You ask and I answer! In the Ask Me Anything series, I answer your questions about my own healing journey and anything trauma related in general, as best I can. Today’s question is:
Do I talk to the extended family who were around at the time of my abuse?
The short answer is no, but that isn’t a very interesting story so let me share with you how it has all come to be.
My Mom’s Side of the Family
My mother died 18 days after my birth.
At the time my father and I were living in California and as best my memory serves, we stayed there until I was around 2 or 3 years old. Then we packed up and moved to Washington state to be near his parents.
When we moved, I left behind my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all related by my mother and over the next 12 years would only see them a small handful of times on summer visits. More on this in a moment.
My Dad’s Side of the Family
My father had two siblings and there are 8 cousins total between the two of them. I lived with my father until age 14; during the majority of my young childhood I was sexually abused by my paternal grandfather and silenced by my father and family the couple times that I spoke up.
It came out as recently as last year that there was speculation among that family that I wasn’t even my father’s kid – well, my DNA showed them! Though I think I got the shittier end of this deal … but I digress.
I grew up with this family and these cousins but the relationships eventually severed completely in the wake of the trial in 1995, the distance between us, my personal growth, their lack of care, and the overall inability to be decent people.
The Last Time I Saw My Dad’s Side
In 2005 my father died of a stroke.
He and I had only reconnected a couple years earlier after nearly a decade of estrangement (his choice) during my teenage years. Our reconnection was tense and hostile, I was angry and he never took accountability for any thing he did. I was also dissociated, so I moved through his death on autopilot and then went back to work the following Monday.
With the help of my aunt on that side, my sister and I were flown from Illinois to Washington to be there with him in the hospital. We made it with less than a day to spare.
In that short weekend visit, it was the first time I saw this family in person since the day I moved away (save the court trial which had happened in 1995). It was also the last.
I Think We Tried
At one time I had a connection with my father’s sister that I thought would stand the test of time, especially given the similarities of our shared childhood experiences with the patriarch of the family. But it didn’t.
It was never fully intact and multiple times over the years of my young adult life my interactions with her grew increasingly unsafe.
Now through my healing lens I can see the trauma bond that I had to break free from; and my anger towards her really swelled in the early days of my healing for her lack of protection. She knew what kind of monster was in our family and as a child she was the closest thing to a mother I had.
Coupled with how she has used religion as a justification to judge me and my political opinions, and has attacked me as “playing a victim”, compared me to one of my abusers, and told me to get over it when my healing began – it became clear that this door must close.
A similar situation in October of 2021 with my father’s brother online locked a door that he was never welcome through to begin with..
As for the cousins – one of my cousins and I gave it a good ol’ college try, I think. But family loyalties with that bloodline are strong and I have challenged the generational narrative passed down through that ancestral line.
I’m a black sheep. Proudly.
Back to My Mom’s Family
When I was 14 years old I left my father and moved in with my good grandparents: my mom’s dad and my step grandma (who has always been the grandma that I know). In the two years I lived with them I was reconnected with my mom’s siblings and the 5 cousins on that side of my family.
However, by age 16, in the aftermath of the trial and suicide of my grandfather‘, I moved again and the connections to this part of my family drifted in the wind. As quickly as they were a part of my life, they weren’t.
Then Healing Began (with the help of the internet)
Fast forward to 2017 when I started my active healing journey.
After a breakdown in my marriage and a surge of memories I started going to therapy, writing about my experiences, and sharing online as a means of countering the stigma on CPTSD (my new diagnosis).
In the initial months of my healing, my mom’s aunt and uncle on my mon’s side reached out to me. Pushing through my fear, I responded and within a month or so they flew from California to Wisconsin to visit me and meet my family. It was the first time we’d seen each other in almost 10 years (save a trip I took to visit friends in California in 2010)
From that point on, reconnections with my cousins began. This has been the true kind of connections with family that are cultivated and touch your heart. The kind of connections to family that I never thought would be something I would actually feel in my body.
It has been such a healing experience to be seen and heard by family who receive me, believe me, and support my healing process. Sometimes I grieve all of my lost years a little bit harder with the knowledge of the love and acceptance I missed out on.
So, no – I do not talk to the bloodline that was around during my most abusive years as a child. Some by specific choice, others due to no interest in trying.
And that is because they have shown me that they are still harmful. Their interactions with me through the years confirm everything I felt as a child – they really are like that, they really did (and do) treat me that way.
And more than anything, I think some of them would prefer I disappear and stop sharing about the dysfunction of that family. They are gleaming examples of generational cycles of trauma continuing.
I don’t need that in my life. Boundaries up!
On goes the journey
Ask Me Anything
Submit your own question and then keep an eye out for my answer.
Looking for Ways to Connect With Other Survivors and/or Receive Support as You Heal?
Survivor’s Circle Peer Support Groups might be just what you need.
These small groups meet on alternating Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays via Zoom. In these groups, survivors connect, share, and support each other through the ebbs and flows of healing. Attend a session and experience the magical healing that happens when survivors connect and support each other through shit only we can understand.
You can also book individual 1:1 peer support sessions with Shanon for private support in a closed space. You deserve support as you heal, and I am here to help. You don’t have to heal alone.
I am a trauma informed, trained, and Certified Peer Support Specialist in the state of Wisconsin. I am also a survivor with years committed to my own trauma healing after being diagnosed with (C) PTSD due to childhood abuse. Additionally, I have a professional and personal history of community facilitation and peer work.
I specialize in helping survivors like you make connections between real time experiences and past trauma wounds, identify and communicate boundaries, create self-care plans that work, navigate big emotions and trauma responses, reparent your inner child, and embody your own self-worth through the healing process with confidence and personal empowerment.
These support groups and 1:1 peer support sessions should not replace professional therapy; they will however provide additional support and information.