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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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.

Spring Projects: The New Washing Machine

I’ve always dreaded doing laundry. I’m one to accumulate heaps of dirty clothes in shockingly brief periods of time, only to do more stressing about it than cleaning. So when I learned that my new apartment wouldn’t have a laundry room, I made a resolution to rethink my process of dealing with my dirty clothes.

First, I did a purging of that laundry pile – I put on Archer and discarded a metric ton of old and worn pajamas, crappy socks, ripped tights, and day clothes that no longer felt like they matched my aesthetic. This article and a few others like it helped me assuage the guilt that (at least for me) always comes with getting rid of old clothes.

Then, I bought this:

It’s a tool for actually making machine-less laundry practical and doable, and it cost me $25. $30 if you count the plastic tub I bought at walmart to do my washing in. And it’s awesome.

I’ve washed a myriad of things so far- towels, delicates, sweatpants – and I can vouch that they’re just as clean as when I used a machine to wash them. And the whole process is freeee. No trips to the parents’ house or weird monetary alchemy required to turn debit cards into quarters.

Majorly important for me, however, is that it’s taken the anxiety out of doing laundry, and given me control over how my clothes are washed. I don’t intend to pull damaged or shrunken clothes out of archaic driers ever again.

So, on to the tutorial:

You will need a bathtub, one breathing mobile washer, some laundry soap or baking soda, and a plastic basin big enough to fill with water and clothes (using your entire bathtub is an option, but if your tub is old or hasn’t just been cleaned, your clothes will be soaking in whatever is stuck to the sides).

1. Fill the plastic tub with water and a very little bit of soap- much less than you’d put in a machine. I use about a teaspoon per load, and usually put it in first so that it mixes well with the running water. Depending on how big your container is, adjust accordingly.

2. Splash it around to get some bubbles going, and put in your clothes. Mix them around a bit, and let them soak for 15 or 20 minutes, or about the length of a half hour netflix show.

3. This is the fun part. Once they’ve soaked, take your mobile washer and put it on the surface of the water, then plunge down. Again. And again. This will take some effort if you’re out of shape like I am, but it’s a free workout!

If your clothes are really dirty or if at any time the water looks gross, feel free to dump it out and refresh, then keep washing. You can repeat this step as many times as it takes, but it really should only take one vigorous wash or a few gentle ones (be nice to your delicates!) to get everything clean.

 

4. Rinse. I’ve found that it’s best to do this in your plastic tub as running your clothes under the faucet can stretch them. Just fill your tub with clear water, and rinse out each item until the soap is out. You might have to rinse, dump and refill if it’s a big load.

5. Hang them to dry! Carefully and gently squeeze out most of the water – consequences from roughly wringing out some sweatpants proved to me this part is essential- and hang them im a way that supports the item’s shape. The top of a drying rack is good for shirts or sweaters that might stretch when hung vertically. You can also lay fragile garments out on a towel, preferably near an air vent or fan.

6. Drying will take so time, so be sure you have clothes to wear in the meantime.

7. Celebrate the fact that you’ve just done laundry the old fashioned / green / frugal / minimalist/ [insert trend here] way, make some tea and relax.

♡♡

I actually really love doing laundry this way. It’s somehow calming to me, and it eliminates a lot of stress that I would ordinarily have in dealing with layndry. I may have wet clothes hanging in embarrassing places – like the top of a giant box I’ve yet to recycle- but that’s a small price to pay for a simple laundry process that doesn’t overcomplicate my life or aggravate my presently miniscule budget.

This is the first of a series of revolutions in how I live, clean, and manage my life. Stay tuned for more practical-green-frugal-&-sorta-minimalist posts.

 

 

 

 

Priorities / I don’t need anything I don’t want to need.

I’m broke. 

Things have just worked out that way. It’s been the case for some months, but it’s truly hit a new low. A good low.

(Yes, it’s terrible sometimes, bursts of occasional horrifying anxiety spirals, oft brought on by awful legislation proposals, but) I really prefer and love the way I’ve been living. I’m thinking far more carefully about how I spend my money, and I’ve reached a conclusion that’s the literal antithesis of everything I was ever taught. And it’s simplified the hell out of everything. Erased a lot of difficult questions from my mind.

I don’t actually need most of the things a person is supposed to need.

I have always, always hated spending money on necessities. Those expensive or frequently-replaced items that add no real (color? happiness? dare I say fun?) to my life but seem to sap my bank account alarmingly quickly. It’s. ..sad. To watch money you could be using for a this-is-why-I’m-alive experience slip away for the sake of something you buy because you should. But I have no children. I don’t own a car. I live alone. So in a lot of ways, I’m able to be quite flexible. 

And I would much rather put my money into something that makes my life a little richer -a concert, a book, lunch with my best friend. Some good tea or a really quality lipstick. Those things matter to me, and the less money I have, the more I want to spend it on things that feel like investments – in self care, in experience, in moments that feel good.

_________

I can’t afford a microwave. Or rather, I’m not willing to shell out that much money for a kitchen appliance I can technically go without. My new place didn’t come with one, so I looked at some blogs to be sure there were other ways to heat up food and make frozen things unfrozen. There are. 

For the past week I’ve been sleeping on the floor of my new bedroom, my top half bundled in blankets and the rest of me stuffed into an $8 sleeping bag my best friend bought me. And I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s surprisingly comfortable, I sleep better than I did before. So why waste the equivalent of my rent – money I truly cannot spare- on a mattress when I have this cozy space I’ve cultivated ?

My laptop recently succumbed to its charging issues. That’s okay, my tablet works. I want to take dance classes, but I’ve been practicing ballet in the empty room at the back of the house and  I love  it. The lack of clutter. The single aloe plant. One me. One screen with a youtube tutorial on it. It’s nice. 

I don’t have any chairs, but I’ve been sitting under my big front windows, coloring, listening to podcasts, unworried. I feel good here, without any furniture yet or any of the decorative nonsense I couldn’t get in the move, stuff I’d previously felt obligated to find space for simply because I owned it.

I honestly don’t want much more in my home than what little is already here. Living without some of the things people would say I need has opened up space in my world, and in my budget, for the things that I really want.

So, without further ado – here’s my blueprint for the the next several months. Commence the experiment.

Things I’m Not Going To Buy

  • A Microwave or a Toaster (a cheap toaster oven or just the oven should do)
  • A Bed (cute bargain area rug to replace the quilt I’m using as a base, a few throw pillows and all the blankets I’m currently under)
  • A Couch (ENORMOUS BEAN BAG SQUISH – yes they do exist, yes it is way cheaper, yes I am 100% trying it.)
  • A Full Set Of Dishes (Just a few plates and bowls will cut down on dishes.)
  • Paper Towels (I go through so many of these. I can’t wait to replace them with reusable cleaning cloths)
  • Cleaning Chemicals (Ew, major OCD trigger. I’ve already long since traded these in for vinegar and baking soda and lemon juice.)
  • Washing Machines (I’ll only be taking my towels and pajamas to the laundromat, and I’ll be doing the rest in the tub.)
  • Meat (I’ve wanted to fully go veg for a long while, plus meat is frustrating to cook and damn expensive)

Things I Am Going To Buy (when I’m able)

  • Some new bras, first and foremost
  • Meals with friends
  • Tickets to Concerts/Live Podcast Shows/Musicals/The Museum I now live down the street from
  • A few new pieces for my tired wardrobe
  • Treats and candy for adventures and depression days
  • Fun, unexpected experiences

    So, here goes a lifestyle I think might lack some of the stress I’ve been carrying around.

    Also, you know. For The Aesthetic.

    ♡.