Anything to do with mom issues.
When I read in The Dispatch, that October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, I wanted to write a column about Domestic Violence. When I write, I write from my heart, which means that I feel things intensely while I write. To do otherwise feels like a waste of time to me. So I approached my “task”, looking for my “entry point” into the issue. However, this time I felt stymied. I just felt sort of flat. What specifically should I write about? Then I read Margie Pizarro’s column in the October 16 issue of the Dispatch. I liked her column, she writes very honestly, and I like that. She mentioned the ancient adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.
I cringed inside myself, not from what Margie wrote, but from the misuse of that old adage that many adults use as an excuse for their own out of control behavior towards their children when they misbehave. In families that experience domestic violence, if there are children, they are affected more than anyone else in the family. If that violence is directed at a child and rationalized as “punishment”, it is still domestic violence, in fact worse than if directed towards a spouse.
Years ago I was taught two very important things about that Biblical quote. Both are good examples of what that adage truly means.
Long before the printing press, in early Jewish households, families that were well off enough, had religious scrolls, perhaps a copy of the ten commandments, in a holder above the entranceway to their home. The “rod” may have been a reference to this scroll in a tube above the doorway. In that instance, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” might have been an admonition to teach our children to follow the ten commandments. That makes a lot of sense!
Another explanation that was given to me had to do with a shepherd’s staff. A good shepherd uses his staff to block any escaping sheep, steering them in the right direction, to keep them safe, and close at hand. The sheep learn to follow his direction in time, trying to go off on their own less often. They learn to trust and anticipate him. He does not beat them with the rod out of his own frustration! That would be a bad shepherd!
What I have learned is, that many adults confuse the difference between discipline and punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “disciplina” which means to teach, or to lead. To discipline a child, is to make them a disciple! A disciple is lead by example, and they want to be like the one they follow! Discipline is not punishment!
- The purpose of discipline is to correct and promote positive moral and ethical development.
The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, to exact a “pay back” for wrongs.
- The focus of discipline is positive future behavior.
The focus of punishment is past misdeeds.
- The attitude and emotional makeup of the one doing the disciplining is Love.
The attitude and emotional makeup of the punisher is Anger, or worse, perhaps rage.
- The reaction of the one being disciplined will be security and trust, and a desire to emulate.
The reaction of one being punished will be fear, guilt, hostility, or worse, perhaps terror, shame, and rage.
As you can see, both parent and child fare better in discipline than in punishment. Discipline cannot be commandeered by an out of control parent in order to vent their rage and frustration on their own, powerless children.Â Punishment can. When it is, we make both more victims, and more perpetrators for a world that already has too many of both.
I am not always like this, of course. However, in the course of my life, I continue to cycle in and out of my issues to gain mastery over them.
I try so hard to be good. I try so hard, that sometimes, it consumes me. I allow myself no wiggle room, no permission to just be human. Sometimes, I try to anticipate my wife’s bad moods, watching what I say and do, and how I say and do. Maybe I do her thinking for her, so that she doesn’t have those moods, or I might help her do her thinking to get her out of those moods. Sometimes if someone is angry, or going to be angry at me, I do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I am rewarded for this, by others seeing me as “strong” or “together”. I am smart. I am kind. I am respectful. I am attentive. I am empathic, and I am dead tired. Sometimes I am so busy doing all this, and being responsible for everyone else, and everything else, that there is no room for me, inside me. I know why I do this.
In 1955, when I was 4 ½ years old or so, I followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of neighborhood kids down Circle Drive, in our little town of Trooper. We ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand. After an hour or so, when they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up. Now, a 4 ½ year old kid takes something like that seriously! Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. I was terrified! I thought I was going to die there, all alone, that no one would ever find me. I distinctly remember that being my fear.
Eventually, my mother came looking for me, and “beat the crap” out of me as soon as she found me. I could make a hundred excuses for her – she was scared because she hadn’t known where I was, or she was scared that she could be in trouble, or be seen as a bad mother, or any number of other excuses. But the fact remains that at that moment she remained focused on herself, and had no empathy for a 4 year old child’s distress! She put responsibility on me, not herself! She should never have allowed me to be in that situation. Her responsibility was to keep an eye on me, not allow me to wander off with older children for hours at a time! That was her responsibility! This is the earliest memory I have of her beating me. There would be hundreds, if not thousands of more times that her beatings would occur, their force, her rage, my fear, her contempt, and her lack of taking responsibility growing each time.
