I am devoted to this blog being about healing, not abuse porn. That said, sometimes to talk about healing I will have to talk about hurting. Please consider this sticky post a trigger warning for every entry for childhood abuse of all kinds. If you are having a difficult day, this blog will still be here tomorrow! Consider looking at this picture of a kitten, instead, for now. Be kind and compassionate to yourself.
I am really sad and discouraged today.
CONTEXT AND A WARNING: Adrian Peterson, star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, is facing felony charges of child abuse, and he is a repeat offender. He claims he is not a child abuser. Although I will not refer to what he did or to what I did in this post, the links I provide contain graphic descriptions of child abuse and some of those links subsequently link out to photos.
Dear Mr. Peterson,
Some might say that the contrast in the severity of what we each did is the distinction between us.
But there is only one difference between us: I know I am a child abuser, and you do not.
I know you are telling the truth you when you say you do not believe yourself to be a child abuser. I know you are telling the truth when you say that you were simply doing to him what someone long ago did to you. I know this, because I have been there.
A very wise friend of mine once said: abusers do not know they are abusers. Those who are being abused do not know they are being abused.
Those of us who were abused as children have normalized this abuse. We know our parents loved us, and we love our parents. We often cannot face the fact that our parents abused us. We often know many kids who got it much worse. We often live in families or go to school with kids who were all abused. When it’s everyone, it’s hard to see that there’s anything wrong with it.
We think that child abusers are some cartoon villains who have no feeling for their own children. Some kind of monstrous creatures who live under rocks and gain sadistic satisfaction from causing others pain. People who are not really people.
But child abusers are us. We are teachers and firefighters and accountants and ball players and engineers and bus drivers. We knew love as children. We knew abuse as children. It is the nature of the cycle of abuse that we would confuse that very abuse with love.
I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like to lose control and to find yourself re-enacting some of the worst moments from your childhood. (I do not think it is an accident, for instance, that both times you were accused of child abuse, the children were the same age. Something happened to you when you were four. I know it like I know the back of my hand. And my mother’s hand.) I know what it feels like to console yourself afterward with the fact that you didn’t do anything that was as bad as the worst things your own parents did to you.
And I believe you — I so much believe you — that you are terribly sorry about the physical damage you have caused your child, whom I know you love.
I also know that a time like this, when everyone is staring at you, when there are definite racial and cultural overtones and aspects to this story, that it is tempting to go to ground. It is tempting to defend yourself and, by extension, to defend your parents. And probably their parents. And probably their parents.
But I hope you will lean into how you are feeling right now. I hope you will lean into it, and look under it, and deeply into it. I hope you will refuse to feel victimized by the fact that the Vikings have finally bowed to pressure and suspended you until the case is resolved, and that you will instead use this time to look inward.
I hope you will not face jail time, as much as my own freaked-out children want you to. Because your kids need you, and I’m sure they love you just as much as you love them. I hope you will instead come to an understanding of what abuse is, how it is perpetuated, and how you can stop doing it.
Unfortunately, part of how you stop doing it is that you have to face what someone you loved (and who loved you) did to you. It is hard work. It is heartbreaking work. It is not work that our American culture traditionally sets up star running backs to do. It is about feelings and allowing yourself to remember when you were tiny and vulnerable.
It is excruciating. I am not going to lie about that. I think probably such work will be far harder for you to face than it was for a bookish female free from the pressures of traditional masculinity and fame to face.
But I can tell you this, unequivocally: it will be worth it. It will be worth it for yourself. It will be worth it for your children.
Right now, you believe whipping them is how to show that you love them and want what is best for them. And it is so hard to let go of fundamentally, deeply-held beliefs like that.
But if you can, you will experience a bond that you have never even dreamed of with your children. A bond that is built of genuine connection instead of fear. Of shared joy instead of shared trauma.
And there will finally be a chance that you will never do such a thing again. I feel hopeful for myself that this is the case in my family. And I want to feel hopeful for you, as well.
I found it so healing to see a family that basically functioned: the children received tons of love, support, and appropriate limits. The grandpa was astoundingly patient with them. The family members all got along and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They were warm and welcoming to my partner and to me.
