By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
I was not visibly battered or bruised, excelled in school, involved myself in extracurricular activities and appeared normal, so I was overlooked by school counselors and other helping professionals. When it came to assessing a need for help, I slipped through the cracks, so to speak, as most children in these situations do. I was a mixture of the Hero and the Lost Child—rarely seen and shining, when in view.
Yet, I witnessed terrifying bouts of violence, active addiction and suicide attempts. However, other than hand marks across my face, there were no physical signs of damage or injury. So, like a car accident victim with no lacerations, bruises or obvious broken bones, my condition wasn’t viewed as an emergency. But—just as with an auto crash—very serious injuries can be unseen, worsen and be potentially fatal without care.
So why didn’t I ask for help? Because I didn’t know I needed it. Denial was a close friend of the family. The psychological and emotional injuries deepened and worsened over time, and I simply learned to distract myself, escape the pain and self-medicate—something passed down from family. Unfortunately, denial, avoidance, escapism and substance abuse weren’t the only dysfunctional behaviors I acquired from family. I had seemingly perfected their same inability to love, honor and protect me.
As a teenager, I found myself in an abusive relationship with a star athlete—a popular kid adored by all the girls. But he was also a substance abuser with an undiagnosed mental illness who suffered extreme mood swings and attempted to kill me. In other words, he was strikingly familiar and felt like home to me. My immediately family did nothing to intervene. In fact, they blamed me—an opportune manipulation or way to justify their acts of abuse and shift responsibility to me. Blaming the victim—as we learn in recovery—is characteristic of active addicts and abusers. It’s an attempt to keep people weak and reiterate a destructive message already playing, repeatedly; “It’s your fault. You make people hurt you.”