When the past is present
November 2, 2015 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm coming to terms with some things that have happened to me and I seriously *need* to see what healthy, well-adjusted members of the public can tell me:

I'm about to turn 30. Up until the last couple of years I thought I was doing fine, well, even. Reality is that I have had severe ptsd, agoraphobia and dissociative identity through my adult years (that one I didn't figure out until the last few years) and have never been able to hold down a job (almost made it to two years at one, which was A Big Deal), have never had friends, and, despite being intellectually "gifted", been failing school since junior high and through all of my attempted college classes.

Fair warning: there will be mention of physical abuse which may be triggering. If you aren't ready for that, please don't continue reading.

My father has been physically abusing me since as long as I can remember. Lack of official clinical diagnosis notwithstanding, I believe him to be a sociopath, and my belief doesn't derive from having read a pop-psych book on the topic.

The abuse was brutal and senseless. Sometimes it was for normal transgressions which children engage in; most of the time it was for perceived transgressions or no reason at all. The brutality mixed potently with the unpredictability. He seemed to derive a release and an enjoyment especially from humiliating me and watching me suffer.

His urges to hurt me seemed like something he couldn't control. One of my earliest memories of it, my mother was right next door at a neighbors'. I was 6. He told me if I told her what happened, he would hurt me worse next time. I still have the mark from that incident. He threatened me like that almost every time. He showed he knew what he was doing was wrong. Several times I came close to losing my life. Right at the point my body would start thrashing and kicking, he'd let go of his grip.

My mother knew I was being abused. When I got older, I told her. She did not help me and had hit me several times herself. I ran away from home 12 or 13 times. Every one of those times except for one, I was brought home by police without being questioned about why I was doing this, one time even being put in handcuffs right in front of my friend and her family whose house I had run to. I told our landlord. I told my friends. No one helped. CPS didn't come knocking on the door, nor the police. There was a particular period of time when my mother would be at work, my siblings at school, and I would come home after school daily to a routine of him ripping the backpack off my body, emptying out the contents and beating me. This is when I decided to tell the school counselor, being more afraid of the repercussions of the violence continuing than the repercussion of telling. I asked for an appointment, stepped into her office and told her I was beaten badly every day and was scared to come home. She said she wasn't sure there was anything she could do for me.

I was failing school despite teachers recognizing I was "bright" (this was brought up endlessly), not on drugs - which they tested for and received negative results, and had severe social anxiety and depression. But no one ever asked. It didn't seem to have occurred to any one of the "helping professionals" I'd encountered during those years that I was fleeing something. I was displaying textbook symptoms of there being something very awry in my home so I have been bewildered and enraged all these years about why nothing was investigated.

My parents are both working professionals living in a well-appointed home and blending in seamlessly. They don't "look the type" to do anything like what I am describing so no one conceived of even questioning it. They are able to engage superficially, however throughout my life they have never had friends and do not socialize. I have never seen good social relationships modeled out.

I saw those anti-abuse 1-800 numbers all over the place - posters at school, on television and buses. It gave me the message that abuse was not OK. That it wasn't even legal. But when I tried to utilize any help I could think of, I was left to go back into my horrific situation. This furthered my feelings of alienation, fear, and anger with the added element of extreme mistrust. There are many, many more things I can't write here. There's simply too much.

What I am dealing with now is the fallout. I don't know if it's something about turning 30, but I seem to have lost the ability to rely on previous defenses. I have lived in complete social isolation for 10 years. I have no numbers in the contact list on my phone. I can't find work because of my extremely unstable work history and lack of references. I go years without physical touch from others. Sometimes weeks without talking to anyone. In trying to change these circumstances I have failed time and time again. I don't know how to relate to people who haven't experienced what I have because this has changed the trajectory of my entire life. Most prevalent example: dating partners want to know why I have no relationship with my family and no friends. They become suspicious of why I am so intensely smart (their evaluation, not bragging) but have nothing to show for it. There is no simple answer, and I can't reveal the details of my past, so I end up circling around the true answer. In this way, I never feel truly known. I have obvious psychological damage which is impossible to hide. It finds manifestation in behavior like being intensely hypersensitive. I disastrously tried to date a man recently who, due to my having an emotional outburst at his place, told me he felt he had to "run". When I think about my behavior having made somebody feel that way, I just want to sink into the ground from a sense of burning shame and worthlessness.

The people I have dated and am attracted to have been academically successful with all of the concomitant outcomes: more earning power, doing work they enjoy doing leading to confidence and sense of place in the world. I become really ashamed of myself and know these relationships will not work out in the long term. It isn't because they are bad people, it's because we aren't on the same page from the very beginning. It's profoundly embarrassing to try to explain why I only have $2 in the bank, and can't make rent. Because of my age, I am starting to feel crushed by an increased sense of hopelessness that things can ever be any different than they have been. It's socially acceptable and expected that one will flounder in their 20s. It becomes more difficult to explain away in your 30s.

