Surviving and Prioritizing

It may not seem like it by how much I’ve made it a habit, but I hate asking for help. The society I live in frowns upon it severely. No matter how great the need, people in the US especially are dedicated to independence. It’s considered better to die with dignity than invite shame by asking for help.

The fundraiser last year gave us enough to move into a new apartment, and for the past several months, I’ve been supplementing my income from Patreon with fundraising to make ends meet. I’ve said it elsewhere, but to make it clear, I don’t want anyone to help me if they can’t afford it. So many people are struggling right now. There are so many people I’d love to give money to on a regular basis, but I don’t have the spare resources.

I hope someday that my Patreon will bring in enough for me to cover all of my own monthly expenses so I can begin saving and taking better care of myself and my community. For now, I am amazed that rent and utilities are covered, because I never thought I would be able to rely on my writing to get by, and I’m doing just that. 

In my efforts to address the issues that impact me directly, I have written about things I’m not an expert about. Over the past several years I’ve written essays about politics and inequality, but these have distracted from talking about what I know. What I know is only my own experience, and I’m not an expert in complex issues like economics or climate change.

My frustration with the state of things extends far beyond the world I grew up in. I believe that problems like familial abuse would decrease significantly if we had a better social safety net. However, I am learning that it’s not my job to fix the whole world and every aspect of society that contributed to the dysfunction I grew up with. It is my prerogative only to tell my story.

Many survivors do not make their stories public. Choosing to speak up about what I’d truly experienced was not an easy decision. Not everyone has the same opportunities, and not everyone wants to blog about their trauma for a living. I’m not sure most days if I want to write about my trauma for a living. It’s painful. More than that, it might even be counterproductive to my recovery to keep trying to write about the trauma.

I worry a great deal about the silent survivors, those living in anonymity and trying to get jobs, housing, and relational safety. I wonder where the Turpin children are now and how they are doing. I worry also about those who cannot escape because there is no anonymity in the outside world for them, like the Duggar kids. I am lucky to be just recognizable enough to get attention and just anonymous enough to have gotten out. The survivor’s guilt I live with is very real.

False Fame

The one episode of reality TV that featured my family was a much smaller thing than we thought. Shared delusions are central to relationships with abusers, and the chance to soak up the spotlight was no exception for my parents. The show itself was embarrassingly bad – the production quality was abysmal, and we had our dysfunction as a family on display as the subject of entertainment.

Nevertheless, a few months after the first season of Kids by the Dozen aired in early 2007, my parents had already written a book about it, with a big yellow star on the front that says “As seen on TV”. They didn’t realize it was embarrassing at all. In fact, they saw it as a way to proselytize and convince other people to have more kids. By extension, we kids couldn’t express our embarrassment, either. We had to be proud of our “awesome” family. Being on reality TV was a big break for the family business, and other evangelical Christians were interested in the religious aspects of the book’s message.

I thought that my family was at least a little famous because my parents had a platform saying so. I had a part in that platform. I helped write my mom’s cookbook and several speech and debate resources. I didn’t have a choice, but I didn’t think I needed to have one, I believed wholeheartedly in the message. I thought god was directly talking to me, and my family members, and that he had told my parents to build this lifestyle for their family.

Perhaps the most confusing thing about becoming an adult was that I had to realize I was not, even slightly, famous at all. I’d always thought that the show had been a huge success. Yes, we had “haters,” as dad called them, but our Christian beliefs encouraged us that non-believers would attack us. What he neglected to mention is that people were commenting online about how he seemed to be a controlling patriarch, and out of concern for us kids.

It was naïve of me to believe it for so long. That is part of what I’m trying to say here, though – our isolation and lack of access to proper education made for a collection of naïve children and young adults. We believed what our parents taught us because they were the only teachers and source of safety and livelihood that we had.