Review by Carla Charter
What I first noticed about this book was the main character, Jessica. She struck me as a Phoenix. Despite the horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she survived as a child, with each negative she still rose again, like the fabled bird determined to rise above her circumstances.
An important theme of the book which is highlighted again and again is the importance of having an anchor. A family member, a grandmother, a friend, who will stand up and say no more. Even if the abuse continues despite the pleas and the lies of survival, these anchors provided a respite of sanity, when the childhood world around was nothing but chaos for her.
The repercussions of Jessica’s childhood abuse can be seen clearly as she grows, feeling unloved and unwelcome, she enters her adult world looking for the love she never received, through whomever will give it. Thus her abusive childhood ripples and transforms into abusive relationships and eventually even affects her children.
Still despite it all, despite her mother’s drinking and depression, despite her horrific life of abuse and neglect she still finds her way to peace and a resolution with her mother and thus becoming a shining beacon to survival. Her life while fractured by others, in the end Jessica herself builds into a beautiful mosaic of hope for the future.
The book is a must read for those looking to understand the complexities of abuse and the long-term effects abuse can have.
For anyone who may leaving or reporting abuse, the following agencies may be able to help
Domestic Violence Hotline
Child Abuse Hotline
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Why I didn’t leave. That is the question that haunts me, and increases the anxiety that was left behind. Why didn’t I just go? I didn’t even love him, so why would I stay? I wrestle with these thoughts, some days more than others. And, recently, I learned that it wasn’t my fault.
I did try to leave on a couple of occasions, and each time ended with some of the worst physical violence that I had ever experienced. And my children witnessed it. As babies, and with eyes of innocence. They saw and heard as their mommy was beaten. They heard their daddy threaten to kill mommy, while he told me they didn’t love me. At two and four years old they had to defend me. They had to save me.
When I replay those times in my mind, I wish I had the strength to call his bluff. I wish that I would have taken my babies, and saved them, instead of them saving me. I wish that I could have made their memories happy, and not be haunted with the thoughts that not even adults should have to carry.
Knowing what they went through and what they saw make it hard not to blame myself. Those thoughts made me feel like a bad mother. They made it hard to see that I was not part of the problem. We were all surviving, and I truly believed that if I left, I would have been killed.
Before my first child was even born, he told me he would take my baby from me, and never allow me to see him. I believed him. He told me his family had money, and they would take me to court to prove I was unfit. I believed him. I did not have family to turn to. I did not have money to hire a lawyer. I believed him. I believed him when he said he was going to kill me. I believed him when he said no one would miss me. I believed him when he said I was worthless. I believed he would kill me, and my children would be left in his care.
It was all part of the power and control that abusers use. I didn’t know it was all a part of his plan, to make me so weak that I couldn’t fight back. I didn’t know that with every hateful, hurtful word, he was crushing my spirit. I didn’t know how much power the fear held over me. It was just life. It was all I knew, in turn, becoming all my children knew.
I apologized to my children for not leaving sooner. They told me it wasn’t my fault. Each one of them, at different times. I didn’t want them to save me any longer. I didn’t want them to take the guilt away. They told me, each in their own way, that it wasn’t my fault. That they didn’t blame me for what happened, or for staying longer than we should have. They blame him.
“Mom, he was the one that hurt us.”
“Mommy, he was the one that was so mean.”
“He hurt you. And us. He was bigger, and stronger.”
“Mom, you got us out. You are the reason we are safe now.”
“You are my protector.”
“Thank you for never leaving us.”
“Thank you for loving us.”
Their words bring me comfort. Hearing how they are able to process the past, and learn from the fear, and pain lets me see I am doing something right. I am a good mom. They love me, and trust me. And, I am their protector. I will have their backs no matter what. Day by day, we each heal a little more. The broken parts become smoothed over, and we are stronger for it.
The next time you say, “Why won’t she just leave?” Please remember you don’t know the whole story. You do not know all of the details. If she leaves, he might kill her. If she leaves, he may hurt her children, or pets, or family. If she leaves, she may not have anywhere to go. If she leaves him, she may not have any money for the things she or the children need. If she leaves him, she still may not be safe. You cannot judge a person when you have not been in their situation.