I don't know what to do anymore and need your perspectives, since I've never been able to ask a social circle of friends and family. How do I navigate my past in the present, and my present in the present?
posted by a knot unknown to Human Relations (26 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, jeez, I am so sorry this has been your life so far. It sounds so hard and you are amazing for having survived. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

I don't see any mention of a therapist, and it sounds like you really really should be seeing a good therapist. It's not surprising that you have a hard time relating to most people you meet given your childhood seems to have been tailor made to create an adult with major problems trusting or opening up to people. A therapist can help you figure out how to bridge that gap. And if nothing else, it sounds like you really just want someone to talk to with whom you can be completely open, and having a compassionate and nonjudgmental listening ear might help in and of itself. Do you have a local community mental health center you could contact about free or low-cost services?
posted by town of cats at 10:58 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

My god, what an incredible series of betrayals. Over and over and over again, from every direction. My heart goes out to you. Also, I believe your story 100%.

In my experience connection flows from trust which flows from safety. People show you that they are safe, and then you start to trust them, and then you risk it and reach out. If it works, it provides the beginning of a way out of the dark. But if you reach out and find nothing, or worse, get violent pushback in return, you fall deeper than you did before. That has happened to you so many times, it's no wonder you can't connect with anyone. People have proven to you that the appearance of safety is really a lure, a weapon, and that trust leads to violence.

You need to find people that you can trust, which means you need people that are genuinely safe. Not people that say they are safe and are in a position that means they should be safe; people who are actually safe. It is not the same thing. Not all therapists are safe, but many of them are, and that would be a good place to start. If you can find someone who feels safe and with whom you can build trust, you can start to make progress.

I had a great experience doing group therapy. That room was safe, and so were the people in it. I have the facilitator to thank for that; he really cultivated that feeling of safety. As a result, I grew to trust the people in the room, and I began to reach out to them, and they were there for me. It did wonders. It was also brand new. It's no exaggeration to say that connection was something I had not experienced until then. I was your age when I started this work, by the way. 30 is definitely a time when things start to catch up to you.

You may find that you need to start by relating to other trauma survivors like yourself. There is no shame in that. Others in my group had stories a lot like yours - isolation, shame, worthlessness, instability, loneliness, spotty work history, hopelessness. It can be a tremendous help to recognize that these feelings form as a pattern that manifests in response to trauma -- that it is not you who is bad, but the abuse - because the common link that connects a room full of survivors is the similarity of their stories and the similarities of the effects. Every survivor is different but the footprint left by the abuse is recognizable in all.

I'll reiterate: seek safety first. Give yourself plenty of time and space to explore the feelings of safety and danger. When you are convinced it is safe, you will begin to trust. Once trust is there, connection will follow. But it all flows from safety.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:21 PM on November 2, 2015 [26 favorites]

Best answer: There is no simple answer, and I can't reveal the details of my past, so I end up circling around the true answer. In this way, I never feel truly known

This is going to be the key to escaping isolation. Don't think of it as dropping your entire history on their head the first time they meet you...be gradual. Make a remark like, "My family life wasn't that great." If the other person seems receptive/validating/compassionate - they may even respond in kind - then you can tell them more, in whatever way you feel comfortable.

Obviously - for many reasons - your past is a huge part of your life. You'll never be able to hide that much of yourself in an intimate relationship. To get there you have to go there.
posted by bendy at 11:35 PM on November 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Hi, fellow survivor. I wish I could write as eloquently as you just did. I feel humbled by your ability to explain without getting overwhelmed and going off tangent, as I might have at your stage.

I know you, knot. I know this path.

Is there some reason you do not want to tell the truth to folks when they ask? I'm 45. I started telling the truth sometime around your age. The older you get, the less push back you get. Also, it happened. And while you don't have to dump on everyone, you can say it factually. Why not? And anyway, you only hurt yourself every time you pretend. I know you want to stop hurting.

I think getting too deep into any religion or practice is sorta crazy, but getting familiar with those tools and getting involved with nature helped me. It's what I come back to when I get off track.

A big part of the problem is that your nervous system has been re-wired, and that will present a lifelong struggle for you, as you described. Good news is you CAN learn tools to cope. I think you have a 100 percent chance based on the way you expressed yourself here.

Lots of wonderful people will pop in to give specifics. Explore them all, choose a few that suit you in the moment. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Someone once told me learning Japanese was a lifelong pursuit. And so is overcoming trauma and abuse. That's OK. The longer you do it, the better you get at it. You can't really stop, but everyone has something to work on, this is our thing. Make the most of your 30's because this is the time to get serious about YOU.

I don't want to say too much more. You'll have break throughs! You'll backslide. The longer you go at it, the less the backsliding will feel like failure because you'll have experience + tools. You're already doing better than you think. The evidence is above in your question. You have self-awareness. Well done.

