When I started this blog, I started it with a clear vision: Girl Adulting was supposed to be a space of authenticity, vulnerability and humor. It was meant to, as I mention in blurbs and profiles, embody my personal journey toward happiness and toward health in all its forms. As I’m sure everyone will agree, these types of journeys inevitably include the hard stuff.
While I know I’ve definitely lurked in the shallow end in terms of content while I’ve worked to get a feel for the blogging world and my place in it, today is the day I take the dive. Not just wading a little deeper, but full-on, sink-or-swim, tackling one of my most personal and also most formative experiences.
And, hopefully, doing so in a way that will help someone out there who’s walked a similar path.
Today I’m talking about how I made peace with an abusive childhood.
Most friends of mine know that I have my fair share of mom issues. Since it’s something that followed me well into adulthood, it’s an issue that’s been bound to come up eventually. Whether it’s my historic resentment of Mother’s Day, or the way my nerves accelerate just a little whenever the topic of conversation turns to maternal relationships. For the most part, I tend to offer the minimum explanation necessary: “My relationship with my mom wasn’t the greatest.”
Understatement of the century.
But – I’m not here to talk about all of that. Those are memories I’ve turned over and over again in my head for 27 years, and I’m certain that rehashing them on the internet isn’t the thing that will set me free of them.
What I am here to talk about, is how I’ve learned to make peace with those experiences, and move forward in life feeling empowered, capable and worthy.
On Making Peace with an Abusive Childhood
A few years ago, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
At that time, what I wanted least in life was to figure out how to come to terms with this tumultuous relationship. But, as seems to be the case with a lot of things, life doesn’t seem to wait until we’re ready to face something. Life hits you in sudden, unpredictable waves.
Today though? I feel ok.
While I may have been forced by circumstance to address a lifetime of mistreatment and conflict, and as much as that really fucking sucked, I am FINALLY feeling at peace with my situation. And I’d like to share with you the things that helped me get here.
1.) Know that you are not obligated to give your abuser the benefit of the doubt.
I literally cannot tell you the number of times that friends, family and even counselors told me “She means well.” They told me how being a mom is tough, and how sometimes the people who love you lash out in hurtful ways.
But let me be clear: There is a HUGE difference between accidentally saying something hurtful in a moment of frustration, and actual physical violence or regular emotional and verbal abuse.
And let’s think about it for a second: If your boyfriend dragged you across the room by your hair, or constantly called you a fat-ass, ANYONE WITH A BRAIN would tell you to gtfo. They’d tell you to press charges. They’d be immediately and urgently concerned for your personal safety and/or wellbeing.
Just because it’s a parent doing the abusing doesn’t mean they’re afforded more leniency.
During my childhood and adolescence I spent an unthinkable amount of time feeling confused and guilty because these were the messages I was receiving. Maybe I was just that awful of a daughter? Maybe this is what every mother-daughter relationship is actually like? Maybe I needed to stop overreacting and give my mom a break?
I’m here to tell you that no, you absolutely do not. Parenthood is hard. Relationships are hard. Abuse is unacceptable.
2.) Forgiveness is optional.
My personal situation might be a bit different, because I feel that I’ve been prematurely pushed to explore this particular topic. Ever since my mom’s diagnosis, family members have hammered in the importance of forgiveness. Told me how much I would regret not forgiving her when she passed.
And, as the only person in those conversations who actually endured her abusive behavior, I’m of the firm opinion that forgiveness is never a requirement.
We’re all different. Our experiences are all different. For one person, forgiveness may be cathartic. For another, feeling pressured to forgive your abuser might incite resentment and bitterness, and halt the healing process altogether.
For me, figuring out that forgiveness is optional (even when faced with an impending deadline) has been an invaluable realization. Knowing that forgiveness isn’t a finish line in this particular journey, but maybe more of an optional hurdle. (I’m not a sports person you guys, forgive my weak athletic metaphors.)
Do things on your own time. Know that the ball, moving forward, is ALWAYS in your court. (All right, I’m really done with the sports references now.)
3.) You aren’t defined by your abuser’s actions.
Every time I hang out with a friend who had a positive and supportive childhood, I always find myself thinking: “Wow, look how well-adjusted they are! Maybe if my childhood wasn’t defined by bullying and abuse, I might be more like them! But instead here I am, riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, doomed to live a sub-par existence.”
All right, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but you get my drift.
The point is, I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about how different I might be if I were raised under different circumstances. How I might not internally cower when facing authority figures. How I might not be constantly afraid of saying something stupid – to the point that, sometimes, I don’t say anything at all.
But you guys. These thought patterns (as understandable as they are) are pointless.
Don’t focus on the “could’ve been.” Focus on the now. Focus on moving forward.
Do you have a niece or nephew or daughter or godson? Be the best adult figure you can possibly be in their life. If they aren’t your own kid, don’t assume they have the support system they need. Because you know what? A child can honestly never have TOO much encouragement and love. Be the person you wish you had when you were little.
You don’t need to divorce your past from your present to be happy. Let your experiences make you stronger. Let them encourage your actions as you continue on this journey we call life. As messed up as you might feel, hear me when I say that you are a goddamn warrior. You aren’t defined by your past, but you can sure as hell define your future.
4.) See a counselor.
See a counselor.
See a counselor.
I cannot say this enough. SEE A DAMN COUNSELOR.
As you might have gathered by now, I’ve grappled with some pretty confusing, painful, and at times crippling feelings regarding my abuse. I spent a good chunk of my life wondering if I was just being a drama queen, if my feelings were actually valid.
One of the most validating experiences in the world was sitting down with a professional, and hearing them say: “You’re right, that’s fucked and you have every right to be upset. Let’s talk about it.”
More eloquently, obviously. But I’m no counselor – just a sassy blogger on the internet.
I cannot express the value of having someone on the outside whose SOLE JOB is to non-judgmentally listen to your issues and offer advice and support. Someone with no ties to you, your life, your family. Someone who only exists for an hour every Tuesday to help you work through your shit.
If you are hesitant or fearful of seeing a counselor, I get it. I was too. It’s intimidating AF. Displaying all your baggage for a complete stranger to see and examine? It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s especially uncomfortable if it takes a good five sessions to locate and adequately describe all of that baggage. (Um, hi.)
But it is so, so worth it, and one of the biggest and most important steps I’ve taken toward coming to terms with my abusive childhood and taking control of my life trajectory.
See? I told you guys I was diving deep.
I hope this post was as helpful to someone out there to read as it was cathartic for me to write. If you need, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve got this. xx