“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them,” Maya Angelou
Aprell May-Munford, Daily News Writer, Urban Creative, Memoirist
I still can't bring myself to purchase a back scrubber after 23 years of being free. For almost two-and-a-half years now I have walked into my favorite home store and picked up the absolute cutest soft silicone and bamboo back scrubbers with delight.
I have been super attracted by the soft pale color palettes--baby blue, teal and periwinkle--that seem to be saturating the market. When I’ve gone into the store, I carefully select an irresistible color and put it in my cart. At the time, the cosmetologist in me thought not only about the luxurious evolution of back scrubbers but how beneficial back exfoliation can be for my active family.
In the house I grew up in, the back scrubber was also known as the paddle. The paddle was a hard white plastic back scrubber with light blue bristles that turned slightly upwards. Current designs feature a silicone handle that has the smoothness of a microfiber blanket and the bamboo bristles that claim to be better for your skin. Yet each time, by the time I would reach the register, I had abandoned the back scrubber on a random shelf in the store.
DOPPLR.com released data by the American Psychological Association that suggest the estimated 3.3 million children exposed to violence against their female caretakers carry that trauma with them for the rest of their lives. In my case not only did I watch my mother’s abuse, but I was also witness to my siblings being victims as well.
Our abuser and his constituents in defense ask what I consider abuse. And how do I know I was abused?
The United States Department of Justice defines abuse as patterns of behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.
According to the DOJ, domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, or technological actions or threats of actions, or other patterns of coercive behavior that influence another person within an intimate partner relationship. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone, the DOJ states.
After several attempts to purchase a back scrubber, I started to recognize that with each attempt a nightmare also followed. In the nightmare, I would be transported back to Park Towers where my earliest memories of a frightening and nightmarish childhood took place. I stand as a child in my dream in front of my day-bed in my childhood room but now my gaze is as a liberated adult. In each dream my father confronts me with the paddle, demanding that I pull my pants and panties down, and lean over the bed to be whipped for something bad I did like leaving a fork in the sink after dinner or because I did not pack his luggage right. I ran like I did several times in real life out the back door and down the back stairs escaping the humiliation of it all but in my dream, I got away by any means necessary.
Subconsciously, each time I picked up a back scrubber at the home store I was reminded of the paddle that was not used for clear skin and pampering but as a tool used to humiliate and degrade me as a person. At times I was hit so hard that I would have scabs in the shape of the paddle on my rear and would have to forge swimming excuses notes in high school to avoid questions.
Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, and more are types of physical abuse, the DOJ states, and all I can attest to have been witness to and a victim of as a child. My mother, siblings and I have experienced one or more of the forms--physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, religious, and neglect-- of domestic violence daily back then.
Today, we are still suffering the long-term side effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety disorder, and nightmare disorder to name a few. Coping has been a daily task for each one of us as we have navigated the long road of Stockholm’s syndrome, resocialization, and generational trauma to get to a place where we are in the beginning stages of healing through acknowledgment, boundaries, prayer, and therapy.
The back scrubber, however, luxuriously evolved and triggers the little girl in me who wanted to run from the abuse, humiliation, and exploitation. I had been carrying this traumatic experience repressed within me for my entire life and it has manifested as a hard time in the bath and body aisle of my favorite home store and that is how I know I was abused. I am watching its long-term effects unfold in my daily life.
Fortunately for me, I can spot my triggers no matter how small and buried they may be. That gives me the opportunity to reframe my thoughts and direct my prayers before bed so if I find myself in an unsafe place even in my dreams, I as an adult can be there to guide and protect that younger version of myself to safety and reassurance.
The acknowledgment gives me the power to say that I will never turn a household item such as a back scrubber into an object of fear but rather a tool for self-care and peace. All tools I could use to disrupt and dismantle the generational trauma of abuse and domestic violence of my past for the upwards mobility of my future.
And while I have not been able to buy the newest style back scrubber for my home yet, I can say that with every attempt I am one step closer to fully reconciling with the long-term effects of domestic violence.