An important guest post today.
This is an anonymous letter from a mother to her daughter as she watches her struggle in an abusive relationship while dealing with memories of her own past experience. Sometimes those who are closest to the situation feel the most powerless to help. I hope these words resonate with some readers and give them the courage to reach out for help or to help someone else they know dealing with domestic abuse and violence.
I am not just a mom. I am the very person who watches and keeps track of you even though you are my adult child. It may seem I am not paying attention but I do; among the other busy life tasks I must perform every single day. I will always worry. I will always say something that supports your independence and recognize your qualities that makes me feel proud of you even though you are defensive and biting. I still feel disappointment, kindness, frustration and pride among other things. I have done the best I can in raising you and I know more than anyone that no parent is ever perfect. Especially when poverty is in the fold and the struggles that we experienced as a family complicate a content household.
I just wish that I was better able to share my story about my past. To convey my experiences as you grew up. The time before you were born before I met your father. I failed you by attempting to diminish the memories and the emotional hardship in talking about my experiences. It’s a terrible secret that no one in my family knows about; and in that silence I know abusers are given permission to continue when they aren’t even in the parameter in your life any longer.
So mom’s know things. I know things. I know he’s threatened to kill you. He’s threatened to kill himself to me. Mom’s see things in their daughters and know they are not okay. They see the bruises that are scoffed off or given some improbable excuse. They see you as an unhappy, argumentative illogical decision maker that demonstrates poor choices for your future independence. I am tired worrying and I don’t know how to fix it for you.
I remained silent and unwilling to share my terror too long because I placed it far back in my memories and built new ones to bury them. But as I realize now, the bones are always there and by burying them I can’t help anyone else, especially you. Abuse is stronger when its silent and it wants to be a dirty secret because it can take control over the victim as long as they live. Even if the abuser is long gone or dead.
When I was a young adult I made decisions about my life that were misguided. I could never confide to your Grandmother. She would have shamed me and not said anything useful as she lived out of state and out of touch since I was a young child. She would have blamed me, for certain, for not being something or say something to keep the violence going. I had no trust with her. You don’t have to trust me and as much as that makes me sad and a bit hurt it’s more important that you trust someone.
I made bad choices. Horrible ones. Most of it out of a false sense of compassion which turned into fear. In essence I let myself be held hostage by a stranger.
My sweet daughter, meet my abuser. A man who was ridiculously shy at first and for certain odd. I felt compelled to go out on one date. At the end of the evening when I told him honestly I wasn’t interested in seeing him again he erupted in such a scene – an emotional episode that I was completely in shock. I was eighteen and I had no idea what to do. You should have seen this through my eyes. He tried to set his hair on fire and screamed hysterically he would commit suicide if I did not see him again. Me. A stranger. He stripped off his clothing and huddled on the edge of the furniture in a tight ball sobbing with a lit lighter by his hair. He rocked back and forth inconsolable and out of fear of witnessing this and general concern over his well being I agreed, in terror and trying to understand what was happening, to go out with him again. I have no idea why honestly. I was terrified at what he was capable of doing.
So you see, in my silence about my past I neglected to teach you about my painful experience for you to learn from. I am not sure if you would listen anyway, but to give it everything I have as a parent I must; I will forfeit my shame and embarrassment to help you. My experience was short lived; only over one year. During this time it was extremely painful emotionally and physically.
I learned he was on parole for robbery in another state (“RUN!” I screamed in my head). He excluded me from my friends and I had to like only his (“STAND UP!” my inner voices demanded). I was held hostage by a stranger that I did not want to know or be associated with. I was better than this and I was confused at myself for the experience. He stalked me at work (“HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH! I told myself “This is not as bad as I think it is.”) He drank at least a case of beer every day that turned into rage and tirades breaking everything in sight (“SURVIVE!” my inner voices demanded).
Almost daily if the broken items weren’t my personal belongings it was the windows, doors, walls. and then he’d turn the rage by hitting himself or threatening worse (my inner survival took over). He’d turn that rage onto me if I became visible to him. If I argued back. If I spoke out. If I commented. If I didn’t have beer. If I didn’t cook dinner. If I kept something special. I was strong physically but it was the emotional barrage of unpredictable shocking behavior and assault that left me numb and incapable of acting. I hated him and worse I hated myself for being there. He would work for short periods of time before he lost his job due to his drinking, and terrorize me while driving my car which he also demanded to drive sober or drunk.
He’d threaten to drive us off cliffs and jerk the wheel toward the edge pushing the gas pedal. The worst lie about all of these experiences is that on the outside he was engaging, funny, and other people liked him. I would physically feel ill when people talked kindly about him (“CAN’T YOU SEE INTO MY EYES AND HELP ME?” I’d scream into my own silence). I tried to tell people what was happening, and they never believed me. I thought about that as he would rip off my clothes and push me outside the front door and lock it. As he would bite me leaving ugly raw bruises. As he would beat anything in his path making me feel weak.
I never got the help I needed from friends and in part because it was so embarrassing to fully confess the depths of terror I was living under. You can imagine my feelings of betrayal when I tried to seek help but couldn’t articulate fully – and “they” blamed me. People can be like that, so go to someone and keep talking until someone will believe you.
When I did finally flee from his terror I was exhausted. I had the paperwork in place, a protection order, but it didn’t stop. He chased me in his car on the rural dirt roads I lived. He broke into my home while I slept in that exhaustion and I woke up to him sitting on my bed, stroking my hair, begging for me to take him back whispering his own venom into my ear. I woke up in stark fear and pushed him off the bed and he once again raged.
I had to leave the state and go to an unknown area and start my life over and I tried my best to bury these bones to never have to think or acknowledge it ever happened. To bury myself in busy. To raise my family like it never happened. Until now. When I see it in your eyes.
So dear daughter. I see you. We give silence permission to continue the abuse. In our stories we grow stronger together and I beg you to recognize this in yourself. Before it’s too late.