At 4 years old, I was a needy, gentle, naive, deeply feeling, intuitive, impulsive child “ just the way I was meant to be. I looked to others for their definition of me. Let me say that again: I looked to others for their definition of me. I looked to others for their definition of me, their acknowledgement, love, attention, and reasoning. I looked to others to show me how to fit in, how to express my thoughts and my feelings, to learn what was right and what was wrong. I trusted that what my mother told me was true, and that how she acted was right. There was no argument about that in my little 4 year old mind. I would have to try harder to be good.
My mother’s violence towards me, taught me that I was worthless and defective. Her demeaning words of contempt would eventually solidify my view of myself.
A child has no grasp on their own impulsiveness. They are a cauldron of churning, boiling feelings. Their impulses are fueled by those feelings. How ferociously this cauldron boils is dependent upon their experiences. When they are met constantly with craziness and terror; when their caregivers are dishonest, violent, and impulsive themselves, the “cauldron” often boils over. They are seen as “bad”, defective, or worse, by adults who themselves do not understand either their own or a child’s impulsiveness. They do not understand that children operate by impulse, those impulses fueled by feelings that the children have because of how they are treated and seen by these very adults! How is a child to untangle themselves from such a “catch 22″ situation? They cannot. Often they never will, even as they get older. They mature in years, seeing themselves as these adults have seen them, never understanding the nature of their impulsiveness, seeing themselves as “bad”, defective or worse. Escalation is an integral part of this mechanism. As the adults continue to see these children acting on their impulses, their misguided view of the children is solidified. Their reactions and judgment continue in themselves, and reactions in their children continue to escalate. Often other more favored children are brought into this drama, seeing their brother or sister as the parent sees them. The child singled out for this drama, is completely alone, “knows” that they are different from everyone else, because they see every member of their family treating them that way. Isolated from those who see the child this way, the child is left to their own devices in dealing with the violence and craziness, and more importantly, the feelings they are left with because of it.
All through my childhood, I could never seem to do anything right. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt growing up with this. I remember feeling listlessness, loneliness, and a tightness in my chest, that seemed to contain something unknown and hungry, something that needed to be filled or satisfied, but never could be. Rather than soft, gentle, warm, fuzzy, happy, content hopeful feelings, I had internalized the TERROR and DESPAIR of being raised by someone who more often than not was out of control. I never knew what to expect from my mother. Sometimes she was childlike and “nice”, while other times, she was like a wild animal, ready to devour me if I said or did the “wrong” thing. It would have been less crazy, if she had been wild all the time.
Over time, I learned to read her moods, in order to avoid her during her worst times, but my own impulsiveness set me up to do things that got me in trouble anyhow. My language skills grew as I tried to talk myself out of trouble. Nothing I said (or did) made any difference with her. I found better more precise ways of saying things so I wouldn’t be in trouble, all to no avail. I tried so hard to be “good”, but my own impulsiveness would get me in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, or later, for me! If only I could just get it right! But always the axe would fall, and I would find myself dealing with an enraged, out of control woman, ready to hurt me. The fact that she could so easily rationalize her own behavior, made her exceedingly dangerous. At any time, she might have killed me. Over and over and over, I was terrified of her, and terrified that she would kill me. Unless you experienced this, you cannot know what it is like. But I am asking you to try.
As a society, we have grown enough to recognize that it is wrong for an enraged husband to beat his wife. “Just a little hitting” is not OK. We even understand the mechanisms in him that allow him to do this. We understand how his abuse affects her. We understand that he is teaching her that he “owns” her, that she is powerless, in fact even defective and worthless! A mother who beats her children because of her own out of control rage teaches these same terrible lessons to her children. She fills their hearts with terror, rather than love, despair rather than hope, worthlessness, rather than integrity and value.
As a society, we must stop making excuses for parents who beat their children. I am tired of all the excuses. The Law looks for marks on the outside, but we must learn to see the marks it causes on the inside! We must stop automatically defending the right of a parent to beat their children by calling it child rearing, or shifting responsibility to the child by seeing them as “difficult” and the parents as blameless. “Just a little hitting” is not OK!
As a society, when we have grown enough to value our children enough to truly protect them, then perhaps, we can turn our attention toward helping so many others, child and adult alike, who have already been injured. That is the one right place to “try so hard”!
