#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Child abuse, Depression, Domestic Violence, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

January 2020 Domestic Violence Story: A Child Witness

Since awareness is key to helping end domestic violence, I want to share a story each month with a different focus. There can never be too many stories shared. Sharing replaces hopelessness with hopefulness.

Since this idea did not come to me until late into the month of January, I thought I would start with my story. I did share my story in October 2019, as well as in my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy, but there is always room for more details and more insight. My hope is that sharing my story, even on repeat, it will reach the right people to make a difference. If one person is helped by my suffering, it was for something.

The first three years of my life I did not have contact with my father, and as far as I know, neither did my mom. She brought baby girl Aiken home to her mother’s house from the hospital with the father’s name on the birth certificate blank. From the start she knew she didn’t feel safe around my dad, and maybe for the first time in her life, she listened to her gut feeling. During those three years she kept him away from me, and because he was not named as my father, without a DNA test, he did not have any rights to me.

The plan had been to name my brother’s dad as my father, and I was going to be given his last name. He agreed to this plan, and as far as I knew, he was my dad. He was loving and kind, and fun to be with. Before this plan could be put into motion, he became very sick, and died. I am not sure if it was this alone that changed my mom’s mind about my dad, or her wish to give me a father, or the hope for a family, but he was welcomed into our lives. My birth certificate was changed to list him as my father, and my last name was hyphenated to include his.

Within days we were moving into a new place as a family, and the abuse came creeping back in. Some of the scariest, most traumatic moments of my life came from the three short years we lived together. I witnessed my brother’s beatings, so severe, I was not sure he would live. I watched as my parents had violent sex in the living room, and saw my dad inches away from ending my mom’s life.

I was a watcher. I watched and observed everything. I wanted to be prepared for what might happen. Every sound awoke my adrenaline as I waited for it to escalate, and spiral out of control. Even at four years old, I knew I had to think fast, and be ready for what might come. I knew I had to be strong and step in for my mom or brother when their beatings became too much. I’d cause some sort of distraction to take the focus off them, hoping the belt across my bare bottom would be enough for him. If they could have a break, maybe they would be strong enough for the next time.

I knew there would always be a next time. I knew that even when we were laughing and having fun, it would end as quickly as it started. My guard was never down, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the impact this has had on me.

Some things are easy to see what they were caused by, while others take time to fully understand. My newest development came in a counseling session where EMDR therapy was used.

The goal of the session was to understand the reason I don’t feel at home anywhere. The last place that felt like home was my gram’s house, the same house I was brought home from the hospital. Even though I moved out of this home when I was three, every time I went back, I knew I was home. It wasn’t a big surprise to me. It made sense that my gram made it feel like home; she was home.

My problem was I have not been able to recreate that feeling since. It was not due to feeling unsafe or unloved. I didn’t understand what was the route of this lack of connection came from. In the past abuse and neglect made it was easy to see why I didn’t feel like I was home. My life is no longer filled with either and I wanted answers. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to find that feeling.

Some of the factors that lead to this decision were the boxes I have not unpacked for over ten years. They follow me, all the things I have carried with me throughout different moves, and do not find a permanent place inside the building I reside. I do not decorate or make an effort to make it feel like “home.” I thought it was because I was lazy…or busy…but lately, I knew there was more to it.

During my session I had to go back in time to a memory that may have caused this. Going down memory lane I counted 20 moves in my lifetime. Most all of them had a negative connotation. There were two that stuck out. One was when I was 14 and first in foster care, and the second, the one that I worked on, was when I was six and going with my dad for visitations.

Tears began to roll down my cheek as I thought back to thirty-two years ago, to my six-year old self with my rolled up brown paper bag full of my clothes gazing out the window, waiting for my dad’s car to arrive so I could slip out the door before my parents had a chance to interact. In those moments I dreaded these weekend visits. I wanted to go to my gram’s, but on his weekends, I couldn’t.

As I worked through these emotions and memories I realized what had been keeping me from feeling at home. It was the lack of fitting in, the lack of having a safe place, the lack of belonging, the lack of having a solid foundation.

How does this all relate to being a child witness to domestic violence?

All that fear, and waiting I experienced followed me. I’m ready at a moments notice to throw my belongings into paper bags, or garbage bags and throw them into my car to get to safety. I’m ready to make my escape, because to me, home was not safe. To me, home was where I went to be hurt and watch others be hurt. It was a place that held all the secrets and horrors that no one else was allowed to know. It was filled with loud voices, swears, insults, and bruises. It was the space between going to school, and my gram’s house, where safety wasn’t questioned.

Watching my dad hurt and threaten to kill my mom changed me. It instilled a fear in me I thought was part of my existence. It gave me an altered view of what home and love were supposed to look like. It ate away at my self-esteem. It robbed me of self-love.

It changed me.

As an adult, who found my way to my own house of horrors, it took me a while to realize it was not normal. I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what I had always known. I recreated a “home” that mimicked the one I had grown up in. On guard for the next incident to happen, I never had time to get comfortable. I didn’t know what comfortable was.