I also found it unnerving. They weren’t clannish. They seemed genuinely interested in conversation. They worked together beautifully.
I found myself wondering: what’s the catch?
There is no catch, Moxie. They are just being basically free from fuckery. I guess it happens.
I feel rather sad that this was such a jaw-dropping experience for me. It felt so alien that I’m not even sure I would want a family like that, even as I’m working for one.
Today in therapy we worked on how much loving someone makes me feel vulnerable, and how I turn away. The EMDR target memory we used was the first time I remember that happening. First grade. I thought a boy was cute (yep; a boy. I contain multitudes). He began to gently tease me during play time and I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of me or joking around. I froze. He had more power to hurt me than the other kids. I could see it. I didn’t like it. I avoided him for the rest of that school year.
Old habits, learned young.
I have always been a pwecious pwincess about my birthday. I hated it. I was uncomfortable with anyone giving me positive attention, I was angry about everything. My parents nearly always forgot it was happening so I was always sad on that day and even when my mom remembered she’d call and slur drunkenly at me and make me feel sick and miserable.
For years I have spent the day bicycling all over for hours and hours to be away from phones and human contact. I have gritted my teeth and sat through a birthday dinner and cake trying to be as pleasant as possible because people went through all this trouble and because I have kids and it is a birthday and they want cake, but it was torture.
This year, I am having a GREAT birthday. It started out with a hummingbird at our window box, but contained many boring errands to get medication and my license renewed, and I had to back out of one social thing I’d been looking forward to, and my partner has to work tonight — but I have been peaceful and happy all day. What has happened today doesn’t matter. I’m just letting myself enjoy my me-ness.
Friends have been telling me how awesome I am, and I believe that they actually mean it. I am looking forward to seeing more friends and family this evening.
I went on a nice long bike ride with my youngest instead of alone. My legs are humming happily and I am sitting on the porch chilling out and smelling cake baking and I am HAPPY.
My spouse has never seen me happy on my birthday. Not for 24 years. This is literally the first time.
I’m going to give the credit to EMDR. I really am. Okay maybe also Lexapro. But still. I am just astounded!
SOMETHING IN MY LIFE GOT BETTER! FUCK YES.
You know what’s totally fucking stupid? Every time another shithead relative unfriends me on FB after some stupid political fight I’m right back to when the whole goddamned family turned their backs on me for speaking out about my uncle who molested me.
THEY ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE. They are not INTERESTING people. I would never choose them for friends. Why the fuck do I still feel upset?
We already worked through this target, Moxie. We already went through the angry phone calls and the betrayal and the punch in the gut when you realized all those stories about family coming first were just lies.
Reading Brenee Brown’s book while also applying for full-time jobs, none of which I actually want.
Abandoning my freelance career and taking a crappy job I hate is hardly daring greatly, but my kids gotta eat.
I’ve had people tell me this blog has given them hope, and that it’s helpful. I think this fact has been stifling me, a little. I don’t what to be a downer, so I don’t talk about the times I feel like utter shit.
But you know what? Today EMDR, and therapy in general, feels like a hopeless slog for no good goddamned reason. During the session my mind kept wandering to all of the meetings I have this week (two of which are OTHER fucking therapy sessions: one about parenting with the huge mess of us coparents and one couple’s counseling session, and now THEY feel useless and hopeless as well). To how fat I’m getting. To how itchy my right ear was. To whether or not I stunk. To how long it’s been since I shaved my legs. I was so remote that afterward, my therapist asked me if I were feeling suicidal. (I’m not, for the record. Not remotely.)
But DAMN am I feeling negative about this whole process. I am sure Robin Williams is part of it. That bastard Depression and his evil assistant Addiction got him — even at the age of 63, when I’d have thought it would have been a little easier. He would have been better armed, maybe. I am sure that my continuing cash flow problems are part of it. I’m sure I’m also just in one of those places where the slog is a slog and I’ll soon post some glorious wonder about the blah blahness of the blah. The blickety-blah of it all how transformative.
But today, the struggle seems futile and overwhelming. A ton of work with dubious results. Uselessly chewing on cardboard for sustenance. Oh goddamnit the image I found of chewing cardboard is adorable and hilarious.