Please remember, she is doing her best. She is trying harder than most, just to survive. Every. Single. Day.
She is stronger than she knows.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although, I am aware every single day. I am on edge from the PTSD at times I least expect it. A loud noise, people yelling, an angry expression can be the trigger. A feeling comes over me, and I fear for my safety. I scan parking lots as I walk to my car, waiting for death that was promised.
It is not something that just goes away. Good days can be stolen in an instant when a memory pops up. Anxiety creeps in, and there is nothing that can quiet the mind. My heart races, as I wonder why I wasn’t one of the statistics…but I know there is still time. When an unpredictable abuser, who was never held accountable for his actions roams the streets, his death wish for me could be a when, and not if.
Thoughts like this, make Domestic Violence part of what shaped me into who I am. Fear from childhood, wondering when my dad was going to kill my mom, and I continued to be fed by threats from my ex husband. I have expected my murder since I was four years old. Before I even knew what death was. It is a miracle that I am still alive, and I am determined to be the change. The change for my children. The change for others who want to be free. The change for me.
Alone, the world is a scary place. Together, we can get through anything.
You are not alone.
From The Monster That Ate My Mommy:
A couple of years into the job, I found out I was pregnant with baby number three. Chuck and I continued to fight, but that was the norm now. We couldn’t have a conversation without calling each other names or yelling. Ian was four and Emerson was two. Chuck only occasionally put his hands on me now. Most of the abuse was emotional.
Until I was nine months pregnant. Chuck spent the day belittling me. “You’re a fat whore. No one has ever loved you. Your own mother hates you. You’re just a piece of shit.”
After hours of listening, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had the cordless phone in my hand from my daily call to Gram, and without thinking, I threw it at Chuck’s bare back. I wanted him to stop talking. I was nine months pregnant, my husband was verbally abusing me, and my hormones were raging. I wanted him to leave me alone.
He spun around and yelled, “You’re gonna pay for that, you stupid, fat whore!”
Ian and Emerson were in the living room, and they stopped playing as he ran to me. I ran past him into the living room to get the kids to a safe spot, but as I got into the living room, Chuck pushed me into the changing table. When I didn’t fall, he pushed me again, harder. I stumbled and landed on the floor in the kids’ playroom as Ian yelled, “Daddy, no! Stop, Daddy!”
On the floor, I held my stomach. Chuck came over and kicked me over and over again in the back. He kicked me harder each time his foot made contact. Ian ran over to try to make him stop. I fought back the tears because I didn’t want Ian to be afraid. Emerson stood in the corner of the living room, crying as she watched her father continue to yell at me. I needed help. I managed to get to my feet and walked to the phone. When Chuck saw what I was doing, he ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it. “What the fuck do you think you are doing? You’re not calling anyone.” He pushed me into the doorway to the upstairs, pushing me so hard my body broke the door. The kids both watched and cried. We were all at his mercy.
Chuck pulled me up out from the broken door and dragged me into the kitchen by my hair. He tried to smash my head onto the hot wood stove. I couldn’t let my face hit the stove. I somehow managed to brace myself in the door frame of the bathroom that was in front of the wood stove. He took my head, bounced it off the door jam, and yelled, “I am going to kill you!”
The kids followed us into the kitchen. Their screams filled the house. Ian yelled, “Let her go! Let Mommy go!”
Chuck didn’t let me go. He grabbed me by the neck and pushed me into the wall as he yelled, “You are dead! I am going to kill you and hide your body.”
“Daddy! Please don’t kill Mommy. Please, Daddy, please.” Ian’s pleas didn’t stop him.
Chuck continued to yell, “You are dead, you fucking whore. You are dead! The kids won’t care if you’re dead. They don’t even love you.”
“Daddy, no! Daddy, we love Mommy. Daddy, no.” Ian pleaded with him.
Chuck finally let go of me, and the kids ran over to me. Emerson hugged my legs, and Ian stood guard. Chuck was angry they were so upset. “Stop your fuckin’ crying. God damn it…make the little fuckers stop.”
I held them close to keep Chuck away from them. Chuck paced the kitchen as they continued to cry. “Get the fuck over it!”
