzzy happy feeling about the faint smell of burning pipe tobacco is because it is one of the first smells of love I ever knew. I was 2 when my mom's dad died. I think I remember his funeral. Not a body or a casket, but a foggy faint memory full of shadows, of us walking up big hard (not wood) white steps, people in dark clothes crying, there was a big table and a line, we were waiting for something, waiting in a line to see a table. Pots or vases of flowers. Lots of flowers, and a red and white striped tablecloth. *************** My 6yr old son and I are volunteering in my daughter's Headstart room. He is across the room reading to a small group of preschoolers. He is reading the book upside down like he does at home with his sister. The headstart teachers are amazed. He's only 6 but already a good reader. My daughter is sitting in my lap while I read the book "Each Peach Pear Plum" to another group of her classmates. I'm sitting crisscross applesauce on the circle rug with my legs folded. A little blonde boy stands up and darts towards me. He grabs the book to see the picture and for a few moments it's not me reading to my daughter, the rambunctious boy, and their classmates. It's me and Ls and Lb. I was big enough to lift Lb onto our floral couch by now. I climb up and sit between them and we explore the story. "Where's the tree?" They point. I flip the page. "And the baby bear?" They point again. "How many bears?" I ask. "Let's count, 1, 2, 3!" They smile. They are happy. We find all the little hidden pictures. The fishing poles, the pie, the empty cupboard. The hats and birds. Clouds in the sky, the water, it's a river... I am lost for a while in this sweet memory, until my daughter, still sitting on my lap, shakes my arm and brings me back to her. ************ My mom was just a bit younger than my son is now when she had me. She moved home. She transferred to a closer college and continued going to school, though eventually she'd end up not finishing. She had a 60 mile drive to school. I'm not sure if she lived in the dorms and came home on weekends or if she drove every day. Either way, my Gram worked as an elementary school cook so it was my grandpa who watched me during the day. I wonder where my mom's Mother Bear instinct was when I was that little. Did she ever have one? Did she hate me yet then? My cute little round face and head full of curls. Was she born with a stone in her chest or did her heart just gradually fossilize to me? Did she see me as something to barter with from the beginning? Was I a hurdle to overcome? Bait for a prospective romantic partner? Or was that just later that she sacrificed her bastard firstborn? Did she know my language? Did she care when I was hungry or just want to shut me up? Did she know when I just wanted to talk? Or play? Did she know when I just wanted love? RR
The worst lies I was ever told were the ones I told myself. They were the lies my shame told me - the goal of this lying was to protect myself, to make the situation seem "not so bad." If it was my fault, I could have prevented it, right? I could have stopped it. If I can minimize the awfulness, then it's not so bad. If it's not so bad then really, did it happen? Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe my pain doesn't matter. Some of these lies I stopped believing a long time ago, some versions of them I held for longer and only recently set these false beliefs free. Here goes- Essentially, for me, these lies were categorized into three groups- 1 - it wasn't so bad - there wasn't penetration - FALSE! Just totally false. Fingers count. Objects count. And even so, it's possible to sexually assault a person with no penetration at all. "Well, it was just groping." fits into this category, too. Also, this isn't the fucking trauma Olympics. I didn't place runner-up in a child sexual abuse competition. I don't get to minimize my trauma because I know that others have gone thru "worse" shit than me. I don't get to catagorize my pain out of existence just because I wasn't victimized in a particular act of sexual violence with a specific body part. My broken leg and my friends amputatedfoot do not make another friend's broken toe feel better. Imagining or knowing that someone else had it "worse" doesn't make the horror of what happened to me less painful. My pain is still real. It just means that there's a lot of people with a variety of different things that happened to them, things they have survived. Human beings have amazing coping mechanisms that help them to survive some pretty awful shit. My 10 on the 0-10 scale of what shitty things I've survived is still a 10. Bottom line - My pain was and still is real. It wasn't "just" anything. It was abuse. What happened to me happened because the people in my life who knew better chose to treat me like that. It sucks but it's true. 2 - I kinda deserved it because (a) I was developed at a young age - wearing a D cup bra in 6th grade. And what, this gets someone off the hook for abusing and assault ing me? Geez, listen to yourself, RR. Are men just uncontrollable monsters without free will or control of their bodies? Even when you were cooperative, it was still not your fault. Even if I was a member of a nudist colony, even if I was swimming, even if I was wearing a cute outfit, even if I was wearing makeup, or his