How I Escaped the Domestic Violence Cycle
If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you know October is domestic violence month. And you probably know domestic violence normally begets domestic violence. But my story is different. With help, I was able to break the violent cycle.
While my father has been sober many years now, he is an alcoholic. He is a mean drunk who sometimes beat my mother. From a very young age, maybe around seven or eight, I understood that this was wrong. My mom confided to my older brother and me that she was considering leaving my dad. I encouraged her to do it. Is there anything right with this picture? No! No child should understand their mom would be better off without their dad at seven or eight years old.
There were times when I thought I might die.
I was about thirteen or fourteen when my dad went on a particularly violent rampage. My father said he was going to kill us all and take my younger brother to Tennessee. He found my older brother’s rifle, but thankfully the bullets were hidden separately. We fled to a neighbors’ house until the police came.
I heard the Tennessee threat many times during my teenage years. And I believed it. My mom left my dad for good when I was fifteen. My older brother floated between my dad’s, my mom’s and various friends’ houses. My younger brother and I didn’t stay with my dad very often, even though he had visitation rights. Most of the time, he didn’t come to get us, which was fine with me. What he did do was more terrifying. He’d show up at our home, drunk whenever he wanted, spewing profanity and violent threats.
I met far more police officers than an “A” student should ever meet. Many of them asked me if I thought I was going to be okay because I so obviously feared for my family’s lives and my life. Of course, my mom had all of the unenforceable restraining warrants to protect herself. They don’t work. Period. And they didn’t protect my younger brother and me. The divorce court saw fit to give an unfit violent father visitation rights.
Police at my high school graduation
At around sixteen years old or so, I decided I didn’t want to see my father, at all. When I refused to give my dad tickets to my high school graduation, he had the nerve to call my principal and demand permission to attend. As so many abusers are, my father was quite persuasive when he told the school’s principal that my mom was controlling my decisions. And he convinced the school principal that my mom was being a vindictive divorcée. The principal had no idea the earful he was about to get when he called my mom to defend my father who “just wanted to see his daughter graduate high school.” My mom not so kindly referred the school principal to the Chief of Police. I gave in and allowed my father’s attendance at my graduation once I was assured my dad would be escorted by police officers wearing plain clothes. I was absolutely mortified that he might cause a scene at my graduation.
So to get on with my story, how did I escape all of this violence? Well, I had a few things going for me. I had an open relationship with my mom, who encouraged me to be the best I could be at everything I did. And I had an uncle who told me to believe in myself and never to settle for less. He told me I could be a doctor, a lawyer, or Certified Public Accountant if I went to college. He told me that being a cashier or receptionist was below my capabilities. Basically, my mom and uncle instilled in me a desire for education, so I knew I was going to college from about the third grade. And most importantly, I had an unshakeable belief in God, and that He had a plan for me.
I still fight with one of the outcomes to this day. I am trying to become a recovering perfectionist. I became an over achiever to ensure I could get into college. But I also had to deal with my dad’s belittling the smallest of issues. One year, I had all “A’s” except for one “B.” Instead of being praised for my accomplishment, my dad’s only comment was “Why did you get the B?”
I used to tell my mom I wouldn’t ever be trapped in an abusive relationship. She thought I meant I wouldn’t ever get married. But, what I meant was that I wouldn’t ever be financially dependent upon a man. As a young girl, I thought the only thing I had to worry about was money. Back then I didn’t understand that an abuser steals his target’s confidence, which is more debilitating than one’s financial status.
Police at my wedding
Fortunately, I did find the love of my life at eighteen. I was nineteen when we got married. I had off duty police officers at my wedding, as well. They were friends of my husband. They were shown a picture of my father and were instructed to remove my father if he showed up. They were carrying concealed firearms.
After we married, I finished college and put my husband through college. With hard work and a tremendous amount of stubbornness, I’ve accomplished everything I ever set out to do. I passed the Certified Public Accountant exam and hold a high level position the organization where I work.
We’ve been married over thirty years now, and I can’t imagine life without my husband. But it wasn’t always easy. I had nightmares for years after we were married. I’d frequently wake with tears streaming down my cheeks unable to rid myself of the terror instilled in me from my childhood years. My husband would comfort and hold me until my tears and trembling subsided.
Horseplay turns to tears
One time, we were running around the house horse playing. But without thinking, I ran into the shower which obviously does not have an escape route. I quickly reverted from playful new bride to scared little girl. The fun and games ended with me in tears and my bewildered husband holding me until I could calm down and explain my outburst.
We are lucky we made it because I didn’t know how to communicate. You see, growing up as I did taught me to express anger. I wasn’t able to talk without arguing. I am lucky my patient husband grew up in a healthy environment. He refused to argue with me. He’d tell me when I was calm and able to talk without arguing that he’d be glad to discuss whatever it was that made me angry. I didn’t like feeling childish when I’d argue, but my husband didn’t argue back, so I learned to express myself properly. I also learned to talk out our differences, which was far less painful than throwing out hurtful comments that can never be unsaid or unheard.
Why I write
I found writing poetry cathartic and wrote to purge the pain of my childhood. Once I settled into a stable relationship and learned what happiness is, I quit writing because I was no longer in pain. I’ve rediscovered writing again in my middle age. But now, I write because I enjoy it. And I hope to give parents and children a better relationship. One of the primary characters in my children’s book series has an abusive parent while the others have great relationships with their parents.
I’ve focused on two areas that have intense meaning to me. The first is child safety not only because of my childhood, but because someone very close to me was molested as a child. And the other is conservation. I love travel, hiking and photography. My favorite vacations include hiking to waterfalls. One cannot hike a few hours, sit in the still of nature, breathe in the presence of God’s waterfall masterpieces, and not be influenced to urge recycling and to take even the smallest of measures to protect our lovely planet.
My last thoughts to share
People are a product of their environment, but the direction one chooses is just that. A choice. With guidance, I made choices that made my life better. The two most important were college and marrying the right kind of man. He is a man who loves, worships and respects me, and who has never raised a hand or even his voice at me.
Your past does not have to dictate a negative future. You can make choices which help you learn how to have healthy relationships. Use your past as the fuel to brighten your future.
I hope you will consider some of the following points when evaluating your relationship and your future.
While you are dating:
- Girls normally marry men that are like their father. Instead, think about the traits you’d like your husband to have that your father did not.
- Bad boys grow up to be bad men. If they aren’t worth marrying, don’t bother dating them.
- If you had/have a daughter, would you want her to be in a relationship like yours?
- Watch how both he and his dad treat his mom and sisters and how they react. Is it respectful or derogatory?
How is the relationship you are in now?
- When you debate topics, does he respect your opinions, even if he doesn’t agree with them? Does he try to force his opinions on you?
- Does he make decisions for you without asking your thoughts? Order your meals without asking what you’d like to eat? Always choose the movie and never ask what you’d like to see?
- Does he prevent you from seeing your friends or family?
If you found many of these points uncomfortable, you might want to look for someone you can trust. There are people out there. Choose wisely. Then start planning your escape options.
Originally posted October 1, 2013 during domestic violence month on www.EndingTheSilence.Weebly.com and reposted August 17, 2014 on www.Words-With-Women.com