If you have read the summaries and extracts of the first two books in my Transitions series, which you can read on this site, then you will probably have gathered that fractured families are often at the core of my writing. This isn’t simply because I have a taste for angst and melodrama at a domestic scale. It is because I come from a fractured family, so what else can I write? Anything else would not sound genuine, not like it comes from the heart.
My childhood experience of family was one of discord; of physical, verbal and emotional abuse (and more), of becoming an unwilling accomplice in the code of silence the permeates the brokenness of fractured families. The silence of knowing when not to say what you knew of one parent in front of the other. The carefree childhood face that had to be shown to the wider world. The iron rule of “You never tell what happens at home; you never bring shame on the family”. One abiding memory I have is of starting school at age six, knowing that what I had to write in my “news book’ every morning was the lie of the happy family that I was expected to project. There was the knowledge that I had to weigh every word I spoke to friends, families of friends, teachers, Sunday school teachers – the list goes one – and the hundred quiet deaths of childhood spontaneity that went with that.
Especially, there are the small and less small violations of children who are too young to realise that these are indeed violations, and that they occur at the hands of the adults upon whom they depend for love and for their very survival. These are the children, as I was one, whose clever developing minds split up their conflicting emotions and experiences, and hide them in carefully insulated niches, because their minds would shatter if they tried to hold all the contradictions at once. Only in later life, do those insulated fragments emerge. In many cases they become rather extreme poles of expression and emotion in an otherwise “normal” person. In their more extreme form, the contents of those insulated niches develop separately and differently, until one day they emerge as multiple faces (rather than facets) of the same physical person: so-called dissociative identity disorder or, the older term, multiple personality disorder.
That is why the banner of my Facebook page advocating against gender-based violence (#StopGBVnow) is “Break the Silence Together”. The only way to break the cycles of trauma that can so often be the outcome of fractured families, is to speak out, to break the silence that hides the often life-long damage. But speaking out alone is scary. It risks rejection by parents and siblings, disbelief by friends and family, and sometimes even ridicule. Speaking out together gives the courage and mutual support to allow us to raise our voices.
I’d like to point out a small detail which may have missed your notice so far: I have very deliberately avoided the use of the word “victim”. There’s a reason for that. Whatever the individual experiences of life in a fractured family, however difficult overcoming the long-term consequences of that may be, within each of us burns the light of hope, sometimes brightly and sometimes dimly, that we will emerge not as victims, but as survivors.
If this causes you distress, please contact one of the following support organisations (in South Africa, 24/7):
- Lifeline South Africa 0861 322322;
- South African Anxiety and Depression Group (SADAG) 080 012 1314