“God-damn-it! So help me Christ, I swear there’s something wrong with you, you rotten son-of-a-bitch”, she screamed. I see her in my mind’s eye, above me, always above me, glaring at me, red-faced, her mouth full of teeth, sharp and somewhat yellow-stained, ready to throw more bony fisted punches if I dared to challenge her omnipotence. She said things like that to me in a voice tinged with hysterical rage. Actually, not tinged, (if the truth be known), but filled with rage, overflowing with rage.
I never knew how far she would go, how much she wanted to hurt me, how much she would allow herself to inflict on me, or how long she would continue. Her rage became my terror.
Her “disgust” of me was convincing, I know she believed her own lies. Unfortunately, my sisters and I learned to believe them too.
I wonder why she started on this crusade to convince not just me, but the whole family, that I was dirty, defective, broken, lazy, bad, stupid, and maybe even crazy. She started when I was 4 or 5. I was a child, and children do “bad” things, especially when they are getting the crap scared out of them by an out of control adult like my mother. I think she needed me to be “wrong”, so she could be “right”. I had to be scared, so she could feel powerful. I had to be “bad” so she could feel “good”. She must’ve done that to me 10,000 times if she did it once. Back in her childhood, she had felt a lack of power, and she was bound and determined as an adult to feel that power that she had missed.
My sisters believe that my mother loved them (and me). They believe that I should believe that too. They tell me that I should focus on the “good times”, and all the “good” things my mother said. I don’t remember her telling me too many “good” things!
I can imagine that after just one terrifying episode with my mother, I was probably immune to the next 100 compliments (if they would have been available.) That’s not a defect in me, that’s just a fact of life!
I learned to not trust adults because she, quite frankly, was untrustworthy. There has to be trust for a compliment to do its job. A compliment is like food for our emotional system. As children we need many each day for us to feel OK, competent, strong, loving, and calm.
Looking back, I believe often she hated me, and barely tolerated me other times. For some reason, she saw all the bad things in herself, when she looked at me. There was no reason for her to do that, other than the fact that I was an innocent, intelligent, sensitive child, with all the self-centered needs that all children have. She taught me to see myself in the awful way she saw me from the start. I didn’t have a chance to see me any other way.
A mother who loves her children.
-is a mother who beats her children with her fists?
-is a mother who screams like a wild animal while she beats her children?
-is a mother who calls her children “rotten sons of bitches of bastards” while she beats them?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that “there is something wrong with you”?
-is a mother who tells her children that she wishes they were never born?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that they are “disgusting”?
-is a mother who tells her children “you make me sick to my stomach”?
-is a mother who beats her son with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe?
-is a mother who ties her children to a chair?
-is a mother who tells her 9 year old son that she’d kill him if she could get away with it?
-is a mother who unleashes her unbridled rage on her children, and blames them for it?
-is a mother who does all these things countless times, while pretending to be the victim?
Honesty demands that we say “No!”
Honesty demands that we acknowledge that a mother, who does all those things to her children, does not truly love her children, perhaps through injury, she cannot.
All those things are Not Love.
Special note to readers:
* I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few, very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our) story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today! Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to use your support network if your “buttons” get pushed. Thanks, and take care!
Break the Silence, Break the Cycle
* I listened to a news report about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child. The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!
* I have also read of the growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached words, “corporal punishment”, with a shudder, and I ache inside, when I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child’s most basic, God-given rights – to own one’s own body, and to expect others to acknowledge that ownership!
* Violence is a coward. It hides inside families that look “fine” from the outside, and causes both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality, both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually, they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.
* The continuation of violence in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect those who wield it. Families heal, only when members speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line, we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial. Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had. Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over, by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage, and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy, who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen with your Heart!
* My mother was all sharp edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones. Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the last; not because I thought she’d stop, but because I thought she’d kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living in it!
* It started when I was four or five years old, and didn’t stop until I was fourteen or fifteen. Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation that turned into forty without my knowing it.
* Other times she took me into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father, men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line, the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was crazy. That didn’t make it any easier.
* Giving in to violent urges always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have been impossible.
* One thing that was worse than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror. We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment. There were some things that we never did again, because we had been beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual in us, was all but destroyed!
* I remember this one time when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink, ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead, she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn’t want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm raised. Every part of her shook. I don’t know how long I held my breath; sometimes I’m still holding it, even now. All this happened in about thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen. Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but it left a wound in me that is only now healing.
* I believe that the door to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence, as my mother got worse. I couldn’t remember the terror of that moment until this year. It was too much. I’ll be forty three in July. Sometimes, now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective. No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes, I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends. I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the things that I’m feeling, are the very things that I was told as a child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least pulled the nails in that door!
