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Parents I've spent years trying to figure out if my parents were abusive.   This probably sounds crazy - my shrink, friends, etc. all say, "yes, definitely, your parents were abusive" but I'm not sure. When I call my parents abusive, I feel like I'm lying. They justify everything that happened as discipline.

My mother's first husband (my biological father) was a real bastard - this isn't in question. He abused me and my mother, he was really horrible, she left him - fine, that's over. Whatever, I can deal with all that.   I got away from him because HIS parents told my mother to take me and go and never let him know where I was.  He was really THAT bad.

But it's the actions of my step-father and my mother that I question.  I mean, I don't think most people consider spanking abusive.  But what about hair pulling, shaking, punching, etc?   How many trips to the ER, stitches, broken bones, before it's considered abuse?   There were multiple events that involved dragging me through the house by my hair.  Getting thrown into walls.  I once had a (roughly 1" square) wooden coat hanger broken over my back.  But the physical stuff was less of a big deal.  The mental stuff is what kills.
 
In addition to the "standard" abuse that left physical scars, they were often very creative with their abuse.  Smashing or burning toys, books, and other personal items, particularly in front of us, was a great punishment.  And, they were very creative with food.

I would like to point out, none of us kids ever did drugs, used bad language, ran away, stole cars, or committed any crimes. We didn't stay out 'til all hours, etc. (My brothers and I were Christians and pretty serious about it.  I was practically fanatical for awhile.  Point is, we'd have tried to be good even w/ out the abuse.  My parents were christian only for show - what would the neighbors think was a big deal to them.  My step-father was a raging alcoholic, and my mother thought "birds of a feather flock together" was in the bible)  Basically, the things we were punished for were: talking back (the definition of which changed every day), not getting good enough grades, not finishing work in the time allowed, etc.  And "talking back" usually meant literally saying something in response to something they'd said.  Like, if they asked a question and we didn't give the answer they wanted.  It didn't mean being sassy.  None of us were that stupid.  And the "chores" we were assigned - a 5 year old responsible for cleaning the entirety of a large house.  A 7 year old mowing and weeding a large yard.  And always in some ridiculous time period,  like 2 hours.

We moved into a rental house when I was 5 (this is shortly after my mother and step-father got married) The house came with a dog - basically, the landlord left his dog on his rental property because he didn't want to deal with it himself. Shortly after we moved into the house, the dog bit me severely. I have three large scars on my arm, still, 20 years later. After that, I never went into the back yard, which is where the dog lived. When I was 9, he bit me again - in the front yard. I guess someone left the gate open. He jumped up and bit me on the back of the neck. My parents laughed and made the comment that he was "going for the throat". They kept the dog until it died of natural causes, when I was about 12.

When I was about 5, I was sent to a nearby grocery store for a carton of milk. I saw a carton of milk on the shelf it was easiest for me to reach. I could read the word "buttermilk" on it. I thought this was what I needed to buy - after all, butter comes from milk, so that seemed right. I bought the carton and went home. My mother was angry that I had bought "buttermilk" instead of regular milk, and made me drink the whole carton. I remember it as being the most disgusting thing I have ever drank.

We (my two step-sisters who lived with us for a while after my mother married their father, myself, and my two little brothers) were frequently "spanked" with a leather strap on our bare asses. The number of hits ("licks", as my parents called them) varied based on the "crime". Not finishing the yard work (we had a two acre yard) in the prescribed time was, maybe, 20 licks. Talking back was, maybe 40 licks. This depended on their mood, severity of the trespass, etc. These spankings always left large red welts and sometimes bruises. Plus, the added humiliation of having to pull your pants and underwear down in front of your siblings and step-father or step-mother.

My step-father had a thing about crying.  He would stand there, hitting you, telling you not to cry.  I quickly learned not to cry at all, but this made him even madder.

My mother (never my step-father that I can recall) liked to punish us by breaking/burning or throwing away our things. For example, she once put everything breakable one of my step-sisters owned in a garbage bag - things like, ceramic figures, a walkman, etc. She them made my step-sister beat on it with a hammer until everything was in bits. I don't remember what she had done to deserve this punishment - I think it was "having a bad attitude" but I don't remember details.

