How Much Is Too Much Abuse?

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I’ve known for a long time that I grew up in a dysfunctional home, but it was only recently that I decided to fully accept that I was abused. Accepting it meant that I was willing to take that knowledge out of the dusty back corners of my mind where I had been storing it, and finally put it on display for others to see. It’s like discovering you inherited one of those (Margaret) Keane “Big Eyes” paintings that you know is considered valuable, but to you it’s some worn out, tacky/ freaky tchochke that directly contrasts with your contemporary tastes. I know for my own healing, I need to expose it, but I don’t know where to put it.

I had been minimizing it for so long, I really don’t know how “big” it is. I vacillate  between thinking I’m over it and ready to move on, and then I am blindsided with a debilitating memory or emotional flashback. I get restless and I want to go back to my usual way of coping, which is to push it away and keep myself too busy to think. But instead, I am learning to sit with it, to look at it, to feel it. It feels shitty. This new strategy feels foreign to me. How much is “too much”? Am I wallowing? What’s the healthy way to acknowledge the reality of my past?

I need to determine for myself what’s enough and what’s too much. It’s hard to gauge, because I was told from a formative age to “get over it,” and “you’re being dramatic,” and “that didn’t happen.” Then when I go back and analyze the events, I realize that, yes, it did happen, it was pretty fucking dramatic, and no, I am not over it.  I had a normal response to a traumatic event, and then I pushed it away. I repeated that pattern over, and over, and over, because it was how I survived my childhood.

Sometimes when I uncover a memory or really look at what happened,  I marvel that I am alive at all. I don’t think I should be, statistically speaking. When I divulge a few details to friends for the first time, the typical response I get is shock over how I turned out so normal and well-adjusted. Right now, “Big Eyes” is out on my mantelpiece,  staring back at me. I don’t feel well-adjusted. I feel raw. I feel hurt. I feel permanently damaged. I hate looking at it.

Yet, the longer I look, other thoughts come. One big, obvious one that I hope to dwell on is, “Look how far you’ve come.” Another is, “Yes, that happened, and you survived.” Better yet is, “Not only did you survive, you stopped the pattern.” Best of all, “Look at the love and life in your family today. You made it.”

I wish I could live there permanently, in the thoughts that remind me more of heaven than of hell. But today, I need to embrace where I am. I am in all of these places simultaneously, because they are all valid, and they are all me.

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