* We must remember that violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse, is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair. When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge. The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can “see”. At least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially, into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future, into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many of “my” beatings – Hell! – their beatings took place there, and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape. I’d lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn’t escape them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing emptiness. Any time they’d start to come up the stairs, I remember my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I’d feel, like an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!
* Eventually, my father was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror, and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,), writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die, if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don’t.
* What I do know, is that now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant little child’s attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures, but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you tells you every day that it is wrong!
* A long time ago, the little boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone. I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies. It wasn’t right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me) to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary, not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating with Truth, and Life, and Love.
Riding bikes with my sisters. Rainy day, indoor tricycle marathon. Around and around, how fast can we go? Through the kitchen. Multicolored dots on a blue-gray background, the linoleum gives the illusion of speed. Around the corner, often nicking the white trim of the doorway, and into the small utility room. Past washer, dryer, and gray double utility tubs. Through the doorway, and into the long skinny hallway. Black tiles, twelve inches square form the road surface. Soft green latex paint on porous particle board paneling is our landscape. Past the bathroom on the left, the door is always open. past the door that we don’t use to the basement, always shut. Nailed shut. White, even the hinges are painted white. There is no doorknob, and I always wanted to open it, just because we weren’t allowed. Nearing the end of the hallway, the highway widens, as the stairway over the basement door empties into the hallway. Forbidden territory on the left, THE DINING ROOM. Access to the living room on the right. Dead end ahead if the door to the front porch is closed. We called it the front porch, event though it was on the back of the house. That would have confused alot of people, but we did alot of things like that. A hard turn to the right, brakes, and tires, and vocal cords squealing, then another hard turn to the right, just inside the 24 by 16 living room, the kitchen just in sight. Slower going, off road carpet driving. Past the alcove on the left, where we kept all the books that no one read, past the fireplace that we did all like to use when the fighting wasn’t going on. Past the other alcove with the built in desk. Through the eight or ten foot wide access to the kitchen, back onto the speckled linoleum. Breathless! Excited! Forgetting, especially, any fear or sadness, (and there was enough of both!) Wanting more and more of this drug called fun! Breathless abandon, giddy, don’t have to make sense feeling. Laughing, pretending. Anything possible. Temporarily powerful! YOU KIDS STOP THAT BEFORE SOMEONE GETS HURT! ROTTEN SONS OF BITCHES! I’LL BE DAMNED IF YOU KIDS RUIN TODAY LIKE ALL THE OTHER DAYS! BUNCH OF SCREAMING FILTHY ROTTEN BRATS! STOP ALL THAT DAMN NOISE! YOU MAKE MY LIFE MISERABLE! SONS A BITCHES! ALL YOU DO IS WANT WANT WANT! STOP THAT NOISE! IF I HAVE TO COME IN THERE SOMEONE IS GOING TO HAVE TO PAY! SO HELP ME GOD, I’LL TAKE ALL THOSE DAMN TRICYCLES AND BURN THEM IF YOU DON’T BEHAVE!
KA knocks her head on the doorway, and starts to cry. I’m right behind her. I’m the one who is gonna pay. All Hell breaks out.
I am being propelled backwards. My throat hurts, and I want to choke, where my shirt is pulled tight against the front of my spine. My feet get tangled in the tricycle, and it falls off to the right, knocking over the trash can. Kathy is forgotten, the sound of her crying, mixes with my own, and I am in a land of terror very different from the utility room, I just was in. Pain in my shoulder as she twists me around. Terror squeezes me out of my own experience. I am dimly aware of the excruciating burning on my rear end, but I am very aware of my fear that this time she will kill me. I live with that fear, for an eternity.
YOU GET UPSTAIRS TO YOUR ROOM! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! GOD-DAMN YOU!
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU! GET UPSTAIRS BEFORE I REALLY GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!
Up in my room, I am alone, outcast because of my defectiveness. I despair, because I know that this will never stop happening. Nothing will ever change. There is no one to comfort me. I am scared of everyone, and everything. I believed her, when she said that I deserved to be hit. She is right, and I am wrong. She is good, and I am bad. If I am lucky, I quietly cry myself to sleep.
