WARNING: MAY BE TRIGGERING
My session with my counsellor yesterday was slightly emotionally harrowing. We touched a little on the abuse I experienced as a kid. She had asked me why I though I found it so difficult to speak up for myself, and I needed to explain how I had kept such a big secret for so many years that not speaking up for myself is pretty much second nature to me.
She then wanted to know if I had ever told anyone about the abuse, did I think my abuser had done it to anyone else, why hadn’t I ever told my family. I told her that I didn’t think there was any point in upsetting anyone – it would cause distress to too many people.
I also told her that I have dealt with the psychological consequences of my abuse pretty well, and it’s no longer really an issue for me. Once upon a time, it was what defined me, but that’s no longer the case. I can go for weeks without thinking about it. In fact, the real issue, these days, with the whole situation is how it’s affected my relationship with my family. I can’t – just really can’t – understand how in a family of 10 people in a tiny 3 bedroom house, no-one twigged what was going on. I have less people in my much larger house these days, and I am aware, at all times, what everyone is up to. I cannot understand, when we all pretty much lived in everyone else’s pockets, how they didn’t know. I’m not even sure that I believe that they didn’t. And it hurts to think that I was the sacrificial lamb.
Similarly, in all the years I have struggled with depression as an adult, and no-one in my family has ever asked, cared, or noticed. And yes, I’ve never told, because I’ve heard various family members making derogatory comments about others we know with depression along the lines of “Oh, she should just have some chocolate and get over it, like we all do”, or “We all have problems – what makes him think his are so much worse?”
Last week in my counselling session, we discussed my support network, and I explained that I didn’t have one. No real friends; negligible family support. I don’t speak much to my family, and they don’t speak much to me. This week my counsellor asked if I thought that this state of affairs was due to my feelings about the abuse situation, and I said that yes, I thought it was.
Now I’m not so sure though. There is more to it than that, although the feelings of abandonment and having been let down by my family due to the abuse are certainly a key factor.
I am the 7th out of 8 kids, raised pretty much by our mother as our father was too busy being an alcoholic. It was difficult to get attention. I think I was a pretty trying child; I only have to look at my daughter, who I understand absolutely due to the fact that she is so incredibly like me. She can be a trying child, but she can also be incredibly sweet and loving. But in my family, where everyone else was so goddamned NICE, I was the difficult one. Along with my older brother (next one up from me), who was difficult in his own special way. And our competition was our cute, smart, redheaded little sister, who was the apple of everyone’s collective eye.
I look at my sons today and how they relate to their difficult, troublesome little sister. And yes, she annoys them and they let her know, but they are also kind and patient with her. They take time to play with her and tell her things that might interest her and share jokes with her. They give her little gifts – toys or books they’ve grown out of that they know she will like. I don’t recall any of this type of kindness from my family. I remember only being considered tiresome and everyone being otherwise uninterested in me.
As an adult, my family has shown themselves to be spectacularly uninterested in me or my well-being. I frequently feel guilty that I’m not more “in touch” with them. However, the fact is that I can’t remember the last time anyone except my younger sister called me of their own volition. It’s always expected that I will keep in touch with them, but not other way around. Yet, when I speak to my mother, and she says, “Have you spoken to so-and-so lately?” and I respond in the negative, I manage to feel profoundly guilty.
And even with my younger sister, she calls me only when she needs something from me. I thought we had a reasonably good relationship until my 40th birthday. She rang to wish me a happy birthday, and said she ought to bring a bottle of Moet over to celebrate. I told her she was welcome to do so, I didn’t have any other plans. Her response: “Oh, but I don’t have [her daughter's name] with me.” And I realised that she maintained contact with me simply so she’d have someplace to take her daughter on those times when she had nothing else to do. She had her own 40th recently, and there were pictures of her with friends celebrating, and again it was reinforced that I may be her sister, but I’m not her friend. I don’t know – I just think that most people would invite their sibling(s) to a birthday celebration, especially a big one. But, in summary, I have accepted that my relationship with my younger sister is little more than a convenient stopover/babysitter when she needs to keep her daughter entertained.
So, that’s my family. I don’t keep in contact with them, nor they with me. Recently, my eldest sister went through some serious shit, and I did call her a couple of times. I assured her that if there was anything she needed, she just had to say the word. And I meant it. But I haven’t called her since, and she hasn’t called me. I don’t really know how to offer support. I don’t really know how to help.
I have spent my entire life – first as a frightened, abused child, then as a frightened, guild-ridden teen, then as a depressed and desperate young adult, then as a frightened, depressed, out-of-my-depth parent, and now in the depressed and defeated state I now find myself – being so devoid of any kind of support from either family or friends that I have never learned what I need to do to be supportive to anyone else.
And there is a part of me that, in all honesty, doesn’t want to offer support. There is the part of me that says, “Why should I? When were you ever there for me?” And that is the part that justifies my not calling, or following up, or asking after so-and-so when I speak to my mother. Because when did anyone ever ask after me? No-one has ever, ever been there for me.
So I continue to not call. And this year, I have been contemplating removing my family from my life entirely. I have changed the access of family members to my Facebook profile. My younger sister sent me a text the other day to let me know she was going camping this weekend and it suddenly struck her she should have invited one of my kids along (why she felt the need to tell me that, I don’t know – she didn’t need anything from me so of course it wouldn’t have occurred to her beforehand), and I haven’t responded.
The laughable part is, of course, that I doubt anyone has even noticed. And it’s possible that if I simply vanished from their lives that it might be a relief for them as well, to no longer have an association with that difficult, troublesome child.