June is PTSD awareness month and this is the second half of a two part special about the complex truth of life after trauma. If you missed part one, please take a moment to read it first. This guest post by writer Genelle Chaconas examines the vast complexity of life after trauma, including the facts that not everyone with PTSD symptoms necessarily gets a PTSD diagnosis or clinical treatment, that those with PTSD can sometimes be abusive, that blame is a nebulous and overwhelming component of traumatic experience, and that healing can found in unique and unconventional formats. Part 1, “Down The Rabbit Holes,” was under the “Tales From The Other Side” header, because it focused on the effects of one man’s mental illness on his child. Part 2 is under “Healing Words,” and you will have to read it to see why.
I don’t want to take over Genelle’s post or introduction. I think this half is perhaps even more beautiful that the first with its candor and lyricism; however, I want to address one thing from my own life. A sneak peak into Wednesday’s upcoming post, I suppose. I am going through an emotionally trying time for a variety of reasons. I asked for support via inclusion in week 4 of my blog-share, “TRIGGERED.” Some people have joined now (and it’s still open if you would like to), a couple did notably respond, but for several days my request for support was widely ignored.
I’m not talking about the people who just didn’t see it. I’m not talking about anyone who said no. The people who hurt me are the ones who saw my request for support, or at least an invitation to join, and maybe “liked” it on social media, or re-shared it, but didn’t add anything and didn’t say anything. The people who hurt me are the ones who let me know they saw my request, but didn’t actually address it. Being ignored is one of my triggers. When people ignore me, I instantly revert to the “I’m worthless” line of thinking. I get hurt by rejection; I get hurt by being told no. But I get triggered by being ignored. Maybe the people who ignored me didn’t want to hurt me. Maybe they just have problems saying no, or something. But they did; I got immensely triggered, which was of course compounded by the fact that I was asking for a self esteem boost because I needed it. So I just wanted to say that. I get triggered by being ignored. If you need to decline an invitation or a request from me, please do so directly. I would far rather face the reasonable hurt of rejection than the unreasonable and unanswerable hurt of being ignored. I can control many of my trigger reactions now, but this one, this one I cannot. If I ask you or invite you do to something, and you just totally ignore me, I will flip out and turn that anger inward in a really harmful way. So if you care about me on even the most basic level, please just have the basic respect to respond.
Okay! Glad to get that off my chest. Now, let’s continue with Genelle’s incredible story of abuse and recovery.
Genelle Chaconas is genderfluid, queer, feminist, over 30, underemployed, an abuse survivor, and proud of it. They earned their BA in Creative Writing from California State University Sacramento (2009), and their MFA in Writing and Poetics, graduate of Naropa University (2015). Their first chapbook is Fallout, Saints and Dirty Pictures (little m Press, 2011), and they are currently at work on a new chapbook. Their work has been accepted in over 50 publications. They are currently at work on their first full length work. They are a volunteer submission reader at Tule review, and they hosted Red Night Poetry. They plan to run their own literary publication in the future.
Through The Looking Glass
Part 2: A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to My Breakdown…
by Genelle Chaconas
(continued from Down The Rabbit Holes)
If I blame anyone, I blame myself before I blame him, but it took me at least three years to understand why that is. I can’t ever find him wrong even when I do, even though I know I’m wrong.
I blame myself not because he broke the three bones in my arm after he shoved me away during a heated argument, causing me to fall, which he convinced me was my fault and punished me by neglecting to take me to a hospital for over three hours, but because he convinced me to lie about it and call it an accident and keep it a secret for two more years.
I blame myself because I’d already been self-abusing since the age of 16 and so it just seemed to be some logical extension of the matter.
I blame myself because I already had an anger problem that matched if did not rival his. This problem continued even when I lived alone, as my walls, carpet, doors, and belongings of my first apartment showed. I never got my deposit back.
I blame myself because my father, for most of my life, was my model of how to be a human being. I blame myself because despite being smart and independent, even creative, I let someone else determine the majority of my self image.
I blame myself because, off and on, I welcomed him in my life even though I had a door to lock and had paid for everything behind it, because every week was a new desperate situation to cope with.
I blame myself because when I lived in our shared apartment and he eventually got too paranoid to leave, as my life degenerated into constant arguing, stress, and filth; I didn’t tell anyone I needed help.
I blame myself because I watched him attempt suicide in front of me and continued to be in contact with him and believe what he said, even though I lived on my own at the time.