T. told me what your response was to my letter. I am sorry you reacted that way, but it was how I expected you to react. I wanted you to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. Quite frankly, I wrote that letter for you, not for me. I know that you probably won’t be here for too much longer, and I wanted you to have a chance of leaving this life without anger and resentment. You told T. that you were still angry from when I called you “a crazy old woman” during an argument we had. If you believe that I called you that, you have me mixed up with someone else. As an adult, I have never resorted to calling people names, and I have never called you names of any kind. In fact, I have never directly expressed any anger to you that I may have had towards you in any meaningful way. I have also never directly told you how I felt about how you treated us as children. I have only alluded to your anger, and my reaction to it. You called me many names when I was a child, but as an adult, I do not do that to anyone, even to you. I also live by a code of honesty that demands that I do not pussy foot around the truth. When you say something that is untrue, I am not afraid to challenge your version. I don’t resort to name calling.
I told you a long time ago that it was your anger which pushed us apart. I told you that for most of my life I was afraid of your anger. I have chosen those in my life who do not choose anger, and resentment, and negativity as a state of being in their lives. I have done that, because that is what healthy, people do. Healthy people stay away from folks who nurture their resentments, or spend an inordinate amount of time complaining. You have a problem with both. You even chose your anger and resentment and negativity over having a relationship with 2 of your grandchildren, S. and F. . For almost 20 years, I raised my sons by myself. You complained to K. and KA. and T. about how awful it was the way we lived. Yet you chose to take very little interest in your own grandchildren, nor did you offer to help make things better for them. Instead you just chose to complain, and to paint me as the bad guy, who couldn’t do it right, just like when I was a child. You got to feel powerful and righteous, but you missed the lives of your grandchildren. You have no idea what wonderful men they have become, nor have you shown any interest in even finding out! Other folks. who were around all through S. and F.’s childhood could look past the lack of money, and see the fine job I did all through that time, even though we were dirt poor. You choose to see what you want to see despite the facts. I always wished that you wouldn’t do that.
Since I am telling you the truth here, you should know that you have a more negative attitude towards life than anyone I have ever met. I always wished that you weren’t that way. It is such a waste. You just about drive K., and KA., and T. crazy with all of your negativity, complaining about other people, almost to the exclusion of other conversation, but they put up with it. I don’t. I chose to stay away, praying that you would change, so that I could have a normal relationship with you. I will also not pretend that all your violence was OK. It wasn’t. What kind of parent beats her children with her fists, screams at the top of her lungs while doing that, obscenities coming out of her mouth with not the slightest bit of shame or guilt? What kind of parent beats their child with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe? What kind of mother threatens then chases her kids with a butcher knife? Much of what you did to us would put you in jail nowadays and you did more of it, more often to me. K. and T. know that to be true. I know that to be true also, yet I have forgiven you. I know you weren’t all bad. You did many things for us when we were kids, don’t get me wrong. I see how hard it was for you and Daddy, and I see that you took time for cub scouts and brownies and girl scouts. But the hurt that you inflicted on all of us changed us forever. It crippled us emotionally to one degree or another. Just like the hurt that your mother and father and brother inflicted on you, changed you forever. But as adults, we have the power to shape our lives. With God’s help, and only with God’s help, we get to steer our lives, and to make choices that are different than our childhood injuries would dictate, and different than those who hurt us in the past. That is our sacred responsibility in this life. That profound truth has been embraced by all of your children to one degree or another, including myself. You allow your childhood injuries to dictate how you act in this life, and you continue to hold onto anger and resentment at me and at Daddy, which really belongs to your mother, your father, and your brother. And you have so little time left. I know that you do not understand any of this. I pray that God’s grace can allow you to. I am sure that K and T pray that same prayer.
When I was a child, you blamed your rage on our behavior. Did we misbehave? Of course! But no one has that kind of reaction to a child’s misbehavior. Your rage was always there, and was always just below the surface ready to pounce. It was not about any of your children’s behaviors. It kept growing all the years that I was a child. It was so large, and so unrestrained, and unfettered, that it could only have come from your past. Many people understand issues like this. It is self evident to them. They either come from families without the violence that was in ours, or they have recovered from that kind of violence.
Beating your children is violence. It keeps them from reaching their potential. It keeps them from becoming the person that God wants them to be, because it can permanently damage them! It takes most of an adult’s time and energy to overcome that kind of damage. It takes enormous energy to keep from inflicting the same kind of damage to our own children. It takes the kind of honesty that allows criticism, and demands that we own our own anger, and do not blame it on our children.
