I started writing as a way to process and talk about exceedingly difficult things I knew I needed to discuss in therapy but was unable to even begin to make sense of myself. For such a long time, I wasn’t able in any way to discuss much more than I had been sexually abused by my father and my mother had been mean to me.
At some level, I sensed that the level of expression I had on the topic of abuse was inadequate to get me much of anywhere. I could say that it happened, but that was about it.
And so, I started to write with some regularity. I opened up a dedicated document in a word processing software, and I would, a couple of times a week, begin to write about my worst experiences. At first, it started out by acknowledging the depth of some truly horrific experiences that I had been through as a child. But, I noticed that as I continued to write, more and more would come up for me. That what I had been through had not only been overwhelmingly terrible. I started to get a sense of objectivity with respect to my past – the view of someone able to make sense of these experiences rather than being completely consumed by them.
One thought, experience, recollection, would lead to another. And, in my infinite curiosity, I would follow this train. After recognizing myself as being unfairly treated by both my parents in various ways, I came to the rather sickening realization that they weren’t abusive 100% of the time. I would encounter an occasional memory filled with an unsettling tenderness or lovingness that I wasn’t entirely sure how to make sense of. I was trying to be victimized and misunderstood, and I didn’t entirely appreciate a wrench being thrown in my plans like this.
I originally went about trying to show how deeply my father had violated me. But I would end up writing about how, every year, he would plant a different rosebush on the side of our house. The planter that ran the length of our townhome in the Chicago suburbs was lined in untreated wood planks and filled with delicate pink rocks. My mom always complained about how much work it was to keep up, but even after my dad left home, I looked forward to seeing the roses bloom every year. His same big and rough hands that had violated my young body with so much demand and need were used to gently water the roses he had planted with such intention and care. Long after he abandoned our family, I would rush outside to recognize and cut any roses ready for a vase inside.
When writing about my mom, I started out detailing her endless rages at me, hellbent on calling out her covert narcissism. But, at some point, I landed at her making pancakes or waffles for the three of us – her, my sister, and myself, – every Sunday morning, for years on end. How patient she was teaching me how to bake. A patience, she was never able to extend to anything else. I learned fractions from her in the kitchen, her hand resting gently on my small shoulder. An occasional egg dropped on the floor would warrant a knowing laugh; an act that under any other context would have warranted endless rage and excoriation.
Every year, we would drive to Michigan in early August to go blueberry picking. I recall my mother, in her mauve shorts and white patterned shirt, being so at ease amongst the endless rows of shrubs and the long summer rays of midwestern sunlight. So proud of my and my sister’s ability to pick fruit that she would use for baking throughout the winter. Such a juxtaposition from someone who, at most other times, held great contempt for all living things.
At some level, I felt ready to confront the pain and the darkness and abuse of my childhood. But I definitely wasn’t prepared for these arresting, poignant memories to bubble up to the surface, flooding me with guilt about ever saying anything negative about my parents. The more I learn, the further along I get in my own healing journey, the more I realize how much of the pain I have been through comes from a place of deep love and understanding for both of my parents.
I was willing to and did, do anything for them. I allowed my father to violate my body at his will. I was so attuned to my mom’s pain that I let her yell at me whenever she wanted. All I wanted was for her to be able to see herself through my eyes. But she was never able to, and that isn’t and has never been my fault. And that is not to say that, as children, we are responsible for our abuse. Our parents and caretakers were responsible not just for taking care of us, but also for honoring the gift of our love and they failed us on so many fronts.
Reckoning with that lack of reciprocity has been at the core of my pain in dealing with the abuse that I went through. It’s why I’ve gone no contact with both of my parents. I couldn’t stomach being around people who ‘love me’ but are slaves to their own trauma responses before my wellbeing.
Even though writing opened up these doors that I never wanted or intended to open, it has allowed me to view myself, my struggles, and my experiences with a richness that would have otherwise been lacking, even though it is a richness that I am still not entirely comfortable with, that I wish would just go away much of the time. But I guess life and healing and recovery don’t work like that. It’s messy and complicated and sometimes feels impossible to untangle. And often we come across unexpected parts of ourselves and our stories along the way.
Cassie (they/them, she/hers) is an Aerospace Engineer, Planetary Scientist, and complex trauma survivor pursuing a PhD in Space & Planetary Sciences at the University of Arkansas. They started writing as a way to make sense of and find meaning in their own story, and write about lived experiences including childhood sexual abuse, narcissitic abuse, anxiety and depression, religious abuse, and being a queer and non-binary person. When they are not doing research or going to therapy, Cassie enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with their dog Reggie.