This blog started as a journey of recovery from emotional abuse in my marriage, but what lies beneath is the story of a child who never healed or recovered from the domestic violence she experienced while growing up.
Your parents are meant to protect and nurture you and show you how to live well independently. Mine caused me a lifetime of suffering and I’m only now realising the full impact of that. While my father is in the final stages of leukemia and could die at any moment, I feel no compassion for him, or my mother, who insists on caring for him at home, despite the detrimental effect this is having on her health. All I can feel is intense anger for the pain they caused me and for the lifelong impact of the childhood they gave me.
My father was a violent, abusive man, towards me and my mother. Things were thrown, furniture was broken, people were hurt. I lived in fear of him and tiptoed around on eggshells whenever he was around.
My mother made excuses for him her whole life. She endured and put up with it. She didn’t walk away, she didn’t protect me, she took him back because she felt sorry for him, not thinking about the effect that would have on her and me. She always chose him. She felt sorry for him. Why didn’t she feel sorry for me? Or herself? Why did she put so much meaning into him and his place in her life? Why does he matter so much when he’s treated us so badly?
I know DV is complex. I know the relationships within it are complex, but I cannot bring myself to forgive either of them. I cannot understand.
I was forever trying to please both of them, still am. I am a perpetual people pleaser – one of the effects of DV on kids. And it seems so stupid because they’re the ones who hurt me and yet I’m the one looking for approval. Maybe if I do the right thing, one day, some time, they will finally stop hurting me. But it won’t happen. They will never acknowledge, or understand the effect their behaviour has had on me. That my lifelong anxiety, depression, poor sense of self and even my struggles with weight in recent years are all effects of my childhood experience with DV. It may be that my inability to form and maintain relationships is also linked to DV, as much as my probable autism.
He has no self-awareness of what he’s done. He just feels like a victim. He knows I don’t like him and he has no idea why. He just thinks I am an ungrateful daughter. He has no idea how hurtful his behaviour has been, even up to very recently. Always a snide remark, a hurtful comment, some way to bring the other person down.
I get that he has had a difficult childhood, but that doesn’t give him a free pass on not being a decent human. I’m not a shitty person because I experienced domestic violence as a child. Sure, I was not as brutalised as he was, but I’ve known of other people who have overcome hurtful childhoods and not become monsters.
I still panic at the sound of a car door closing outside my house. It brings back memories of when my father would return from work at odd hours in the afternoon while I was at uni and always have something mean to say to me. As soon as he was home I felt like I was in prison, like my whole body was tied up in chains of anxiety.
My arse still tenses up when I think of my father after all those times he hit me. What is it, if not CPTSD?
While I was making our traditional Polish poppyseed cake on the weekend before Christmas, I tried to dredge up some positive memories of my father from Christmases past. Sure I found some and we did have a lot of good Christmases, but lately, it’s been such a strain on everyone spending time with my parents. I’m always angry and my father is always mean. I always feel like I have to defend my children from my parents’ expectations and they can’t stop telling me how much better my cousins or their friends’ children are doing in life.
My father never took much interest in my boys, didn’t take them fishing, or didn’t show them anything of his hobbies. Didn’t involve them in his life at all, except for watching YouTube videos. This pretty much sums up his approach to children, they should be seen and not heard and certainly not an active part of your life. Although I do remember him taking me to see horses when he was into riding, but maybe that was just a photo I saw.
They say that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. If you know of a solution to letting go, then please share it with me. I know forgiveness is important, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.
My parents always had huge expectations of me and the weight of those expectations meant that I never felt I was good enough. They always threw me in the deep end of life and expected me to cope. There was very little nurturing going on throughout my entire childhood and adolescence. When I see how some parents treat and support their children well into adulthood, my mind boggles. I would kill for that kind of support. Although for a number of years, my mum did take the boys for a week each school holidays so that I could have a break.
This Christmas was tough, watching my father trail around the house with the rollator, a ghost of his former self, barely aware of what was going on around him. I felt pity for him and I felt angry that I would never get a chance to tell him what he did and how he made me feel. I felt angry that I couldn’t have an end of life conversation with him like you would with a wiser, kinder person. What was your fondest memory? What do you most regret?
Maybe underneath that anger is sadness.
I am sad for the father I didn’t have. The one who would protect me, look after me, teach me stuff. Not always point out the stuff I did wrong, or how I should have done it instead.
Yes, he did help me out a number of times as an adult, but it always seemed to come at this huge cost of having to feel enormous gratitude. And there were loads of times when he expected me to help him out, picking up and delivering spare parts for his truck in the middle of nowhere, no matter what I was doing.
Yes, he gave me some memorable gifts. He wasn’t a total monster. But the damage he did is undeniable and I’m still living with the consequences as a 53-year-old woman, who shouldn’t be afraid, but still is.
Also published on Medium.