When you beat us with your fists, and you did that often, and hard, you told us how we were terrible, ugly, disgusting, evil, bad, rotten, and all the other adjectives you used that I won’t repeat here. You taught us to believe those terrible things about ourselves. When a child is taught that they are “bad”, then they act “bad”! When you are taught that you are ugly, and disgusting, that there is something wrong with you, you go through life even as an adult, believing that and reacting to it. You did that to me, to K. and T.. Mostly, you did not do that to KA..
I have been fortunate in my adult life. I have received the help I needed to get past what you did to me. I was able to replace all those terrible, unrepeatable adjectives that you put inside me while you beat me with more truthful adjectives. It has taken me most of my adult life. It has also taken most of my adult life to rid myself of the rage that you put inside me when you beat me like you did. Rage that I had to resist my whole life, the same rage that you never resisted when you beat us. I knew it was wrong to beat my kids, and I resisted all the anger that I carried from your beatings, and didn’t beat my children. You never resisted your rage.
The many counselors and therapists who helped me all the years it took to heal were in every case astounded by the level of violence and mistreatment in our family. No one calls their children what you called us every time you beat us. It is no wonder that we misbehaved. On one hand we were terrified of your beatings. On the other hand we were left with so much fear and anger, and “nervous energy” from your previous beatings, and all the terrible things you called us, that we were bound to misbehave in some form or another.
You may believe that I am still angry at you, and that is why I am telling you this. That is not true. The fact is that none of your children have ever really stood up to you, to tell you how your behavior affected them. We were children, you were the adult. It was your responsibility to protect and nurture us. It was your responsibility to resist the rage that you carried inside yourself since childhood. It is also your responsibility now, before you cross over, to realize your mistakes, to feel bad for all the hurt you have caused others, and to ask God to forgive you. Forgiveness only comes through remorse, and we are forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. The first step is to be able to take criticism, and to use absolute honesty to see if there is any truth to the criticism we receive. If I can embrace this simple principle, you can too. But it is your choice. I pray that you make that choice. Anger and resentment are poor fuel for one’s life. If you embraced a life where the glass was not half empty, not even half full, but mostly full, you would have so many loving people around you, that you would wonder why you had lived over 80 years seeing the glass so empty.
Your son, Ken S
For something that’s supposed to do so much good, Forgiveness sure can be an uncomfortable topic for survivors. I believe too often, survivors are told “you must fully forgive” to heal. When well-meaning folks have told me that, I feel a little bit re-injured, because the inference is that I have not done all I can do, or I haven’t done it right, or fast enough, therefore I am at fault! The last thing a survivor needs to hear, even if it is indirectly, is that they are at fault! I believe, too often, folks who just want us to “stop belly-aching”, and tell us to forgive, are truly uncomfortable with our feelings, the very feelings we are trying to share about the abuse. To truly empathize would be to bring those same feelings up in themselves, and they are invested in keeping those feelings at arms length, at all cost!
Sometimes brothers or sisters want the “fairy tale” ending. In their story, everyone lives happily ever after, if only the victim (their brother or sister) “forgives” the parent for their crimes. In fact, this sibling might avoid the use of words like crimes or abuser when cajoling their brother or sister to “patch” their relationship with the abuser. In their story, everyone loves each other and finally they have the family they always wanted.
I should tell you, that I love my sisters. They are good, kind people, fellow survivors, and each at different places in their journeys. Recently, one of my sisters asked me “to take the high road” and “fully forgive” my mother for her abusive behavior when I was a child. This abuse included threatening me with a butcher knife, tying me to a chair, beating me with her fists, telling me she would kill me if she could get away with it, and constantly telling me that there was something wrong with me, that I was ungrateful, unloving and unlovable. This abuse happened repeatedly, and consistently from the time I was four or five, and continued into my teens. What my sister wanted me to do was go to my mother, fully letting her off the hook for everything she has ever done, and still is doing, and to tell this woman who was never there for me in any substantial consistent emotional way, that I am sorry for not being there for her since my dad died. I don’t have any feelings left for this woman. I have cried gallons of tears for all the hurt and loss, and I have raged on paper, at punching bags and pillows, and with the courageous people who have been there for me during the years of healing it has taken me to get rid of the poison that this woman put in me with her violence and hatred. I have no feelings good or bad for her anymore, and yet I am to approach her as a sacrificial lamb so that she doesn’t feel abandoned, and so that she doesn’t feel guilty for crimes she committed against children that would have put her in jail even 40 or 50 years ago when they occurred!
