Jessica Aiken-Hall is the author of The Monster That Ate My Mommy, A Memoir. She lives in New Hampshire with her three children, three dogs and husband. Aiken-Hall is a graduate of Springfield College, with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. She is a Reiki Master, focusing her attention on healing. As a social worker, she uses her life experience to help others in their time of need. She is also a certified end of life doula.
Jessica was a guest on the Dr. Phil show, where she discussed some of her story.
“I wanted to help him see the good qualities in him that I saw. I tried to save him, to rescue him and I guess to change him. It was much easier to rescue other people than to deal with the horrors of my childhood trauma. The relationship started great he had quit smoking, landed a great job, and was looking into volunteer firefighting. We moved into our place five months into the relationship when I was three months pregnant. It was an exciting time but also an eye-opening time. He would say degrading remarks about my family and me. I felt isolated and alone. We were leaving our last parenting class and he asked where we were going, I responded straight. That was the wrong answer; he said: “I’m going to crash this jeep into the back end of those cars.” The day before our baby shower, he asked if I wanted to end up like the woman in town who was found murdered by her husband in their backyard. I was so afraid he would kill me after our son was born, but I had no one to talk to. The birth of our son was traumatic and took a toll on my physical and mental health. I struggled with postpartum anxiety and depression. I was suicidal, and he “If you want to kill yourself, go ahead the baby, and I are going for a walk.” When I finally did reach out for help at my six-week postpartum appointment, the lady from the crisis unit said she wanted me to get better and realize my worth so I would be strong enough to leave. I was still in denial that I was in an abusive relationship; I would make up excuses for him. The final straw was when I was in the car on the highway pumping milk for our son; he asked if I had anything to cover up with, I said I didn’t, but no one could see anything. He said, “I’m going to slam your head against the dashboard to knock you out.” A month and a half after that incident, I was in a domestic violence shelter getting the much-needed education and support.”
“I was warned about my abuser, but I didn’t believe it. I was swept off my feet, only I never got put back down, I got put into a box. The abuse was mental and emotional. He controlled everything: money, outings, get togethers. He made me feel incompetent of doing anything so I would have to depend on him. Making small remarks to people, “She doesn’t know how to cook, so I do it.” Of I had a problem that was related to him, it was never his fault, but somehow mine instead, and that I was acting crazy. thats when I stopped using my voice. He’d get mad at me for saying no to sex. He would try talking me into it, I’d still say no. he then would start making me feel guilty, and how its my fault for saying no. I eventually just stopped and would just let him have sex with me for the sake of not feeling emotionally hurt. I had daily anxiety and crippling panic attacks at least once a week. This ongoing nightmare was affecting our child as well.
I am now divorced from my abuser and have sole custody of our child. I found my voice, and self-worth. I’m dating a wonderful ma who loves all of me, and whom my child adores. He swept me off my feet, and put me back down where I stand freely next to him, as an equal.”
When I think back to the time I was with my abusers, I no longer recognize who I was. The images of myself from that time conjure up a hint of shame. I’ve talked with my counselor about these images, and she asked me “what would have happened if you weren’t who you were then?”
I thought about that question for a while. What would have happened? Different scenarios played out in my head. Even as a child. What would have happened?
“I would have died.”
“That’s right. What you see as flaws is what kept you alive.”
Wow. The shame dissipated. If I had allowed my mother to beat me, without fighting back, I very well could have been killed. The look of rage in her eyes was the same that my ex-husband had. If I didn’t fight and scream, call names and run away, her rage could have ended me. The same held true for the times the rage took over in my ex-husband’s eyes.
What is interesting is, I also knew when fighting back would have caused more problems. When my dad’s rage let loose, even as a four-year-old, I knew I had to stand still and be quiet and let him finish. Fighting back with him would have resulted in my death. I was much too little and fragile to withstand the brunt of his anger. I knew allowing him to hurt me would eventually calm him down, and he would stop before he killed me. I knew there was no winning with him. I learned how to read energy, and how to survive.
When the memories of my old self haunt me, I let them swirl around in my head as I give gratitude for the life lessons I learned. The gut feeling never fails me, it is only when I don’t listen to the signals.
Maybe I said things I shouldn’t have. Maybe I did things I wished I hadn’t. But I am alive. I withstood the brute force and mind games. I understand how people operate, and I know who I should be leery of.
