You don’t know this but I still have nightmares about you. Whisked back unwillingly to a time when I was small and you were big and strong and powerful. I wake up bathed in a cold sweat, relieved at finding myself in my own bed in my own house. The man who changed everything lying by my side. Kids sleeping soundly, my daughter snuggled next to me with her nose in my armpit. I look at them and know that they are safe.
The dreams are not the worst of what happened. They are not dramatic – no blood or broken bones, but rather a reminder of the constant state of fear in which I lived. A fear that surrounded me so completely that I often failed to notice its existence. It was the scenery of my childhood, so all pervasive that I couldn’t see it until I left home and the landscape changed. When I moved into my new home with my future husband, I swore that I would leave the fear behind and we created a life together built on a promise of safety. A promise made and kept by a man who means what he says.
When I had my own kids, I promised them that they would never have to face feeling scared in their own home either. A basic tenet of parenting that most would take for granted, but not I. As I watch them grow, dragging me along on the magical journey of their childhoods, I find myself increasingly puzzled by your behaviour. The love I feel for them is immeasurable, the idea of hurting them anathema.
You on the other hand, would make me cry with your cruel taunts, telling me that if I didn’t stop you’d give me something to cry for. If I was lucky you’d soften and tell me that it was all for my own good and that you were toughening me up for the ‘real world’. If only I had known then that you were the biggest challenge I would ever have to face. Nothing out here in the real world has the power to hurt me as much as you did. If I was unlucky I would be given the choice of the belt or the slipper and then sent to my room for some imagined wrong. I would climb into my wardrobe and hide at the back behind the clothes. Sobbing quietly. Wishing I could close my eyes and disappear.
If we’d had you first we would never have had any other children you’d joke. Take a long walk off a short cliff. Go and play with the traffic or I’ll rip your arms off and hit you with the soggy ends. How you would laugh at your own wit. Always the joker, until I grew older and developed my own sharp tongue with which to retaliate. I soon learnt that things weren’t so funny then.
Your plan worked and I grew tough. I developed a hard and spiky shell and didn’t let anyone in. Years of emotional abuse meant that I blamed myself for your violence and thought myself worthless and unlovable. My defences began to feel like a cage and I struggled to be myself or express who I truly knew I was. When I met new people I would assume that they would automatically dislike me and that I would have to work to earn their approval. I couldn’t possibly let anyone realise this so I cultivated an air of bravado and pretended I didn’t give a shit. To my surprise, this worked. People thought I was strong and brave and even intimidating. I knew I was soft and warm but it was my secret. This was the real world after all.
I now know that the way you help kids to face the real world out there is to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. You don’t achieve this by trying to rip them apart and build them in your own image but rather you nurture them and love them and make them feel like the most special person on the planet. This was your job and you failed miserably.
It is for these reasons that I feel I will have to respectfully decline the invitation to your 70th party, arriving so unceremoniously in the post last week. I can’t quite bring myself to tell you that I never want to see you again, but I know this is in part because I have been raised to put the needs of others before my own. Selfishly I worry that you might die and then I will regret these lost years when it is too late. This wasn’t an easy letter to write and I already know that I will never send it. Each time I break the silence on your abuse however, I feel as if I gain a little bit more power and the shame of the survivor lifts. For this I am truly grateful.
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Powerful letter, and I’m sure it was painful to write. I’m sure it will help others who have had abusive parents and caregivers. The decision to cut contact, and the decision of how/whether to explain it, is very personal, and I’m not advocating one way or another. Just wanted to let you know that I cut off my abusive stepdad and his current, also abusive wife, about 7 years ago. My other family members aren’t thrilled but they have respected my decision. It has felt really wonderful, but it took a while to get here. I had to tell myself, like a mantra for a while, there is nothing good he can give me–even if he or I want that; I’m never going to get acknowledgment, apology, reparation–and I don’t need it anymore; I don’t owe him a single thing, a thought, a tear, let alone an explanation. My anger has gone as well, over time–that’s not the same as forgiving–I won’t forgive someone who’s never apologized, but I really don’t feel angry anymore. Sad, and I will forever. As far as the funeral–I’ve decided I’ll go if I feel like it, and not if I don’t. Our past relationship justifies me being there if I want to be, and I can feel what I feel there–no one else has the right to judge that. Hope this is helpful. If not–feel free not to post!
