Monday, October 19, 2015

"It's Over Now": The Otherness of Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

This weekend, I was at a friend's house, and she mentioned a child who was a picky eater, and the difficulty of road trips with 3 young children-- someone was asking every hour for a bathroom break. Totally normal, real-life, parenthood issues.

And I had to stop, because I barely heard what she said next. I had to force myself to keep listening to her, and not get hung up on the fact that her words jolted me.

Moments like those are the reason it bothered me when I saw some posts going around at the beginning of the month, with someone saying, "it's over now. You're safe," in regards to domestic violence. In some areas, that's true. And in others, I'm still sitting here, ten years after it was "over" and trying not to make my friend's stress be about me, trying to hear her over my little stumble fifteen years back in time. As a child of a parent with, among other problems, extreme control issues, I didn't know growing up that children could be picky eaters. Asking for a bathroom stop on a road trip would have cost far too much for me or my four siblings to consider it. And it's still strange ten years later to hear what's normal for everyone else. It's like someone suddenly held up a sign, pointing out that I'm not the same. That I don't know what it's like to be them. That I'm significantly, permanently different from everyone else.

Moments like those are just part of why it's not over. It doesn't follow me around, I don't carry it-- it's part of how I think. My brain was formed and my thought processes were shaped during those eighteen years, while I watched daily domestic violence, and was a victim of child abuse and neglect. I can keep working on it, and I can change, and I can realize that "normal" is just a construct and we're all different in a lot of ways. But formative experiences are just that.

I am different, I am not the same, I am Other when people ask where I went to college, because I went to a tiny Midwestern private college and gained a ton of debt, because it was the only college I was allowed to apply to, because of my dad's control issues. I was homeschooled, and not very well, but I got good grades and a great ACT score, because it had been my dream to be Roy Gilmore and go to an Ivy league school. But I didn't have anyone helping me figure out the process, so when I looked up the admission requirements and tuition costs on the library computer, I gave up because it was  too much and I didn't know I could get financial aid.

I am Other when I write up a Dear Teen Me post for my book's release week, and remember there really aren't photos of my childhood, so I have to use college photos instead.

I am Other when I read some YA books with abuse in them, and something doesn't seem right, so I think about it, and I realize the character thinks like she can see beyond her situation, and I couldn't, because I'd grown up in it, and I didn't know to be angry at anything specific or that I could leave or that there was anything other than what I had. It wasn't abuse to me, it was my life.

I am Other when I try to talk through some of these issues with friends, and get the sense that they're bored or annoyed, and feel like they've heard this from me before. That something so real and constant to me is old news to them. Sometimes, I think I'm imagining that from them, and I should be ashamed of myself for thinking it.

Of course, I'm not completely different from most people. I love Mumford and Sons, I am a die-hard fan of The Walking Dead, I have a Siberian husky, I wish I could take more naps, I drink too much coffee, I love fall and I love reading on the beach with a drink in my hand. In a lot of ways, I'm not that different.

And in another, much worse way, I'm not that different. Domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect happen so frequently that I'm probably more normal and less other than I feel.

But there are times when I feel like I am not the same. I see gaps, ones a lot bigger than missing photos, books not getting it "right," and not getting to apply to my dream universities.

Abuse is isolating. Abuse makes us think we are different even from other abuse survivors. Others could leave, but we can't. Others can go on to do amazing things, but not us. Others could get out and go to a great school, but not us. We are less talented, less intelligent, more lazy, more trouble, less worthwhile, less wanted. And it looks less like abuse and more like life to us.

Childhood and domestic violence is still a part of me, so it's not really over. I know I'm not really that different, but I feel different. And thinking this way is hard to recognize, since it's part of how I think. It leaves a long mark on a person. It leaves many long, sometimes subtle marks.

Abuse doesn't always end when the environment changes, when you get out, or when you turn eighteen, not entirely. It's not over that easily. My writing as a YA author, my blogging here, and this post in particular are part of my effort to create a stronger sense of us.

To be other, to be not 'us,' to be set apart from the whole, is to lack agency. To lack voice, community,  resources, strength. That separation marked my childhood and still marks my adult life.

Abuse is not an issue about other people or for other people. It's about us, all of us.

We are part of the whole. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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6 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this, Kate. Where you talk about not being able to see outside of your situation at the time, it hits home in a way I wasn't prepared. It's so easy to look back as someone on the outside of a situation and see things -- the way out, what could have happened, the possibilities -- but nothing compares to that feeling of "nothing is going to change" that permeates childhood abuse.

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    1. I'm so glad it resonated with you. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the comment :)

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  2. Thank you for this post, Kate. I went through similar situations growing up, also due to very controlling parents, and I felt so alone. I wouldn't talk much about my situation at home, as a kid, teen, or young adult, because I found people wouldn't listen or understand. They'd think I was exaggerating or misreading my parents. THEY'D try to tell ME how my parents were or what my home life was like. I'd feel that my siblings and I were different, that we just couldn't do things that seemed normal to other people. I felt incompetent and ashamed around other people my age. Even now, I still struggle with behaviors and traits that are absolutely due to my home environment growing up, that are so hard to break from ... and I haven't lived with my parents for years. Overcoming abusive situations is absolutely an ongoing struggle. It isn't over even when that situation is seemingly left behind.

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    1. I recognize so much of that, Sam. I've been told I'm wrong about my family so many times, and it's such a toxic thing to hear. Finding a community has been so helpful to me. Keep moving forward. I'll be thinking about you. Thank you for reading :)

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  3. You are awesome, and you put my thoughts and feelings into wonderful words. You make me feel not quite so "other" or alone. Thank you. And ... I too struggled with the Dear Teen me piece that I needed to write when my book launched.

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  4. Thank you. I used to get so frustrated at critique partners who would say, about my YA characters in abusive situations, "Why doesn't she have more of an anger reaction? Why isn't she trying to find a way out? This isn't realistic." It put me right back in that place where I was seeing people with "normal", happy lives, people whose biggest worry was if some boy liked them, or if their butt looked fat in those jeans, and being so jealous...and feeling weak, annoying, and stupid because I was so jealous.

    I know it's pointless to rail against the fact that my CPs just don't "get it" - because I, as the writer, am supposed to make them understand, I'm supposed to make that abused character accessible and compelling for them, but when they called her "unlikable" because she wasn't "strong" enough to get herself out of the situation within the first two chapters, it made them feel like they were talking about me.

    I did edit the book, but I realized, eventually, that there was nothing wrong with my character, and nothing wrong with me, or any other person who suffers abuse. Thank you, again, for writing this, because it's good for us to open the curtains on this sort of thing sometimes, even if it's hard, and not pretty.

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