When I was 4, I spent several months in the hospital after a serious accident.  I was given a stuffed buffalo by a friend or relative.  When I got out of the hospital, it was taken away.  Here I am, a tiny child who just went through a severe trauma, and the one thing that gave me comfort is taken away, for no reason.  My mom also frequently said that nothing belonged to us - since it was in her house, it was hers - even if it was a gift to us, or if we bought it with our own money.  Maybe this is a good thing, though - I'm not materialistic.  If something of mine gets lost or broken, so what?

Talk about a mind fuck.  My mother would accuse me of something.  Then my step-father would ask me if I'd done it.  If I said yes, then of course I'd get my ass kicked.  If I said no, he said I was "calling my mother a liar" and I'd get my ass kicked.  There was no right answer.

My mother apparently realized when I was very young that I was very intelligent and she resented the hell out of it.  My real father had a lot to do with this, I'm sure - he had been smart, went to Princeton, etc. and felt having a genius baby was his due.  So, he liked to parade me around friends like I was a circus freak - look, so tiny, yet she can say the alphabet!  Look, she taught herself to read at only four!  Watch the freak speak in adult sentences!  My mom hated this.  She spent years telling me how stupid and generally useless I was.  And I believed her.  I still struggle with feeling like an idiot most of the time.  She hated for me to read.  She would burn my books as punishment.  She always told me I'd never be able to get into college or have a job.  If I ever mentioned wanting a job that was anything better than, say, the cashier at a supermarket, she got angry.  I'd never be able to be a vet or a "scientist".  I'd be lucky if I could be a ditch digger.  (She told me about once a week that I was destined to be a ditch digger 'cause I was too stupid and lazy for anything else.)

My mother liked to blame me for society's ills in general, but things that happened at school in particular.  She used to scream at me about the lyrics in rock music, or about crimes "teenagers" had committed.  She thought the initiative to hold parent's responsible for crimes their children committed was some personal affront against her by me.  As for school, she got angry at me if we did something at school she considered a waste of time, such as watching a film, no matter it's educational value.  It was a waste of time - they sent me there to learn, and this is an exact quote, "reading, writing, and rithmetic."  Anything else we did was a waste of time, and how dare I do it!  I, personally, deserved to be punished for what the teachers decided we do.

Teachers sending anything home deserved punishment, even a flyer announcing PTA night.   Clearly, it meant I was bad.  If every student in my class was supposed to take their classwork home and get it signed, and I had 19 100s and  1 98, it must mean everyone else had 20 100s and I was so stupid I needed punishment.   She never believed me when said everyone had to get it signed.   Of course, I hated when we were supposed to get anything signed.   What was the point of that, anyway?  So your parents would beat the crap out of you a few extra times before report cards?

I took a piece of cheese out of the refrigerator. I was slapped several times for this - it was "stealing" (I guess since I hadn't asked permission - People don't usually consider taking food in the house you live in stealing, but whatever. I didn't know I was supposed to ask permission, as the rules in the house changed regularly).   One day, if they said "shut up" and you didn't say anything, you were ignoring them - smack! "next time, say YES SIR".  The next day, if they said "shut up" and you said "yes, sir" you were talking back.  You could get your mouth literally washed out with soap for "talking back", or, if you were lucky, you just got smacked.  It became easier not to talk at all - and strangely, they didn't object to this - maybe they saw it as a sign that they'd won, they'd broken me.  I stopped talking when I entered 7th grade and didn't start again until high school (about 2 years total.)   Until the school system finally noticed something was wrong and recommend to my parents that I have some therapy.  Since attracting attention to our family was the worst thing in the world, I still wonder why this event didn't make them angry.  My therapist says she's only ever had one other patient that stopped talking as a defense mechanism.

My 2 brothers and my 2 step-sisters all wet the bed every night, until they were about 14. Wetting the bed past the time when it is normal is considered a symptom of child abuse. I never had "an accident" past the age of 2 - something my mother liked to point out with pride.  Was this caused by their abuse?  Maybe they just inherited a small bladder from their father, and I didn't, 'cause I had a different father.

