Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dinner and a trap

[Content note: This blog entry discusses abuse, first in the abstract and then with an example. It's my own story. Triggering content is marked before it moves into a detailed description of an abusive situation.]

[If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, physical or not, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US & Canada): 1-800-799-SAFE* or check out their site. RAINN is a site particularly for sexual abuse.

*1-800-799-7233 if you're like me and have a full keyboard on your phone.]

This is probably my third or fourth attempt at blogging on this topic. Likely, I'll continue it later, but it's something that's been on my mind a lot and I would like to share, even though I have lots of voices in my head telling me that family things are private, that I have no right to talk about abusive behavior because it's not mine to share, that I shouldn't ever embarrass people in public, because being embarrassed in public is worse than being tormented in private, that...

To those voices I would like to say: Shut up and go to hell. I write because it's healing. I write because those who perpetuate abusive systems and situations, and then demand the right to privacy, are asking me to shut up and deal with the very real emotional stress it puts on me without ever being able to get help for it. They're asking me to participate in my own abuse.

I write for those who can't say these things.


Abusive behavior isn't limited to one type of relationship. It occurs in all kinds of relationships, although it's probably more common in some types than in others, or at least more widely reported. Regardless of the type of relationship though, the one thing every abusive situation has in common is that there's at least one who abuses and at least one who is abused.

I've had the grim privilege of witnessing and being a part of more than one abusive cycle. I've seen several of my mother's significant others over the years change from seemingly nice men to raging, angry people who seem to think they deserve respect when they don't give it. I blogged about the most recent one (and also the oldest one that I remember) back in October.

But abuse and violence don't exist solely between significant others of any gender or sexual orientation. It also exists between parents and children, children and parents, siblings, friends, and pretty much any other relationship one can think of.

My family isn't exactly what I would call stable. My mother does her best to make ends meet, my brothers do the same, I do the same, and everyone relies on each other for emergency help--emergencies come up a lot in this family. But there's also kyriarchal dynamics in the group. And that's where I run into trouble, and it's the reason that I've slowly been withdrawing from family life. The winter break that just finished? I spent one week, the one leading up to Christmas, at my mother's house, after which I asked friends who had previously offered if I could stay with them for the remainder of break. (They said yes.)

It was probably the best decision in that regards I've made in a long time. And it's also the only school break recently in which I wasn't hell-bent on getting back to school as fast as I possibly could, only to have my mental health be destabilized for at least a week afterwards.

To give just one illustration of why I feel so very, very unhappy at the place I used to call home, I'd like to describe the incident that forced me to leave my mother's house pretty much as fast as I could get out of there, this time.


[Trigger Warning: Explicit description of an abusive situation.]

When I decided to endure Christmas at my mother's apartment, I knew it probably wouldn't go well. It's a time of year emotions run high, for one thing, and putting me and three of my siblings as well as half a dozen other people in one small apartment rarely ends well. I decided to go, because I'm still vulnerable to my mother's ideas of what our family should look like, and one of those ideas is having all of her kids in one place on the holidays. So I went, and I stayed.

Things went pretty well until dinner--people were expected to mingle and socialize a bit, but I was allowed to go off in a corner with an adoring 9-year-old I'd just met and give her a guitar lesson, and then to unobtrusively not interact with anyone else.

Dinner, however, is when everyone has to sit down together and talk to each other. For some reason, this hasn't worked well between me and one particular brother for a while now. He's given me a lot of reason to mistrust him, and I've managed to convey how little respect I have for him as a result, which he interprets as being condescending. So it wasn't a surprise to me when I found myself in two arguments with him over the course of 20 minutes.

It was a surprise when, 5 or 10 minutes after I left the table to hide in another room and cry, he walked in unannounced, stood in the door with a beer in his hand, and started yelling at me.

Freeze frame.

A 6'-something, late-20s man stands in a doorway that's the only exit from a bedroom, refuses to leave when asked, and becomes increasingly aggressive toward  the 5'1 petite woman, 20 years of age, who is already crying on the bed.

I was trapped. I was trapped. Oh god I was trapped. And he was screaming at me about me being too old to cry, condescending, a bitch, and quite a few other things as they came to him. I finally did something that I very, very rarely do, and shouted right back at him, because I was not going to sit there and let him yell at me without responding.

I was not in the least in control of the situation. He was. He had the advantage in sheer body size and where he was standing. He had the advantage of being louder, angrier, and at least a little drunk. He had the advantage of being a bully and more willing to engage in bullying tactics. He had the advantage of trapping me. And he had the advantage of getting me to react to him instead of acting purposely.

This is abusive behavior. This isn't healthy. And this is why I no longer want to be in my mother's house, where he spends a lot of time. It's not just his behavior that hurts me, but he's the most aggressive person around there since my step-father left. This is the first time I remember that he's trapped me like that, but it isn't the first thing he's done to make me feel unsafe around him, and I'm absolutely positive that it won't be the last.

While he was shouting at me, he told me I was too old to cry. This is emotional auditing. He used put-downs, calling me many different adjectives and names. This is emotional abuse. He trapped me. This is intimidation.

And none of this is new. He's done this sort of thing repeatedly and frequently, though not as extremely. He's never trapped me before. But all the verbal and emotional abuse and intimidation, he does it a lot, and he takes tantrums when he doesn't get his way. And no one but me calls him on any of this behavior. But that's a story for another day.

If I can handle the stress and triggering nature of writing these things out, I would like to continue blogging about my home life, the realizations and conclusions I've made, and what I'm doing about it. Please know that I'm taking care of myself, I'm seeking counseling, and I have a great support network. But this is something I need to tell.

Comment note: This is not a request for advice or help or an invitation for further abuse. Comments will be moderated, and deleted if they engage in any kind of inflammatory or trolling behavior. Thank you for respecting my boundaries.


  1. What a terrifying event that must have been.

    I have been fairly blessed in my life to have a wonderful family with only minor issues and problems (compared to others). But I have some very dear friends who have families more like yours, and they had to eventually break off contact with the most violent, abusive members. It's not an easy thing to do, since there are pressures from the family to hide and hold together.

    I applaud your bravery in making this post and taking the first important steps toward self-care.

  2. I know some brothers like that.

    *Safe hugs* if you want them.