I felt angry when my sister asked me to do that, and I feel angrier now as the full impact of it sinks in. I ask myself would Jesus let her off the hook like that? My answer is yes, BUT ONLY IF SHE REPENTED. She would have to feel guilty first, her heart would have to go out to those she hurt, and she would have to ask for forgiveness. True and absolute forgiveness only happens through responsibility and repentance. Victims struggle in their own way, at their own speed, and on their own path to find what I call forgiveness. That forgiveness is a result, or a destination that they arrive at, after fully venting, and sharing their feelings of outrage, loss, sadness, and terror with empathetic witnesses, seeing in the eyes of those witnesses, the recognition of the severity of their injuries, and meeting other needs that they might have around those injuries. This is the lonely journey faced by most survivors of child abuse, when their perpetrators are unwilling to face what they have done, or to take responsibility, and to fully apologize with feeling to the survivor for their behavior. The tears shed by a perpetrator who fully acknowledges the injuries they have caused in others might be tears that don’t have to be shed by the victim of those injuries! Instead, in most cases, all the work of forgiveness is left to the victim, and I would assert that it is fully up to them how much, and of what type of forgiveness to dispense. The rest, we leave to God, Who is truly the only One with the Power to forgive..
Lately I have been dealing with a number of health issues that have been adding more stress (fear and uncertainty) to my life. Actually, if the truth be known, I seem to have more of these at one time than ever before in my life, and they are serious as well as numerous. Individually, I have been handling them head-on, with both courage and perseverance, and by asking for God’s help, and relying on Him to guide me through the morass of decisions and behavior changes that I’ve had to make. My health issues are a bad thing, but God is using them for good, and is helping me to rely on Him more. He doesn’t want me sick, and He never did. He loves me, and in that love, he allows me to lead my life, to make decisions, even bad ones sometimes. And no matter what, He keeps on loving me. He doesn’t do bad things to me. He doesn’t cause my health problems. He lets me live my life, and waits for me to ask for His help, or His guidance. He doesn’t just push me aside, and take over, because He is so much bigger and more powerful than me. Sometimes, He might put something in my way to keep me safe, just as a shepherd might have a fence near a steep ravine, to keep his sheep from falling, and hurting themselves. But His Power and Love are gentle, and quiet, and he waits for me to ask. You might say His love is polite, and respectful, and I believe firmly that he delights in our abilities to overcome the obstacles that we face. He is a good parent.
Friday night, just before dinner, my wife and I were working on our computers. I had barbeque chicken on the grill outside, homemade “baked” beans in the crock pot, and fresh garden string beans boiling on the stove. I had written to my son a few days ago, telling him about all my recent activities, as well as my health issues, and had just checked my email to see if he had replied, and he hadn’t. I had also written to another relative a few days before, trying to bring her up to date on what was going on in my life – both good and bad, because I am trying to develop an honest full relationship with her, not just the shallow, “how’s the weather?” type of relationship that we’ve had in the past. In other words, I am letting her get to know the “real” me. I told her about our gardening, and all the fresh veggies we were getting, the changes that we had made to become healthier, and also some of my fears and struggles that had to do with my health issues. She did email me back, but it was a reply that did not acknowledge even one thing I had told her in my letter to her. It was like she hadn’t heard a thing I said. Her letter was nothing but a litany of all the bad things happening to her in her life. Her letter reminded me of my attempts to develop even a rudimentary honest relationship with my mother. I felt disappointed by my sister’s response, and my son’s lack of response. Between you and me, my son will write back. I love him, and I am proud of him, and he almost always does the “right” thing. He has no problem “taking the high road”. But at that moment, I did feel disappointed, and a little more of the emotional “wind” got knocked out of me.I swung my chair around in our little office, to check the messages on our answering machine. Our office is in our home, and is about eight feet by twelve, so almost everything is within reach, whether it is the answering machine, the printer, the filing cabinet, or our dog Goldie, who is usually right in the middle of the floor. She has no problem being in the middle of things, or being part of our family. She knows we love her, and she loves us, and her “job” is just being herself. One of the messages on our machine was from Beaufort Hospital, asking me to please call them. I wondered (aloud, to my wife Susan) if it was their billing department wanting to ask me how I was going to pay the latest emergency room visit, or whether it had something to do with the MRI that I was scheduled to have on the following Monday. I was scared that it had to do with billing. I have no health insurance, like many folks in our community. It was 6pm, and the message was from earlier that afternoon. Susan handed me the phone and said “call them”. My fear rose (about it being about money for the emergency room visit), and I said something like “I’ll call tomorrow”. Susan continued to hand me the phone, and said much more insistently “Call them!” My response was intense anger. I said, “Why do you always make me do things that I don’t think are the best things to do?” I called the number that had been left on our machine, and, of course, got an answering machine, not a live person. My anger grew. I noticed that I was much angrier than the situation warranted, but my anger was so big, that I didn’t know much more than that, and left the room. I was feeling rage.
