Murder 

So, some thoughts I wrote some months ago, and still find myself thinking about:

The hardest part of abuse is defining it.
You can’t. 

It’s not one thing, it’s a complex and systematic unraveling of a person, and most abhorrently it involves a warping of reality, a blurring of events that, so easily, are reframed and redefined to discredit you.

You’re taught not to trust yourself. 

And what happens then, if everyone who sees it happening spends decades asserting and reasserting that YOU are the problem? That every bit of truth told is a selfishness, a conspiracy?

This post is about the protracted death of the person I was born being. Yes, #extra, but it will soon come clear why I have ended up that way 

It’s taken a lot of time to build the certainty to write about this, and months and months of research, a heavy emphasis on ‘search’. I had to find the evidence, see, had to drag out concrete examples out from web pages, blogs, pdfs of books. But the thing about abuse is this: even an itemized list would not absolve me, would not condemn the perpetrator. The biggest myth is that you can ever find the words to prove it happened- anyone listening has likely already formed their own conclusions. 

And that’s the worst thing, that I could not rely on my own experiences to make my case. That I had to make a case at all.

In order to believe myself, I needed to be believed, and for years upon years I had been told that nothing that I said or experienced was believable. 

Nearly every single person in my life, denied or ignored and so enabled. There was no well-meaning protector, no friend or teacher who was willing to wonder about my father. But still more people had seen, had been told, yet still refused to acknowlege or intervene.  Quite a lot of them simply joined in, which certainly sent a wonderful message.

That made a dent. The initial harms were awful: fear, humiliation, tight control, occasional violence and constant manipulation. But the lifelong gaslighting by my abuser, his family, and all of their friends? That is the worst thing I have ever lived through. 

I almost didn’t live through it.

I am sure also, that I was not the only one harmed by him. I can only tell my own -selfish, melodramatic- story. But I know there must be many, many more. (I encourage everyone who has felt degraded in this way to speak loudly about it, for their own sake.)

The story is vaguely this: I was born, something happened, and then I was unwelcome. Any thoughts and words and expressions that came from me were nothing, to be ignorned or ridiculed or worse, punished. 
I was called selfish for claiming that I had a right to exist without feeling hated, degraded and afraid.

I was labeled overemotional for crying, paranoid for asking not to be treated in ways that upset me, dramatic for saying the things that were happening to me were wrong. (Not shockingly, years of trauma tend to make accusations of paranoia and emotional lability slowly truer, making it much easier to shift blame).

And there were so many things: the consistent degradation, invalidation, the ridiculing of my experience stayed the worst. But there were threats, intimidation, and and a disregard for my basic boundaries that was absolutely scarring. A lot of shitty things happened.

I had nightmares, I had horrific intrusive thoughts. I was afraid all of the time, of everything. No one whe knew seemed to care, and I had by then lost the trust necessary to tell any of the adults who actually were concerned. I remember being punished for crying, for having emotional responses to blatant cruelty and dismissiveness, and I remember a time out chair in a garage’s semidarkness where I sobbed until I “calmed down” enough to be allowed back upstairs. 
I remember more than once being told that if we didn’t eat our food and drink our milk, he would ‘sit on your chest and force it down your throat’. I am fairly certain I also remember at least one time when he made good on that threat, though I don’t know which one of us it happened to.

I remember that when I began to develop OCD and severe emotional disregulation around kindergarten, I was labeled a frustration and mocked, not supported. It took me a long time to tie my shoes, I was afraid of certain objects,  and I often became paralyzed with worry that I would inadvertently cause my mother to commit suicide. His solution was criticism- to complain that I was “on Lydia time”, and that I needed to “lighten up”. I spent a brief stint in therapy then, but what good is therapy when you are already so afraid of being made fun of that you cannot admit to your fears or talk about your symptoms? 

It felt like life and death, every day. Because as a child with no support outside the family, it was. I would have done anything to avoid being shut out, put down and ostracized. I did. Nothing changed. 

I was really and truly convinced at one point, that I was the only thing that was wrong. That the awful things I was experiencing were my fault.

Maybe to most people it seems or seemed normal, not as bad as it could have been, just something parents do. (Though I’m not responsible for anyone’s unbroken patterns) I know that no collection of examples, even taken together in chronology, will ever be enough to convince some people that I was ever mistreated.

But here, to me, is the worst thing that makes a difference: in every instance, I was visibly hurt and frightened. I did my best to make it known I did not feel alright with what was happening. I tried hard to tell everyone how afraid, uncomfortable and unhappy I felt.  But the fundamental thing was that my comfort, my right to feeling safe, my consent, didn’t fucking matter. At all. 

