(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday resilience and survival) comes from Jenni M. In her piece, Jenni gives us insight into what it’s like to be a child of a military family, as well as another side of military abuse. So many thanks, Jenni, for your fierce words of survival, recovery, vulnerability and strength.)
The military is wide-open space for children being abused. It’s already Government-sanctioned and employs people specifically to be violent, and for the military-raised children, there is no protection, as the military keeps its own secrets. I am a military brat and I learned early on that child abuse was something to be hushed up, not told about, and never reported. I learned this when my best friend came to school with bruises on her face and I told my own parents, one who was a dad doctor and one mom teacher, about what I saw and they said, that’s a family problem we don’t get involved. They would be legally mandated to report the abuse then, and now, yet no matter what physical signs there were on my friend that they would physically see, they never reported anything as it was well known that the offender would just get a talking to by his commander and then he would go home and beat his family more for causing problems within a military career. This saturated me to the bigger realization that whatever was happening in our own household, this was of no consequence to anyone else either. And there was a lot going on.
I survived my parents craziness, their divorce, their hostility, anger, inability to communicate, and then I became a teenager, then was quickly sexualized by society and my mother.
My mother was then remarried. This man that came into her life quickly then started grooming me to accept his inappropriate advances and tell no one. I was already conditioned not to say anything as my previous experience saying the truth only brought me trouble and never the other person to consequence. He would push me against the wall, even before he married my mother, while we were both drunk and drunkenly kiss me. I felt that as a 17-year-old I had a right to drink as I was so European, but now I realize I was just a young alcoholic. I also was taught that when people drink things happen and it doesn’t really matter because you’re drunk.
The night before he married my mother, he followed me into my 17-year-old bed single, the only male ever in my bedroom until that moment, he lying next to me masturbated until he came on me. My mom outside and my aunts who can come for the wedding the next day were just 20 feet away on the sunken patio. I was in the room just inside on the first floor with the window half-raised above the patio. No one could see in as I tried to pretend I was asleep. I still hear my mom and my aunt’s voices in the back talking about the next day and they were drunk also, it’s a family trait.
I had never been taught that I could say no to any adult touching me. Stating boundaries was considered rude and I was taught I should politely just extricate myself from the situation as that’s what Nice girls do. This would’ve worked except he was drunk and I was drunk and my mother was outside and I was frozen as the circumstances themselves were so Otherworldly.
The next day at the wedding I just remember getting more and more drunk. I knew this man was trouble but I knew no one would believe me. And when I did finally tell my mom many many years later that was proved to be right.
He had mean eyes. I would see him drunk and he would do things right in front of my mom to say that this is his household and that we were his domain. Pushing me against hot burning radiators and I would beg my mom make him stop and she would tell me to not make a fuss, not cause a scene. Her exact statement were I was embarrassing HER at a restaurant. I started having panic attacks whenever I visited her in Turkey, where she lived at that time with him. She was the main breadwinner as a Department of Defense civilian, completely financially independent from him easily, as he had a job as an ESL teacher at a language school but the inequality of income he constantly took out his frustrations in mean drunken verbal assaults against her and me. He started physically abusing her and she politely put up with that for a few years, as for her having a second failed marriage was worse than being physically abused until one point he started having affairs with her friends that was for her enough, and it was public, something she would not tolerate.
She left him and I thought this moment would be the time to tell her about what he did to me. I never wanted to say that their marriage broke up because of what he did to me as it was my shame. I felt that wasn’t enough of an assault. But I look back now and see that the sexual grooming, inappropriate touching, sexual assaults and violence and verbal assaults was abuse.
I survived this time by drinking, blacking out and being on the merry-go-round of “what I did last night drunk ” that was shame ridden, blackout unknown. My alcoholism was very distracting and time-consuming, yet socially sanctioned by my family. I mired myself in this instead of what happened earlier in life that made me not want to remember or feel my present feelings.
I remember telling my mom after I believe she left him for the last time, and her telling me that it wasn’t that bad and I should’ve said something that night and that, meanly and mainly, I was just imagining it. She also mentioned that I was drunk too so I was also responsible. He was 40 and I was 17.
I now live in the present, I stopped drinking at 26 and started going to therapy all the time. I had a few suicide attempts. Made the rounds of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric meds, hoping that these doctors knowledge would somehow make these horrible feelings go away.
This went on for a few years and realized that I had to be my own savior. There was no white knight, there is no magic pill, there’s only the hard work of tears, and anger, group therapy, individual therapy, acupuncture and yoga. And writing.
I confronted my mom about what he did and she still does not really believe me, She says “words,” these words that make these sentences. “It was 27 years ago can’t you stop blabbing about it.” But it wasn’t 26 years ago because he still is my mom’s Facebook friend until last year, six years ago he called in the middle of the night, knowing I was at her house, threatening to kill himself. He still had her number across all these continents and years. Five years ago he asked to be my Facebook friend finding me under my fake name looking at pictures under my mom’s Facebook contacts.
I survived both of them, Yet the cost has been very high. I don’t really trust that when I am in distress or physically in danger that anyone will respond. I distrust being around people who have had a drink who are not even alcoholic. The relationship I have with my momster as I call her is one fraught with anger. She has never accepted any responsibility for her part in this monster man, and she felt the need to be Facebook friends with him until I told her that she could have one relationship either him or me. She unfriended him on Facebook in a magnanimous effort of redundancy.
She has remarried someone with the same mean drunk eyes and demeanor and wonders why I don’t want to visit when he is there or demand the need for locked doors.
In her mind even today I am over-sensitive and dramatic, she devaluing every emotion that she does not find acceptable, and the only emotions she finds acceptable are pleasant, kind, and polite. The stabbing jobs of womanhood and the expectations that follow.
I have survived, I have two cats, I’ve traveled around the world knowing that as long as I don’t drink (13 years and counting ), I can have great boundaries, see danger, remove myself. Trusting my intuition, knowing that the end of the day I keep myself safe and sane and no one else can do that for me. I completely endeavor myself to the world of books, movies, crafts, and photography. I have a wonderfully close friends for over 20 years who help me laugh ,see the absolute absurdity in my past , travel to far-flung places with me, who have seen the arc of my alcoholism my psychiatric destabilizations and my fractures of self and still love me and support me. I am one that is not exactly whole but the cracks are filled with hard culled gold and the broken is continually accepted by me alone as whole.
(Much gratitude to you, Jenni, for this powerful piece!)