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*author’s note: I wrote this in the middle of May of this year but have waited until I was ready to share.*
TRIGGER WARNING: child abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, suicidal ideation, self-harm, family estrangement
There’s something that’s been brewing in my mind for these last few coronavirus months that I finally feel that I can share with a wider audience.
As many of my close friends know, I’ve maintained a state of “no contact” with my parents for almost two years now.
That is, I’ve cut off all communication and avoided visiting them, which hasn’t been terribly difficult since I live six hours away. I’ve also been forced to include most of my siblings in this no contact due to their enmeshment and minimizing of my parents’ abuse.
Since I made that decision for the good of my mental and emotional health, I’ve been met with opposition from many well-meaning friends and even my own siblings. Just today, I was having a conversation with a family friend who mentioned in passing that I should try to reconcile with my parents because I might come to regret it later on once I realize what I’ve missed, in terms of a relationship with them.
Later, I was listening to my parish’s daily mass on my phone while cleaning up supper dishes. In the homily, the pastor made a passing reference to St. Paul reconciling with the synagogue leader Sosthenes in the New Testament (Acts 18:12-17). I’m tired of hearing about reconciling when reconciling is not the answer – at least, in my situation.
Reconciling cannot be one-sided.
I can freely choose to forgive my parents and those complicit in my abuse, but that is different from reconciliation with them. Reconciliation requires acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a commitment to work on the relationship – on both sides. Juliette Virzi of “The Mighty” explains it more thoroughly here.
The reason I feel that I can speak publicly about this now is that I finally have a good way to explain it: I’m quarantining from a toxic influence.
With the coronavirus pandemic, we take steps to protect our own physical health, as well as the health of those around us, by wearing face masks in public, reducing our exposure to large groups of people, washing our hands regularly, and quarantining ourselves (most especially when we’re in a vulnerable state). I have chosen to quarantine myself because my family members are toxic. I had tried to establish healthy boundaries countless times, but they chose to disrespect and often fought my boundaries. When this behavior began to impact and even endanger my young children, I put my foot down, first with my mother and next with my father. I eventually limited my communication with my siblings until it became no contact.
Believe me, this wasn’t an impulsive decision.
I had debated and prayed and sought the help of mental health professionals before making my decision. And it was not an easy decision. I miss my siblings terribly. I miss belonging to my family of origin. I miss participating in family events, like my sister’s wedding last year.
However, I know that – just as those who are vulnerable physically may not withstand the coronavirus without precautions – I am still in a weakened state mentally and emotionally. Despite two years of individual therapy and fifteen months of DBT therapy group every week, I still struggle. I’ve definitely made progress, of which I’m very grateful and proud, but living with the scars and open wounds of abuse hurts. It’s still a bitch some days.
My parents have not prioritized my feelings, my mental well-being, for most of my life. Some of this is understandable as they were not trained to recognize signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I don’t hold what they didn’t know against them.
However, I do hold them responsible for willingly putting young children in the care of a known child sexual predator.
I do hold them responsible for irritably dismissing my suicidal tendencies and pleas for help when I was in high school.
I do hold them responsible for attempting to use their children to heal their marriage and hurt each other through manipulation.
I do hold them responsible for ignoring warning signs of sexual abuse.
I do hold them responsible for using their children as their personal therapists and shoulder to cry on rather than seeking professional help.
I do hold them responsible for forcing their children to live in an atmosphere of tension, manipulation, and verbal abuse rather than separate peaceably.
I do hold them responsible for swearing their children to secrecy about all of it, forcing us to lie to concerned relatives and friends.
In light of all of that, I choose to quarantine myself and my husband and children from this influence. Can people choose to change and better themselves? Absolutely, and I hope to God that my parents do one day. However, I am not in a place where I can continue being in contact with them while waiting for that change. Perhaps that day will never come…. I don’t know. However, MY responsibility is to take care of myself and my small children. I am NOT responsible for my parents’ well being, despite being trained so long to think so.
I share this, not only for myself, but for those who feel trapped in families of abuse, of shame, of extreme pain. YOU can quarantine yourself for your well being and health. Know that you’re not alone, and there’s a lot of help out there! Here’s a good place to start: the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
For those of you thinking, “But they never actually beat you, right? Maybe you’re using the word “abuse” too liberally here. How do you know that they abused you? Maybe you were just too sensitive,” I don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation. Nothing I say will convince you if you don’t understand how words are enough to seriously bruise and batter a child’s heart. Compounded by sexual abuse, those words have brought me to the brink countless times. The shame alone is the driving force behind my self-harm, the need to bring the pain to the surface.
For those of you thinking, “But it’s Christian to forgive those who persecute and hurt us,” that is true.
However, consider the fact that Jesus was treated terribly by the people of his hometown to the point where they tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). What did Jesus do? He “passed through the midst of them and went away” (Luke 4:30, NAB).
And Jesus never returned to his hometown of Nazareth to reconcile.
You don’t have to either.