An Introduction To Cassi
“I no longer make allowances for abusive people. I no longer justify it under the banner of, “but they’re family…” I’m not a child anymore and I’m certainly not naive and helpless. I have a choice here too, and I choose not to participate.”
Recently, I drew a hard boundary. To be honest with you, it was one that I should have drawn a long time ago. I sent those very words to individuals who have been central to the abuses I have experienced throughout my life. Many of you know me, but some of you don’t. I have shared parts of my story here with you, but to be frank it would take a book to tell it all. Suffice it to say that I grew up in the midst of significant abuse. I have an ACES score of 10. I experienced environmental neglect, pervasive inadequate supervision, extensive exposure to drugs in the home, extensive physical abuse, sexual exploitation and substantial psychological abuse. While I am the oldest of a plethora of children, In the home where most of this took place, I was the oldest of 6. Throughout my adult life, I have had guardianship of numerous family members; many I have had more than once. The first time, I was barely 19 and my sister was 4. Currently, I have 4 children in my home who have been impacted by the generational trauma of this family. That is in addition to my own 4 living children. We also lost a baby girl to late missed miscarriage in 2016. We carry so many children in our hearts.
I have complex PTSD. While PTSD is generally related to one significant event like a war or a natural disaster, complex PTSD is an anxiety disorder related to repeated trauma over the course of months or even years. It can include nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal, avoiding certain situations and a belief that the world is very dangerous and people are generally untrustworthy. While I function well in the world, I certainly operate from this place. It takes a lot for me to trust someone and I have always kept a few close friends and even less very close friends. I can get along with most anyone, but I am not afraid to fight back because in most situations I already saw the worst coming and was ready for it. I’m usually more ready for bad things to happen than for good things to happen. I’m almost certainly going to cry at a wedding or a birth, but when something awful happens I am generally stoic. I am not shocked. I know how awful and scary the world can be and the devastation never catches me off guard.
Joy does though.
These individuals continue to insert themselves into the lives of their victims in a way that gives little but takes constantly with no concern, remorse or gratitude. They take, demanding that those giving be grateful for the opportunity to do so. These individuals claim responsibility and proclaim their pride for the successes of others, yet spend their time berating, belittling and finding new and creative abuse and control tactics.
When victims are young, abuse can take a variety of forms. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect, etc.
The psychological component is just as damaging, if not more so. It lasts. Assuming a child in an abusive home survives, they can eventually escape. They get bigger than their parents, they get stronger, they get access to employment and housing and have the opportunity to get away. Many don’t.
Because the abuse gets more creative and more insidious. After all, their victims aren’t children anymore so the violence and threats that DCFS will take them away and separate them no longer work. Now it’s more malicious.
And it’s not really surprising. After all, isn’t this what we, the survivors, have been groomed for all along?
Those of us who lived through this- who have come out the other side battered and bruised but able to talk about it… we know.
We were groomed to believe that we are helpless, dependent and incapable.
That we are nothing without our abusers.
Some, like me, fought back hard. Ultra independent, never flinch, never let them see a crack in the armor. The best solution to not need the abusers, according to logic like mine, was to not need anyone. And yet, I was used to being needed. The oldest of the children, I had spent my entire life keeping other people safe..keeping kids away from violence, away from knife fights (a gun once) and shut tight in bedrooms when the aggression escalated, making sure everyone ate when there wasn’t an adult around and food stamps had been sold again, and lying to cover up the abuse so that we wouldn’t get separated by DCFS.
Someone had to take care of things and I considered it my job.
Avoidant-dismissive attachment (with a little fearful attachment sprinkled in for funsies.) Unable to actually rely on anyone, but not knowing how to not be needed.
Others, like many of my siblings, froze or fawned. They went along because what else was there to do? They numbed with substances to forget. They appeased abusers, thanked them for the scraps and believed the lie that they were the problem. They were at fault. These survivors, stuck in the abusive environment, learned how to continue to exist within it. They developed escapist behaviors, they lied, cheated, stole. Drug use became pervasive. Avoidant-Fearful attachment wreaked havoc on their relationships as they desperately wanted intimacy but were terrified of more abuse and abandonment at the hands of someone they were supposed to trust. The lack of understanding of healthy relationships and what love looks like doesn’t help.
After all, love is NOT abuse, but the abused child often grows up to become an adult that doesn’t fully understand this. They DO love their families, and they have been taught to love and protect their families. They have been taught their entire lives that their families love them- taught in church, at school and through culture that families love their children. What they experienced as that love was abuse. This is not an easy concept to unlearn.
Boundaries are Loving
I have maintained soft boundaries for the majority of my adult life. My family members don’t show up at my house at 2am, strung out. People stopped asking me for money a long time ago. It’s well understood that we do not let adults just come “crash” here. If you steal from us, we WILL contact law enforcement. I have credit alerts and monitor my credit. I’m still recovering from the identity theft I discovered in my early 20s.
Recently, though, I discovered that people only have as much power over your life as you give them.
I am allowed to say no.
I am allowed to protect my peace.
I am allowed to protect the peace and safety of those in my home.
And the truth is, I know the drill.
Abusers don’t just stop. They don’t just suddenly one day decide that they are not going to exploit, manipulate and harm others for their own gratification and benefit. People who abuse others have significant work and healing that they need to do before they are safe. You are worthy of them doing that work before you provide them access to your life.
I am worth that before I provide them access to my life.
So I did the hard thing. I said the hard words.
Because Abuse is not love. It never was. And a couple of kindnesses does not cover the abuse.
Love is Patient
Love is Kind
It does not envy, It does not boast, It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres1 Corinthians 13
Abuse and love are incompatible.
Boundaries are hard, but you are worthy.
We both are.
Be Bold. Live out Loud.