Lots of people live beyond abuse to have good, even great lives. Join us. You're not broken or lost. You wrote this question because you are healing and ready to learn more skills and tools, you are ready to expand your life and live beyond what happened. Feel proud of this step. It was huge and you did spectacularly. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Well done. Keep going.
posted by jbenben at 11:38 PM on November 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

I think you should leave your county and everything else behind you, join a charity abroad and work there for a few years, or at least for as long as you can hold the job. Sometimes, it is what is required: change lives since this one isn't working.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:04 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

NTHING therapy and group therapy and/or a process group (google that last one:))

See? So many great answers above mine, already. I think you'll find a lot of resources here, a lot of solid leads to follow up on.

On one specific point... The work thing. I was savvy enough to land a ton of great jobs while I was in and out of university in my 20's because the effects of abuse were overwhelming and I can really identify with your issues around being someone coping with a traumatic upbringing that happened in the shadows (same social and educational background as you) + trying to keep up with your peers... I started 3 businesses. One in my late 20's that I just checked out of because success overwhelmed me and I did not have the skills to take it next level, one in my mid-30's that tanked because my biz partner/investor was a predator that took advantage to the entire endeavor's detriment, despite the success, and the current business I started with my husband which is thriving at a slower pace than similar outfits, but we have no investors and zero debt or giant loans like they do. Third try at it is the charm. I use everything I learned from my past abuse and otherwise to service our clients ethically and our employees are AWESOME and we treat them like the gold they are. We may be small right now, but we do it right. And that's down to me. I can't tell you how many assholes we successfully navigated in the past 3 years - customers, vendors, business opportunities, and employees - all because I had the life experience to cut off trouble before it took us down or made us wage slaves in our own business. I'm really proud to say we support our family and have stability without ripping anyone off. Our product is sustainable and good for people and the environment. And we bring joy.

You don't need a great resume to start a successful business one day when you have worked through some of your deeper issues. So there's one more possibility you might not have thought of as a goal to work towards. Our first year+ we still worked other jobs, when we we solid, we went in full time. My husband would have been fine working for others, but personally, I was so TIRED of being involved with dysfunctional work places and business models, I just couldn't. I wanted my own safe space, that relied on my "code." I failed a bunch previously in trying to start a business of my own, but ultimately kept at it. We found the right industry and tried to avoid common missteps for our ilk. We're doing just fine. I'm happy. It worked out.

You're not unemployable or incapable of making money or having a career. The biggest thing that helped me be successful in my own business lately was all the mistakes I made in another entirely unrelated industry working for an outfit with the same ethics I aspired to. Just really good people doing what they did the right way, not screwing anyone else over. They showed me it was possible. And now I do the same, just in my area of expertise.

Underneath, you have a passion. You have dreams and goals. You have a great gift in this, to do better than was done to you in ALL ways. So that's something to strive for. If you want.

... If you live in a cabin and grow your own vegetables, that's still a huge win. You can do anything you want now. You have begun to set yourself free. Cheers!
posted by jbenben at 12:23 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I did the "leave my home country" thing but it was a lifelong endeavor, and even then, it re-traumatized me in many ways. Being a foreigner is like being an abused kid no one wants to take seriously because it would mean looking at their own dark side. That's what privilege is too – being able to tell yourself you're fine, you know how it all works, those other people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, see reality the way you see it (without realizing their reality is a privilege, not a result of their actions), so on and so forth. So yeah, unless you've got a childhood heart-level attachment to another country, or are in imminent danger from nearby family members, stay where you are for now.

I wasn't beat as badly as you; my mother was sadistic as well, though, and took great enjoyment destroying me as much as she could. Father liked to hit and just not care. As if I were a beat-up doll. He especially liked making promises and warm compliments and then breaking them and wishing out loud he'd never had a daughter (me). Everyone knew it. I told teachers from my earliest memories that my mother was mean; no one did anything. When I started talking to friends, my parents forbade me from having friends over or going out. So I'd run away. No one helped.

I had a cousin very much in your position; my uncle beat his two children all the fucking time, but especially him. I called the police and they did not help. It got to the point where one day, when I was old enough and strong enough, I told my uncle if he didn't let my cousin out of the closet he'd locked him in, I would kick his ass in front of the entire neighborhood, and he knew full well they could all phone the police and they would do NOTHING. Which is exactly what happened. He laid hands on my cousin a lot less after that, but well :(

White "upstanding" professional family no one would ever imagine capable of such abuse (bullshit, it was in their faces, they did nothing) etc. ad nauseum.

So yeah, holy crap do I ever believe you.

Therapy. You can find someone who'll take into account your financial situation, no worries! And listen to your gut – find someone you feel safe-ish with at the start. I say "ish" because even I was wary for the first year with my therapist, but I felt mostly safe, so I listened to that and told myself that if I saw evidence that I should not feel safe, I could find someone else. She worked to keep me safe though. It has made a world of difference.

For me it started in my mid-30s, oddly a few years into a stable job. I'm nearly 40 now and doing so much better. You find your way through the darkness bit by bit, pick up lost pieces of yourself, figure out how to care for them and live them, and eventually, one day – I certainly hope this for you – you realize you don't even need to tell people you were abused, because that's no longer your foundation story. Your foundation story becomes "I built my life with the help of safe spaces."