I blame myself because I wasted at least three years after moving out on my own still convinced what I had experienced was not abuse at all, and nobody was going to tell me different, even though many well-meaning people have tried.
I blame myself because every time I try to tell even a part of this story, most people are confused or worse, suspicious of my story, and it makes me not want to tell it.
I blame myself because I wasted my time. I blame myself because I wasted my time. I blame myself because I wasted my time.
But I have other people to blame and not blame for this situation, too.
I blame teachers who saw my father haves fits of anger that surprised or upset them but never contacted any form of child services. Emotional abuse is not understood to be what it is.
I blame the psychiatrist who prescribed me Prozac after I was brought to therapy with major depression at the age of twelve. That’s right. The drug, produced by Eli Lilly, that had the potential side effect to increase, not decrease, suicidal ideation and gestures in teens and early twenties in a later study. I am, as is another unofficial name for Generation Y, a member of Prozac Generation.
I blame the therapists, all of them, over the years, who heard me complain that my father made me feel like I was nobody and never once said the words emotional abuse.
I blame the police who were brought to my door after my father made a fallacious police call that I was attempting suicide for not charging him with filing a false police report. They asked me why he might be doing this. I told them the truth: he was angry at me for not answering his phone calls.
I blame the doctor who examined my arm and lectured me on how to be careful rather than actually realizing that there was no way I could have broken the arm the way I said I had.
I blame the neighbors who heard me raging and destroying my belongings and did not confront on what had happened.
I blame myself.
I really do blame myself that, despite being intelligent, creative, independent, and accepting of my gender and sexual identity, I was still locked in a paradigm that said I was worthless and everything I thought, felt, and did still depended on my abuser. I blame myself because I know how much more I could have done could I have come to the conclusion sooner. Only if.
But eventually, blame has lie at the feet of the real culprit.
I came out of the closet, began to resist my abuser, and began to pursue art and writing all in the same year. I was 23, which, by my estimation, is too late.
I blame myself because I held myself back from what I could have achieved with poor self esteem, a mood disorder, and procrastination. Since I’d been told, consistently, that I had no talent, I just believed it.
Had I moved out at 18 and gone away to college like many do, I would have experienced what many others experience long before I got the chance: the newfound freedom of living on one’s own. No matter how daunting the responsibility, is esteem building.
I felt that daunting sense of responsibility and the corresponding thrill the first time I locked and unlocked my own apartment door. It was a rare steal, a complete one bedroom for an affordable price. I could close the door and open it as I chose. Whatever was behind the door could be deemed mine. Whatever was outside the door was mine to explore.. I’d never been able to simply walk out of the apartment, lock the door and go where I chose without a good reason before.
The space behind the door, the apartment is a metaphor for all that had been achieved up to that point, and all that still had to be done.
I didn’t know how to make art yet, but I did know how to walk by myself, and walk I did.
I scoured thrift shops for the quirky, mismatched objects.I filled my closets with cheap DIY thrift store projects of all my teenage rebellion dreams. I learned to sew, pin, patch, rip, rivet and even silkscreen. I could pretend I was a ‘cool kid’ if I dressed like one, even many years too late.
I blame myself for having to have my teenage rebellion in my early twenties, almost ten years after it should have begun.
But I also learned to dumpster dive and repurpose objects. I didn’t know how to make art, but I knew how to pull objects from the alley to my door and examine them from every side, considering their potential purposes and aesthetics.
Once I dived a paint box full of dried up artist materials. Most were depleted, but there were still many useful items. I wasn’t ready to use them yet.
The landlord of the old apartment complex asked me what to do with all the battered belongings left in the apartment I shared with my father after he was evicted. I’d taken my belongings already. I had no idea what to tell her. She said I was a contact number, the first time I’d been in that position, but not the last.
For months, the living room became a bombing zone of debris. My rooms were cluttered with unfinished projects, paper, notebook pages, drawings, lists. I used thick tipped sharpies to write everything. I was angry. I threw tantrums seemingly because I could.
I blame myself because independence couldn’t undo the damage. I wanted to create and I had no patience, not yet. But I had impulsiveness and destructive impulses, non dangerous ones.
I blame myself that I am a better destroyer than I am a creator. And it is present in my work.
It developed from the angsty first verses to something I could alchemize into more profound rage.
I blame myself because I used my kitchen floor as a target for my beer bottles before I used it as an artist’s studio. I would sometimes catch splinters of glass in my knees or hands while I painted.
