Editor’s Note: This month, that is February 2021, FII and The Minor Project are looking for article submissions on the topic of Narrating Violence and Trauma from Childhood to highlight the ways we in our childhoods, experience various forms of brutality from our adults, mentors, peers and even their institutions that may lead to a sustained memory of difficult experiences and mental health issues. The Minor Project is a digital platform for public dialogue to promote discourse on ending violence, abuse and exploitation of children by Leher, a child rights organisation, whose focus is on building communities that care and act for the safety and protection of children. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trigger Warning: Emotional and physical abuse
If I think about it, I have no childhood memories that I cherish. I could attribute that to having no childhood in the first place. The memories of my childhood are inextricably linked with the visuals of my parents fighting. Fists were thrown, plates flung, faded cries and subdued screaming. Some of us lived like that. Some of us were ten when our parents looked us in the eye, caught us by our arms and told us to grow up or get out from their lives. And that’s exactly what we did, we pretended to be adults. We took care of ourselves, because of the lack of a family that cared enough to inquire about our existence.
We existed, barely clinging onto dear life, and as our parents wreaked havoc day after day, we kept it in and screamed into our pillows. We couldn’t cry nor could we open up to anyone around, because it is hard to articulate trauma. I lacked the vocabulary to put everything I felt into words, or comprehensible sentences, or structured paragraphs. Some of us wrote it down and let it burn. Some of us said it out loud and got ignored, or brushed off, or got stared at in disbelief, or shamed, or taken advantage of.
I knew everything was about to change at eleven when I was told I had only myself to trust. I tried to pen it down and say it out loud, but all the people I knew looked at me with tilted heads and sympathy like I was to be pitied, and their deep sighs let me know that I had to come to terms with the fact that there was nothing any of them could do. I loathed feeling vulnerable. Some of us hate being looked at differently. So, we decide to lock it in, never to share, try and bargain with our demons, that were fast catching up, for some time, time to heal, time to accept, and time to move forward.
We bargain to give us hope, in exchange for sleepless nights. Some of us felt hopeless—some succumbed, some made it out alive but shattered. Some of us still live on the hinges, troubled by phantoms of fear in our heads, lost in turbulent waters, as frail as a paper boat.
I grew up in a family that was falling apart to pieces with every passing day, dysfunctional to the very core. As a child, I did not know how everything I witnessed and experienced would reveal itself in the life that I would lead as an adult. No knowledge could prepare me for what I was to experience. I started realising that my childhood was seeping into my life and the decisions I made, though I feigned childish optimism. I watched from the sidelines as it shaped my interactions, destroyed my social life and left me crippling with anxiety issues, with little to no will to fight back.
Life as a neglected child in an abusive family leaves its long-lasting impression on you, and that I learned the hard way. It’s a whole different world when you realise a lot of your issues can be traced to the imprints left behind by your childhood. Every weekend I survived, I felt like I walked through hell but somehow the next week would prove to be worse.
Growing up, I sensed there was something different in me that burdened me from going about life like any other sane individual. From overexerting myself in activities that would keep me away from home, to lacking the vocabulary to explain the sea of emotions I contained within myself, to always thinking of myself as ‘something that needs to be fixed’. The realisation that I lack a safety net made me wary of every step I took, making me an overthinker, stopping me at every point that I had to make a decision.
I was indecisive. I was unforgiving. I was to be perfect. I could not afford mistakes. And that was a hurdle that I never managed to overcome. My fear of failure was instilled in me by my mother who could not accept even the slightest of imperfections. A careless mistake in a Mathematics test meant flogging till I cried and screamed to never make it again. She also managed to convince me that to cry was to be weak, and each time I cried, she’d throw a towel over to me so that I’d silence myself. She didn’t care how.
As a ten-year-old, I figured out that stuffing your towel in your mouth was the most effective way to escape more flogging. But I never seemed to have a convincing answer for teachers and peers when asked why either of my parents had never attended one parents’ meeting in the whole academic year, or why they were never there when I climbed up the stairs each year to receive my trophies for topping my class, or why they would never come to watch me dance, or give speeches, or anything that I did. And I was to avoid any situation that would lead me to make a mistake.
This fear still resides in me each time I reach out to explore something out of my comfort zone. My mom’s voice lives in my head rent-free. Her temper tantrums have earned a reputation of itself in the family. Everything she did comes crawling back even while I’m writing this as an eighteen-year-old.
Your worst fear ends up being that there exists a possibility that you might end up like your parents, and that makes you paranoid even when you notice the smallest of their traits in yourself. It becomes an exhaustive exercise. The thought haunts your existence. The lack of a constant source to rely on eventually expresses itself as either of the two extremes—the inability to trust anyone around you because the concept of unconditional love seems alien to you, or as your lack of judgement in discerning what people are approaching you for when they start showing the least bit of interest in you. Sharing your trauma feels like overburdening, and since you’ve been fronting this near-perfect image of yourself to the world, letting someone into your life is as scary as it gets.
You get into the practice of determining your self-worth based on academic performance, or other activities you consider productive and the ritual following up of the same gives you a sense of belonging. You do not allow yourself rest. Partly because your family has succeeded in convincing you that you do not deserve it. Partly because you fail to shut off the voices in your head, and you have to be involved in one thing or another to tune them out.
Will I ever be able to forgive them for breaking me the way they did? I’m not sure. Healing is a process that takes a lot of time, and the wounds left behind by abusive families such as mine cut into your being so deep that healing feels like a distant dream. An alcoholic father and an emotionally abusive mother are not quite the dynamic duos to be parents. Will there ever be a time that I’ll be able to put this behind me and move on? I’m not sure.
I don’t even know what moving on means in this context. It’s carved itself into my being, and I live with the unsettling awareness that this is a battle that I have no choice but to fight every single day. It’s a painful process, and most of the time you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself while you’re fighting everything around you, trying frantically to stop the world from closing in on you. It’s hard to convince yourself to claw a way out when there’s no way out insight.
Yet I’m trying to stop thinking of myself as something irreparably ‘broken’, a crossword with no answers, a fragment of a poem lost in antiquity. I refuse to frame my existence like it’s a puzzle someone must solve, or as poetry, someone should interpret. I am trying to reclaim my narrative.
One step at a time, right?
Author’s note: Trying to write this article proved to be harder than I expected because seeing it in writing hurt more than I thought it would. Recounting certain events were triggering, and hence I have not included them in this. For everyone who has been through this and worse, I send you virtual hugs and strength to hold on.
Amrutha R is an eighteen-year-old desperately trying to make sense of the world around her, and drowning herself in coffee and curated playlists to make her days bearable.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India