Serious content warning for this post. I talk about childhood abuse, trauma, suicide, and sexual assault.
There’s a video making the rounds on social media. I haven’t watched it. I don’t want to watch it. But I’ve seen the comments and I know, basically, what it’s about: a child having a tantrum on a train.
Comments have ranged from “this kid is probably autistic” to “this kid needs to be disciplined” and it strikes me this is just yet another way for people without kids to judge parents for not doing a good enough job; or people with kids to feel superior because THEIR child never had a meltdown on the subway.
It also strikes me how very lucky I am to have been born in 1986 and become a teenager in the 90s. Because I grew up without ubiquitous cellphone video cameras and the ability to post video of strangers online. I grew up without the danger that my one bad day would have meant worldwide shaming of my mother, and custody being ripped away from her.
Before we moved to Hawai’i my summers were split between my parents. (After moving there, I spent them with my bio-sire, for what was called “access” because he required access to his child and I was supposed to have access to my tormentors.)
After the first half of the summer being spent with my bio-sire and his new girlfriend, a woman we dubbed Wife #5 (he’s on #7 now), and her band of ill-mannered, horrific monsters of children, I got to spend time with my mom. This particular summer we went to Hawai’i to visit with people, including my new friend who became my best friend and still is (she was my maid of honor at my wedding).
I’m not really sure why she stuck with me for so many years, because that was the second year we knew each other and it was the summer I went insane.
I was a monster. I screamed and cried and kicked. I lashed out at everyone, including my best friend. I threw tantrums on a regular basis. I said cruel, hurtful things. I tried to kill myself. I wielded sharp weapons and was a danger to myself and others.
No one knew what was going on. My mother was at a complete loss, trying to manage a child who had never acted out on this scale before. She was inches from putting me into an institution, and had the threat of my bio-sire taking custody not loomed, she may have done so.
And I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t have words for it and I blamed myself.
What was happening was a culmination of years of abuse and trauma. I had been suffering abuse from my bio-sire since I was 2 years old, and now he had a new family who liked to join in on the fun. I was accused of stealing money from my stepmom, had my belongings stolen from me by my stepsister and then blamed when I tried to get them back from her, called names, threatened, punished when I complained of headaches or coughing because my stepmom liked to smoke cigarettes below my room.
I remember being told by my stepmom that everything was my mom’s fault — yes, even the fact that she and my dad weren’t fucking anymore, which is completely appropriate to say to a kid, right? — and that she was my new mom now and I had to get used to it.
I remember being loathed so completely by my stepmom and step-siblings that I would have done anything to be accepted and loved. Anything.
So I was very easy to coerce.
My stepbrother may have only been 6 months older than me, but he was fully cognizant of what was going on. He’d convinced me the only way I could be accepted by the family was if I did what he asked. I didn’t want to, but I wanted to be accepted.
Of course, I never was. And I blamed myself for what happened for another 10 years. It wasn’t until I confessed, crying, to my first boyfriend about what a dirty, shameful slut I was for having had sex at age 10, telling him the whole story, that he held me and said: Babe. You were raped. That was rape.
It was rape, and it was the cherry on top of the shit sundae of trauma and abuse ladled out to me by my bio-sire and his new wife and her children.
And I couldn’t tell anyone. All I could do was go insane.
If this had been now, if I’d been acting out that way in the modern era, some asshole would film it and put it online so people could shame my mom. She’d lose custody of me and I’d have to live with my bio-sire, where my stepbrother would be free to rape me as many times as he wanted. And in the end, I’d take my own life.
There are so many times I wish I’d told my mom when it happened. If I had, that would have been it: she would have been able to get sole, full custody of me and prevent my bio-sire from ever seeing me again. I would have had a better adolescence. I would have started healing sooner. I wouldn’t have had to spend the night with then ex-Wife #5 in my teens because of a missed ferry connection, and weathered the look her older son gave me as I stood in their kitchen, the look that made me feel dirty, and ashamed, and like I wanted to jump into the Salish Sea and drown.
I have searched for years for ways to cleanse myself of the shame, and the anger and the hatred. Ways for me to process the trauma — not just that rape, but all the other compounded trauma that came after it, including another rape. I have done so much, but it is still not enough, and sometimes I feel like that ten-year-old: ready to scream and break down in public, ready to fling myself off a building, ready to kill anyone who gets close to me.
I’ve thought for a while that I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve been close to committing myself a few times in the past year, which might be the right move seeing as I requested a psych consult over a year ago and BC’s medical establishment moves as fast as a glacier when it comes to mental health. I want a diagnosis. Because what I think I have doesn’t help me get help. It won’t help me get better meds than what I have.
Recently, I heard that Borderline Personality Disorder can look the same as C-PTSD. C-PTSD, or Complex-PTSD, is what happens when someone suffers trauma over and over for a long period of time.
I already know I have PTSD; now I’m pretty sure I have C-PTSD. Because I suffered trauma for years on end from my bio-sire and my stepfamilies, then later from partners, people who were supposed to love me but only hurt me.
One of them, I still can’t speak his name without freaking out.
Another, this year I celebrated it having been 7 years since he touched me. I have grown into a body he never knew.
And I had C-PTSD when I was 10, because that was after 8 years of hell.
Last night, instead of sleeping, my brain decided to replay the abuse over and over again. Over and over again, I remembered the rape. It’s been over two decades, and I still cannot shake this trauma.
Maybe that kid in the video just needs discipline. Or maybe they’re fighting a battle we know nothing about. Maybe the last thing that parent needs is strangers judging them. Maybe what they need is compassion, and understanding, and patience.
Maybe we don’t know the first fucking thing about other people’s lives. Maybe we should consider that before we whip out the cell phone and start filming.