Hidden Abuse Take Two (Trigger Warning)

Abuse is something that is running rampant in our society. I think the “right” to abuse is not just reinforced in some religions, but it is reinforced in other ways. The media often shows women getting hit as punishment, or if male and females are both under assault, the woman gets hurt worse, and it is the man’s duty to avenge her. There are very few deviations from this formula. I am writing a deviation, at least I hope so, for my own novel. I realized that I am exploring what it is to be a survivor in my writing.

I am not going to give the plot away by much, but, there is an exploration of rape, incest, and the confrontation of an abuser in my story. That is a big portion of it’s core. This is a core part of what has made me who I am. I have confronted every abuser in my life, and although it is extremely painful and has ended badly in most circumstance, I was able to show them that I know what they are.

Through this exploration of what abuse is, and my constant thoughts and warnings I have come to see that the media lies. Abuse isn’t just when you are beaten bloody. That is the most obvious abuse. That is the abuse that comes in at the end of a very long escalation. Abuse starts small.

My first abusive boyfriend actually helped me find my name. At times I feel weird answering to Kat, because he was the first to call me that. The spelling and intention is different yet the association sometimes pops up. The abuse with him was the smallest. It started over food. I have huge food issues, and have had for most of my life. He would start out with our food order. I would order something meaty and he’d look at me and say, “That will make your cholesterol high. Don’t you want a salad?” If I refused to order the salad, at first he would just shrug, but then the comments started to escalate, “Well, if you want to be a fat pig for the rest of your life fine…”

I nearly died when I started to give in. I didn’t see this as abuse. It was not as bad as what I had dealt with before, so how could it be abuse? I didn’t understand. He then began to accuse me of things, little things that made no sense to me. “You are one of the Illuminati, You are the destroyer of worlds.” I thought he’d been reading way too many comic books. He hated them but read them to try and make me feel better about him, in some ways that worked at first.

This was one of my longest relationships, I was hiding my relationship from my family per his order. After all they would surely judge me for dating a person of a different ethnicity. Before you ask, no he was not black. I have been blessed to know only gentle men of color. No single ethnic group holds the buy out on violence. Most of my abusers are men of my own color, white.

I began to miss out on time with my friends. He then started pressuring me for sex. I had decided a long time ago I want to have sex with the man I marry. For some reason this was not the same in my mind with women, I could explore them but men were too dangerous and in my mind hated pleasure with promiscuous women. I was warned that if I did not have sex with him, the world would end.

The night we broke up he hit me. I do not remember much, I had a flash back to one of the worst beatings of my life. I also reacted, I don’t remember it but when I came back to reality I had been hitting him with a frying pan. My face hurt, and he snarled at me, “I am going to rape you, kill you, and then I will have your soul forever.” Those words haunt me. He meant them. He wanted to steal my soul, because in his eyes I had too much personal power.

I called 911, he was arrested, and some of the things I found out about him were frightening. He had lied about his name, he had lied about a lot of things. He was a known serial rapist, and had killed more than one person. He went to jail, and although he is out now my fear of him is very small. I doubt he will try to find me. If he does, I know how to protect myself, and I will call the police.

Looking back, I see many warning signs of abuse. I thought these were normal for social interactions however. Any time you are not allowed to share a relationship, it is a warning sign of abuse. If you are not able to meet their friends or family, that is another sign of abuse. It is a bit harder to feel that these are significant with internet dating, but they are in the majority of cases. If you must stop seeing your friends, it is a warning sign of abuse. If you say no, and he takes that as yes? Get out of there.

There are more signs to abuse, but my brain is trying to flash back now, so I need to stop writing this piece. Abuse is not as hidden as it thinks it is. As a survivor of abuse I have dealt with varying layers, finding each time my brain accepts it as normal, until I finally found my way out of the cycle of abuse. It takes years, it takes practice. If anything hurts you, even if it might not feel wrong it is abuse.

