The Inheritance of Domestic Violence
Sometimes, when it’s quiet and I’m alone, I can still hear my mother’s and stepfather’s raging, violent arguments echoing through my head. I see her face; bruised, swollen and bloodied. I feel once again like I’m cowering in the hallway, waiting for a chance to reach the telephone hanging on the kitchen wall before my stepfather yanks it from its moorings, rendering it impossible for my mother to be saved from his savage beating.
Many things haunt me from my horror filled childhood. Abuse. Pornography. Sexual exploitation. Middle of the night tirades. Strange visits to drug houses at my mother’s side. Repeated police traffic in and out of my home. Deprivation of healthy food to the point where I once tiptoed in to our pitch-black kitchen only to realize the handful of raisins I grabbed was crawling with ants. Those images and sounds of my mother being beaten by my stepfather are the predominate memories circling endlessly in my mind.
As a child I vowed I would never allow a man to treat me like that. I would never allow raging anger in my home. Domestic violence would not be a part of my relationships! And yet, that is exactly what happened. How in the world did that happen to me? Why would I allow that to be a part of my life when it was what scarred me the most from my childhood?
Thankfully, I’m now married to a wonderful man who treats me like the valuable human being that I am, rather than as his personal punching bag. Angry, screaming voices are no longer a part of my life. But for years I wondered why I’d allowed myself to be in relationships with men who hurt me. Why did I allow myself to rage against my own child? I was ashamed that I’d willingly let that happen. But now I understand, and with understanding comes the release of my shame.
Witnessing my stepfather’s savage physical abuse of my mother, and being abused myself, desensitized me to violence in my home. It wasn’t that I thought it was right. But I grew up used to daily horrors being a regular part of my life. So when I began to have relationships with men as a young woman, I didn’t see an occasional push or episode of vulgar name calling as a horrible thing. I’d watched my mother beaten to edge of death. Having a man spit in my face was harmless, in comparison. I accepted behavior I never should have accepted, because I was desensitized to interpersonal violence.
I also now understand that the domestic violence in my home, as well as my own sexual exploitation, left my understanding of relationship dynamics flawed and broken. I wanted to have a good relationship with a man, but I had no idea how to find one or what it took to maintain one. It was like a mother telling her child to go outside and pick some flowers, but not to pick the purple ones because they were poisonous and thorny. Yet, no one had ever taught her what colors were. So the child stood in front of a huge field of assorted flowers wondering what in the world purple looked like. In my confusion I chose a purple flower and suffered the damage of having done so.
I remember telling people that my husband picker was broken. And while that elicits some laughter from those I’m talking to, it is an accurate reflection of the truth. My understanding of who made a good relationship companion was broken. And, furthermore, I had no idea how to set boundaries or state my needs once I was in a relationship. I knew how to fight for my life on a day to day basis. Other lessons though, there was no time or place for my learning them.
I also know that I was vulnerable to men with a need to control their partners simply because of the way I showed up in the world. Years of abuse had worn down my self-esteem and self-confidence. I would sneak into a room, hoping not to capture anyone’s attention by keeping my shoulders stooped and my eyes on the floor or someone I knew. Predatory men could spot me from miles away as someone they could command and control. Even though I didn’t intend it, I attracted the exact type of man I wished to avoid.
Having been the target of a great deal of my mother’s fury, I vowed I would never take my anger out on my own child. And yet, just like the relationship violence I vowed to not repeat, I found myself a young teenage mother who repeatedly raged against her child. Over and over again, despite my determination not to do so, I found myself raising my voice at him in anger. He certainly didn’t deserve that, as I had not deserved my mother’s anger when I was a child.
It took years of therapy to realize I wasn’t actually angry with my son. My overflowing rage belonged to my mother, stepfather and repeated sexual abusers. But subconsciously I knew it wasn’t safe to display my anger to them. So I stored it up over the years and then released it onto the one person who loved me unconditionally; my child. Once I realized what was doing I got the professional help I needed to assure my anger would no longer harm my child. I asked my son to forgive me for the way I had spoken to him. Now my relationships carry no trace of my displaced anger.
After years of carrying shame over my tolerance of domestic violence and my perpetuation of verbal abuse toward my child, I’m now able to understand why I made those choices. Being grounded in my faith for several years now, I can finally forgive myself and make new healthier choices. I may have had to learn it on my own, through trial and error, but I have successfully escaped the cycle of physical and verbal violence that ruled my life for decades. I thank God everyday that violence is now a part of my distant past and will never be a part of my present or future.
Having survived years of violence and sexual exploitation, Athena speaks and writes about real life that’s not always pretty. She shares hope through her blog and weekly live show on Google+, YouTube, and RokuTV. As a full-time entrepreneur who enjoys coaching and mentoring sexual abuse survivors, she’s a founder of Trauma Recovery University and The #NoMoreShame Project, which lends a platform to abuse survivors who desire to have the courage to share their stories of hope and survival. Her specialties are parenting, entrepreneurship, business and life skills for abuse survivors, healing, and faith over at http://AthenaMoberg.com