favorite perfume, or a tank top that showed my belly button, even if, even if, even if... It was still awful. It was still not my fault. I still didn't deserve it. 2 - I kinda deserved it because (b) I was curious, I initiated the sexual contact. So fucking what? You were a child, your job literally was to be curious and learn about the world. They were your parents, their job was to protect you while enforcing firm loving boundaries and they did not do their job. They literally weaponised your curiosity and turned it against you. Not only that, they left you in a position where, because of your curiosity, you thought it was your fault! Would you say that a child who ran into the street "deserved" to be hit by a car because they were curious? Would you say a child who cut themselves badly while trying to make a sandwich "deserved" to be injured because they were unsupervised with a knife, curious, and hungry? No! No, you would not. 3 - I didn't not consent - here's why I call bullshit on this one - it is impossible for a preschool aged person to consent. That is a thing that doesn't exist. Also, everyone has the right to not be sexually assaulted. This means everyone. Yes, this includes a minor, a passed out person, a comatose person, or otherwise medically or drug impacted unconscious person. Everyone has the right not to be sexually assaulted. Point blank, period. There is no fine print to search for on this one. Lack of verbal rejection does not equal consent. A double negative does not equal positive consent. This is not an eighth grade fuckin math problem, where a double negative means a positive. Nope, this is real life, not algebra. Bottomline - what happened to me sucked. Dear RubyRosie, What they did to me was bad. It was bad. Like bad bad. Like for real really no fuckin sugarcoating it horrible. Like no dancing around it. BAD. Minimizing it doesn't make it go away. And I can no longer hold the secret inside and carry it around with me pretending it wasn't so bad. I will no longer keep folding and folding my trauma in a panicked attempt to make it smaller and smaller, trying to make it disappear altogether. It was bad and I am releasing this heavy secret back into the universe. I will not keep it anymore. It is not mine to feel ashamed about, or judge myself about, or pretend it was something else, or lie to myself about the pain anymore. I will not be the secret-keeper anymore. I will be the teller. 💗, RR
I had never experienced a complete lack of appetite like this before. At first my stomach burned, but after a week the sharp empty pain in my belly let up. I knew I needed to eat, I wasn't trying to die, but I didn't feel hungry for anything. I forced myself to eat once a day. No biggie, I thought to myself. It's not like I don't have belly jiggle to lose. Who cares if I lose a little bodyfat? That's not what happened though. The ache in my belly was replaced by a burning in my legs. My thigh muscles felt like they were on fire. My calf muscles have shrunk. A pair of thick knee-high grey and red wool socks that used to fit snug around my calves now sags down around my ankles. I've lost a major amount of muscle. Glutes, thighs, calves. My legs have gone missing. I didn't care enough about myself to care that I was hungry or uncomfortable. It was more like, up 'til now I took care of myself as an afterthought or while I was in the process of caring for others. I'd stopped cooking. I was so chronically exhausted that I just ate canned food. Most of the time I didn't even bother to heat it up. Cooking had been an act of love. A way to show the people around you that you care. Feeding others was one of my go to ways to show love. The realization that I never really learned how to value myself. I never learned how to love myself enough to care that I was wasting away. I didn't love myself enough to care that I was so deeply uncomfortable. To care that the muscles in my lower body were shriveling up and dissolving away. My once strong legs were now shakey when I did get out of bed. Walking to the bathroom felt like running a marathon. I felt unsteady and fragile physically and mentally. The shame of not knowing how to love me. Of never having learned how to love myself. I was a fraud. Thinking with a depressed brain made this feel worse. It magnified the shame. I was a fraud and I am a fraud. I have cared for babies and kids, old ladies and teenagers, but I don't know how to care for me? Well, just look at me. I'm a trainwreck. I wouldn't trust me to plantsit right now. I'm too deep in the muck. "You can't love anyone else until you learn to love yourself." Yea, that saying is BS. You can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself first, sure...ok...I'll buy that line. But love, no. It's totally possibly to love someone and not really care that much about yourself at all. To not have ever learned to love yourself. I call bullshit on that saying. I hated goals, they seemed so pointless. Why have a goal if it seemed like whenever you really wanted something, had your heart set on it, it was the job of every adult to put up hurdle after hurdle? Don't get me wrong, I still accomplished things, I just thought capital G Goals were for someone else. They were for little girls who had moms who dressed them carefully and did their ponytails before sending them off