There was a crime in our family called "accepting" - to be accused of "accepting" was a fate worse than death. "Accepting" meant taking something from someone other than your parents. If you got a piece of candy from a friend, it was "accepting" and was bad. If someone gave you a gift and you took it, even your teacher or Sunday school teacher, it was "accepting". Punishment for "accepting" was severe. After I moved out of the house, I finally asked my mother what was so bad about "accepting". She said "if we wanted you to have something, we would give it to you" and "if you take soda or candy from someone, it might have the date rape drug in it". Sharing a soda with our 7 year old best friend might expose us to the date rape drug.

We weren't allowed to keep  gifts from relatives or our parents friends, except very neutral things like slippers. My mom's best friend sometimes gave us earrings for Christmas or birthdays, people gave toys, etc.. These were always taken away as soon as the giver left, and we were told we could have them when we were "better". We never got them.

My step-sister was once given a necklace by a boy her age who liked her. Not only was my step-sister guilty of the horrible crime of "accepting", but also possibly receiving stolen property. The value of this necklace couldn't have been more than $5 - it was obviously cheap, probably purchased at a gas store, but to a 12 year old, was precious. Not only did my step-sister not get to keep the necklace, but she got punished for "accepting" it - and she had to listen to my mother call her friend, a justice-of-the-peace, and ask her if anyone had reported a similar necklace stolen. My mother was convinced someone had stolen the necklace, and my step-sister would go to jail for receiving stolen property if she kept it. The justice-of-the-peace told my mother no, it wasn't reported stolen (I'm sure she was laughing on the other end of the phone)

When my mother first married my step-father, she came up with a whole weird set of rules. I hadn't learned the rules yet. I hadn't learned that making jokes was something you could get punished for. My mother was cooking - she was trimming raw fat off some piece of meat. One of us, me or one of my step-sisters, I don't remember who, made the joke that the fat looked like jelly. My mother said, "I guess I don't have to give you desert today, you can eat the jelly". We all laughed, thinking she was joking. At the end of the meal, she made us eat the disgusting, raw beef fat. We soon learned not to make jokes or laugh about anything.

I've always thought making your child stand in the corner when they were bad was a normal punishment. I've been told the way my parents did it was crazy. Example - once, one of my step-sisters stuck her tongue out at her teacher at school. It happened to be near the thanksgiving weekend. My step-sister had to spend the entire, 3 day Thanksgiving weekend, standing in the corner of the house of the relative we were spending Thanksgiving with. All our relatives were there.

There was a kind of psychological torture going on there.  I mean, threats of disfigurement, amputation, aimed toward a small child or even a teenager is just insane.  My step-sister had bad acne.  Her father told her he was going to wash her face with steel wool if her acne didn't clear up, as though it were her fault.  They also threatened to use a bull whip on us - they specifically said that the bull whip was good 'cause it would make our skin fly off in pieces.   They'd threaten to cut off our hands or fingers because we spilled something, or didn't do some job well enough.  "stomp a mud hole in your ass" was a kinda funny, but no less scary, threat.

We were all frequently punished for "walking by things". This means, if we walked through the yard, and we passed a leaf, scrap of paper, or other item, and didn't pick it up and put it in the trash, we were lazy - we were just walking buy things without taking care of them. I always felt no amount of diligence on our part would make sure we saw EVERY SINGLE LITTLE THING wrong in our yard - it was huge, for one thing. No matter how much searching, we always missed something, but "I didn't see it" was no excuse - if we didn't pick it up, we were lazy and got punished. Same thing in the house - if there was some chore and they thought we should have just known to take care of it and we didn't, we were lazy and got punished.

There was one Christmas, when my mother told me in advance, she had bought me a doll and a jewelry box, and if I found them under the tree, I'd know she loved me.  They weren't under the tree.  She did give them to me a few hours later, though.

