My father was my hero. He was big and strong and brave. He could solve any problem. He was smart and loved art and music and dance. He climbed mountains and skied down them again. He'd come and pick me up at school on my birthday and take me out for lunch at his favorite steakhouse. I adored him, and once I understood that it was impossible to marry him when I grew up, I knew I wanted to marry someone just like him.
My father was my boogeyman. We never knew quite what to expect from him, although we all spent a great deal of time watching his body language and expressions, trying to anticipate the next explosion. He might storm into your bedroom in the middle of the night and start screaming at you, or hit you from behind as you passed him. Dad had a picture in his head of the perfect life, and if reality didn't fit that picture, then it was everyone else's fault and he would use violence, threats, and intimidation to force us into the proper mold. When I was finally ready to marry I made sure I married a man who was nothing like him.
This was my life as a child: fear, hyper-vigilance, constant striving to appease and avert, and anger. So much anger that I didn't know what to do with it, so I shoved it down, hid it from myself, and spent my time waiting for the day I could move out. No-one helped me. No adult noticed anything was wrong. My teachers would talk about abuse sometimes, but they never looked past the surface of the quiet, shy, obedient little girl. If I ever failed to meet adult expectations I was condemned and punished, reinforcing the lessons at home. My role in life was to please everyone else and I worked very hard to do that.
I remember learning about abuse statistics sometime in my teens. Children who were abused were more likely to abuse their children. Girls who were abused were more likely to grow up to be abused by their husbands. I decided to be sterilized when I turned 18. I refused to take the chance that I might do to another what was done to me.
I didn't understand, yet, that I had any control over my life,
Change came in little pieces, clues scattered through my life. A book about a family that stuck together and supported each other. A poem with the phrase, "...and each must make, ere life has flown, a stumbling block, or stepping stone." A promise given to me that i would be a good mother someday. A quote: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Slowly, over several years, the idea grew in me that I had the power to say, "No." I had the power to say, "Stop." I could displease other people and nothing horrible would happen. I had the power to leave a bad situation, and to avoid people who hurt me.
I also learned that I couldn't control what other people did, but I had complete control over how I responded to what they did. I could control my own actions. I could choose what I did with my life. I wasn't doomed to repeat my parents' life together. I wasn't doomed to unhappiness and misery. I had the power to make more of myself.
If you are an abuse survivor, what I want to say to you is this: It won't be easy. There isn't any miraculous, overnight fix. But it is possible. You're not stuck with what you were trained to do. You have to power to change your life and make yourself who and what you want to be.
I still am hyper-vigilant. I always sit where no-one can sneak up behind me. I monitor the way I treat my family, and obsess over the times when I do something that reminds me of my father. But, I have a happy life, with three children, and the most wonderful man I can imagine as my husband. He is kind and loving, gentle and patient with all of us. I learn every day from watching his example.
I never knew I could be this happy. I never knew life could be this good.
Did you know:
1 in 4 women (25%) has experienced domestic violence within her lifetime.
Nearly 3 out of 4 (74%) of Americans personally knows someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.
40-60% of men who abuse women also abuse children.
If you know or suspect abuse... or are the victim of abuse... you can get help!