It can be different, of course, others may have more proximity to their families and thus more reason to talk about them. For me, they no longer exist, because honestly, they don't. They're 11-12 years in the past now, when I cut them off for good. My mother gave me a gift, in a way, telling me I should have died at one point, because I told her "fine, I'm dead to you," and that metaphor is useful. If I ever find a man who wants to know more about why I'm not in contact with them, we'll go slowly. I want him to know who I am before that's colored by what my crappy family was.

Take care, look for a therapist and start on that – they know how to help. Really. It works. It takes time and it hurts, like working new muscles, but it works.
posted by fraula at 12:47 AM on November 3, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Memail me if you want to talk. I was bright and my family was wealthy and looked polished, so none of our pleas as children went answered. I could have written some of what you write and what saved me honestly was the sheer good fortune of two years 10-12 escaping frequently to a friend's house where her sympathetic mother asked no questions but gave me safety.

Therapy. Think of this as recovering from a massive physical accident that has smashed most of your bones. You need years of rehab and recovery, maybe a few surgeries to repair the scar tissue that developed to keep you alive until you were ready to do more. This is a 2-5 year project and there is zero fucking shame in needing lots of time and struggle to recover and rebuild. The people who say get better in 30 days or a year, or just why aren't you better yet.... They don't have to empty an ocean with a teaspoon, so screw them.

Therapy, exercise to get you back in touch and strong inside your body, pets to love and touch and care for, reading books by other survivors can help.

You are not alone. And five years from now, you are going to be somewhere different - just being able to ask this question and say it? That's huge.

The first time I said my parents abused me I thought I'd vomit or die, it hurt so much. Now it's there but they did that and I survived and I'm not ashamed anymore. It really gets better.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:44 AM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also people who grew up with loving or regular discipline families just don't get it. It's a fundamental loss that they can get in theory but they have this sort of grounded wholeness and sense of security that just doesn't let them get it. It's easier to talk with other survivors imo.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:47 AM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

One thing very much worries me. You say, "my father has been physically abusing me", present tense. Is this still going on? Because if so that is a terrible situation and you need to get away from your father immediately! If you are being abused even now, everything else can wait while you get to safety!

Now, assuming your father is not abusing you to this very day and you are safe now...

As other people have said, it sounds like you really, really need to be seeing a therapist. Nobody should have to get through stuff like this alone. You've suffered terribly and need somebody to help you. Even if it seems like you can never afford a therapist, there are still ways to make it happen. Call a local therapist, explain your situation and say you need to see somebody on a sliding scale or (ideally) for free. If that therapist is any good, they will be able to direct you to somebody who can see you.

30 is not nearly as old as you think. I know, it feels so old! The end of your twenties! But someday you'll look back at yourself at 30 and you'll realize you were still just a kid in so many ways. (That's not a comment on your specific maturity, it's more that as time goes on and you pile on the years, 30 starts to sound so much younger than it used to.) It is not rare to be lost and hurting and lonesome at 30, and you still have many years to figure out what you need and how to make it happen.

Honestly, if you've got $2 in the bank, the only person who is going to kick your ass about that is you. You're doing the best you can right now. Work on figuring out how to get in a more stable situation, and in the meantime don't rip yourself apart for being broke. Every minute you spend hating yourself for having problems is a minute that would be better spent trying to figure out how to fix your problems.

If you become serious with a romantic partner, I think you need to talk about what you've survived. It's a huge part of your past that affects you every day, and it's nothing for you to be ashamed of. A man would have to be pretty terrible to think less of you for what you've gone through. You don't want a man like that!

You were mistreated and let down, badly, over and over and over again. Life can be terribly cruel, but we have to keep trying. When we're young, we can feel things so intensely that it's like we have no skin, we're just raw, red meat. We can walk around in agony, all day, every day, with our red meat throbbing from all the hurts. But that does fade, as we age. My life is shitty like you would not believe, but I can take shit now that would have killed me when I was younger. Age brings some peace, it really does.

See a therapist and please, please be kinder to yourself. You've survived terrible things, and it obviously didn't make you a cruel, shitty person. So many people would be so cruel and shitty, if they went through what you did. By becoming the person you are, instead of the person you could have been, you've really done something to be proud of.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:41 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh man, my heart hurts for you reading this. But also, I'm hopeful, because your bravery and tenacity at getting this far and being able to tell this hideously painful story is so apparent. People do such terrible things to children. And yet here you are, still wanting to love and connect and reach out to other people in a nonviolent way.

IANAT, yet, but I am in the final year of my training and I know enough about therapy by now to know that many, many therapists offer low-fee or ability-to-pay client places even if they don't advertise this publicly. Trauma and dissociation are complex issues that need a more senior therapist with specialized training. Many therapists who specialize in it will have done so because they have personal experience of it themselves. Explain your situation when you approach them, including your childhood experience asking for help and not receiving it; it will help them deal with you more sensitively. Yes, it will be stressful asking for help, as you may get some Nos before you get a Yes. But you're an adult now and you have more resources than when you were a kid. There IS someone out there who is willing and able to help you.