And that is a pattern which never ended in my family, even when the more overt incidents did.

Because abuse is not a lost temper, an accident, a handful of bad judgments or old fashioned ideas. It is 100% about control – someone who sees themseves as having the right to overrule the ideas, thoughts, opinions, boundaries, plans and even lived experiences – of someone who cannot fight back or get away. (Lundy Bancroft’s amazing book Why Does He Do That? taught me this, and I apologize for any unintentional paraphrasing)

My father, after all, knew what was best. His children were not thinking, emotive beings. We were liabilities and we were possessions, like the house he constantly reminded us was his and not ours. Whether he meant it or not, we became things for him to rule over, receptacles for his superior knowledge, agreeing voices to staunch the wounds of his own insecurities. And we became an avenue for him to garner praise for being the father who who sacrificed everything to raise his girls when his crazy, whore wife left him out of the blue.

The more I read about abuse, manipulation, and control, the less I can believe that story. If I have become so negated, so unreliable to everyone he speaks to me about, what other lies has he told? 

As I grew older, things became less overt and the trauma of those early years -blamed wholly and frequently on my Mother for leaving, rather than my Father for being literally abusive- faded into a kind of monotonous, subtle hostility.

He couldn’t tolerate those normal childhood flaws in us. Nightmares, spilled cups of water, failed recipes, all those q tips I once used to make a breadcrumb trail to some imaginary location. He let us know, often and angrily, that we could not be anything less that convenient, easy, responsible small adults.

There was an attitude that nothing, ever, could or would be adquate. He didn’t choose academics or sports as a pressure point, though. Instead he focused on the minute details of our everyday actions. Every single thing, from the way I blew my nose to what we thought about music or television, had to be challenged and in many cases, corrected.

The criticism got so bad that in high school, I stopped cooking and largely stopped eating while he was awake, so that he would not find fault in the way I boiled my noodles or fried my eggs or put cups into the dishwasher. After I graduated high school, it took me close to six years to learn to cook and eat normally again. And I still have difficulty, when I am reminded of him in any way.

One incredibly hard thing to cope with was how much he seemed to care- he is an emotional, sensitive, and sometimes repentant man. He says ‘I love you’ genuinely and often. He does kind things more than occasionally and does not lack in thoughtfulness. 

But there are things he did which will forever cancel out the kind parts of him, far outweigh any good that was done or that he tried to do.

I am sure that he believes he means well, and I am sure that I do not care.

He gets to wake up to a close family, a distinguished job, loyal friends, a golf membership and relative financial stability. 

I am utterly destroyed, unable to properly work or study, and still coping with obsessive thoughts related to his abuse. I have frequent, disturbing dreams and a psychiatric record that is miles longer than the distance between where he lives and where I can afford to stay. 

I will not feel sorry for him. Or for those who followed his lead.

There are other things to write about, other people who must each have their stories.

There are pieces still sliding into place, details I missed, chains of events that began long before I did. 

But I am learning not to care about that chain.

Causality is nothing when it is used to shift responsibility.
His frustration and the stress of single parenting did not abuse me. His difficult childhood did not abuse me. His poor role models, bottles in their hands, did not abuse me. His lack of knowledge about what was right, his persistent anxiety, his failed marriage – those things did not abuse me.

He did. 

And that’s that.

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futile/ thoughts of what was and wasn’t.

I wish I had lived the first part of my life differently. I wish I’d stayed in ballet. I wish I’d kept my grades up. I wish I’d had a chance to properly go away to college. I wish I could have stayed the person I was then. “As young as I was, I felt older back then. More disciplined, stronger and certain” I was very smart and I was going to go somewhere.

Except I didn’t, and it doesn’t eat at me like it used to, but I do sometimes get sad about who I could have been if so many awful things hadn’t ruined me.

I would be someone else right now, accomplished, composed. Perhaps a bit miserable but I’d at least be what I was supposed to be.

I am not who I was.

I am happy, now, but I’ll never be that person. I’ll never get to have the life that I promised myself.

/

And the AP and the test stress and the grandly excellent grades I was still getting as late as 11th  made it all feel justified and glorious, a very specific kind of romanticized-temporary-pain.

God we were fooling ourselves, then. All those dark habits and accomplished records and lives that were never intense enough to rival our fictions but we believed, we believed.

Or I did.

We were living in the sharpest angst that could ever be and we thought that it would get us somewhere in the end, or at least spill into some worthwhile chaos.

Anything but the pointlessness that we felt slowly evaporating what we thought we were.

I thought I could be that, what I’d built in my head, who I was or had known myself to be. I thought I could push forward and make all of it matter.

