“I want to become brave and courageous
Not buried in self-pity of my own
Ashamed and alone from all
That’s been done to me
It’s not my fault, I remind myself” -Plumb
My parents weren’t exclusively abusive. I don’t think they were the worst parents ever. Before I learned about the subtleties of abuse, I’d always thought of myself as having had a happy childhood. It’d be dishonest to say that my parents never did anything right.
Even before I started writing this series, I had many people asking me how I could be so ungrateful. After all, my parents fed me, clothed me, cared for me, educated me. They did their best, I was told, and they loved me in their own way.
I’m not here to make excuses or to defend myself. I want to explain something about looking on the bright side.
People in abusive situations live in denial. We do it to survive. I convinced myself that I supported parental rights to spank, and I took pride in being excellent at cooking, cleaning, and nurturing children from a young age. Even now when I look back on my childhood, the majority of what I remember is bright, cheery, happy.
My siblings and I were undereducated, and I’m still working through middle-school level learning in some subjects. I love science, but I couldn’t study what I wanted to when I started college at age 19, because I didn’t have the high school concepts I needed to make it through a base-level chemistry class. I taught myself to become a better writer through reading and practice, and fighting the poor habits I got from my dad and other homeschool writing curricula, particularly the Institute for Excellence in Writing.
Today, I’m teaching myself what I missed with books and the Internet. I’m no longer attending university, because during my fifth semester, my federal financial aid request didn’t go through. My dad had forgotten to pay his taxes. I’m paying off my loans and teaching myself partially because I was dissatisfied with the higher education system, and partially because I wanted to be financially responsible for myself instead of relying on my parents’ inconsistency.
One of my siblings is an adult and doesn’t know enough geography to name the continents of major countries like the UK or China. Another one of my siblings is planning to graduate high school at age 21. Another one of my siblings is severely dyslexic, and thinks it’s their own fault they didn’t work harder to learn to read by themselves. After all, I was a fast learner and I picked up on reading quickly, surely all the other kids will pick it up by themselves. My parents didn’t discover that sibling’s dyslexia until that sibling was fourteen.
There were some awesome things my parents did – like letting us travel the country for speech and debate competitions. It may have been our main source of education, but I appreciate that I studied logic and learned to speak and present myself, and that I learned to perform even if I felt sick or nervous. That’s been helpful to me in my adult life.
When I stopped working for my dad, I didn’t know how to identify my own panic attacks. I just knew that I always glanced behind me while I was at work, afraid I’d get caught doing something wrong. I thought it was normal behavior, when I worked for other people, for me to lose my breath and jump when my managers wanted to talk to me. From the age of thirteen, I was a secretary answering phone calls, handling customer service, and packaging orders. Later I took on the tasks of accounting and editing, design, and formatting and link-checking our publishing company’s sourcebooks.
If I ever made a mistake in accounting, I wasn’t allowed to listen to music for the rest of the day. This was the worst punishment imaginable, because music was, and is, so important to me. Soon, because I made slight discrepancies, I wasn’t allowed to listen to music at all on accounting days. It surprised me, years later, to realize that “margin of error” is a common thing in accounting. I was expected to get an exact matching amount when entering data, something no professional accounting job would ever expect, much less demand. I did it because I had to, and I dreaded details and numbers. I was never paid more than minimum wage, and we rarely kept official timesheets, so I’d only worked as many hours as dad decided I had afterward.
I ran a business when I was nine, selling books on Amazon.com, which is how I learned to manage my own checking account and pack and ship orders. My feelings are mixed about this. Running my own business carried with it a sense of freedom and responsibility, and I think most kids should run businesses as part of their education. I think one of the most important things people should know is how to teach themselves skills, and I learned that.
I can go on and on about how my alternative education prepared me for success, and how I love every one of my fifteen sisters and brothers.
I can count my blessings. I can move on as if there weren’t any problems. I can keep quiet and not tell my story. I know I can. I’ve seen the bright side. I lived in it for over twenty years of abuse.
While living at home, my mom often told me to go write down the list of things I was thankful for. This could calm me and make me forget about whatever I’d been upset about. It helped me deal with the demands of housework, fights over chores with siblings, changing diapers, bathing and supervising young children, and countless other responsibilities.
While working for my dad, I often brought schoolbooks with me because I wanted to learn. I’d finish my work quickly so I could read and study. If he ever caught me at my desk with books of philosophy or science or algebra, he’d tell me I was supposed to be working. If I ran out of things to do, I should ask for more work. Whenever I tried to avoid a project, he’d ask if I wanted the money, and told me to be glad I had a job.
It was worse for my siblings who didn’t have a natural inclination to read and learn and study. They didn’t even try to fight the demands at home and in the family business.
Abusers tell their victims to count their blessings. Abusers tell their victims that they don’t deserve any better. Abusers tell their victims that they’re not special, that nobody will listen if they try and speak up. Abusers tell their victims that everything is fine, when it’s not.
Victims believe them, and live in a prettily painted world of dysfunction and misshapen perception.
When people tell me to focus on the bright side, they’re encouraging the very thing that I’ve done all my life. So if you ever want to tell someone who’s venting that they should think more positively, know this: your well-meaning advice just brings back memories of what we were told. We’re hesitant to listen, because it didn’t work for us back then. It just kept us helpless.
You sound like our abusers when you tell us to be quiet.