I echo the recommendations for group therapy -- there is a safety in the openness and equality of it, and in hearing multiple voices confirm that you are believed, you are worthy, you are not alone, what happened to you was not right.

I also recommend, when you get nearer to healing and wholeness and you need something to do with your anger, working for justice for children in similar situations to yours. The despised and marginalized status of children in our society, the fact that they are not valued except as the private property of adults, is wrong and it's what enables abuse like this to go on unchallenged. You cannot go back in time and save the child you were, but you can be part of the group of helpers protecting the children of today.

I wish you all the best and invite you to memail me if you need support finding a therapist or with anything else. It does get better. You can have the life you deserve.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:44 AM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hey you. Congratulations on taking the step of posting this. I'm mostly adding my voice to the chorus here to say there is a way through the trauma and dissociation. Online groups are good and finding a therapist is a big part...I don't know your gender but I found one by calling a woman's centre and asking the referral person to help me not just with a list but to tell me who on the list to try first. I had a not so great therapist first but my gut knew.

Agreed that if you are living with your dad you need to get out.

If you can, I would also add start telling your truth by writing, drawing, sculpting, playing with frosting, writing words in sand...anything you can. Especially if you have inner voices who need that space. For me, writing for 10/20 min and then running or walking for double that helped - let out some emotion, then move to expend the adrenaline. PTSD lives in the body and the mind and the spirit, so one truthful thing for each a day helps. I know, so much work. It's unfair. But worth it. If you can find free/subsidized yoga or martial arts that might be excellent.

Also, reading -- for multiple stuff I recommend first person plural, a fractured mind, maybe the magic daughter. Memail me if you want other lists. Read nice things you love too.

I would not recommend psychedelics. I would recommend a foreign aid trip only if it's your only way out of living with an abuser and only if you are in touch with your dissociative bits enough to cope with all the foreign stress. Both those things can blow the lid off PTSD.

I think the biggest thing I want to say is you are worth this effort. Whether it's therapy, disability, shelter, online groups, journals, dogs, running, art, swimming, starting a business, finding a volunteer or short shift job you can tolerate, find something to do for yourself and do it.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:29 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Sorry, but advice for self-medicating with non-MD-supervised drugs isn't okay.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:47 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You know, I think that 30 is an amazingly young age to start piecing together the strands that make up your distressing personal narrative. So many of us take a lot longer to get the words out, to define the issues, to look directly at the repeated parental repudiations, social betrayals and adult terror - and to see the links to where you are in your work/vocational life. You are amazing.

You are aware and very self-reflective. So, don't despair that your life is passing by without you taking the steps quicker or more stridently. You are keeping your head up, and in writing this question you have taken a big, big step towards self care and solidarity with others. Message with us/those who offer. When I started this journey, I reached out to Metafilter people and they were awesome. Inside you is a profoundly intelligent and resilient person, a person of value and worth. We want to know you and help you with our presence as witnesses, share with you the things we did to survive.


Travel: I did the travel-overseas-looking-for-a-sanctuary journey when I was 20-23. A kind of running away so that I could see who the hell I was without all that family crap baggage. Lived in different countries and had relationships with people in those foreign places. The push to self-reinvention where none knew my struggles, where I could fake a solid identity of adventuress and free agent was very strong. I know it was good for me in many ways, but I know also that it was not the answer long term. It's not authentic, and facing oneself in truth is so vital to recovery.

The body: One thing that I have read a lot about is the way these incredibly stressful childhood injuries and traumas interfere with physical wellness. These events can have profound effects as you get into your thirties. As soon as you stop running from yourself, it seems the body keeps the score. You need to nurture that body, care for it in a mindful and loving way. So hard, I know. I know, I know, I know.

You are important enough to be cared for physically. Your body and your health are precious. I strongly encourage you to take up some form of physical wellness activity. Mine was weightlifting starting at the age of 23. It was incredibly good for me, an underweight waif, to gain physical strength and to coat my bones in muscle. I could see the results even when I could barely lift a baked bean can above my head. This may seem trite, but that muscle building activity helped me start to see my strength, and it helped me to feel in charge of the loads I was carrying.

During harder mental times for me, I gave up weights and took up other things like smoking and drinking. But weights and the relationship that kind of training creates with your body is so valuable, I keep renewing my connections with the gym. Now I do yoga, but at first I did the most intense forms of power yoga straining away at ridiculously hard poses. Try the more restorative forms of this incredibly beneficial mental and physical exercise programme. You can find tutorials online so they won't cost you anything.

Sorry if this seems not related to the tough mental struggles you face. If you can't join a gym, pick up some 500g cans or bottles in each hand and do twenty lunges across the room every morning. Practice with a broom or vacuum cleaner wand n do deadlifts and squats. It doesn't matter how heavy it is, just perform the moves. Getting into your body is essential. YOU own it. No one else does, even those who did own it in your past. YOU own it now. [Maybe you need some vitamins too, but whatever you think you can handle, do that one step at a time. But take CHARGE of your body.]

