How Did I Get Myself Into This?
“How did I get myself into this?” was a question that played over and over in my mind in the months after I’d left Bubba. Exactly how does one find herself in an abusive marriage with a complete inability to recognize it for what it was?
The answer started to become clear to me when my parents refused to support me in getting out and even refused to believe me when I said Bubba was abusing me. If I wanted to find out how I got to my present I was going to have to look carefully at my past.
Up until my parents decided not to support me, I would have told you that they loved me absolutely. I would’ve actually said they were the best parents in the world. I grew up with two very physically affectionate parents and since I am a very physically affectionate person, there was always lots of hugging, kissing, and snuggling going on around my house. I was 100% certain of my parents’ love.
I always understood that my extended family was exceptionally odd on some level even though I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew that the interactions my parents had with their siblings was “off,” but I couldn’t say why. I did know that I hated the fact that no one in my family ever spoke about their feelings unless they were happy. I knew that no one would ever even consider telling another person when their feelings had been hurt. I knew that my mother was too proud to ask for help and loved to play the martyr. But it all seemed normal to me. I really had nothing to compare it to.
Then Bubba started moving our little family around, farther and farther away from my family of origin (FOO). With this came exposure to other people and their families. I remember arguing with a friend about paying her back for three eggs she’d brought to my house one day to save me a trip to the store. I was determined to give her a dollar for those eggs and was very agitated that she wouldn’t accept the money. She finally took my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Hope. You need to stop. It is three eggs. I’m sure that if I had needed something and you were coming over to my house, you would’ve brought it and never expected me to pay you back. That is what friends do for each other. They don’t keep score.”
That day stands out so much in my mind. If friends don’t keep score then family certainly shouldn’t! I never played the money game again with my family. And I started watching how my family interacted with each other when I went home for visits. I started to see some disturbing undercurrents but I would tell myself, “They really love each other – they’re just quirky.” I found a million reasons to explain their dysfunction. I knew the entire family was dysfunctional but everyone seemed happy so I went along with it.
What I didn’t understand is that everyone seemed happy because there was an unspoken rule that happy was the only acceptable emotion. What I didn’t understand was that not talking about problems didn’t make them go away. What I didn’t understand was the depth of poison that was coursing through my family’s veins.
After my family openly chose Bubba’s side, I started talking to Maria and Arcadia about things that had happened when I was growing up. I told them the story of the time I tried to run away from home as a very young child (perhaps 6 years old). My mom was at work so the babysitter called and told her I was running away from home. I remember the babysitter telling me that my mom said if I ran away my mom was going to come home and break my legs. I remember my mom coming into my room when she got home from work that day and telling me again, with a straight face and a serious tone, that if I ever tried to run away again, she would break my legs. I never tried to run away again because I absolutely believed my mother.
I know there will be people out there who say that that is just something mothers say and that I should’ve known my mom loved me and would never do that. I was 6!!!! You better believe I believed her. That one incident laid the foundation of fear that I was raised on.
I tried so hard to walk the straight and narrow growing up. However, as hard as I tried, I screwed up constantly. I always fought with my mother. I was labeled the “bad” one, the “trouble-maker,” the “black sheep.” (Yes, these were actual words that were used to describe me amongst the family as I was growing up – I heard those terms early and often.)
It was apparent from early on that I was not like everyone else in my family. Because I was not like everyone else in the family, I was the one who was wrong. I was the one who rebelled. I was the one whom my parents couldn’t control. I was wrong – there was something wrong with me. That is the message that I grew up with. That is the message, that if you asked my parents, they would vehemently deny giving me.
My mother punished me with silent treatments. I heard her telling one of her sisters once that the best way she could get me back in line was to refuse to talk to me at all. She knew that if she did that, in no time, I would stop whatever behavior I was doing that she didn’t like, apologize profusely, and then we could move on.
As I said above, I’m a very physically affectionate person and to have my mother’s love withdrawn was horrific to me. Most of the times that I apologized I had absolutely no idea what I was apologizing for. I just knew that my mom was mad at me and didn’t love me anymore until I apologized and just did whatever she told me to do. She would never tell me why she was angry, I would just listen really well for a few weeks – until my rebellious side kicked in and I did something else to displease her again.
I would tell these stories to Maria and Arcadia and watch their faces. They were horrified by what I was sharing: horrified that a mother could treat her daughter as my mother treated me. Even as I’m typing this out, part of me is saying, “This doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe I’m making more out of it than there was.” There is still a part of me that seeks to minimize my experiences.
I think much of that minimization comes from the fact that my siblings have told me that our mother was NOT abusive, that she never treated them badly, and that I was making it all up to hurt them. I chewed on that sentiment for a long while.
The thing is, I don’t know how my mother treated my sisters. I only know how she treated ME. I don’t remember ever hearing a negative word spoken about Jill, my older sister, who could do no wrong. Nancy, being the baby, could do no wrong either. It all centered on me – all of my flaws, all of my faults. I was the black sheep. I was the one who was just wrong in so many ways.
Today, I believe what my sisters have said about their growing up years. Their experiences are their experiences. However, their experiences were not mine. I don’t know how they felt growing up and I know they don’t know how I felt growing up because I never shared it with anyone until I shared with Maria and Arcadia. I lived in fear and I was afraid of doing anything bad because I was afraid of my parents. Oh, trust me, I did do bad things but I was exceedingly careful to never get caught.
What I’ve learned since breaking contact with my family is that there was nothing wrong with me. I was going through typical pre-teen and teen things. I know now that it was compounded by fear of my parents and by having been molested as a pre-teen. I’m naturally a feeler and knowing that my feelings were not welcome had me acting out in various ways.
I needed love and understanding and I received condemnation. I was perfectly groomed to get into a relationship with an abuser. I was raised to put myself last, to put everyone’s feelings before my own. I was raised to believe that my worth was less than every one else’s. I was an abuser’s dream. I was the perfect victim because I was raised to be that perfect victim.
The ironic part of the whole thing is that Bubba always hated how close I was to my family and worked hard to keep me away from them. Had he truly understood that they were, in fact, his allies, he would’ve been better off to keep me around them. In moving me constantly, I came in contact with healthy people who started pointing out that how he and my family treated me was wrong. He had it all wrong and that mistake was his undoing.
Bubba and my family were each abusers in their own way. Once I refused to accept the abuse, they banded together – even though they couldn’t stand each other. I guess the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is true. They didn’t speak to each other for years before I left Bubba but now that they have a common enemy they are as thick as thieves.
I understand now how I got into the mess I found myself in. I absolutely know that God provided a miracle to me when I got out of all that dysfuction.
That was only the beginning of the miracles God provided for me.
- Posted in: FOO (Family of Origin) ♦ Married to an Abuser ♦ My Childhood ♦ Sexual Abuse
- Tagged: abuser, abusive dynamic, anger, blame, childhood, children, control, emotional abuse, emotions, family, family abuse, Family of Origin, feelings, friends, grooming, growing up, healing, insanity, intimidation, isolation, mother, ownership, parents, punishment, silent treatment, verbal abuse