Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts on surviving familial abuse over Samhain week

It's been a tough week for me, and for many people in the disability rights community.  When a terrible thing happens, it brings out all the things that make us sad.  But I can only speak, right now, about my own personal experiences, because it's what there is energy to do.  These personal experiences reflect something many people go we'll get to common ground eventually in this post.

Last Friday was Halloween, or, for me, Samhain. I guess when a person dies early in your life, someone who taught you what you knew about activism, someone who put the fire for it in your blood, you might get obsessed with holidays for honoring the dead at an early age, and that's pretty much me.  My uncle's been on my mind, and I felt that I did a good job honoring him last Friday.

The last time that I felt I was honoring him properly, I came out to his family (more) about abuse I dealt with in my home.

My family is Irish Catholic, and we don't talk about much.  That's the way it is. But abuse still happens, and I don't get anywhere by bottling it all in.  I felt that I would have been supported by my uncle when I went into more detail than I ever had before about things that happened in my immediate family's home, partly while I was estranged from him and the rest of my maternal relatives.

My mother is an extreme, unrepentant abuser.  Her situation is complicated.  But this post is not about her. It's not really even directly about my family, either...  It's about the reaction to when you can't contain it anymore and you come out to your family about abuse.

A lot of people are disowned by their families of origin. And for coming out about the abuse I dealt with, I lost contact with an aunt.  No, I was not in a good place. No, I was not considering her feelings.  I was exploding inside.  I was going out of my mind.  I was not going to be quiet about it any more.

There are many layers of abuse in my past, and for a lot of complicated reasons I confronted my family on St. Patrick's Day.  I'm Irish, but it's not a good day for me because of associations with abuse, and other cultural reasons it's too complicated to get into here.  And I was trying to reclaim it.

And I did do that.

If I lost contact with this aunt, part of it was my refusal to see things her way, that I had "been inappropriate" in disclosing.

I did it for myself, yes, but I also did it for the many disabled people who suffer endless abuse from family and caregivers. I am older than many of my other disabled friends, and I was showing wasn't just them, it was me too, it is all of us.  And it is okay to confront your family.

It is okay to confront your family--if you will be safe physically from retribution. It is okay to protect yourself and it is okay to call out able-bodied people for the ableist, abusive things that they do.

It is okay, and it also hurts.

It hurts to lose family, which you might.  It is terrible, really, to feel unsupported... but if your brain is going to cook from the stress of holding it in... you are under no obligation to protect people like that. You are under no obligation to protect people who abuse you and you are under no obligation to protect the people who protect your abusers. Even if they are your "family."

My family is small. Some relatives, a few who are dead, and a few who are alive. A few friends.  Not all of my family are blood relatives and not all of my friends are family.  It's a lonely road, but holding in stories of abuse has always been worse.  Holding things in is not a thing I do well.  Call it not being raised with boundaries, call it having no filter, call it being a loudmouth.

Whatever it is, I know I'd have my uncle's support.  Every year, I'll reclaim the day I confronted my family a little bit more in his name.  It's all I can do.

If any of this resonates with you, find your chosen family.  Talk to them. If you can't confront family members, at least let it out to safe people. There is nothing wrong with any of this. There is something wrong with abuse, with protecting abusers, with condoning abuse, with blaming the victim.  But not with calling abuse of people, especially disabled or otherwise marginalized people, what it is.

Happy Samhain, all. May it be a better new year.