Mantras are also free. What could be a good one for you? Mine is 'I am enough, just as I am' currently, but damn is it hard to believe. Just have to keep saying it, loudly over the din of all those repudiating gestures and abusive behaviours that you /I endured. I wrote it up on my wall so I read it every day on the way in and out of my home. Maybe yours could be "I am worthy" - try to write it down every day, twenty times in a row on a page in a diary.

I also liked to do writing in my non-strong hand when I heard that this can help put words to emotions that for folks like us can be very hard to access. You are incredibly articulate, but even so, there is still the enormity of pain having no words and awashing us in unregulated emotions. Just sit with a blank page and start to write whatever comes to mind. It's cathartic and helpful.

I guess it comes down to you being the best parent of yourself, the steward of your body, mind and spirit. Daily acts of nurture that are free are essential. Wash yourself mindfully. Massage yourself thoughtfully, patting the injuries of the past and soothing them, even if they are physically no longer apparent.

In terms of your work life - this is a major area where survivors will tell you that we have been here too. Overwhelmed by the demands of being an adult working in adult ways for money, money is hard for survivors. I worked cleaning schools at 6 in the morning. Easy, shit work, but I got to talk to teachers and students as they came to school for the day, and I became a teacher myself eventually. I worked in a doctor's surgery filing quietly after work hours with a few other gals my age. I worked on farms as a jillaroo. It's not great to feel like you can't stick at things, but lots of folks without the provocations of abusive history meander around well into their thirties.

Ideally, you would be having some time in therapy. Maybe many years - as I have. But a good therapist is one of the first people I got to ever trust. Just knowing there is one person I can trust in the world is powerful, even if I have to pay her. That's the cost, and that's the work it takes to take stock of the person created by these terrible behaviours of others. You are more than your past, but therapy helps so much to create the authentic self you can trust yourself, and believe in.

I don't tell people about my past until I am quite intimate with them, but I do note that as a 46 year old woman, I am less ashamed about myself as victim, and more aware that this is my parents' behaviour and I do little to protect their image of Family. I don't buy into the whole miracle family crap of Xmas etc and I don't make up stuff about why I am not at home.

I am another Mefite who is happy to be in touch in memail, or just with loving thoughts for your great start to owning your life finally.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:50 AM on November 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

When I was being abused I told a few people and they did nothing. Someone in a position of power actually said to me that it was my responsibility to make sure it didn't keep happening.

That made it so hard to get help. Every time I was shut down it made the act of asking seem more pointless.

The people that finally listened were my local women's shelter. They put me in a support group and that helped a lot. There were multiple women in group that were working to heal traumas that were in their past; they weren't in abuse situations at that moment, but that didn't matter. Some of them had been abused by family members, not partners.

I would suggest that you contact a local women's shelter and see what services they offer. Group therapy is possibly one such service and in my experience that was one of the things that broke me free and that gave me a language to talk about my abuse. It gave me an outlet. It taught me how to talk about it with outsiders.

Take care of yourself. And please take yourself for ice cream as a way to thank yourself for taking this step.
posted by sockermom at 5:09 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I am also a survivor of severe child abuse and neglect; nobody did anything to help me.
There are some support groups for people like us, there weren't any when I was your age. Here's one: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.

I don't know anything about any of the groups, perhaps someone else here does.

I'm at work, can't write more. Feel free to contact me.
posted by mareli at 5:33 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow. I just want to say that you are so brave. You were strong enough to keep a sense of self to keep asking for help, over and over again, even when the people who should have helped you let you down. You knew that what was happening to you was wrong, and you never forgot that. Once you grew up, you didn't escape into a crippling alcohol or drug addiction. You graduated from high school; you didn't end up in jail; you didn't end up homeless, and - maybe most importantly - you didn't perpetuate the cycle of abuse: you didn't take your pain out on other people. You got yourself through a nightmare that most people couldn't even imagine, and you did it all on your own, with your ethical compass and strength of will intact. People use the term 'survivor' casually, but in the right context it can be really really powerful and I can't think of a time when it's been more earned: holy shit, you survived.

So now here you are, almost 30. You don't have the job history or the savings account or the social life you would like, and that is hard, but good God, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is nothing with someone with resources like yours can't someday overcome. I think some of the other people here will be able to give you more in depth advice about how to come through this, but here is some perspective from just one member of the public: I bet that all those people you're mentioning who you think are doing better than you - the dates that didn't work out, the friends who you lost touch with, the bosses who let you go - if they knew what you'd accomplished just by surviving, they would be in awe of you.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:00 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I just had a chance to check out the link I gave you above and it looks good. There are group meetings in some locations and online forums and free workbooks. I hope you will check it out.
posted by mareli at 6:05 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi. I survived, too.