It is the times that I give people too much credit, or feel sorry for them that I get into trouble. I want to think people think and feel like me, but often that is not the case. I try to see the good in people, and look to their past to understand why they do the things they do, and it is then that I put myself in unsafe situations.
If you have regret about your past actions, ask yourself the same question, “What would have happened if you didn’t behave that way?” I bet you might not have been here to answer that question. We are all doing our best to survive. We are survivors. We did what we had to do to get to where we are now. Take the lesson, and move forward.
“I was introduced to him by my sister. He was her husband’s cousin. We were both 24. Maybe I was tired of the dating game because I ignored the first sign that I should not date him. I learned that he had been in prison for two years for dealing heroin. I had never been involved with anyone who had a record.
It became clear right off that he had a problem. Not heroin, alcohol. He could maintain a normal life… working, paying bills, etc but his spare time was spent getting black out drunk with his friends. It was not uncommon for him to disappear for whole weekends with no notice, pass out on my living room floor or call me drunk from a bar and pass out while on the phone. Did I see this as another warning sign? Nope. I tried to “save” him instead. Driving 30 minutes at 2am to the bar where he was passed out, trying to stop him from going out, being his designated driver. That’s what I did.
I can’t tell you when the abuse started. I guess it started with him being drunk and saying things like “fuck you”, “go fuck your hand”, “you’re a zero”, even making up taunting songs that he would sing up the stairs or outside of the door I had locked myself behind. Did I see that this was another warning sign? No, I stayed longer. Maybe the problem was me?
I also couldn’t say when the abuse escalated. There was a television thrown at me, remotes thrown, an oven door smashed in a fit of rage, a kick here and there. Did I leave? No, I had a child with him.
During the pregnancy, he was still going out with friends and drinking uncontrollably. It was not uncommon to not hear from him for a whole weekend and then find out he had been jailed for a DUI. I never knew because when he told the officer he wanted to call me, he gave them his phone number instead of mine. This was only the first DUI. The next one came when the baby was an infant. He didn’t even try to call me that time. He had a friend pick him up and left the citation on the bathroom counter for me to find.
I was raising the baby by myself. He was never home much or sober. I remember begging him one night to please do one night feeding because I was so exhausted. He just looked at me and said “no”. Even when he was around I was scared that something would happen to the baby if I left him alone with him. I knew not to ever let him drive him anywhere.
When my son was two years old is when I finally got the courage to end it. I pushed away my fear of “ruining” my family, making it so that my son didn’t have a two parent household, worrying that I couldn’t support us on my income, worrying knowing that we would have to go to court, worrying that I would never meet a man that would want to be with a mother or take on a family.
I left on January 1, 2012. I moved my son and I into a rental house in another town. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. He never begged me to stay, he never tried to work it out. He actually didn’t come home the day before moving day. He was drinking with his friends.
The apologies came a couple weeks later. Begging me to come home. Promising to stop drinking, to be a better father, to do more as a family, to not treat me badly. This time I knew better. I never went back.
You may think this is the end of the story and that it has a happy ending. That wouldn’t be accurate though. Since we shared a child, he was still in my life. The abuse took on a new form. Now it involved court battles, attorneys, him showing up at my house drunk trying to pick up our son. He tried kicking in my front door, he kicked dents in my car. He would start to not return my son to me when the court order stated. I lived in constant fear.
Nine years later, he still finds ways to abuse and control me. If I don’t answer my phone, he will repeatedly call sometimes over twenty times in a row. He will send text messages calling me a bad mom, saying my son doesn’t want to live with me, I’m a bitch, etc.
This may sound like a depressing story. That I never truly escaped the abuse. I’m here to say that it is not. My son didn’t have to grow up in an abusive household, he didn’t have to watch abuse take place in front of his eyes. I found a man that did want a “mother” and a family. We are married with two more children and another on the way. He loves being a father, he loves having a family, he loves our son, he loves me.”
“When I was three years old, my mom, brother, and I moved into a new home with my dad. I had not known my dad for long before this move, and I was not sure what to think of the change. The nice man he had shown me before the move changed overnight. My home became a place I didn’t want to be, and was no longer safe.
My dad and mom would yell and fight. It was rarely quiet inside our home. I developed migraines at a young age, and the noise became that much more painful. My mom would cry, and my dad would yell louder. He called her awful names, and if I was around, he called me them too.
