Thursday, May 27, 2010

Behind Closed Doors - abuse is not confined to the spouse part 2

When you live in such a world, you look for a way out. I gravitated to the Bible as soon as I could read. I was self taught on many things, by reading and memorizing. I would find comfort in those pages. I learned the Lord’s Prayer on my own. When I was nine years old, I begged my mother to take us to church.  When I was 12, my mother began our regular attendance on Sunday mornings.  This helped my mental attitude significantly at first.
At one point, my dad’s brother and wife came to live with us while he looked for a job. His wife was 14 and the brother about 19 years old.  We planned a family outing to an amusement park.  My mother did not ask permission. When my father finally came home, he was furious that we were not there. He cooked some chili. When it was ready to eat and we were not there, he went into a rage. He kicked over the refrigerator and slung the chili all over the walls, curtains, and the floor; then he left the house.   We were all trembling in our boots, knowing that when he came home, there would be a terrible penalty to pay!  The minute he walked in the door he grabbed my mother by the hair and pulled her down the hall towards the bedroom. We could hear her screaming.  Someone had to do something to make this stop! My uncle shut the door to his bedroom and did nothing.   I went and got a knife, knowing I would not use it. It was to be a threat to emphasize my seriousness. No one intervened, so I took the responsibility to do it myself.  I ran down the hall with the knife in my hand screaming that I hoped the devil would get him, and that he would go to hell.   My uncle stopped me and took the knife out of my hand.  My father stopped beating my mother. I surprised him by my aggressiveness. My threat made a difference. That bad night ended, but I knew another earthquake could begin again at any minute.
At school I began to learn that my life was not normal. Talking to friends, their lives were much different.   I decided to make a plan for dealing with our dire circumstances. In this, I took on the role of a mother. I would include our neighbor as a resource the next time he beat my mother. My sister would run to the neighbor to get help.   In those days there were no shelters, no resources for a family to get help. We could have called the police, but my dad had taken care of that avenue according to his previous statements of control.  I was sure the neighbor would help. The neighbor came, but my father was very threatening and told her he was teaching his wife a lesson. It was a private family matter.  She left, unwilling to confront the situation.  I felt totally defeated!  Couldn’t anyone do something, anything to help us?
This was the normal cycle for years. Several times, it even got worse. Sometimes, he came home drunk, fetched his gun and shot it inside the house.  He could have killed any of us!  Surely our neighbors knew he was doing that. It made a lot of noise! No one ever came!
My mother took her plight to the church one day, thinking that her church friends would help her find a way out of the dilemma.  No, those people were adamant on their belief that once married, always married and under no circumstances should a person leave a spouse. We would just have to deal with it. The reward for enduring would come when Christ returned to the earth!
You know, with an alcoholic, your feelings just do not matter. Everything is about the alcoholic. He is the only one with needs, and they must be met! Over those years, I learned to be very intuitive. To this day you can sit me among a group of people, and I will instantly sense if there is any discord in the room.  I was thoroughly trained to do this, because I had to always know the “temperature” of my dad. It was imperative to know what was going on with him to keep myself safe.
 We could not have friends at the house because we never knew when the next episode would occur. Yes, he had a two week cycle, but sometimes it was shorter than that. We could not risk having a friend over to spend the night. That made us different in the eyes of our friends.
One summer, my legs stayed black and blue from "whippings" that my dad inflicted on me. My dad was the legislator, the judge and the executor. If his rules appeared to be broken, he would judge and give punishment. In this case, I was trying to get even with my brother for something he did to me and started chasing him. I could not catch him.  My dad commanded - come here! And then he beat me.  That certainly was not a spanking!
In the dating phase of my life, he lost that absolute control of my life. One time when I was 15, my boyfriend and I arrived at my home. We discovered that my dad was in the hospital.  We wanted to go see him. I asked my mom who was already at the hospital and she consented.   Upon arriving I told the innocent story about arriving at the house and then coming immediately to see how my dad was doing. My dad’s face showed disdain and immediately he yelled at my boyfriend to leave. We had broken a rule – we had been at the house alone for a few minutes.   He cursed me. He screamed as loud as he could so the entire hospital would resound with his voice.   My dad then got very quiet. He commanded me to sit in a chair and not move.  I did, but he asked me to bring him a newspaper. When I got near him, he hit me in the face with his fist.  I let out a scream that could be heard throughout the hospital. The nurse came running and pleaded with him to calm down.   She threatened to call the police. He arrogantly chastised her like he did all women. Who would have ever thought that such a totally innocent occurrence would turn into such a violent event?