Spiderweb has no Spider

March is Brain Injury Awareness month. I have brain damage in my fine little skull, all from untreated concussions, working through the pain, toughing it out and yet, I am never certain what issues spring from what challenges. Since I have autism and brain damage, as well as visual and hearing ailments, what causes what?

Too, when I sit out in the sun for five minutes and note my pustules later, reacting to the presence of the very thing that makes food grow and light fill our world, I have to guess, is this exact blister from Hidradenitis Supprativa, a side effect of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an actual pimple, sun poiosning as my mother calls it or is it still something else.

Then, with the issues with walking. It could be a side effect of the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, the Spinal Cord Injury, or just a minor pelvic dislocation, but is it something else? Did falling through that chair do more damage elsewhere that no one can see?

Multiple disabilities are a huge challenge. When i thought I had a single disability, I had unanswered questions. When I thought I had two, I thought the world was ending. Then with three, it all began to feel alright, but with four I was once more mourning, and with five I became angry. With six, I felt as if i should just die. With seven, I just stopped caring about how many I had, and began to fight to thrive. With eight, I found it status quo, with Nine, Ten, Eleven, I began to count it all over again.

I am a spider’s web, everything is connect, everything has always been here it just has a label. The labels are flies, sticking in my webiness, wiggling and shaking things up. So far, the labels have done very little to better my life. Usually they complicate it. If I tell a doctor about more than one disability, they usually give up on me. What right does that give them to deny me a quality of life?

I want to see, I want to hear, I want to live in a world without fear, I want to dance, I want to be just me, yet me is not without disability. I no longer believe in a cure for any of my ailments, except the spinal cord injury. I do not want them. I fear the changes to personality that treatment could’ve brought. Sure, I might not have had it as hard as I have. I might have had more than just a single man to teach me how to be a person. I might have had friends.

Or I might have been worse off. I get tired of able bodied people, those in denial of disability, or those who think we are all cookie cutter identical creatures telling me what works for their disabilities.

I have tried experimental treatments, mostly for my PTSD and they made it worse every time. EMDR, I have no idea what the letters mean but I remember the treatment. It worked for every other patient, so I was just a failure for not becoming magically better. Penicillin allergy even has an example, a doctor wanting to see just how allergic I was, because of course it costs more money to have another medication and money has more value than the patient.

When I was younger, long before my autism diagnosis I had an Occupational Therapist funded by the school. She did teach some neat things, we worked on my fine motor skills, which still suffer, and made earrings. We did all types of activities, molding things in clay, dancing. This was what I did for recess, another bit of isolation granted by my abnormalities. I was lonely, until this program came forth however. There I met the other kids who were a little like me. This woman decided to have my mother take a rubber brush to rub all over me, to try and desensitize me to the world. She did not ask me, she just called my mother in and during school one day she grabbed my arm, while talking to my mother and began to scrub my flesh.

This worked on the other children, so it had to work on me. I started screaming. It felt as if she was pealing off my skin, I screamed, and screamed. She told me to shut up, it would all get better. My mother took the brush out of her hands and asked why she would do that, when I was sobbing. I don’t know the end result of the conversation, but we took that brush home. It was just like the ones sold to wash dishes with, and that is what my mother did with it. I think she chose to lie to this therapist. I do not remember because I went into my head, flashing back to times when my father did try and peal away my flesh.

The sensory overload pains me to ever remember, it wasn’t just a sensory overload it was a flash back and a denial of my right to unique treatment. I never accepted the treatment of this OT again, I went, but I became surly because she wanted me to be like the others. She wanted to scrub me, until I just didn’t care. It did not matter to her that it hurt. I still have nightmares from her scrubbing.

I wish I could say it never happened again, but, she would scrub me herself, at times using this as a punishment. Too often the medical community does this, forgetting that each body has a unique chemistry, each brain a unique perspective. Now I fire doctors who do not listen, they get one shot and that is it with me. I have to be harsh like that to survive.