When my mom yelled back, he would hit her. When I tried to stop him from hurting her, he would leave her alone long enough to take his belt buckle to my bare behind, and then go back to hurting her. At night the sound of their fights would wake me up, and I would tiptoe out of my room to watch, to make sure he didn’t kill my mom. I had to be very quiet, because if he saw me, he would beat me for getting out of bed.
My mom found a new man and began cheating on my dad. When she was invited to live with him, she told my dad she was leaving him. It was then that he first threatened to kill her, and us. For the next five years, my dad stalked my mom, and broke into our house to try to gather evidence to prove she was unfit and have me taken away from her. We did not stop being on guard until we got the news that he died, even then the PTSD from the abuse and never knowing where he was, or what he was going to do kept us as his prisoner.
The new man my mom moved us in with was not a safe choice, and he began abusing us, and the pets. My mom was unable to find a safe partner, and continued with this type of abuse each time she found a new partner. Growing up in this kind of environment, I never learned what a healthy relationship looked like.
I found my own unsafe men, and continued the cycle. The only thing that helped me see the pattern I was stuck in was when I started to see my own worth. When I knew I didn’t have to tolerate the abuse, I started to break the generational cycle of domestic violence. My hope is that my children will know what love looks and feels like, and they will know when to walk away.
It doesn’t have to be how it always was. A new life can start with you.”
Thank you, Jessie, for sharing your story. I am glad you know that loved doesn’t hurt. I am glad you are safe.
“We has met in 2000 via a college friend. He said all the right things, and made me feel love like none other before. Soon we were making plans for my move almost 1000 miles away to be closer to each other. After a month his lies began to unravel. He became possessive to the point that I was unable to leave my apartment without him or his mom. I knew no one, and he used that to his advantage. He would say I was “ignorant”, “insane”, and “no one wanted me”. I was “too fat” and “too disrespectful”. He took all my important papers, debit card, ID and Social Security card. This was to ensure I was unable to get away from him. He would scream at me at the drop of a hat. I never knew what would trigger him. One evening I cooked dinner just as he requested. I prepared his plate, and asked him what he would like to drink. He looked at me, didn’t respond and looked back at the tv. I set his plate down, and waited in the kitchen for a response. After 10 mins I asked again. He picked up the plate of food backed me against the wall, and screamed at me about the need to learn respect. He turned to walk away then turned back to me to smack me in the face with the plate of still hot food. He then dragged me by my arm to the door, and pushed me into the breezeway. I knocked on the door begging him to open the door. He told me I was not welcome in “his apartment “ (the apartment was in my name and he legally resided at his parents residence). I walked barefoot and bleeding to the complex office to call 911 fir help. The police arrived and had me walk to my building with them. Another cruiser was already at my apartment where he and his mother (who he called as was his usual pattern). The police were manipulated to believe I was the abuser, and though I was bleeding, burned and covered in bruises while he had not a scratch on him. The police told me to have the EMTs help me stop the bleeding. Once in the ambulance they took me to the hospital where I assumed I would be helped with my wounds however before I knew it I was in the Psych Ward. They had told the police I was suicidal and the wounds were from him trying to keep me from hurting myself. I was released after less then 8hrs, and his mother picked me up. She told me that I “needed to learn to behave myself, and do whatever he wanted”. Thankfully I was able to connect with a lady at church ( one of the only places I was allowed to go as long as his mother was monitoring me) whom helped me escape from him.
I know I am worthy of better. I am a beautiful person inside and out. I am not insane. I was strong enough to get out and away from him, BUT most of all I was strong enough to fight back through the use of the judicial system that failed me when I called for help. I have an order of protection which he violated 5 days after being given. He spent 75 days in jail, and was also charged with criminal threatening fir repeatedly saying how he would kill me in front if 5 local police officers. I had to fike the charges myself as the police were unwilling to do so on my behalf. Each day I get stronger. Each day I’m regaining my happiness.
This is a glimpse into my year long nightmare. Just know there us hope in the darkness. I’m living proof.”
Umbrella is the local Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, it is where my mom went for help with at least two of her partners in my lifetime, and where I went for two of my abusive relationships.
The thing about domestic violence, is that it can run in the family. The cycle of abuse is passed down the family lines, and for many, it becomes their normal. Places like Umbrella help break that cycle. They offer resources and support to help end the domestic violence. And, they do it without judgement.
