By Cassi Cox
If you have not heard the new Taylor Swift Song, Anti-Hero, you must be living under a rock. You also cannot read this blog any further and actually understand what I’m talking about, so here’s the link to the lyric video on Youtube.
If you didn’t know that I am a Swifie, you either haven’t been here long or haven’t been paying attention. The woman knows how to turn every emotional experience into a catchy tune, and as someone who doesn’t do well actually expressing feelings but also wants them out and known, I am here for it.
Most of my life was spent in blissful ignorance that I was, in fact, the problem.
Well, at least part of the problem. I grew up in a very abusive environment. I was surrounded by violence, drugs and multiple types of abuse. In the midst of that, I learned to survive. It was obvious that I, this vulnerable child, was not responsible for the abuse, the violence or the drugs. I didn’t bring my circumstances upon myself.
I did, however, learn to exist within it. Survival meant developing certain tools and turning off certain parts of my being. I stopped trusting people. I once believed that it was men that I predominantly stopped trusting as a result of the times I experienced sexual trauma and witnessed domestic violence. Now, after years of processing, I realize that this isn’t the full truth. At the time, expecting to be let down was helpful for me because most of the adults in my circle were unreliable at best and unsafe at worst. There were adults at the time that I believed I could count on. Now, looking back, I am able to see that they were central figures in the system, benefiting from the destructive behaviors of others and not taking the appropriate steps to intervene even when they had the ability to do so. Even those I believed to be safe and trustworthy, weren’t. My primary abuser was a woman in a position of power and authority over me who didn’t do her job to care for and protect those in her charge, instead, using them to serve her own ego and her own desires.
As the oldest child, I learned that the other children were even more vulnerable than I was. I loved my brother and sisters with a parental love, and as a result, in that environment, I learned that I could not protect both myself and them. I had to turn off every internal drive to keep myself safe, standing between them and the violence of adults. I also turned off my ability to sense pain and to know when too much was too much. This served me well when I was taking hits, my heart was breaking and grieving as I saw the brokenness of the adult-world around me and tried to build a wall to protect the children in my midst from it, and when choosing not to eat so that my siblings had enough.
I lied so well. I am sure that people knew things weren’t great, simply because I know how many calls were ultimately made to DCFS and law enforcement. But time and time again, when I speak to members of my community, they are shaken. Nobody knew how bad it really was. That was largely due to my sheltering of the other children combined with my ability to perform well for a crowd.
I did this because, while I haven’t ever been someone who “cared what others thought,” I have always been someone who highly valued certain relationships. Once you are in my heart, you stay there. I love fiercely, fervently and with a force that most aren’t familiar with or ready for. When I was young, I loved my siblings that way, and I was convinced, heart and soul, that to tell the truth would mean losing them.
This is a tactic used by abusive parents everywhere. “If you tell, they will separate you. They’ll take you away. They’ll punish you, too. They’ll know all of your secrets, too. I have dirt on you, too. You aren’t perfect, you know. The things you’ve done trying to keep this family together? I can tell them that. Then what will happen? You’ll never be able to protect your siblings from jail! That’s where they’ll put you when they know you fought back/stole for food/ went along with/didn’t tell when…You’re brother/sisters will go to foster care! Do you know what happens there?”
So I learned to protect with lies. I learned to tell the highlight reel and hide the abuse. These skills served me well in my abusive household, or at least, I my little brain and body believed that they did at the time.
But then I became an adult. I didn’t follow in the footsteps of those that came before me. I didn’t pursue drugs and violence.
And yet, I spent the last few years taking some giant steps back. I stepped back from leadership, from ministry and completely re-evaluated my faith, steeping myself in Jesus rather than people.
Because in my mastery of survival, I learned skills that helped me hurt people who could be trusted, who did invest in me and who were safe. When someone demonstrated themself to be safe, trustworthy and tender with me, rather than opening up and letting them in, my defense mechanisms went on high alert.
It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem.
When someone stepped in to help lighten the heavy burden I have always shouldered all by myself, I found myself observing them, wondering…” When will they cash in the favor?”
It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem.
When someone was truly available for my vulnerability, I ran in fear. After all, historically, vulnerability meant danger. So instead of imbedding myself with those who treasured all that I am and valued my whole self, I ended up surrounded by people who treasured all that I was capable of doing and giving, using my skills to further their own agendas and egos.
It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem.
And still, even today, I struggle with those I love the most. I am constantly tempted to compromise my safety, my values and my limits in order to ensure that those I love the most are safe, protected and that I can be there to see and ensure that it happens. I stay. I fight. I persevere, I take the blows, I overwork and overextend myself. I see what they don’t see, and do my best to stand guard while it rips my heart and soul to shreds. I sit across from a man who shattered my whole heart, realizing it’s me. Hi.
I’m the problem.
I’ve done the work. I keep doing the work. I certainly stopped lying to protect those causing harm, because now I understand the importance of cycle breaking. I am determined to break the cycle.
So. Many. Cycles.
Years ago, I wasn’t even capable of feeling my own pain. I was only able to hurt for someone else. But there is more work to be done.
Yeah. Abuse was the problem. Trauma was the problem.
But I am also the problem.
All of these things can be true.
They are all true.
At teatime, everybody agrees.
Be Bold. Live Out Loud.