And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.
~Granny Weatherwax to Brother Oats when discussing the nature of sin in Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
If I had to single out one cruelty among the history of my child abuse committed by my abusers, I would say that it is the demand that I understood my abusers. The argument that the abuse was my fault and that I drove them to it. That if I just behaved differently it would not happen.
Yes there were other cruelties, especially, instilling in me a sense that I needed to be alone, that people were to be avoided. That people were dangerous, and if they ever got to know me they would want nothing to do with me. That I had no people skills.
That one is still a favourite among two of my main abusers: that I don’t have any people skills. And it is one that I can say with certainty that I know is untrue, my principal (the name for the attorney that supervises an article clerk) and a number of advocates consistently complimented me on my people skills. On the fact that I knew how to deal with people in some of the most stressful situations that they experience.
But sometimes, I start believing the lies. And if I am under a large amount of stress, I do lose a level of those people skills. I suppose that there fight or flight kicks in on a higher plane, and niceties become non-essential.
If there is a lesson in all of this experience, one thing that I need to learn, I believe it is this: People matter. People are not things. I am a person, therefore I matter and I am not a thing.
Perhaps, because I was told that I need to understand my abusers, that it was my fault, I have always been interested in the reasons behind people’s behaviour. I have always looked at the motivation and their big picture. Of course, perhaps, there is an entirely different reason, or no reason.
And so, I have looked down the rabbit hole, and I have tried to understand their experiences. And the most frightening thing is. I can. Even worse than being able to understand, I can empathize. I have seen that they could not see anything but darkness.
That they could see no other option, no other choice in the circumstance.
One of the things that I have observed and that fascinates me, is the fact that those closest to my abusers and those who saw the environment most frequently could not or did not or would not (and still don’t) see what was going on.
This of course is a powerful weapon for an abuser, to be able to say “you see, it did not happen like that” “you are crazy”. But unexpectedly, people have given me the gift of outside observation. Of saying, we saw what went down, and were amazed that you did not see it too, but we did not know what we could do to help…
And then, a realization and flashes of insight, where I understand and saw what they did.
I sometimes wonder how the abuse could be kept so secret, how when I exhibited so many of the classical symptoms of abuse it could be ignored. But I have realized and learnt that people do not want to look closely at reality, especially if it may have inconvenient consequences. After all, if someone appears to be a pillar of the community it is much easier to believe that than it is to face up to some unpleasant realities, that perhaps there is more than meets the eye, and the person is not a saint.
But that’s the thing, I think, no one is perfect. I don’t think my abusers were evil. It would be much easier if they were or if I could believe that they were. They are people. And people sometimes do bad things. People sometimes do good things. Sometimes the same person will do something incredibly good and incredibly bad in the space of the same day.
We are complex and flawed creatures, each and every one of us.
Of course, I think there is a power that comes from observing, especially from observing yourself. If there is a power that will allow me to break this cycle of abuse it is this. Acknowledging the darkness, realizing that part of the darkness was shaped by the past, and knowing that the future is not set in stone. (I know that my mother was abused by her mother, and her mother in turn was abused by her mother…ironically enough this knowledge comes from the family GP who did nothing about it, apart from tell me that I would probably inflict the same damage and behavior on my own child)
I think the whole concept of keeping silent around abuse and the evils of what when down in the past, especially on the basis that you must not speak ill of the dead, creates a grotesque circle of pain and trauma.
The thing is trauma and pain are ugly. And as people we are not really equipped to deal with ugly. And so in ugly circumstances we don’t manage to live up to who we really are. Who we have the potential to become. We revert to being brutal, savage creatures.
But in this ugly storm we can choose to face the light, and when we do we might see the most beautiful rainbow.