Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often develops from a traumatic event. Complex PTSD often develops from prolonged exposure to a toxic environment. My trauma is complicated to explain. There was more emotional manipulation and gaslighting than the constant threat of domestic violence. I say this because I have exchanged stories with many other survivors, and all of our individual family dynamics were uniquely dysfunctional. I am lucky for many reasons. Not everyone can talk openly about their experiences, but I am being paid to write about mine. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.
The memories don’t fade. They linger, ghost-like, layering scenes over the walls of my home. They haunt every dream every time I sleep. I obsess over what overwhelmed me as a child, trying to keep up with all the work that was expected of me. Cooking, cleaning, counting children, feeding and rocking and singing to babies, changing their diapers and giving them baths – all this would have been exhausting enough if I wasn’t also expected to do office work for the family business. Both parents could prioritize naps daily. If I took naps too often, it was cause for homeopathic intervention because I wasn’t performing at maximum productivity.
Every day of my life now is filled with flashbacks, and every night is filled with obsessive, urgent dreams about being rushed to pack and cook and clean. Every time I try to look directly at my traumatic memories, they have the power to overwhelm me, and I minimize them. When I try to avoid these thoughts, they intrude.
One of the things my parents used to proudly say was that if you have a lot of kids, it’s not too difficult because the older ones help with the younger ones. This was stated as if it wasn’t a problem, but it directly implies that the exploitation of child labor is acceptable. In making an older child care for younger children, the older child is being deprived of their own childhood. I was not only expected to supervise, but to handle meals and hygiene and education. I was given basic elementary schooling that I was supposed to repeat to my younger siblings during school time.
This was normalized. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that this was unacceptable. I should not have had to care for so many siblings when I was still a child, thinking that all I had to look forward to in life was having as many children as I could, too.
Being in the outside world hasn’t been easy, because there’s no real safety net for survivors of abuse. Just like everyone else, we are expected to feed and clothe and house ourselves with our work. Because of this, I’ve dealt with unstable housing on and off for a long time. This, along with listening to other survivors of various kinds of systemic abuse, has radicalized me about inequality and injustice.
My story is not about one secluded family. It’s about a political strategy. That political strategy is to convince young people that it is open-minded and logical to embrace right-wing conservative values. I am one of thousands of children who were isolated by families who didn’t want us to be exposed to other ways of thinking. Many of us haven’t made it out. I hope that as I write my memoir, it won’t be one that serves as mere shock value, but one that provides insight into the political climate of the United States after a generation of kids were abused and indoctrinated.
The more time I spend in the real world, the more clearly I see the world I escaped. I’ve officially been working on my book for six years, but until now, I haven’t been able to fully focus on writing. This is because I’ve had to find ways to get by, and “getting by” hasn’t meant ideal living situations. I finally feel that I’m living in a place where I can work on writing and painting consistently. So here I am, showing up to write about a childhood that seems more strange as each year passes.
I will be updating the blog and Patreon as much as possible, but I will be spending most of my writing time on the book draft. I’m in therapy again and I’m figuring out next steps with insurance and doctors since the move. I’m free to write regularly at last. Thank you all so much for supporting my progress.