to girl scout meetings. I thought of myself as endlessly more flexible than that. My own superpower was that I adapted to anything. I rolled with the punches. I changed plans suddenly when I was unexpectedly left in charge of Lb and Ls and about a hundred cousins. "Don't worry, RR can handle it." My mother's voice rang in my head. And you know what? I did handle it. Because I had to. Because who else was going to do it? Goals were stupid. My goal that I wanted to be comfortable was stupid. When the fuck was that ever going to happen? Why did I even think it was possible in the first place? For a long time now I've considered myself a cautious optimist, my glass is two thirds full to allow for expansion due to freezing. Lol. Ok, it's a Minnesota joke. But it's also a joke about my only slightly positive self protective outlook. Protective because I expect people to let me down. I have to be the stable one for me and for the little kids. They needed me. I had to be strong. I trust very few people. My lack of trust is my protection against abuse and disappointment. It protected me from the million broken promises adults made to me when I was younger. It protects me from men who break their "rock solid" commitments. It protected me from a string of fake friends who were there for the sunny days and nowhere to be found when the downpour started. It helped me to protect Ls and Lb from my parents repeated broken promises. I knew they would probably fail us. I expected them to fail us. And they did, spectacularly. I was disconnected from my own body. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to blink and vanish from existence. I didn't want to die. Really, I didn't. I just wanted to never have existed in the first place. But I can't do that. I don't have the power to blink myself out of existence. Slowly I realize that obviously I need something to take care of, because I am not enough. Look at my chain of jobs I've had since as far back as I can remember. Taking care of Ls and Lb, my cousins, kids I babysat, clients at the nursing home, daycare kids, my own kids, kids at the school when I was a para, the tenth graders I tutored, hospice patients, the foster care kids I worked with, Alzheimer's patients, developmentally disabled clients at the group home, the kids on the school bus, my nieces and nephews... I literally have taken care of people from birth to death. And, somehow, I don't know how to take care of me? I don't know how to love me enough to care that I'm not taking care of myself. I am on the phone with the crisis line, the lady on the other end is talking me through the panic attack this realization triggered. I feel deeply deeply like a fraud. How the fuck can I not know this. It's basic shit, but I don't know how to love me. "Give me a puppy, a house plant, ANYTHING, and I take care of my basic needs as a necessary step to taking care of the other thing." I say. She says that she thinks I'm being too hard on myself. She is probably right. I say I hate goals but this is my short term goal, this is what I will do for me - when I am hungry, eat. I will do this for four days. That's all I feel like I can commit to. Four days of paying attention to if I'm hungry, and feeding myself. Four days of paying attention to my most primitive feelings and taking care of me. I say it's stupid. She says no, it is not. This is a perfectly attainable goal. It's good. Four days isn't too long. It's achievable. I say it's stupid and I'm stupid for having to even have this as a goal. "No, it is not. It is important." She has me repeat my goal and then use positive words to lock it in my brain in a positive mindset. "My goal is easy and attainable. My goal is easy and attainable. My goal is easy and attainable." If you'd asked me about basic hygiene being an act of love, I'd've said no, it is not. I have given baths/showers to maybe a hundred different people. Maybe more. As part of my job. But, if you really look at it when I first started helping Ls & Lb it was out of my love for them. My want to take care of them. To protect them. At the same time, my own self cares were so I didn't get smacked, or called stinky. So I wasn't physically or emotionally abused more. And mom was teaching me how (not) to love myself. How to (not) value myself. And S-dad was teaching me that I was not in control of my own body. I didn't get to use my voice to change things and make them better for me. But I did get to take care of Ls & Lb. I had a choice - lay there and listen to what the programming and the depression playing in my head said, or... don't. Or, instead, get up and do something for me. Brush my teeth, my hair, take care of this body that had for so long taken care of me, but I'd neglected for the past three months. Taking care of myself became a radical act of self love. It went against all the abuse. All my earliest programming that taught me how to think about me. All the teaching me that I wasn't worth it. So, slowly, I crawled out of the black hole I was sunk in. It's been a year and a half, and I'm still working on it. I told my siblings how bad it had gotten. I asked for help. I did physical therapy and saw my doctors. I did counseling. I feel like I'm not really quite "there" yet, but I'm working on it. Things are slowly getting better. A radical act of self love indeed. 💗 RR