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A rescue or a lesson, only we can decide to be a victim or a survivor.

Emotional abuse looks like many different forms of other abuse, but the scars are invisible. The damage is so deep inside sometimes you don’t even notice they’re within you. Raising kids who have to navigate situations that bring up your own valley of scars is difficult, but in the keloids of pain a blessing is born in the ability to relate to the unique feelings they traverse, in hopes their scars heal without complication.
When you have been away from your abuser(s) you tend to minimize the trauma. You trick yourself into thinking you deserved it, or it wasn’t that bad. That’s how your mind fits the Grand Canyon of pain into a single photo in your mind. Sometimes the situation hurts so bad you can’t even admit to yourself how much you’re hurting. This is how survival mode works. This is why people from trauma will rarely just sit down and tell you their life story, but if you stay consistent and earn enough trust you will get more and more nuggets as that person is prepared to process them. Don’t worry, the pictures of pain is indestructible. No matter how old you get memories of toddler-hood can flood back like it was yesterday. If you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. It is really important when someone from trauma experiences this to walk as lightly as possible, even they don’t know how you can help them. This seems to be why support groups are so productive. Regardless your walk of life, if you understand the pain that pierced your soul, you have something in common that is very hard to find organically with the people in your life. I’m thankful I have this unique perspective for my kids from hard pasts, even though the realization is you end up picking apart your own keloids in the process.
Knowing the pain is impending in a situation that will trigger, I try to prepare my kids as much as I can. Walking through imaginary desserts with cardboard cut outs of love and affection, which falls down to reveal the barren land with every manipulation and insult they have tossed at them. We talk about how they will feel when they are triggered, or insulted, or hurt. How to deal with emotions when they are given presents to some how justify the pain they are being hit with. How to process, how to self regulate, how to cope, how to advocate for themselves. Sometimes this is enough to get them through a situation. Other times you get in your car at 11 pm and drive for 20 hours to pick them up when you hear the cries of desperation while you literally witness the physical assaults through the phone. There will never be a world where no one hurts you, and no one lets you down. Teaching children how much hurt they can handle when they know the people that ‘love’ them are mentally ill is a difficult task. The decisions are theirs alone to decide which relationships they continue, but their decisions will be upheld by the parents that are tasked with protecting them. Therapy isn’t always right when it tells you people who love you will never hurt you. They will. Sometimes their own mental illness prevents them from treating you the way you should be treated. It isn’t a question of love, it’s a question of how much are you willing to tolerate, and if the relationship is productive enough to continue bearing the pain.
Protecting your children doesn’t mean not allowing them to feel pain or struggle. It’s teaching them how to avoid minimizing the pain, to acknowledge it and look it directly in the face and tell the lion that it cannot win. It is proving to them when they are broken down to pieces that you will always come for them. It’s showing up with love first when they are in a bad situation, and sorting out who is right or wrong second. Trust and consistency will make them always want to come back to you.
I have seen a common theme in the emotional intelligence of people that surround me in this chapter of life. The theme is somehow because you can manipulate children to think and feel what you want them to, that it is acceptable to do so. There is a big difference between making children think it is a good idea to eat their veggies, and making them think they hate someone because you do. Manipulating children only works in two types of situations that I have seen. The situation where they will never leave you because you have made them emotionally dependent on your presence, and the situation where they are too young to know better and are tricked by gifts to believe your abuse is acceptable. Neither of these tactics are sustainable. If for example, you refuse to let your children stay with a babysitter because you are too scared to do so, you’re putting your own illness on your kids and transferring your own anxiety.
You don’t get to tell someone it doesn’t hurt when you say things. You don’t get to decide what makes them feel bad. When a child is removed from these situations, and has any length of time in a normal stable family, they start to recognize the emotional abuse. Not only do they not want to be around it regardless of the #sw@g you present them with, but they rip the thin scab off the realization that you had been abusing them for the last 10 years, and it WAS that bad. Now all the mal-adaption of minimizing and justifying is gone, and we’re in a place where we have 10 years of trauma to work through that just showed up from a facade that this would be a normal fun vacation. Ignoring your problems don’t make them go away, they just save them for later. Thankfully there is a mother involved that started the ground work in healing seeing this situation on the horizon, talked through the history, the actual situations and prepared her to process in real time the things that have previously gone unsaid.
In any situation you have to find the silver lining or you’d end up completely depressed. The sadness is so overwhelming, but the beauty that can be born from the pain needs to be highlighted. After a hellish weekend of terrorizing, the happiness and appreciation for being home shines. Driving through the White Mountains on the way home from New York was not only aesthetically beautiful, but also metaphorically moving. We drove together mile after mile away from the pain and abuse, in one sealed capsule of time through the peaks and valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire toward the safe haven of our family’s home.
The journey was long and emotional, we stopped to hike the Quechee Gorge, a physical representation of our relationship. We walked through the welcome center, the introduction to the journey with photos and souvenirs, unlike our journey the welcome center came with a map. We crushed some pennies in the coin press, like a physical representation to mark the occasion, a memory to save. We opened the door to nature, and we started down the path filled with wilderness, endless opportunities to explore. She ran ahead, uncharacteristic of the girl I sent to NY on Sunday, but given the freedom to run as far as she needed to, I’d always come around the corner to see her sitting on a stump or bench waiting for me. The testing of our trust in short sprints. The girl I sent on Sunday will never again be the girl I picked up Tuesday, but the girl I know is still inside. She needed to remind herself the world was hers to concur, and even if she ran too far, I’d always be following behind. We went most of the way to the bottom, but after being awake over 30 hours and spending 15 hrs in the car, and her long weekend of being assaulted physically and emotionally, neither of us were any condition to go all the way to the bottom of the gorge. We turned around and climbed all the way to the top of the dam, as if to say, together we will always reach the peak, and push each other to find the energy to prevail. We turned around and started toward the car to continue our journey home, but stopped at the bridge to take photos of where we had been. We went as far into the pain as we could stand, climbed to the top of the mountain to show we could, and took photos to reflect on how we had grown stronger and closer through this journey. This drive was more than a rescue, it was a physical expression of the journey that binds us together forever as people, and as family.
The arrival at home was met with long awaited sleep for me, and a reunion for her. The thankfulness to be reunited with safety and reliability. They ate ice cream, played rock band, and enjoyed the feeling of safety and proximity throughout the night.
Life is full of mountains and valleys. We have an opportunity to be a vehicle of safety to help these kids traverse the peaks and gorges, give them the courage and safety to hike deeper and deeper in to the darkness each time, but we can never carry them through to avoid the pain the journey brings, because that would prevent the joy the hike can birth. Surrounded by the love and thoughts of our closest friends that have become our community we had messages that would pour in when the service was again granted, calls and well wishes to us as we made our journey home. Hours of processing with a sister not born to me by genetics, but collected as family. Not everyone can be the mother to these children. In being the mother I realize how integral the community is that holds my kids up and encourages them to go on. The same community that stays up late problem solving with me, or talking about their relationships and giving me unique perspectives for my library. There is no limit to the amount of positive people I will surround my children with, there is a power found in the fire of learning to be taught to think independently that a religion will not provide. I am feeding the fire inside my kids to stand up for what is right, demand respect, accountability, and the courage to look the pain in the face as they say goodbye to the friends and family that are pouring water on them trying to put out their flame. If you want to be in our present, you need to be helping the fire build because we have no time to be stuck in darkness. This family is raising up kids that are going to change the world. You can be part of the forward movement or you can get out of our way and watch from the sidelines. They aren’t babies, they are mini adults that are learning the skills to take on the world. I am honored to be their mother.