I couldnt.

/

I think eveything I tried after that, or at least some of it, was to try to get back.

To a place where I still had something, had a way out.

There was escapism in everything, but a deep part of it -cutting, counting calories, purging- I was trying to dig my way back to who I was at sixteen.

If I was not happy then, at least I was impressive, at least I had value in terms of letter grades.

/

I’m full now, of every good thing. I am unfractured. And i don’t miss it.

But in small moments I do.

Treachery

Perilously you buried

Lines in my flesh

The moment I was born,

Caught into my nerves so that you could yank them when you wanted, put me back in my place

And I see nothing anymore

Inside “I love you” but that ploy

 

 

Years and years,

lost to this and you still pull on those wires

And seek to twitch me like a puppet

I am flooded with adrenaline, guilt you planted

Over epochs, blooming every day within my lungs

And I still shake when I speak up

Still fear the impact

Of those stones you used to throw

 

 

And I am no longer kind, or any sort of naive and I know what to do

If I need to draw blood

To get away I will

If I need to make holes

Inside flesh or if I have cause

To level cities

Burn down homes

On my way out

Well, you have taught me exactly how to rend

And how to kill

And hesitation is not something I still have.

Ending.

I.

You wake up and you know you are free. 

That nothing will ever drag you back.

And it’s not insight this perspective grants you 

(you’ve gone over and over every part of it, and your story’s morals are nothing outside of itself).

It is space, and light, and warmth. 

You can sit where you like, breathe how you were meant to, be the kind of alone that’s empty of fear. 

You can be inelegant, bare your shoulders without a blanket nearby in case a threat comes.

You don’t have to edit your expressions before 

you let them ring free, now; they’re yours.

That self-consciousness they blamed in you, bred into you. It was no petty tendency. It was an impression left, a marker of those threats you weren’t allowed to give a name to.

Darts cutting into your being and mind, sharp, fast things that you couldn’t speak of.

Because, despite all your efforts, the language of reality was taken from you. Contorted and erased by other words. Words that were somehow so much stronger, heavier, louder.

Your effortless truth became a labor to maintain. 

You were almost made to forget,

And then 

II.

Birth is painful.

Light and Air foreign things to skin that has never seen them.

There is so much to be purged. Poison stings when it leaks from your pores and it does for a long, long time. 

The fear, now coupled with truth, swells and rages while you are asleep. You dream of everything that you could not before.

Not images, not happenings, but impressions. Vivid, sick stylized imaginings. You live hundreds of lives in your sleep, feel everything choke you and kill you, only to wake and fall again.

You sleep for hours, for weeks, in broken and inescapable spaces. You are reminding yourself what it was to be there, how it felt to be murdered again and again and again.

You come up for air, wreathed in damp blankets, and you see everything. 

It hurts.

III.

You breathed through your sickness, and for the first time in twenty-four years, it ended.

(Not buried or thrown over, unseated by plans and practicalities. Not flooded out with chemical lights, not bruised or bloodied or anchored to anything, weight to be measured in pain receptors.)

It ended.

Spring Projects: The Paperless Kitchen

Imagine not having to buy paper towels or napkins. Imagine producing less trash. Imagine cleaning and living more sustainably and frugally 
The fabled paperless kitchen

This one can be difficult, friends. But it can also be excellent, depending on who you are. I will say straight up that it did not work for me, at least not all the time. But it might work for you. 

The concept is simple enough: replace all of your napkins and paper towels with towels and cloths, save money and produce less waste. It’s an excellent idea that got me excited.

I even went a step further and stopped using paper tissues, which was great for the skin on my nose. I cut up several old shirts to use as napkins and tissues, and I bought a 34 pack of cheap, scrubby paper towels for wiping down counters and drying spills. I hung a bag to use as a cleaning-cloth-hamper on the wall of my kitchen. I was prepared. I was excited.

It went really, really well for a week or so, until a friend and I made cauliflower wings, and I realized that hot sauce on my cloth napkins was something I could not abide. And there were some other things – the grime behind my bathroom door, goat cheese, that I just felt I needed something disposable to clean. This is primarily because I don’t have access to my own washing machine, and secondarily because I happen to have obsessive compulsive disorder. Anxiety levels vary, but the fact that I wash everything by hand…not so much. Lacking a proper way to get the gross stuff – sometimes actual food pieces – out of my cleaning cloths, really was in some cases deal breaker for me. I ended up tossing out a few because of it.

But in other cases, cloth cleaning is perfect.

I still use cloth to dry damp counters, wipe up water spills and sometimes to clean sinks, floors and surfaces with soaps  baking soda or cleaning sprays. But I do not use them to clean up food, or anything particularly grimy. 