My cat William, the one with brain damage, has a similar problem. Touching his paws hurts him. He has dangerously sharp claws, cutting me when he doesn’t mean to, but to trim them means to cause him that same sort of pain. I figured this out after I had used our PetoFiler nail trimmer on him, it vibrates, rotates and basically sands down the nails. Sprite loves it. William was in pain for days and I barely tipped the claws off.

Each method for a traditional manicure fails him, I have yet to find out how to protect us both, but knowing what it is like to be tortured by someone thinking they know what is best, I back off. I would rather have cuts than send him into a world of pain. If you are a doctor, reading this, try and remember your patient might feel pain differently than you do. Sometimes I have to go naked because the pain from cloth rubbing against my flesh is as potent as that scrubbing brush.

It was yellow, it was multi-textured, and it is one of my worst nightmares. Those moments are on par with time spent in the care of a diagnosed psychopath. Do not traumatize your patients by thinking you know it all, or that every treatment should work for them. Humanity is full of individual people, not a bunch of identical organisms.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Advocacy (Trigger Warning)

In conversation with one of my young friends I had a revelation. This was about thirty seconds ago. Sometimes advocating triggers flashbacks while I am trying to function. My mind lept then to other people who have to self advocate through PTSD symptoms. It isn’t always a flash back. If you do not have PTSD it might be harder for you to understand being jerked around by past trauma. Therefore I am going to explain, and this is why there is a trigger warning on this post. Sometimes reading about PTSD or other issue related things can trigger people.

This is not from the DSM (Diagnostic Manual thingy) but is from my experience. I may leave things out that apply to you or tell you things that don’t. The problem with labels is they are often not enough to truly explain what something means. Lets say someone shoots a gun. My first impulse is to be very still, not breathing, and praying that my father won’t make the shot. Even typing that sentence my head went into the land of fuzz and my chest is tight. I am taking slow breaths to focus and clear my mind. The trigger is not always a gun but just a loud pop. My brain is stuck on certain points of the abuse I suffered, it has a programmed loop that it likes to play. I have warning symptoms for my flashbacks now, and can often circumvent them.

My reality is in jeopardy from these loops. the weakest symptom is a tingle, intense fear, sometimes I start randomly bleeding. Why do I bleed? One theory a psychologist offered is somatic symptomalogy. Basically my body remembers, and it reacts so strongly to what my brain signals, that it thinks it is injured. This adds to the pain I feel. The pain from invisible injuries is far from phantom. I feel it. The next step after that is the sensation that I am floating, I disassociate and can see the entire world, but I am not connected to it. Usually I then go back in time. I see and feel at the same time, from multiple vantage points my father with his brand new gun, me and my siblings on the couch. I feel the cold metal of the gun pressing against my forehead. My nose stings with the tears I cannot shed.

The loud bang comes, I feel the heat of the bullet, my skin is burned by muzzle flash and I feel a horrible pain as the bullet grazes my temple. I don’t move. I don’t scream. I just stare up into that black hole, smoke pouring out of it and avoid looking into my father’s eyes, knowing he is going to be angry that he missed. I hear every word he screams again, how worthless I am, how I should be dead and must have moved. My sister starts to scream, my brother too but I can’t move. I look into his eyes and I see the blackness.

I still do not remember what happens next, though I have been told he decided to shoot at my sister, but I pushed her aside. I just know he tried to shoot his children, sitting on a couch that smelled like pee, and nearly killed his neighbor because the bullet went off. The cops were called but I took the blame. I said I was playing with his gun when it went off. I lied, to survive.

When I come back to myself I always want to vomit. Instead I focus on breathing. If the nausea is really bad I will take some Rolaids. Sometimes now, after years of effort, I let myself cry. Usually I manage a tear but my brain has yet to grasp the concept of tears. If I am not at home, it is worse to recover. At home I control my environment, I have a bed to curl up in, two soft fluffy cats, and my Person can go elsewhere more easily giving me the time I need to recover.

