So I have heard of soldiers getting flashbacks when they hear loud noises or have someone sneak up on them, and rape victims getting flashbacks during sex or when walking someplace that seems similar to where they were attacked. What is my most common source of flashbacks? Hand washing a big pile of dishes. Yep. Household chores trigger me just as bad as somebody taking off a belt, folding it in half, and lightly cracking it against their palm. I also live in an apartment without a dishwasher and when I am standing there, kitchen sponge in hand, I (like many other people who probably have a more ordinary level of distaste for dishwashing) regularly tell myself that my next home will need to have a dishwasher and a fireplace.

Every time I stick my hands into a big pile of dishes (somehow just a few plates in the sink doesn’t usually do it) I feel yucky. It’s not just because washing dishes is a kind of yucky job. It is because it was my job, one of my daily chores from age 10 to age 15, when my family moved to a house with a dishwasher. For the first three years I was still homeschooled, so it was three times a day, once after every meal. If I waited too long after a meal or didn’t clean a dish well enough or accidentally broke a glass, I often got beaten and berated by my Dad or nagged at, threatened, and micromanaged by my Mom. Dad would sometimes hit, kick, grab, or shove me in front of the sink, sometimes just for being there, it seemed like. Also, there were so many kids it seemed to take forever to wash all the dishes. So now when I wash dishes I often find myself feeling on edge and just kind of hating myself, feeling 12 again. Sometimes I get flashbacks where I don’t really remember anything except the feeling of being grabbed, slapped, hit, or knocked against the counter and cabinets.

I have learned that briefly (and lightly) digging my nails into the palms of my hands will help snap me out of it if I go there. Also, things that help me remember this is not the same situation are helpful, like standing on a nice squishy kitchen rug, using good-smelling dish soap, listening to loud alternative rock, or having someone whose company I enjoy there to help me dry dishes and put them away. That last one is my favorite actually, because it’s really nice, the job gets done faster, and (surprisingly, considering how many people I shared a home with) it’s something that never happened growing up.

I wonder how my parents could expect me to grow up to be a decent wife and mother (as they imagined the role) if they were causing me to be traumatized by household activities, but I have realized that these questions don’t have sensible answers. They weren’t thinking. They likely did what they did because they had no understanding of what it was doing to me and little knowledge of who or what I was. They just felt frustrated that I wasn’t being properly submissive and attentive like they expected a woman-in-training to be. Also, being abusive towards someone else is a brief release and respite from your own pain, because ultimately living this way is happy for no one.

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