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I love you tasha xxx
Thanks for sharing your experience. It really helps to hear from others who have been through similar things. It’s also good to hear it’s okay not to forgive as there seems to be so much emphasis on this. I suppose I do still feel some anger but mostly sadness. I find myself grieving for the little girl in the wardrobe often.
Powerful is often an overused word but this truly is a powerful piece. I recognise elements of it so much so my heart hollows a little.
I’m glad you have found a kind of peace in your decision and a determination to not repeat the past.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your words. I’m sorry if you have had similar experiences but I’m glad you found this resonated with you. The more we speak out about this, the more we break the silence, the more powerful we become. I am so sick of feeling ashamed for what happened to me and my writing has really helped me to deal with the stigma.
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People can’t make others feel special when they don’t feel special themselves. They feel insignificant in the world so prey on those weaker and more vulnerable then them. Someone once told me that people are only a product of there own environment but we all have choices & I make the choice everyday to celebrate my kids, to nurture & love them when the big world at times, as they grow will not. Never will they feel as isolated and alone as I did growing up & never will they question if there is any point in them even being here. I forgive the parent that brought me so much pain. For inside it was them that was really dying.
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I agree. I think at some point we all have to make the choice whether to do what was done to us or to try and break the cycle. I always knew that as soon as I left home and was in charge of my own destiny then things would get better. Glad to hear you have broken the cycle too. Wishing you the all the best in your journey x
What if you can’t break the cycle? I have a 2 year old and a 4 month old. I receive therapy but there is so much anger that is still there. I grew up with an abusive caregiver it wasn’t my mother but nonetheless it has altered me for the worst. I struggle every day to not be the person that abused me. Some days are better than others but other times I wish I could disappear.
I totally understand what you’re saying and I struggle too. I’ve found that reading lots about child development and psychology has helped but I also had years of therapy. The fact that you even ask the question shows that you have self awareness and that you are trying to be different. Change is very difficult but it comes with time. Sending you much love on your journey.
I struggle to understand how any adult could want to harm a child, mentally or physically. The thought sickens me to my core. I am a mother and I was lucky enough to always have loving parents of my own, so it makes me unbelievably sad to think this isn’t the case for so many others. It’s the worst crime, isn’t it? Worse than killing person. because that child inevitable has some part of they childhood ripped away and will have to learn to live with their demons, forever.
Your letter is thought-provoking and though I don’t know you, I have an immense amount of respect for you. You must be a wonderful mother. Don’t ever feel any guilt for not contacting your father again – I should imagine you can only start to fully live without his poison resurfacing, once you have let him go completely.
Good luck xx
Thank you for your lovely comment. It is difficult to understand, even for me. I feel I have spent a long time looking for answers but now realise I will probably never get one. All the support I have received as a result of this blog post has helped me to feel strong enough to stand by my decision. Thanks again.
I’ve always been short for my age. “All good things come in little packages.” Well meaning adults would tell me. “Yeah, & so does poison.” My dad would quip. All in aid of toughening me up because if I couldn’t “take it” from him how would I possibly cope *when* other people did it. It’s been a decade since I moved out & still I only have a small collection of “safe” people who’ve pushed their way into my life & not taken no for an answer. Everyone else is too scary for me to befriend. I assume they won’t want to be friends with me which makes me come across as unfriendly/anti-social so people don’t try to make friends with me. I will be forever grateful for those who’ve seen past my defences & continue to ignore my reluctance when I’m having a “I’m too scared to talk to you” time.
It’s amazing the effect one person can have on a child & how that can affect them for the rest of their lives. If it wouldn’t break my mother I’d never speak to him again. Part of me hopes that he’ll die first so I can see my mum whenever I want to without that fear that he’s going to say something. Part of me hopes that mum will die first so I can finally tell him how much he’s hurt me before I blank him forever. Not sure what good that would do really, but I fantasise about having my say! 😉
I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I think emotional abuse can be so difficult to get over. I’m glad you have found some people you can trust. I don’t think the experience ever leaves you but it gets easier over time. Best of luck x
This was my life my childhood and my reason for blogging so glad you shared this.
Thank you. It always means so much to hear from other survivors. I will check out your blog.
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