5 Things I Wish Somebody’d Told Me About Recovering After Child Abuse

There is… a veil of bleak obscurity over the inner workings of any abusive relationship. This is, of course, by the abuser’s design. This is especially true in the case of child abuse, because a child raised in a toxic environment has no choice but to rely on that environment as an education in how the world operates. Further, people with good enough childhoods aren’t usually equipped emotionally to offer perspective to their traumatized friends. What the Hell do you say that hasn’t already been said?

If you’re looking for things to say, or you need some things to hear, I’ve compiled here a few things I wish I hadn’t had to figure out on my own.

It was not your responsibility to parent yourself.
Shout out to my fellow children of neglect. No kindergartner should be made to feel ashamed for being chubby when her parents buy no appropriate food and leave her alone for hours to subsist on Zebra Cakes because no one’s cooking and she can’t use the stove. It’s not an eight year old’s job to make sure his mother buys toothpaste. That scummy predator your mother dumped you with so she could focus on herself in the midst of a family crisis should not have felt like a problem you had to handle alone. Everything that weighed on you day in and day out, everything your abusers turn around on you as laziness on your part as an adult, that wasn’t supposed to be your work to do. And it’s bullshit that it was.

Your abuser has their version of events, and you can’t change that.
They could say you deserved to get hit, they could say you’re lying about being hit, they could weep and flail and insist they don’t remember hitting you at all. Hell, it’s entirely possible that the things most deeply branded into your memories have escaped theirs entirely, truly. They really may not remember. Why should they when this is simply how they operate from day to day, when what they do to you is of no consequence beyond whether or not it achieves a desired result? Be it through denial or legitimate amnesia, your story will always conflict with theirs. You will be disbelieved by some, you may even find your abuser has demonized you in the eyes of people who remain in their sphere. You can’t undo that. You can’t argue or fact check your way out of it. You have to work on releasing the need to be validated that way, because it will never come to full fruition.

Your abuser needs you.
That is to say: Your abuser cannot operate in a way that feels emotionally safe to them without their abusive system in place. You’re a part of that system, so you’re essential to their quest to never change and continue dumping on/using people for the rest of their life. They might tell you they don’t need you, they might make you feel nothing but worthless, but this is all in service to keeping you emotionally dependent on them and available as emotional support/a physical punching bag that provides emotional support through being punched. Abusers need you. They suffer with themselves in the absence of someone to turn their fury on.

Some people are irretrievable.
If you speak out about your abuse, you will lose people. It could be one person or an entire side of your family. It could be the parent who never explicitly hurt you. It could be a sibling who’s seen and been through much of the same treatment as you. I can’t tell you who it will be, but you will have to weather the loss of at least one key relationship as the price of living openly in your truth. Someone will drift away. Someone will turn against you. Someone will linger on the lip of the event horizon, too near to the cycle of abuse to be retrieved without sacrificing yourself. You will find the enablers and the pleasers, and they will reject you unless you conform to living within the cycle with them. You have to understand that this isn’t because they’re bad or evil people. They behave this way because it would be too destructive to their damaged selves to accept that the situation is not, has never been, normal or acceptable. You cannot retrieve these people. They will continue to appease and orbit the abuser until they come around on their own, which may never happen.

You’re not the first.
This didn’t start with you, I promise. There’s nothing particular to you that turned your parent into an abuser. Even if you’re an eldest child, there was someone before. Maybe your mother abused her much younger sisters, maybe your father abused and continues to abuse your mother, maybe there’s a string of estranged exes who got the Hell out. Subordinates at work, classmates from middle school, friends. Abusers abuse as a means of navigating the world. You didn’t make them like this, even by accident. You were not the first. You don’t have to be the last, either.