If I could, I would give you hugs or shake your hand or...something. I know what it's like to long for human contact, any sort of human connection that isn't inherently violent or threatening. I have been there. But from what you have written, I think that you will begin to heal.

Therapy has been a huge boon to me - HUGE. I made leaps and bounds in the last few weeks just from having a really good therapist, who has nudged out little "pearls" of hidden pain that I've kept buried within. Perhaps you will find this useful. Also having a therapist will help you determine if taking medication is the right path for you, going forward. If you are able to acquire insurance, do so. And if you are able to find and retain a therapist within easy distance from you, then the proximity may help prevent you from skipping appointments.

On the work history bit - I cannot tell where you are, but a return to a government agency for assistance in that regard may be useful. I would look for "career change" programs for people who, for some reason or another, need to pick up something new. That way you get the training you need and a little bit of a support network guiding you into your first job.

Once you begin to work with the agoraphobia, you may be able to get some human contact through volunteering. Start in very small doses - an hour a week, perhaps, and then go from there. Are you within a reasonable distance of a library? If you enjoy reading, getting that done around other people may help you feel less alone. Also, you get the benefit of being around people but not actually have to engage with them if you don't want to. If you feel up to visiting such a place often, you'll figure out who the regulars are, and maybe even get a chance to introduce yourself. Small steps; slow steps; but steps nonetheless. I would recommend a coffee shop or a bookstore for the same reason (in very small doses), but those usually have an upfront cost - the cost of tea or coffee, which is an expensive habit to keep up especially if you aren't working. If you're not ready for these just yet, group therapy is also still an excellent option.

I often navigate inquiries about my family life by being direct, but soft. "Ah, my family's pretty dysfunctional; I feel much better the farther away I am from them." And then deflect whatever follow-up questions someone might ask after such a statement. Try to internalize the idea that your survival alone is "something to show for it," and that in and of itself is enough. You are enough. The person who ends up being your Significant Other will think so, too. But consider taking a break from dating, if only to eliminate any stress associated with it.

Also, consider this: your sharp self-awareness has saved you, and will save you again, from darker paths. You are miles ahead of many people - including many people who didn't have to learn to be as acutely aware in order to survive. Hold onto that strength and cherish it.

Message me if you'd like. I see you; you are not alone. And I wish you the best.
posted by Ashen at 6:22 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I just want to touch on "It's profoundly embarrassing to try to explain why I only have $2 in the bank." No. Poverty is a problem of not having enough money; it is not any sort of moral failing.

It is also far from uncommon. There are quite a lot of life traumas and hassles that can easily and horribly derail one's ability to bring in a reliable income.

I doubt you'd feel disdain for an older person with $2 in the bank because their health was too frail to work. So why are you putting yourself down for it? Try to free yourself from that shame; it's completely unwarranted, and it is very liberating to break free of illogical shame in general.
posted by kmennie at 6:55 AM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you are in the Austin, Texas area, feel free to MeMail me. We could get some coffee sometime if you like.

I echo the suggestions regarding therapy. Hugs to you. You are strong.
posted by dinnerdance at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2015

"You know, I think that 30 is an amazingly young age to start piecing together the strands that make up your distressing personal narrative."

This is what I wanted to say too. It makes sense to me that you posted this now, at this age, and I think it's actually far sooner than I would have been able to in your place. I did not experience the terrible abuse you did as a child. Your story made me cry and I believe it 100%. I did find myself at age 29 in a place where I was somewhat ready to face the addiction and co-dependency behaviors that influenced my upbringing. I think it was because I was turning 30 that I started to recognize these behaviors. It was only then I was able to decide to find a therapist and, for the first time, really identify some dysfunction in my early years. Thirty is really a very young age to begin to recover from a terrible childhood - especially if you're still in close contact with your family of origin. Instead of feeling, "I'm too old to be at this place in my life," try to think of it as, "I'm out of my teens and 20s and starting to feel ready to find the life I want." Again, many people would not have your level of self-awareness at age 30, or ever.

When I needed a therapist, I looked at the Psychology Today therapist directory. I called two places and on the second call, was able to find a therapist who worked with me on a sliding fee scale. I think it was $25 a session, to give you an idea. I have a friend who was able to find a very low-cost therapist through Catholic Charities. If you are living with your father or need help finding a therapist, perhaps you could post a second question asking for specific help with that.

Apart from therapy, one thing that helps me is writing letters to people or writing detailed memories down and then burning the papers.
posted by areaperson at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Many notes you said empathise with a knot unknown, although my traumas were different. I suffered so many of the same kinds of emotional outbursts that scared potential partners away, and never succeeded at anything beyond high school because of my coping mechanisms.

The following are experiences and things I've done in the last few years that have helped immensely with processing the emotions and laying then to rest. None of these are substitutes for a good therapist.

