Ever since I can remember my dad was drinking. I’d come home from school and he’d be wasted, standing there in his underwear waving his hands demonstratively. It was his gestures that signaled to me that something was off. I didn’t want to go near him. If I went anywhere in his vicinity he would start telling me that I did something wrong. I would try to stay in the moment, my feet on the ground so that I could avoid feeling anything. One time, we were sitting at dinner and I wasn’t hungry. My mom had made meatloaf and I just didn’t feel like eating. My dad looked at me and asked why I wasn’t eating. He was drunk as usual. I was silent. I took my plate off the table and threw it in the garbage. I started to go to my room and he grabbed my arm. He told me I was an ungrateful child and made me dig the meatloaf out of the garbage. I wouldn’t eat it, so he hit me.

I cried myself to sleep that night. It wasn’t the first time. I was used to him being volatile. He was unpredictable and mean. My mom looked the other way. All three of us were subject to his abuse. My mom tried to get him to take his medicine, but he wouldn’t. He wasn’t crazy is what he said. A doctor told him that he needed it to be balanced but he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t talk to someone. My mom begged him to talk to someone. He said all he needed was to pray more. But, that’s the thing. He never went to church. He was full of it and we all knew it. But no one did anything about his abuse.

Years and years of this. Neglect, physical harm, alcoholism, and fear.

I was in the 11th grade when she noticed it. She was the high school guidance counselor. Ms. Parce was her name. I was sitting down to talk about applying to college. All I wanted was to get out of this town and away from him so I could be safe. But I couldn’t tell anyone. When we were discussing Columbia University, she pointed to the bruise on my arm. I’d forgotten I was wearing short sleeves that day. She asked what it was. I was about to lie to her like I’d been doing for my whole life but something told me I could trust her. I bit my lip, and I started crying. I couldn’t speak. She handed me a box of tissues. She told me it was going to be okay, this was a safe space and that if someone was hurting me I could tell her.

So I told her everything. I wish I could say that it was easy after that. It wasn’t. He was mandated to go to a program. At first, we only saw him on the weekends. Then it was every other Saturday. And then we just stopped seeing him altogether. My mom was relieved that he was gone, but it took her a long time to get better. She did though.

I don’t know where my dad is. To this day I don’t know. But I know I will never drink. Ever.

I’m a mom now and I love my children. I will keep them safe because I never was.

If you are the victim of physical or mental abuse you can talk to someone. For teenagers, that might be a guidance counselor. This article from BetterHelp talks about the role of a guidance counselor and how they can help children and teens. If someone is hurting you, there are resources to help for adults as well. Safe Horizon is a domestic violence organization that you can call anonymously.