My whole body hurt. The baby stopped moving. I was scared he had killed the baby inside of me. I sat in the living room with Ian and Emerson in my lap, and I cried with them. Chuck sat on the couch to watch us. “I need to go to the hospital…the baby isn’t moving.”
“You’re not going anywhere. You just want to get me in trouble.”
“No…I’m scared the baby’s hurt.”
“You’re fine, the baby’s fine.”
My body was covered in bruises. It hurt to sit down. After a while, the baby did move, and Chuck reminded me he was right, there was nothing wrong. He told me again if I told anyone what happened he’d kill me and take the kids. He said he would cut the baby out of me and take it too. I couldn’t leave them. I couldn’t let him kill me and leave them with him.
At my doctor’s appointment, a nurse asked about the bruises. I said I had fallen down the stairs. I hoped they wouldn’t believe me, but they didn’t ask again. She told me it was selfish of me not to come in right after the fall. I felt like I’d failed this baby too, just like I failed at everything.
After that day, my dislike for Chuck grew to hate. I hated him for all he had done to me. I hated him for all he did to my kids. I hated him for all he pretended to be. I hated him for all the hope he stole from me. I hated him for everything. We’d been together for six years, and I still hadn’t told him I loved him. Now there was no way he’d ever hear me speak those words.
True happiness. That is what is in this picture. I started this blog on July 1st, the year anniversary of when this photo was taken, but could not find the words. Any of them. This was the night Tom Petty helped make a twenty year old wish come true. This was the night that everything was perfect. This was the night that the pain faded, and pure happiness took over.
This was the night I decided to live, and not wait. I went with my gut, and upgraded my tickets to front row. I had always talked myself out of them in the past, telling myself that I didn’t deserve them, or the money was better used for something else. That voice exited long enough to purchase them, and quickly returned as guilt came crashing in.
Because of my experience of life never going as planned, I could not get excited before the tickets were in my hand, and I was in my seat. It couldn’t be real. I didn’t want to work up the excitement, only to be let down. I was stressed out and anxious as I waited to receive the tickets as the rain poured out of the sky.
As they scanned the tickets, and we made our way to our seats, my anxiety changed to pure bliss. If only for a moment, I would have my chance to see Tom, and maybe, be seen by him. The magic from the night outweighed anything I could have wished for.
Still, a year later, I have a hard time believing it happened the way it did. Darkness turned to light in the moments on that night. I mattered in the sea of insignificance, if only for a second. Everything lined up, and my wish was granted. It could not have been more perfect.
There are very few moments in my life that play out this way. Or, very few that I allow myself to accept. When I went to write this a few weeks ago, I wanted more than anything to feel that happiness again. To find that smile and see the sparkle. The harder I looked, the more distant I became from that night.
For the moment, it was perfect. A dream. An everlasting memory. I didn’t want to taint it with the pain that this year brought. The pain of outliving most everyone I love. Sadly, Tom has been added to the list. But, for the moment, only a year ago, the lifetime of pain left my body.
I long for that feeling. A feeling I did not know I was lacking. The most important thing I had forgotten was to live. To live in the moment. To appreciate the little things, and the big ones. To let the love in. To let the love out. To be. To just be.
Searching for perfection will always lead to failure. To find happiness, the kind that is in my eyes from this night, I need to remember how simple it really is. Expect nothing, and be grateful for what is.
Tom always has a song to get me through. A perfect one for tonight, and every night after, Wildflowers, because I belong somewhere I feel free.
Thank you Tom, for the memories, the magic, and the words that reach my soul. ❤️
Continued from: Trauma Camp
Waking up the first day at Onsite brought excitement and anxiety. I was still unsure what to expect, and still uncomfortable about sharing in front of such a large group. I made my way out of the cabin and to the mansion for breakfast, where I tried to find some familiar faces to sit with. We made small talk and walked over to the Carriage House for the morning meditation.
Meditation is something I have always struggled with, and I felt myself squirm in my seat as others found their seat. As I thought to myself, I don’t know how to meditate… The voice from the group leader announced, “It’s okay if you don’t know how to meditate, or if you can’t stop your thoughts, just do your best, and notice where your thoughts take you, and then focus on your breath.”