I knew my voice would never be heard. When under such control, you listen and do not speak. One day, I went into the kitchen. My mother had cooked some eggs for my dad for breakfast. When I entered, he was pushing her face into the eggs on the floor where he had thrown them. He accused her of poisoning him because there was something red on them (they were fertilized). I asked him to stop. He chased me to the bathroom and started beating me as hard as he could with his fists. My hair rollers helped protect me that day, and I suppose his hands were pretty roughed up by them as well.
In September of my senior year, I was turning 18. The house rule? Kick them out of the house at 18; let them fend for their own.  I knew the rule, but I was a little older than the norm, because my birthday is in September. I had waited a year later than most children to start to school.  I decided that I needed to leave the house before he made me leave. I talked to the counselor at the school about my situation and told her about my father’s abusive behavior. I asked her about transferring my credits to another school.  I thought a family in the church might let me live with them.  I did not get any help. Instead, the counselor told the school secretary about my situation. She was my best friend’s mother! My best friend came to me and repeated the story I had just told the school counselor.   I was mortified and so ashamed that my friend knew!  Confidentiality did not exist. I lost my trust in everyone. The counselor did not ask about my siblings, nothing. It was a just a juicy story to be told.
My mom played a little game using us as a way out of trouble. To be able to get relief from attacks and a little appreciation from her husband, my mom would tattle on me. Then the two of them would gang up on me together. To be the object of rage was never a good thing. One day, he played this game with me to ensure I left the house for good. He accused me of leaving the door unlocked. I knew I never left the door unlocked but told him I would be extra careful.  Again, the next morning he made the same accusation.  When I told him I had locked the door, he hit me in the face with his fist.  That day I packed up and left, carrying my suitcase, walking down the street on a Sunday morning, crying with every step.   Eventually, I made it to my aunt’s house. I was without a home but my aunt gave me a room for the night.  A few days later, my mother’s friend who lived a few streets over, took me in until I could finish school. I wound up marrying my boyfriend and finishing school while living in an apartment in the school district. I wanted that. It was 1967.
I have lived many years beyond that. I had a difficult time early in my adult life, because I did not know how to communicate well with my husband.   My church provided stability to my life. I habitually attended church and classes, learning a great deal about life from the Bible. I told myself when I was 12 years old that I would never partake in violence and never marry an alcoholic. I broke the chain and kept that promise.  I did not want my children feeling like they lived along a fault line and be crying behind closed doors in fear or as a result of destructive abusive behaviors. 
In 1987 I began to attend Adult Children of Alcoholics and learned how to better deal with my past.  I learned to understand me. I also learned the role my mother had played in the family relationship.  I came to terms with the entire issue and put it behind me.  Over those years under my dad, I had lost faith in my mom and felt betrayed. I lived with the constant fear of losing my mom to my dad’s rages. I was always afraid to leave her with him. But afterward, I learned to be compassionate with people and became a prayer chaplain. I also practiced Yoga. Learning that I could control my mind helped me to overcome the trauma that made me play back those awful childhood events over and over.  Thanks to my fortunate discoveries in life, those mental replays no longer haunt me. The impact now is only evidenced in subtle ways.  I know myself and have recovered my life. I no longer consider myself a victim. Today, I tolerate my father.  Praying for him has made it possible to forgive him.
If I were asked to provide advice to a family in similar circumstances today, I would tell them to get as far away from the abuser as quickly as possible.  Today, there are wonderful family services available to help women and children of abuse.  Abused women need to break the cycle to save themselves and their children.
I learned over the years that there can be security in a home; one can predict what would most likely happen next; one does have control over one’s destiny and last but not least, one does not have to put up with violence behind her own closed door!

This story printed by permission of the victim, name of which is protected and held confidential by the author.

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