It’s a part-time compromise that allows me to decide when to use paper and when to use cloth, depending on my anxiety level.

So that’s where I am.

If you happen to be interested in eliminating or reducing paper from your house, I encourage you to try it! Let me know how it works out! 

A Recipe for Bad Money Weeks. (And how to eat well on a small budget.)

If you can’t buy groceries this week or if you find your food budget suddenly shrunken, this post is for you. Here you will find a recipe, and some other ideas for eating well on very little money. You can look up statistics on millenial poverty and the inadequacy of food stamp benefits on your own. Today it’s just practical advice.

This is a bean soup. It is cheap. It is filling. It can easily be vegan. And it tastes really, really good.

At least I think so.

No measurments here. Because, well, in this particular recipe they don’t actually matter. It’s less about precision and more about making whatever you have work- in a way that still manages to be tasty. It does presuppose that you have a few things…pepper, oil, boullion, access to clean water and a stock pot or similarly giant soup making vessel, but all in all you can make it with next to nothing, and it will fill you up with warmth and food and cozy feelings.
(I didn’t take any pictures while cooking today. I’m sorry. I’ll try to paint a picture with my words.)

Ingredients:

An onion, some dried beans, water, oil or another shortening, pepper, a little garlic powder, and some boullion.

That’s it. You might think such a sparse list of ingredients wouldn’t yeild a hearty meal, but it does. Oh, it does. Trust me there.

Here’s how you do it:

First and foremost, soak some dried beans. You can do this overnight or over a few hours, depending on how much time you have to actually cook the soup. Mixed beans (or “16 beans”) are the best for this soup, since they come in all shapes and colors and have some texture and flavor variety. You will need about half a bag.

Take your onion (i used a gigantic red onion, but any kind will do) and chop it into pieces. They can be as large or as small as you like, but i prefer to have bigger pieces, since they’ll add more color and shape to your soup.

Put your onions in your soup pot with a little oil, butter, or really any shortening you like and fry them until they are barely softened and perhaps a little browned, but not anywhere near mushy. Keep those guys a bit crisp.

Next, add as much water as you will need – depending on your pot- and a teaspoon of boullion paste. (I used Better than Boullion’s vegetable base, which happens to be vegan.) If you’re using a premade broth or a dried boullion cube, prepare your liquid soup base ahead of time.

Stir in your boullion, as much pepper as you like and anywhere from 1-3 teaspoons of garlic powder. At this point you should start to see it turn into soup. Add the beans, turn down your heat, and simmer forever. I cooked mine for about two hours.

There will be bubbles and perhaps some foam on the top. It won’t hurt you (it’s a normal bean thing), but feel free to get rid of it if you want. Stir occasionally and taste to see if you want to add any spices.

When the beans are soft enough to eat, it’s done. If all goes well you’ll have a somewhat thick, brown soup full of gorgeous beans and softened onions. It will taste as good as it looks (or better, depending on your definition of comfort food).

And that’s it! You have a full pot of 2-5 meals, depending on the size of your family. Enjoy♡.

Tips & variations: More beans = more food, since they are the most filling part. Adding cloves of fresh garlic to your onion sautee is delicious (just skip the garlic powder). Mushrooms also taste amaaazing  when added at this step. Rice or barley would be a great way to give it a little more heart. Canned tomatoes, diced or pureed, will shift the flavor a bit if that’s your thing 

Some other tips for eating well, inexpensively:

  • Lentils. Lentils!! LENTILS. They are tasty, inexpensive and good in soups, salads and wraps as well as alone. 
  • Pasta. A broke-young-person stereotype for a reason. Always keep a few boxes in the back of your cupboard.
  • Couscous. It grows exponentially when you cook it, and a box is cheap and usually serves two.
  • Frozen vegetables. There are real possibilities here, if you can stop steaming them plain. Frozen corn can become cajun with some butter and spices. Squash or zucchini can be roasted. Carrots are wonderful with a little butter, honey and parsley. Stir fry mix, with a little effort, can actually become a spicy noodle dish. You are missing out, friends.
  • Frozen fruit. Sounds terrible. But frozen fruit actually come in a lot more variety than you think, and maintains its texture if you thaw it corrwctly. Put frozen mangoes and blueberries in your yogurt, make strawberry smoothies- either with a blender, or a fork and some determination, put  mixed berries on your pancakes. It’s good for you.
  • And the usual tips: buy in bulk, less packaging is cheaper, try the store brand, use coupons, etcetera. These common wisdoms are not baseless, they do work.

Do you have any thoughts, tips or opinions? Let me know in the comments.