I'm sure my parents felt they had to be particularly horrible to my step-sisters because their childish transgressions were leading them down a "bad path".  I'm sure that the fact that my step-sisters turned into druggie sluts is "proof" of this in my parents mind.  They'll never recognize the fact that my step-sisters WENT wild BECAUSE of all the crazy punishments and bad treatment they received.  My parents always treated them like second-class citizens.  They couldn't eat at the dining room table with the rest of the family - they had to eat in the kitchen.  They weren't even allowed in the living room, or even to walk through the living room on the way to the front door.  They had to go out the back door, through the back gate, every morning to catch the school bus.  They were never allowed to watch TV.  They had to stay in their room all the time when they weren't at school or doing chores - even if they weren't being punished. 

One of the worst things was the total inability to predict what was going to happen.  I never knew all the rules, or they changed on a minute-by-minute basis.  It was just so unstable.  I felt like I was walking on quick sand and i just never knew what was going to happen.   My father's drinking, my step-father's drinking, I could deal with.  My mother's insanity was just so random.    I still struggle with this.  I mean, it's almost like a compulsive disorder.  If I don't fold the towels this way, I'll be attacked by spiders.  If I don't sweep the kitchen floor, the house will burn down.  I used to call my answering machine when I wasn't home, 'cause if it answered, I knew my house hadn't burned down.  I'd worry that if someone was 5 minutes late, they were dead.  But I shouldn't call them, because if I did, my phone call could cause them to have an accident and die.  My therapist says this feeling that some random badness will happen if I'm not doing things just "right,"  the feeling that I'm responsible for EVERYTHING the universe might do to me or anyone I care about,  is normal with abused kids, and it's something I've worked on a lot in therapy and I'm better at dealing with.

One pretty minor thing still bothers me today.  My grandfather, great grandmother, mother, and I were going to play dominoes.  I didn't know how, but they wouldn't tell me the rules.  I had to guess, and they'd make fun of me if I did something wrong.  That was called "learning the hard way" and they all said that's how they'd had to learn.  Nice to know my mother didn't develop in a vacuum.  b2s (the guy I live with) gets upset when he wants to play a game with me, 'cause I'm still nervous and anxious and I freak out.  I want to be in control, I want to read the rules then I'll tell people how to play.  It's hard to explain but it's weird and it's one of the situations that cause me a great deal of anxiety.  Though I've gotten better.

And I never knew what was real.  I still deal with this today.  My mother had the ability to convince me that something I knew had happened, that I had physical scars from, had never happened.  She had the ability to make me believe something I did with good intentions, I actually did 'cause I was bad and trying to manipulate her.   If I told her I loved her, her response was "what did you do?" or "what do you want?", "what are you buttering me up for?".  If I complimented her on something she cooked, she'd say "I don't cook bad food".  It became easier to just not talk.  I spent years not laughing, crying - suppressing all emotion.   It took me years to be able to laugh.  When I first moved in with my live-in boyfriend, I used to get very nervous when he'd watch TV and laugh at a sitcom.  Didn't he know laughing was dangerous?

After a few years, my stepsisters escaped and got to live with their real mother.  This was somewhat of a relief.  I don't know exactly why, but my mom in particular was much less hard on me and my brothers with my step-sisters were gone.   Of course, this now meant that I was solely responsible for the state of the entire house and yard, as well as taking care of my brothers whenever we weren't in school.  I manged, though - if everything wasn't perfect when my step-dad came home,  I got beat.  You'd be amazed how much you can accomplish with that kind of motivation.

From the earliest time I can remember, I always had to take care of my mother.  I was always the adult in our relationship.  She'd tell me about her sex life, just way too much information for your child, at any age, but especially at that young age, to deal with.  When I was 5 and my first brother was born, she'd go off and leave us alone together for hours.  It started w/ "if the baby's awake when I get back, you are going to be in trouble" so if he'd wake up, I'd change him, feed him, whatever I could to get him back to sleep.  Pretty soon, I was his primary care giver, and when my second brother was born, I took care of both of them, most of the time.   It was so overwhelming.   It's a miracle neither of those kids died.  I had no idea what I was doing.  The baby reaches for a hamburger?  Give him a piece. I didn't know anything and felt totally helpless, with two even more helpless beings to take care of.   Even thinking about it now, so many years later, makes me feel like I'm drowning. 