In the living room, I sat in a chair with a big bowl of string beans from our garden, a pot, and a pair of scissors. These beans were for the freezer. Later they’d become things from the past, to feed us in the present. My rage slowly subsided. Sadness grew along with a different feeling, more a state of being than a feeling. Something I hadn’t consciously felt for a long, long time. I felt despair. As I snipped the ends off, and cut the beans into smaller, more manageable pieces, the thought of suicide crossed my mind. I didn’t consider doing it. I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t planning to do it. But nevertheless, here is this stray thought that passes across the screen of my awareness. I realized it was something from the past, thawing in the present, allowing me a window into what I had felt as a child. My reaction to my wife telling me what to do, triggered this reaction from the past. My anger at “being controlled” provided the fuel to “thaw” this part of my history. I had wanted to kill myself when I was a child.
As a child, my parents controlled every part of my life, and they did it out of their own fears, and insecurities. They didn’t trust the future. They didn’t trust me to become who I needed to become. They didn’t trust God, to guide me or them, or to complete his creation in me to become me. I was not allowed to be a child, to be less than perfect, and to make the numerous mistakes that we all make as children. This control was unrelenting, and it was severe. It was absolute. Even at age 18, I was told what I was going to do in my later life. What school I would go to. What I would study. There was no area in my life, where I could make my own decisions, so that I could start to learn how to live my life. That unrelenting control for so many years, filled me with despair, because my spirit wanted me to become the person I was meant to become, and to be the person I was at that moment wherever I was along that path of “becoming”. Their control taught me to never listen to my spirit, to only look outside myself, never inside. Their control tore my ability to know what I truly felt about anything out of me. A person who loses his ability to connect to his feelings, to connect to who he truly is, has only despair, a despair that is enormous, all consuming, and so lonely, that I just don’t have words to describe it. That despair had made me want to kill myself for much of my childhood. Later, even though their control was gone, the despair remained, and fueled the addictions I used to quell the despair that was left in place of the connection I should have had to everything that makes me who I am, and guides me to become who I will be. By paying attention to what I am feeling in the present, I can connect with how I was in the past. By re-experiencing the past, I have learned empathy for the kid I was, and judge myself less harshly in the present. Self acceptance brings more peace into my life. I learn to trust that my feelings will lead me into deeper and deeper healing.
I am so fortunate. Against all odds I am connected to myself and my feelings. I know who I am, and I listen for directions within myself that help me become who I will be. Sometimes they tell me stories about where I have been, and release frozen pieces of my past, in small manageable pieces, so that I can heal. God made us this way, so that no matter what people do to us when we are children, we have the ability to heal, and to get back on the path of becoming who he wants us to be. We are partners in this, and as I said before, I can imagine that he delights in our becoming who he wants us to be, and the roadmap is inside ourselves. By the way, my son did call today, and acknowledged everything I had written to him. I am so proud of him.
This piece is about how I felt as a child, and how I felt about her as I began to see the full scope of her abuse of me.Â Now, I see her as someone who was emotionally unbalanced, and just a sad woman, wasted by her own anger.
She controlled every part of my life, every part of me with no letup. None. Ever. She beat me, and belittled me, and shamed me, and hated me, because I existed, and sometimes I existed only for her sadistic violent pleasure. In me she could find all she hated about herself. In me she could find everything she despised. In me she could find excuses to hurt, to make the hurt in me, not her. She sacrificed me to her god of violence and hate and hurt. The monster god that I saw in her eyes and mouth, and fists. The vengeful god that she paid homage to through her violent rituals that she acted out on my body. Rituals of pain that she embraced. Rituals of pain and hate that had no rules except that I would be the one to feel the pain, she the one inflicting it. She welcomed this monster god into her heart, and embraced its power. The monster god, that is always ready to break free, too large to be contained. She used a communion of pain and blame and shame, to put her bastard monster god in me. It wasn’t enough that she welcomed it into herself. She had to sacrifice me to it too. It demanded its just due. It fed on the fear and weakness of others. Meals of little boys and little girls, so that the monster god could grow. The monster god was everything, we were nothing.
1998 Ken S.