The first time my mom took my brother and I to Umbrella, was when my dad threatened to kill us. It wasn’t when he left us in bloody bruises. It wasn’t when he forced sex on her. It wasn’t when he threw a television set at my then 11 year old brother, who had just lost his father. It wasn’t when he would snap his belt off and take the metal buckle to our bare bottoms. It wasn’t when his rage filled the house with screams, and swears, and terror. It was when he had a gun, and had a plan.
The advocates at Umbrella did not turn us away because my mom didn’t leave sooner. They didn’t turn us away because it was too scary. They gave us support, and connected us with the proper resources.
Seventeen years later, I raced to Umbrella, where my mom and sister were filling out a restraining order on my mom’s then husband. My sister had just disclosed her father had been sexually abusing her for the past seven years. That was what made my mom seek help. It wasn’t when I disclosed the sexual abuse that happened to me. It wasn’t when he called her worthless, fat or ugly. It wasn’t when he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t when he kicked our sweet, aging golden retriever. It was when the fear overpowered her. It was when the police arrested him at his work. Umbrella didn’t turn her away because he had done it to her other daughter. They didn’t make her feel bad for the times she didn’t walk away. They gave her and my sister a safe place, and helped them through the hard days.
When I was 19 and my ex-boyfriend who bought a gun just to kill me with if I left him started stalking me, they opened their doors to me. I couldn’t tell my family what was happening, because even with the history, they wouldn’t have supported me. The advocates at Umbrella were who I knew I could talk to, and be guided in the safe direction.
When my now ex-husband was arrested for chocking me, Umbrella advocates took my panicked call when I found out he was released in the late hours of the night. I couldn’t meet with anyone at that time, because I didn’t have anywhere for my kids to go, so we made a plan to meet in the morning. She made sure I was safe, and asked me to make sure my doors and windows were locked, and asked me to call back if I needed to get there before the morning.
The next morning, they welcomed me, and helped me complete the paperwork for the restraining order. They didn’t judge me because it took me so long to call the police. They didn’t make me feel like a bad mom because I hadn’t left sooner. They listened and offered compassion.
Three years after this, my youngest daughter disclosed to me that her dad had been sexually abusing her. After hearing her story, my first call was to Umbrella. The advocate listened through my tears and hyperventilating. She told me she had to call DCYF, and gave me the number to call as well. I went in the next day to fill out another restraining order. They did not send me away because I dropped the last order. They understood he had bullied me into telling the court I no longer felt afraid. They didn’t judge me because I let him manipulate and continue to abuse me, and my children. They gave me a safe place to get help when my world fell apart.
Over, and over again. Mistake, after mistake, they never withheld services to me, or my mom. They understood the layers of abuse, power, and control. They offered compassion, and support when I needed it most. They did not blame me, even when I blamed myself.
Often, the advocates see people in the most traumatic times in their lives. Fearing for their safety, and even their lives. Their gentle approach, and welcoming environment helped save my mom’s life, my life, and my children’s lives.
When I was asked to lead the candlelight vigil/moment of silence at the Walk for Justice, I didn’t hesitate. I knew I wanted to offer my support, and compassion, as they had done so many times for me, my family, and the community.
Below is a copy of what I said last night at the Walk for Justice:
Just a few years ago, the thought that I would be killed by my abuser took over most everything else. The reminder came each time another beautiful soul lost their life to violence. I was pulled into their story, grieving lives I never met, because that could have been me. Our stories are powerful, and we each have one-if not ours-someone we love. I vow to use my voice for those that lost theirs-or have not yet been able to find theirs. I invite you to share yours- as little- or as much as you are comfortable-to free yourself, and help others. Let our voices be the change that breaks the cycle and bring awareness. Let us be a light in the darkness, because as long as we keep talking, and advocating, we keep the spark of awareness lit. Tonight let us remember those taken too soon from us, hold a safe space for the ones that haven’t left yet, and solidarity for the ones who have.
If you or someone you love need help, please reach out to your local domestic violence support center. Please don’t feel ashamed because you’ve been there before. Please don’t stay in an unsafe situation because you don’t think they will understand. Please go. Please ask questions. Please read pamphlets if you’re not ready to talk. They will understand. They will not turn you away. They have heard and seen so much, and they have answers and listening ears. They have compassion, and most of all, they have hope.
If you or
someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, and you are ready for help,
please reach out to a domestic violence program in your area.