I learned how to paint as I learned how to write. At first, I destroyed all of my writing. I burned the notebook pages with lighters, mostly, but I also cut them with garden shears.
Painting is a good activity for aggression. A large dumpster dived piece of canvas can take a good amount of physical effort. It has to be gessoed vigorously. It has to dry, which will take hours. It has to be smoothed down on every surface with loose steel wool before the surface is usable. The first layer of paint is going to be too thin and required a second. It takes a certain amount of physical vigor.
My painting style is indicative of that early cache of aggression. I would set the canvas on the kitchen floor and had to maneuver around it, putting down brushstrokes quickly without thinking about what the image would become. It’s about moving the brush rather than trying to figure out what is going to happen.
Painting got me to stop burning, ripping up, and slashing out every word I wrote. I’m still critical of my work. I’m still essentially better at being abrasive and corrosive in my writing and art, possibly so I don’t have to be in life.
Most of my art and writing focuses on the grim, rotting underbelly of reality and an unflinching consciousness of it. It’s sincerely bestial and savage, as animal as humans can be. It’s violent and sometimes overtly predatory to the basic conditions of morality. It’s often gory and unflinchingly graphic. It is drugs, sex, and nuclear war.
Some readers might get the idea that this means I’m an immoral person, that I’m callous, or that I would enjoy doing or experiencing what I write. Others think I’m being edgy, getting attention for its sake. I hope this isn’t true.
What is true is that abuse has shown me that pretending nothing bad exists is how the abusers get away with it. Experiences, even terrifying experiences, must be acknowledged. No amount of fantasy can sweep them under the rug. If the world is ugly, I’m going to write it this way, the only ways I know.
I blame myself because I doubt myself.
I blame myself because I’m still wondering if the old me, the target, is doing the backstroke in an open sewer of self-hatred. I blame myself for the reminder that my esteem is fragile and lashes out like a temperamental child.
I blame myself that even though I no longer break things, I know that I could.
It’s not easy to have destructive instincts even if it’s connected to my creative instincts. I learned from my abuser. One of the side effects of being the target of my father’s abuse, and identifying with him as long as I did, is that I learned.
I learned his tactics and how desperate and pathetic they really were. But those tactics I learned.
I experienced his violence, emotional, mental and physical, and saw how useless it was. But that violence I learned.
My targets were inanimate. His were not.
I experienced his neediness, his clinginess, his manipulation and realized how abusive it is to use a target’s diagnosis against them. But that neediness, clinginess and manipulation I learned.
A word on my word choice. I say ‘target’ rather than victim. I also use, in my case, the word survivor. A survivor escapes a situation with or without injury. A victim doesn’t escape. Some may disagree with this distinction, but it’s useful to me.
There are upsides.
I recognize abuse when I see and hear it in either abusers or targets, see it in places most people would neglect to look.
I do not deny targets their instincts, and hear them out when I have the experience of doing so. I support them by calling abuse by its name. Hopefully, they’re ready to listen.
If you’re being emotionally, mentally, physically, or otherwise abused, especially if you’re being gaslit by an abuser, nothing in this essay or any other material can convince you that you are. I can’t convince you this isn’t your fault, that you don’t deserve it. I can’t convince you what you’re going through is about power and control, designed to weaken you so you’ll won’t try to escape. You might defend your situation as for your own health, safety, your own good. I know because nobody could tell me until I was ready to know.
If you are being abused, you’ll know when you’re ready to know. When you feel more insane than anything listed in the DSM. When you’re an expert at double speak and double think. When nothing you think, say, or feel is yours unless you have permission, and you know what you’re permitted. When you have more excuses for your abuser than you have for yourself. When you blame yourself constantly. When you schedule trauma, insults, and harassment into your life. When trauma, insults, and harassment are normal. When you’re prepared for the worst, always, and then, expect the worst, always.
I won’t change my phone number. The message goes to voice mail. And I’ve heard it already.
Thank you so much Genelle, for sharing your incredible story on my blog. Your writing and bravery and self are all equally gorgeous. I applaud you for your advocacy and tenacity.
If you would like to leave a comment to Genelle, please feel free to do so! I’d like to just remind you that they are genderfluid and use they/their pronouns.
I would also greatly appreciate taking a few moments to share this post. A few seconds of your time would totally make mine!
If you’d like to be part of the PTSD link library here on Betty’s Battleground, it’s open for submissions until Friday. This will be last Off-Fridays for a month or so…so if it’s something you’ve been meaning to do, now’s the time.
Til next time.