Being the parent of a child, even though that child is an adult, has a lot of baggage. The fact that the child was abused psychologically and verbally by a father takes its toll. Further compound that issue with a physically abusive partner, well, hope feels as though it is always at the moment of flying out the window.
The abuse is always about the abuser. The chances are high that the abuser was abused himself. This is true in this case, for both of them.
But the costs of abuse are high. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or being a victim of violence. That violence can be a one time thing. Or it can be something that happened over a period of time, short or long. Violence that happens over a long period of time can manifest itself in Acute Stress Disorder.
Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate. These are not the problem. These are simply a reaction to the problem.
Even with professional help identifying the triggers that cause the panic attacks or nightmares or insomnia or any of the other symptoms of PTSD, the road to recovery is long. Add to that nightmare addiction. The road becomes even more difficult.
What does it say about society…or a parent…who is able to recognize a drug problem before recognizing the source of an anxiety disorder?
What does it say about a mother who is unable to have seen the damage done by an alcoholic father while she could see the damage being done to herself?
What does it say about a mother who could see that something was wrong but couldn’t imagine that her young adult child was being beaten to the point of having broken bones?
What does it say about a mother who was willing to blame the victim when she couldn’t get her life together for her own little boy?
It took me twenty five-plus years to understand the full extent of what damage the term “Goddammit, A!” did to a young teenage girl. It took me that long to understand the full effect of the physical damage done by my child’s partner. She laughed one time when she told me she thought it was a part of her name. It wasn’t funny. It has taken me a little bit longer than that to realize that drugs were not the main problem.
But I have lived with the fear of the drugs and the unpredictable behavior for so long that the first thing I do at a sign that points to the past is to react in fear.
When a child who has been diagnosed with acute PTSD and has used drugs to self medicate, even though that adult child has been through rehab, counseling, and is involved in a 12 step program and appears to be mending…when something happens, I panic.
It was a simple thing of not having heard from her in a few days. I had not even thought about it until I had a dream about her. Then, the next morning, texting to say “hey, all things ok?” and no response. In the afternoon, calling, the phone went immediately to voicemail. Fear gripped my heart. Worry that here we go again. Prayers to God asking why why why and then please please please.
It goes against my nature to confront my fear with reality. Reality can be even more frightening than my imagination. A simple thing would have been to go to her apartment to see if she was there.
But no. My mind obviously relies on unhealthy speculation of realizing the worst of my fears come true.
Thank God I have a pragmatic spouse who is nothing if not always willing to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it out of the way. We had to go out anyway and before I knew it, we were turning down the street where she lives. My beloved simply asked, “Do you want me to walk up there or do you want to?” Meaning, one of us was going to find out if she was ok or not.
Uncharacteristically, I said I would do it. Meaning, I would face my fear and knock on the door all by my big girl self.
From behind the door, I heard the exclamation, Mom! The door burst open and there she stood, looking well and alive and unencumbered by all things that clouded my mind. She grabbed me up in a big hug and said, “I am so sorry! I know you were worried!” Her phone had been stolen out of her pocket as she stood on the bus.
I was limp with relief. But that too familiar fear had gripped me so tightly that it took its toll and left me with my own form of hangover for a couple of days.
I don’t suppose that I will ever get over the fear. All I can do is muddle through it and watch and wait and offer love. And pray, of course. Because without God, I know I would not have made it through this. Without God, I am sure she would not have made it either.
There are lots of questions in this story that have answers but the main thing is that abuse is cyclical. I think of the disciples asking Jesus when did they not feed him and he answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45) It’s all about paying attention to things outside of our own interior selves regardless of the claw-like grip these may have on us.
My own concern for survival in the past caused me to miss big clues that damage might be done. My own worries about self blinded me to what was happening to a beautiful little girl. My own need to live a life of isolation allowed me to set aside speculation…until the ignorance veil was parted and I was able to see a glimpse into reality. But even then, my concern was misdirected – directed at the effect and not the cause.
Abuse is caused by stressors that the abuser cannot control. Abuse is a learned behavior that sometimes is directed at others; sometimes it is directed at self. Either way, it is dangerous.
I guess the point in mentioning that scripture is that too often we are unwilling to reach out and ask, hey…what’s going on and can I help. We might not get a response at that moment but if we continue to be seen as one who is willing to listen, maybe it can open a door to freedom from whatever is tormenting someone.
We have the choice as to whether or not we are willing to ‘do unto others’. But it seems to me if we want to stop being abusers, stop being abused, stop the abuse then we have to be open to seeing the causes rather than the effects. And that is not very easy. The effects are so blatantly in our faces – addictions, crime, homelessness, violence.
That doesn’t mean we stop offering band aids when there is blood, but the cause of the bleeding has to be found. We do have to begin to see that there is a bigger problem beneath or behind the problems that we can see.
It isn’t just a simple matter of bad people doing bad things. Sometimes very good people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. It is a matter of the ways we find to cope with life.