Relief washed over me as the expectations were lowered. I sat quietly for the fifteen minute meditation, bringing myself back to my breath after thoughts of my inadequacies and what was ahead of us circled in my head. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I did feel more relaxed.
Three group leaders joined the front of the room. They were breaking us into smaller groups. More fear left with this discovery. Each group leader read off a list of eight names. The kind woman from the night before read my name off her list, with seven other women. We were the only group of all women. More apprehension left.
We made our ways to our group rooms. Where we found eight pillow chairs lining the room, as soft music played. One by one we found our way to a seat and grabbed a blanket to keep warm.
I looked around the room. Beautiful women filled the spaces. I felt out of place. What if I don’t fit in? What if I’m not like them? What if they don’t like me? What if my trauma isn’t that bad? I couldn’t stop the thoughts and tried to stay to myself, so no one would find out that I didn’t belong there.
When everyone was accounted for, we were asked to stand next to the emotion that best decried what we were feeling as we began the week. I found my way to scared, and backed myself as close to it as I could.
Scared. Anxious. Worried. Unsure. All these feelings swirled inside of me.
As I looked around the room, I noticed there was a mix of emotions from the others. We were all feeling something. We all seemed unsure of what to expect. As we took turns speaking about our feelings, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one struggling. My feelings of not belonging lessened as the day went on.
The more the other women talked, the more I felt connected. What happened in Group Room 3 is only for the members to know. Our words, our feelings, our tears, our growth are sacred. For our eyes, ears, and hearts only. What I will share is how the process helped me. To be honest, a month later, I am still processing what took place in Group Room 3, and at OnSite .
The first thing I noticed while at OnSite, was the feeling of belonging. This is a very rare, if not unknown feeling for me. I have walked through my whole life searching for belonging, to be understood, to be loved, to be heard. All of these things happened at OnSite. I was never turned away when I approached a table full of others. I was included, and not expected to talk or share if I did not wish to. No one made fun of me when I didn’t have anything to say. No one picked apart my lack of self confidence. But people loved. Strangers became family, old wounds were allowed to see the light of day, and healing from the soul up began to take place.
I did not notice it happening all at once. I even felt that nothing was happening. I felt like I was wasting my time as I retold my story of past trauma. I had told it, written about it, even went on Dr. Phil to talk about parts of it. What more could happen from sharing the same old stuff again? I volunteered to share my story first after I drew my timeline of traumatic events. A page for every decade.
Without making any eye contact I looked at my drawings on the wall and told my story, in a matter of fact kind of way. As I was telling my story in the thirty minutes provided, I started to think that my story isn’t that bad. I felt like I was wasting the rest of the groups’ time. I skipped over some major events, and added some things that I had not shared with anyone before. Things came to the surface, that I had buried so deep, even I had not remembered them before. Even still, some of these memories were not shared, for the shame they evoke inside of me.
My voice broke as I neared the end of my story. Silence filled the room before I could go on with the part where Gram, Uncle Doug, and John left me. All at once, stolen from this world, to leave me dangling in the darkness. The feelings from that time came back as I remembered how distant I had become through the grief. Guilt poured in as I finished, remembering all the ways I had let others down, how my life had been wasted, while others did not even have a life left to waste.
I sat back down on my pillow seat, covered back up with the blanket and looked down at my knees. A quick glance around the room let me see the tears from others while they listened to my story. I picked three women to write parts of my story as I told it, so they could read back to me the facts, the feelings, and the beliefs. As the women read back what I had said, I heard my story differently. I finally, for the first time, heard that my story was that bad. I had been through a lot, overcame a lot, and survived. I survived so many things that I shouldn’t have. The trauma did not swallow me whole. I was not only surviving, but I was thriving.
As I listened to the other stories in the room, I understood on a whole new level the saying “Everyone has a story.” I understood how much alike we all are, no matter how different we seem. I saw how much trauma can change people. I saw how strong we are, and how little we give ourselves credit for. I saw myself as whole. As complete. As messy, and beautiful. As strong, and vulnerable. As trusting, and open. All of my broken pieces were molded back together, shaping me into a perfectly, imperfect woman.
