Our household’s definition of abuse did not include the broad and nuanced forms of the act, it was very particular. If you are not slapped or punched for the hell of it, you are not being abused.
It took me three to four years to label a specific brief time in my life as abuse.
And I don’t want to say “Oh, but he had PTSD,” or “Oh, but he was trying to love us,” that doesn’t make how our stepfather at the time hurt us okay. Those are not good excuses for his actions. He was not someone who “made mistakes” he was abusive. He wasn’t “angry,” he doesn’t “just have issues,” he doesn’t have “abusive tendencies,” he was abusive.
Our mother met her husband at the time in 2010, and they married in 2011.
We considered him a really nice guy, and he made our mother happy. However, when we moved in with him a few months after their marriage, we started to notice some things. We didn’t consider them as a big deal at the time, because we were happy, right? Our mother was happy.
He would berate us for not doing certain things around the house, whether they would be minuscule things about leaving clothes in the dryer, or if we said a joke he did not like, he would insult us instead of joking back. We have been referred to roughly “spaz” for expressing anxiety, “floozy” for what we chose to wear, “weakling” for not fitting his definition of masculinity, have our weight made fun of. These insults were supposed to help us become less sensitive, he said. This is what we got for being raised primarily by a woman all this time, he said.
Our mother didn’t have a lot of friends over the house anymore. Especially not male friends. We didn’t visit our grandmother, our aunt, or our cousins as much as we used to. Our father was not allowed in his house when picking us up, was only allowed to talk to our mother when it was about us. We were to respect his house, he said. He provided for us, we had to respect his boundaries, he said.
One night, he yanked on one of my sister’s arms, pushing her into the couch for “disrespecting him.” This was supposed to be a form of discipline, he said. This was an expression of love, he said. This is not a big deal, because there’s not hitting, no punching, it can’t be too serious.
We were not happy. But that didn’t make us leave that night.
Every time I walked into the same room as him, I would over-analyze my words before speaking to him. Choose them carefully so he didn’t insult me. So that he didn’t call me sensitive, or spaz, or ungrateful. I didn’t want to do what he called “disrespect” him, and I also didn’t want to leave my siblings out to dry when he berated them. I ended up doing both of those, apparently, one way or another.
I didn’t feel safe. My sister especially didn’t feel safe, she was the only one who experienced a form of physical harm from him. My other sister and my brother didn’t feel safe. It had to take all four of us, not just a couple of us, or the three of them while I was in school, to let our mother know that we certainly weren’t happy. And she knew and we knew that she wasn’t happy either.
They separated in 2014.
Recently, my mother mentioned that she only described the physical harm that happened to my sister as abuse. That was not fun to hear. Granted, she grew up with a father who was an alcoholic as she was growing up, although he isn’t anymore, and she doesn’t describe his fits of anger towards her while drunk as abuse. I keep wondering how much this plays a role in what she’s willing to call abuse and not abuse.
Doing role play exercises with my therapist in college proved that our former step-father didn’t have to physically be in the same room as me to affect me so much. Seeing him in public at times still makes me tense, I don’t care how much kinder he has been to us now. Although my family and I have forgiven him for the most part, there’s still a part of me that will always cringe when thinking about him.
It took me three to four years to admit to myself that my family and I went through abuse. It’s seen as such a fucking dirty word, that we didn’t want to talk about it. Making this story anonymous proves so much more of how we struggle talking about it.
If we had to question whether or not that man was being abusive, it’s abuse. Why do our surroundings make it harder for us to come to terms with that than we have to? Why are there people who say “Oh, you just don’t understand.” No, we completely understand, you’re just not willing to listen. You’re just not willing to acknowledge it as real.
To be frank, I’m quite tired of thinking that what we’ve been through wasn’t real.