* I sat for 10 days in silence (www.dhamma.org). Nothing was harder than sitting with myself - even when I broke some of the rules.
* accept you have to cry. I held on to some foolish masculine belief that tears were weakness, and when I abandoned that and actively began to seek out experiences that evoked tears of emotion was when I began to heal. Memail me for arts/humanities suggestions if you like.
* I chose a line of with that forced me to be locked up in a room with another person for an hour and make it feel safe for them. This ironed out a lot of my difficulties making small talk, centering conversions around others even though I had something to say that I very much wanted to say.
* every time someone asked a question that got a super emotionally heightened response, I paid attention and revisited the question in my own time.
* I let myself be crazy and weird and talk to myself all the time. I need less of this the more I unpack of my past but giving myself space to hear my inner dialogue uncensored has helped a ton.
* I kept a pet. My cat anchored me to this world when the dark world inside my head threatened to consume me utterly in this quest.
* I opened up to my friends, my family, and every so often a total stranger. I talk freer with my friends than my family - even though my family means well and is mostly well adjusted.
* I made friends by cooking for people and asking questions about their lives, awkwardly but interested in them. Anybody who was weird about me cooking them food was out of my life after that encounter - I found that filter served me well for getting people who were dishonest, poorly socialized, or simply not ready to actually listen to anyone else to show their nature quickly. Works well for getting to know your neighbors (a handy thing no matter where you are, and good socialization practice), or groups of friends you meet.
* I read the Bhagavad Gita and the Dao de Jing repeatedly through the whole endeavor and committed myself to leading the most compassionate lifestyle I could. Those books and that choice forced me to examine every part of my identity and turn the pieces that were coping mechanisms into growth tools.
* I sought out spaces where I could scream as loud as I needed. Primal scream therapy is the shit.
* I accepted that my coping mechanisms - every last one of them - serves a purpose for you. Not all those purposes make sense now in the present, but that doesn't mean the coping mechanism is useless. Express gratitude towards those habits that protected you in the past but no longer serve you in the present, rather than try to eliminate them through force of will.

Don't be afraid of the future. Somewhen ahead of you, there is a version of yourself that is healed. When you have a moment of quiet and you either feel an abundance of hope, or want to make hope a conscious practice, take a moment and ask yourself what that whole version of yourself looks/acts/talks/does. Pay attention to anything that comes to mind immediately and examine it in a more awake state. This works now effectively the deeper you are relaxed before you start. This visualization helped me see a version of myself that was distinctively me - with flaws and everything - but without the habits I had carried with me that were weighing me down.

I hope at least some of that is actionable for you. There's a bright future ahead of you - if you have the strength of character and humanness to be vulnerable and share your story here, you have the capacity to heal I promise.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 9:30 AM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd like to add another voice to the choir of people telling you that you are not alone, that many people you might not imagine have experienced similar, if not identical childhoods.
Not knowing where you are, it's difficult to give very direct cues. But apart from the therapy suggested above - do it! - I'm thinking maybe some sort of support group might be a good idea.
When I was your age, I ran into a bunch of people with similar issues, and we met informally for a family style dinner once a week. For me, that was transformative. I found a way out of the loneliness, which made me open up to other people as well. But I also saw a pattern among my friends which I learnt from: it seemed to be healthy to be angry, and to act upon that anger.

I confronted my mother and stepfather, and then I cut them off entirely. I confronted those family members and friends who had known (somewhat) what happened and hadn't acted on their knowledge, and if they came with denials or excuses, I cut them off. I confronted my dad, and he actually told me about his sorrow and regrets. I didn't go around talking about my past, but if asked, I told people what had happened and that I was dealing with it by avoiding my tormenters and building my own life.

An important element of this was that I decided that while my mother and stepfather had ruined the first 20-something years of my life, they would not be able to control the rest.

This gave me a space for healing. I'll never be entirely well. I still have issues with some triggers and with anxiety. I've done a thousand things wrong, because I had no sense of what was right. But I am in a better place than some of those friends who couldn't or wouldn't break off. I've even come to forgive my mother and stepfather, (but not until recently, don't go there too soon). After years and years of social anxiety and short-term jobs, I'm in a good position. I have a wonderful, if unconventional family.
Maybe someone who grew up with loving parents and tons of friends would find my place in life disappointing, but I am grateful now.
posted by mumimor at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I am overwhelmed positively by all the replies so far. I've been reading metafilter for a few years and there have been stretches of time this site and the group of emotionally and otherwise intelligent people on it have provided me with hope, answers and guidance when there wasn't a soul in my real life I could speak to. This is an invaluable resource.

To clarify, I absolutely do not live with my dad. I fled as soon as I could, and fled 3,000 miles across the country. Going over my post, I hadn't even noticed that I wrote "my dad has been abusing me". When I write about what happened, it is as if it's happening right now, still. That's the funky loss of sense of time which ptsd people have. The past is present. It's interesting to have been made aware of that.
posted by a knot unknown at 3:35 PM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

A Knot Unknown, will you consider therapy? Like I said, you can definitely make it happen, even if you're broke. After everything you've been through, you deserve to have somebody qualified and compassionate to help you figure out what's next. You've had to handle things all alone your whole life, and it doesn't need to be that way anymore.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:43 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

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