The day after telling my story my body began to detox. I had heard this was possible, but did not expect it. I still felt as though I was doing work that I had already completed. Learning new things along the way, but getting a refresher course. I woke up unable to catch my breath. I could not breathe deep enough to feel as though I was getting enough oxygen. Even in meditation I was unable to breathe. I felt nauseous and lightheaded. I went to the bathroom every chance I could and eliminated black stool (TMI, I’m sorry!). I even threw up. It was quite noticeable that I was struggling, and the group leader took a few moments with me to explain what was happening. “Your body is detoxing all that old trauma.”
I was trying to remember to trust the process, but I was still holding on to a bit of skepticism. I tried to breathe deeply with her, but still could not catch my breath. Even, as I tried to fall asleep that night I struggled with my breathing. I wanted to go home, and give up. This was scary, and I need my normal back. This was only day three.
When I woke up the next morning, I was able to breathe normally again. I felt fine, and bathroom business returned to normal. There was no way that I could be a skeptic now. Things were happening inside of me. Deep down. Trauma that I had worked on in the past was now being released. I was finally giving permission to let it go. Not just with words, but with action. I knew now what trust the process meant.
As the days progressed, I saw myself differently. I saw that each person who was there knew what it felt like to be different, feel broken, unloveable, and unworthy. I belonged. And not just at OnSite, but in the world. If every person there knew what it felt like, it was not too far fetched to believe that everyone else did too. It is true, everyone has a story, and it is also true that everyone has experienced trauma. If you are living, you have suffered. The people who pretend that their life is perfect are actually hurting under their fake smile. The successful person you envy, struggles with self love too. We are all fighting a battle to some scale. There is no perfect.
This discovery energized me. It filled me with hope, and a new sense of wonder. A new mission to help others see what I have learned. A new goal of self love and acceptance. I gave myself permission to be human, to own my faults, and honor my strengths. I am able to see how far I have come, while keeping my eyes open for the road ahead. Everyday brings new struggles and new gifts. It is a constant choice whether or not I beat myself up over the mistakes, or cherish the lessons. I choose to tell the negative thoughts to STFU (another lesson I learned at Trauma Camp).
OnSite introduced me to my true self. The experience gave me hope, that anything is overcome-able. It showed me that I am strong. We all are. We are all worthy of love, especially our own. The mirror before me continues to be cleaned off, and I can see who I really am. The detox is still happening as the years of anxiety, pain, and trauma escape my cells, and I remain open to trust the process.
I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.
Continued from: Healing Trauma
I did not know what to expect when I packed my suitcase for a week away at Onsite. I talked myself out of going more times than I can count. I spent hours looking online for information on what to expect, I came up almost empty handed. The few reviews I did find were all positive, but I wanted more. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into before I committed to going.
I knew nothing more than what a quick (alright, hours of searching) search produced. The phrase that kept coming back to me was, “Trust the Process.” For a person that has a difficult time trusting, this was not that helpful. As the days grew closer to April 13th (Friday the 13th to be exact), I wanted to trust the process. I had done a lot of work already, I was hopeful that this could help. It couldn’t hurt. Right?
I prepared some meals to leave behind, wrote some letters to mail before I left, packed my bag, and rode to the airport with George riddled with anxiety. I wasn’t sure what I was the most nervous about. Leaving the outside world as I knew it, spending a week with a bunch of strangers, or opening up old wounds that I thought I had healed.
As I walked through the airport doors, tears in my eyes, I wanted to change my mind, but I didn’t. I walked up to the ticket counter, got my tickets, made small talk with the lady behind the desk and tried to smile. “Business or pleasure?” Hmm…Good question.
“A little of both, I guess.” I said as I faked a smile.
I made it through security, all the worries I had been trying to shove out of my mind came crashing back down over me. The small, young family in front of me caught my attention as their little one was so excited for their trip. The mother looked at me, “You look familiar…are you an author?”
Whoa…I didn’t expect that! “Well, kind of.”
“Everyone back at home is going crazy over your book. I can’t wait to read it.”
“Really? That’s great! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That was just what I needed to hear today.”