Recently, I thought something was wrong with me because I can sleep through my husband’s alarm clock. I know now that there is nothing wrong with me. For the first time in my life I feel safe. Safe enough to sleep soundly. Safe enough to let my guard down. Safe enough to figure out what home is.

It’s time to start living. Existing is exhausting.

If you have exposed your children to domestic violence, please don’t feel guilty. We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Each day is a new day to make a change. Tomorrow is a clean slate. Don’t let the past keep you somewhere you never belonged.

I don’t share my story for pity, I share it for awareness. Awareness is the key to ending domestic violence.

Depression, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Where to Start?

I met with my therapist again this week, and we talked about how I handled Good Friday and Easter. Days that for the last ten years have brought pain and suffering for me. This year, sandwiched in between the days was the third anniversary of my mom’s death.

I didn’t flinch. I didn’t shed a tear. The pain was gone. I didn’t reminisce over what could have, should have or would have been. I didn’t put my thoughts into the dark hole of grief. The days came and went without the heaviness they usually carry. I told her I was amazed at how effective the EMDR therapy had been in such a short amount of time. Two sessions took ten years of pain, possibly more. She said we hold memories in networks, and related thoughts can be healed, even without focusing on them. So, being able to work through my mom’s anniversary was an added bonus of the work we did on the loss of my gram. As she told me that, I thought about the possibilities that are in front of me. There is so much work to be done, but where to start? We talked about where to go next, about the top issues that cause me distress. My mind went in circles. How could I pick the top issues? What was really causing me distress now? My healing journey has been pretty complete. Most days are OK, with days of OK with a side of sadness. Knowing that memories are stored in networks, and connected in a web, woven together by similarities, I thought about the root of my suffering. My mom. I always feel a little guilty or cliche about blaming my mom. That’s the joke of all counseling sessions. “What did your mom do to screw you up?” For the longest time, I wouldn’t let my thoughts take me there. I didn’t want to be one of them that blamed all of my problems on my mom. I was so adamant that she was not my problem that I brushed off the first notion of it. It was only after acknowledging it, and working through it that I was able to start the true healing. When I told her I wanted to work on some memories of my mom, she asked me which one? I didn’t really know. There were so many. She suggested I close my eyes and see what image comes to me. It was fitting, that the title of my book was the image projected on my mental movie screen. I pictured my three-year-old self, pleading with the monster to give me back my mommy. The terror from that moment flooded me. When I was asked what thoughts this image brought to mind, I responded, “that I am annoying, an inconvenience, not worth people’s time, not good enough.” And there we have it. The root of my self-sabotaging behavior and thoughts, the feeling that my presence is not worth any one’s time, the feeling of being inadequate, of never being enough was programmed into my tiny, little, 3-year-old brain. All of the healing in the world would not work if this block was not removed. For close to thirty-five years I have held this block in my mind, stopping short of true healing. Each and every time I get close to tackling these thoughts my brakes instantly go one, and I am stuck in tar, unable to move forward, or to shake these thoughts out of my mind. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what. All I knew was the same terror that came as that 3-year-old filled me when I came close to working on these thoughts. Frozen. Through the process of the EMDR therapy so much happened, in such a short amount of time. As we worked through the memories, a vision of my gram came in. Her smiling face, and a bright, yellow light surrounding her. The anxiety and terror I had been feeling was lifted, and in it’s place warmth and love filled me. I saw my gram take the hand of my child-self and take her out of that bedroom with the monster. We walked away, and slowly my mom disappeared. The bed was empty, the blankets pulled up and straightened. When I was asked what I saw, I said that my gram was going to protect the little girl, and keep her safe. Visions of my child-self and my gram playing together came, and my whole body shifted. In the past I had been told to take care of my child-self. The idea of it sounded far fetched, and honestly, a little crazy. I was told to give that little girl the love and support she was longing for. Let her be little. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. A burden was lifted when I saw my child-self was in my gram’s hands now. I wouldn’t have to care for her, but I knew she would be safe, and happy. When I was asked to do a scan of my body from head to toe after the session, I felt something I had never felt before. A clear flow of energy. No blocks. No tension. Nothing in the way of the energy circulating throughout my body. A notable thing to mention is that as I was doing the scan of my body, I said that I felt like I was finally inside my body. With the damaged little girl in the way, I was never fully able to experience life as me. I had never thought of it in those terms before, but as I finished up the scan, I noticed that I could actually feel my feet on the floor. As in, I have never noticed that sensation before. When I shared this with my therapist, she smiled at me, and said how exciting it will be to get to know myself. The thought brought tears to my ears. I never expected to get to a place in my life where the pain and thoughts were not overwhelming. To think that this can happen for all of the areas of trauma in my life is beyond exciting, I don’t even have the words to describe how this all feels. As we talked at the end of our hour together I told her how interesting it was that we had worked on the loss of my gram first, because without that work being done, seeing her come to take my child-self would have been crushing. It would not have worked, because the emotions tied to that loss were so intense. Also, the timing of this all worked out well. The groundwork for the foundation of my healing had been laid. I was ready. There is nothing left to do now, except heal. Who am I to question how all this works? Be kind to yourself. We are all healing from something.