Seeing  those two little bodies covered in bruises just killed me.  To this day, if i see a little boy with any bruises, scrapes, it just gives me instant flashbacks.   I hated that i couldn't protect them.  I tried to put myself between their father's anger and their mother's insanity as much as I could.  My absolutely worst memory is of my oldest little brother, sitting in the car, perfectly still and quiet, on the way to the emergency room, white as a sheet, with dirty tear tracks running down his face.  Turned out he had a broken collar bone.    Leaving home, escaping, I know this saved my life.  But I have so much guilt about leaving my brothers.  I still cry about it, how I abandoned them, how I broke my promise to take care of them.

I hate that so much of this still effects me.  I hate that they still have the ability to hurt me.  When I ever manage to actually get to sleep, I wake up panting, sweating, screaming, after these dreams where so much is falling apart and I'm trying to fix everything - as though there are 11 holes in the dam and I only have 10 fingers.  I feel like that so much, walking on eggshells is an understatement.   And everything has to be perfect - work, my house.  If I'm not working 60 or more hours a week, I'm lazy  and stupid (those statements from my mother about how I'd better find a good man 'cause I'd never be able to hold down a job, or just in general about my stupidness or incompetence).  If my apartment isn't perfect, any minute my step-father will walk in and beat the crap out of me. 

I'm covered in physical scars.  I'm lucky, in that I'm so pale, I'm pretty much scar-colored so they don't show that much.  But if you look closely, I look like a patch work quilt.  I have scars from my head, my scalp, under my hair, all the way down to my toes.

It's so hard to explain the feelings I have.  I'm 30 years old.  Up until a couple of years ago, it was not possible for me to not wear long pants and long sleeves, no matter what, even in the summer.  My therapist pointed out to me how I started buying *gasp* brightly colored shirts, and wearing shorts in the summer.  It's only been about 5 years since I could watch TV and laugh at something funny.  You don't laugh.  You keep your eyes down and don't make eye contact.  You speak as little as possible.  I still get nervous about enjoying something too much or liking an object too much.  But I now have objects.  Toys.  And I enjoy them a great deal.  So they can shove that up their ass.

The overwhelming panic.  The total knowledge that you can try as hard as you possibly can to be completely perfect and do everything perfectly and do everything there is to do, and you will not be able to succeed.  The knowledge that you will be hurt for it.  The knowledge that you are basically a useless person.  If you didn't suck so bad, obviously your parents would love you, the way other people's parents seemed to.  But you are horrible and lazy and stupid.  And nothing, nothing is good enough.  You will be hurt at any moment.  No predicting when or how.  A hit, a kick, a book torn up in front of you.  It's like a haunted house, with ghosts popping out from corners, except it's life.

I spoke to my mother about 6 months ago - the first time in almost 10 years.  She said she was sorry for "whatever you imagine I did to you"  I don't know.  I also asked her for one happy memory from when we were kids.  She came up with nothing.  NOTHING.  After awhile, she eventually said "well, you always liked taking care of the boys."  Did she believe that?  Did she really make herself believe that it was ok for a 10 year old to be primary caretaker of two toddlers, even if she "enjoyed it"?  (which, no, I didn't.  I wanted them safe.  But it was overwhelming.  Much, much too much.)  So, even she, even with her great ability to rewrite history, can't come up with one positive memory from the first 17 years of my life.

Were they abusive? Most of me, says, "yeah, duh".  5% of me says, "no, they did the best they could - you needed discipline like that.  You were and still are a horrible person"  So, which one of us is right?

My "symptoms" of abuse.  Or, am I just a nutty freak?:
crazy startle response
flashbacks
nightmares
insomnia
i sleep with my eyes open (according to my boyfriend)
i cringe if someone touches me unexpectedly
i have many somatic illnesses - migraines, asthma, stomach problems, etc.
cutting
depression
anxiety
hypervigilance
terminal shyness