My above response, “Well, kind of,” was exactly why I needed to go to Onsite. I have always had a hard time believing in myself, or seeing myself as others do. My lifelong dream was to be an author, and even in a moment like that, I could not own it. This. This was what I needed to change. This was why I had to get past my fear and trust the process.
I am a firm believer in things happening for reasons, no coincidences, and messages. This encounter was what I needed to help remind me of what I needed to work on. It was my view into the outside of what people see me as. Our short conversation helped ease some of my anxiety and replace it with excitement for things to come.
When I arrived in Nashville, TN I had an hour to wait for the shuttle to Onsite. As I waited outside I looked around to see if I could spot others that I would be spending the week with. I had no idea what I was looking for…I mean…what does a person who needs to heal past trauma look like? People came and left as the minutes passed by. And then, at 3:00pm on the dot a black van pulled up with a small white sign “Onsite.”
I rolled my bag to the door as a man with a clip board greeted me. He took my bag and I boarded the van. I found a single seat, so there was no chance I would have to make small talk until I had to. I texted people to let them know I was safe, and on the way to the program. More people entered the van as we waited for the last person on the list to arrive. When we were all loaded up, we were on our way to heal our past trauma. The hour and a half ride was uncomfortable, and almost silent, except for one talkative guest, who kept herself entertained.
The battery 0n my cell phone was fading fast as I tried to get all of the last minute conversations in. Seven days without my screen. Without talking to the people I love. Without watching the news, or checking the weather. Seven days.
The van drove up the long driveway and parked in front of one of the buildings from the website. We were told to go inside for orientation. We each got off the van, still in silence as we entered the building and sat in the chairs that were placed in a circle. We were given a bag with a name tag, water bottle, binder, and room key, and then given a tour of the campus while they delivered our bag to our rooms.
After the tour, we were allowed to go to our rooms and explore…and keep our phones until after dinner. I found my room in one of the cabins, that I was to share with two other women for the week. The room was cozy and comfortable, but it was not home. I unpacked my things and called home one last time to let them know that I was safe and able to have my phone for a little while longer. The kids and George wished me well and we counted down the days until I could call again…Thursday night at 4…things were starting to look up…a day less than expected.
At dinner I found a table of three strangers, who sat quietly until one of them made small talk. Two of the people at my table were there only until Wednesday, and were doing individual intensives. I was not aware that was an option, or I probably would have went for that (I’m grateful I ended up in a group though).
After dinner we all joined in the Carriage House, where about thirty-five people gathered in a circle. My anxiety returned as I looked around the room. How was I supposed to share my darkest secrets with this many people? The night continued with a few icebreaker activities. We had to place ourselves on an imaginary map from where we were from. I stood alone in the northern part of the room, as others congregated in small groups. I wasn’t surprised to be the lone person from New Hampshire.
We were asked to walk around the room and find someone we did not know (which was easy to do, since I didn’t know anyone) and talk about the question that was asked. “If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?”
This seemed like a harmless enough question. My mind went blank. “A dog.” It was the only thing that came to my mind, and then the tears began to fall. I looked around the room, and it appeared I was the only one crying. Great.
“Aww. Let them out. Tears are good. Why do you want to be a dog?” The kindness from this woman, this stranger illuminated from her. It helped take some of the awkwardness away from the tears.
“Because they love unconditionally.” I couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, or why, and then it was time to move on to the next question. I did my best to suck in the tears and try to find something to laugh about.
The next question came. “What are you most afraid of for the week ahead?”
The tears returned as I tried to spit out the words. “Of meeting myself.” Wow…I had no idea how afraid I was of this, or that I didn’t feel that I really knew myself. I was lucky that the receiver of these tears was also a kind and gentle person. He let me continue to cry, and then it was time to find our seats. I brushed away the tears and tried to put my fake it until you can make it smile on.
We were free for the night. One of my roommates invited me, and a bunch of other women to play cards. We found a game, and a space on the outdoor porch of the mansion. We talked a little as we played a few games until it was too dark to see and we all parted our separate ways to get some rest for the next day.
What had I signed up for? I still was unsure, but I told myself that I would trust the process, and give it my best shot. The people I had met so far all seemed nice, and for the first time in my life, it felt like others knew how it felt to be damaged or broken too.