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Repercussions: Caretaking

One poster on a recovery newsgroup said the following in response to a post I made about the long-term affects of abuse:

   "Yeah, I've been thinking that the scars are much more
   closely related to GhostWolf's memories than I'd thought
   of.  I know that many were "rewards" for doing the horrible
   things they made me do.  GhostWolf:  any ideas on that?"

I'm still processing the implications from what I've uncovered in the last year. Art (my maternal grandfather), the cult's "Mother", Mary Ann, and Uncle Ray definitely used rewards to encourage me to participate, to learn the ceremonies and techniques they used.

One thing that stands out is that they used touch deprivation and love deprivation very effectively; I received hugs and "affection" only when I did as they wanted, and then only if I did so "cheerfully and willingly".

If I showed any hesitation at all, Grandpa Art or Uncle Ray was always there with his metal- studded leather strop.

From the day they regained custody of my sister Peggy and me, my mother and stepfather repeatedly stressed that I was to "look out" for Peggy and my baby brother Danny. They reinforced this every time I did anything for Peggy and Danny (or stood up for them) with treats: public praise, food, toys, movies.

Any time I failed to "look out" for them, I was punished: my stepfather Lester would take his belt to me. It did not take very long at all for that conditioning - between my grandfather and ray, and stepfather - to take.

They used that to initiate a counter-point conditioning program: If I resisted their demands for whatever reason (other than sticking up for my sister and brother), they would hurt, Art and Ray would beat my sister and brother instead of me. It got to where I would submit to whatever they wanted so that my sister and brother would not get hurt.

Their methods were hellishly effective.

Damn them. They knew I deeply love Peggy and Danny; because of our poverty, we children were always hungry; I found out years later that we kids were clinically malnourished. They used that to enforce my obedience during the rituals: When I obeyed and did as they wished, they gave Peggy and Danny good food, and plenty of it.

Any idea what it is like to see the absolute delight wash over the face of my sister and brother when they were sat down at a real table with real food? Chicken or steak, with baked potatoes and salads and corn and vegetables, full desert? Instead of the minimal meals we and my mother and stepfather ate because we were at the bottom of the social/salary hierarchy?

Those damned bastards waiting on my sister and brother hand and foot. They made sure that Peggy and Danny knew that no matter what they did during dinner, the food would not be taken away, simply because I had done exactly what the abusers wanted.

Looking out for Peggy and Danny - and later Leslie - became an escape for me; a way of not looking at the things I was being made to do; a way of burying and suppressing the incredible sickness, the insanity and horror of what was going on.

It became a way of validating myself; of feeling some kind of self-worth in the face of my own self-hatred... and I still struggle with that, I still instinctively get involved when I see anyone I care for hurting or beating up on themselves - I still somehow feel responsible for their pain, and I know it is partially due to the conditioning: "do what we want you to do, or your sibblings get hurt bad, and that will be your fault."

This sucks.

A few years later we were  rescued from that environment; my maternal grandmother and step-grandfather obtained guardianship of Peggy and me. They too reinforced some of the programming; I am Peggy's big brother, and therefore have to look out for and protect her. This, as before, was rewarded: Any time I did things for Peggy, protected her, I was treated; bonuses on my allowance, movies, weekend trips with friends. Reinforcement.

This was further unintentionally reinforced in school; because I was (am) an "egghead", other students came to me for help, which I gladly gave - and which benefited them. The resulting appreciation from them and the teachers was a narcotic for me; conversely, I felt that I was tolerated by relatives and adoptive parents.

There was negative reinforcement also.

All my life, I've blamed myself for my father's death; after all, if I had not wanted to see where he worked, what he did, we never would have been on that road that morning.

In 1973, my sister Peggy overdosed on drugs and alchohol after pleading with me to talk to her - She could no longer face the memories of what had been done to us nor what was being done, and needed to talk to me. I brushed her off because I just didn't want to talk to her at that time. 3 hours later, she was in a coma. She's been quadreplegic and blind ever since coming out of the coma, and has an IQ less than 60.

In 1982, my ex-brother-in-law - who worked at the same company I did - wanted to talk to me about a very tumultuous relationship he was in with a married woman who was separated from her husband. I brushed him off too; 2 hours later he was dead, murdered by the woman's estranged husband.

All those years, a flood of feelings and guilt going all the wayback to that roadside in 1956. 2 deaths, and one that might as well have been a death, on my hands.

Those three incidents (among other things) also contributed to what became my "caretaking" mode; an intense determination - no, in all honesty, an obsession - to make sure that no one who asked me for help got turned away.

I was a caretaker for my first wife and my second wife. Being involved in trying to help them with their problems, fears, and issues kept me so busy that I had no time to look at my own. Both ex-wives are abuse survivors, so there was a plethorea of problems for me to handle; they too were appreciative of what I did for them.

It also contributed to me loosing who and what I am; I had no identity of my own outside that which was defined by my caretaking and the responses to that caretaking.

Then, in late 1992, I found online recovery newsgroups. At first, I only read what others posted, and in reading, recognized a lot of what I had experienced. I started posting in February of 1993, sharing my basic life story, and sharing what my own views were - and it was appreciated by many of the participants of the newsgroups.

Many posters were hurting, expressing fears and guilt; caretaker heaven. So, I did what I could, and received tremendous amounts of affection and recognition in return - affection and recognition I was not getting at home or on my job (see How to Kill Love for an idea of what "home" was like.)

A member of a recovery group I go to weekly once said "Caretaking is a potent anesthetic." It really is.

It's one hell of an anesthetic; and because I was so starved for appreciation, recognition, acceptance - love - I buried myself in it; reinforcement. It helped me feel good about myself while at the same time making it possible to avoid looking at myself, to avoid seeing that I was not healed at all.

There were other newsgroup participants who saw what I was doing, saw how dysfunctional I really was - who tried to tell me about it - and I refused to listen, my denial deepened: The adulation and recognition from others was very powerful.

Yet, being involved with the group was the core reason my caretaking - and denial - crumbled. Many participants posted about abusive situations that made me angry, made me feel rage at their abusers - and grief and sadness at what they had experienced. It took a while, but I finally realized that I had experienced - and was experiencing - very similar abuse; that I was in a very abusive situation.

In a 35-year-later-retrospect, some of the things that contributed to me becoming a caretaker are clear; some of the reasons I always sought out "underdogs" to protect, fix, and take care of are clear. Their responses helped me feel valued, wanted, accepted, and appreciated; something I did not get from my family and relatives. Conversely, that also drove the fear of rejection, and resulted in my own tailoring of the ways I presented myself to ensure the continuance of that acceptance - and also drove the use of net-personas and deception to express those feelings and perspectives that I feared (had I expressed them as myself) would result in rejection. All a very unhealthy and destructive (to myself and others) way of trying to retain acceptance.

At least I'm aware of this now; coming out of the years of denial about this, at least, is just the beginning. I have no doubt that there are still many other things I was and probably still am in denial about.

Now I'm actively, consciously looking at the repercussions abuse has had in my life - not just in the area of caretaking, but others too; actively doing the best I can to find out who and what I am - and it hurts like hell.

I know I have to go through it, I do not want to go back to the denial and dysfunctionality, I do not want to go back to having an identity only through the reactoins of others to what I did - or did not do - for them.

It is rough; there are times when I am thinking about the issues so damned deeply that Amou, my partner and wife, quietly says "where are you? come back?"

I wish it was over; but I know that recovery is a day-by-day process; a life-long process in which each day can have small victories - and, sometimes, big ones.

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Last updated: Saturday, 03-Jan-2015 18:13:20 PST