When I am advocating and flash back, I never know what to do. I try different things, and usually they work but the vulnerability can be debilitating. I flashed back my first time having to seriously advocate to that scene. That is why I chose to relate it to try and explain what PTSD is like. I wish I had simpler words but none can encapsulate just how much there is to it. Sometimes the flashes are different, sometimes I am still an adult but I am trapped, it is worse in some ways because I still feel the pain but I am completely aware that my world has vanished. I am never certain if I am going to hurt someone. I have before, but it has been a long time.

That first taste of advocacy was so bitter. The cops came, and one fondled his gun and my brain shut down. I was afraid, in pain and exhausted. I was being yelled at and deprived of my prescription because I needed my service animal. The cops even saw Sprite follow her training. When I flash she has three tasks, beyond her instinct to comfort me. First, she signals to my Person for help. Sometimes a conversation can end it. So she chirruped at the person of the day, and I had to form the words, “I need you to deal with them for me. I can’t.” Then, she helps me to sit. I had to wait fifteen minutes for a chair, I wanted to scream at them but I tried to stay calm. I was hyperventilating, they took this as my being dramatic. Then, she moves to my shoulder. Her instinct is to sit on my chest, but she might get flung there, I do not handle pressure on my chest well even when not panicking or flashing. Her instincts tell her to purr, to rub with just her face against mine. This grounds me.

The police threatened to arrest me if I did not leave the facility. I knew enough to know they couldn’t but they refused to acknowledge that I had rights. I couldn’t fight, but I had to. I chose then to repeat the law over and over. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t see their real faces for half the time. All I saw was my father and his eyes that reflected no light.

What can you do if you have PTSD and are an advocate? Here is the how to portion.

Step 1. Before you get to the point of advocating, have a support structure. This is a difficult process, because not every person can truly understand what it is to lose your reality. You need to have someone you trust availible, at least to call.

Step 2. If you have medications used to treat the symptoms of your PTSD in an emergency make sure to carry them with you, to keep a back up dose with your support person, and to keep your doctors number handy.

Step 3. Create a kit of items that help forestall your flashbacks. Nothing works for me beyond my cat. I can give her the signal she is trained for when i feel the warnings coming and ground. This is all I have right now, beyond my Person. No meds, just those two.

Step 4. Remember to breathe. Sometimes if you focus on just breathing you can help yourself.

Step 5. If you flash back during advocacy, try and focus on the responses that do not match the memory. This has worked for others, pulling them out.

Step 6. Advocate anyway. I did get the illegal policy over turned at the Pharmacy where I was threatened with arrest. I had to fight for a long time to do it, but, they relented. It is worth it even though it you might feel endangered or might BE endangered by your flashbacks.

Step 7. If you have to, stop. This opposes Step 6. Not every incident can be worked through. You might need to call your therapist, you might need to let your support person advocate for you. This is not a failing, this is merely the team network that advocacy should be.

I am glad to write this how to. I never considered how important it could be, but, in my mind my broken back, my asthma, and my failing eyes are not my most dangerous disability. The worst disability I have is PTSD. At times during flashbacks I have hurt myself, my friends, and reliving the painful memories can also cost me emotional, physical, or mental progress.

Keep in mind the time you are most fragile is just after a flash back. Some people can be triggered more easily, often it is easier to react in rage. Do not minimize your pain either. It is okay to cry, scream, and sometimes to just walk away.

I have done all of the above. Not every incident with advocating will cause a flashback either. Most of my time advocating I am left with memories of victory. My first taste of advocacy is as sweet as it is bitter, because I still succeeded, despite my unabiding terror of these men. My greatest cause was also revealed to me. I am actively fighting to get the local police trained in how to deal with enforcing the ADA. I want my rights protected, I do not want to fear being put in jail, dumped out of my wheelchair and my service animal being put into Animal Control’s care.

That was the threat, and so often is. My heart goes out to any other advocates who suffer from PTSD. I know each person’s PTSD is varied, some may not flash back, some might just panic. Others might not be able to stop their flashes. You can still advocate. Just prepare yourself as best you can.

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