Monsters and Me: Growing Up with Abuse

A Personal Story of What It Was Like Growing Up with an Abusive and Alcoholic Father

There are days that I forget the memories rattling around in my head are mine and not some bad movie I watched. It's hard for me to imagine that the scared little girl always looking for an exist was a key part of who I was. But then there are days that I feel myself returning to her, as if I never grew out of her shoes. On those days I find it hard to get out of bed and face my life now, the depression being an uphill battle I'm never 100% sure I want to win. Some days I'm in my room, singing along to whatever song I'm listening to on repeat for the next few days, huge smile on my face, as I dance like nothing in the world can touch me. Other days I'm hiding under a mound of blankets, not eating for days, crying at the memories that berate me. On those days I think of all the questions that were left unanswered to me. Why did he love the bottle more than he did me? How come my sister was perfect but I was nothing to him? Why hasn't he changed after the drinking stopped? Where did everything go so very very wrong? 

My memories of my childhood feel more like broken glass, something I have to put together and be careful around, in case I get cut. I can't say I was always an unhappy child, to claim so would be a bold faced lie. My mother tried her hardest to temper my father's negativity with love and caring. Most of my good memories involve her. Planning pirate adventures around the yard, impromptu baking sessions with warm cookies we could eat for hours, dancing without a care in the world who was watching us. But dancing and cookies couldn't make up for screaming matches and bruises. 

People used to tell me I was the light of my father's life. I was the one he played with all the time, daddy's little girl, the apple of his eye. They told me that even when my sister was born I was his favorite, the preferred child he would spend hours practicing baseball with or taking on his latest errand. People tell me these things but it's never what I remember. I remember fetching my father's beers, being an afterthought on social outings with strangers cooing over my sister and her beautiful blond hair blue eyed combo. I remember playing with toys I never wanted but took anyways to be polite as my sister took anything she wanted. But most of all I remember fearing dinner. 

Coming home from school and seeing my mother in the kitchen preparing our next meal made my stomach turn. Being asked to join the family for dinner caused my feet to slow to a reluctant pace, dragging as if to protect me from what is to come. Dinner meant screaming. Dinner meant my father was drunk enough to lose control but not drunk enough to forget to leave the bruises when his fist connected with my body. It meant refusing to eat because I was sick to my stomach with nerves and having dinner pushed into my mouth as punishment for not liking my mother's cooking. It meant getting up to grab a cup left my mother sputtering out an apology, fear creeping into her voice, as if she knew what would happen before it did. It meant my father's fist banging on the table inches from my hand, having the power to silence the house, breath withheld in case he decided it offended him, waiting for his next move. Dinner meant a lot of things, none of them pleasant. It meant that I developed an eating disorder, going without food out of fear of what might happen; means I now forget my body needs substance. It meant people asking my why I eat so fast as if I was in a race when the truth was, the faster I ate, the faster I could get to the safety of my room. The less chance there was of something going wrong. 

In grade six I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I had already learned how to get into my father's gun locker and load a shotgun. I used to stare down the barrel as if it was a lifeline. I didn't eat for weeks, I hid from the cameras, hating the face I saw. I didn't lose weight, only gained it, to my father's disapproval. I had depression before I even knew there was such a thing. They don't talk about mental health before junior high. Friends told me their father grabbed them too hard trying to keep them from falling. It left bruises and the father worried over them in case the hurt ran deeper. It was such a foreign concept to me; my father was usually the cause of my fall. 

Kindergarten was a rough time. I felt fat and out of place, as if my baby weight was something I should be ashamed of. If I wasn't skinny then I was overweight, and that just wouldn't do for my father. No one expects you to hate yourself so young. They told us to play with the other kids but the boys made my heart flutter, and not for the reasons the adults thought. No bruises meant no proof. Children's aid was used as a weapon. Keep quiet, act right, be good or else I'll call in what happens and you'll never see your mother again. She'll go to jail and it will be all your fault. A guilt trip that kept my silence for years; no five year old should want to just stop existing. If a child didn't fear their father, I wasn't sure what world they where living in, turn out I was the stranger to normality. 

I learned from a young age words hurt just as much as any fist does. When I got older I felt like the streets where safer than my house, my room no longer my own. It turned into a space where my father could come in whenever he chose; nothing was mine if it was under his roof. Karate was supposed to protect me, but they never talked about how to stop your father's drunken rage, not when he took it too. Headlocks became hugs, pulling me from my room to place me where he wanted so I fit into his fantasy of having a perfect family. Screaming and crying became the main form of communication. The stairs that had once held my blessed escape where now the objects digging into my sides, bruising the bone. The carpeting doesn't do much to stop the impact. 

I never used to cry as a child. From the time I was one until seven I never let a tear fall from my eyes until I had broken a bone. After the boys won a dodgeball game they continued to hit us with the balls as we walked to the change room, taunting us, calling names. I hurried to the change room with tears starting to fall for the first time in years. I was more upset with myself then my taunters; tears make you weak little girl. My friends wouldn't leave me alone. They kept asking questions, all the wrong questions. The teacher never stopped to ask why I was crying so damn hard. A few silly boys wouldn't have caused the flood that was flowing from my eyes. A dam had broken and I was helplessly looking for a way to stop it; unable to tell anyone over the anger at my weakness. Words replaced by quick breaths and sobs. My teddy was my best friend most nights that year. They held all my secrets and they still do, unable to tell a soul the atrocities they hear. 

Abuse isn't just physical, though. My sister will never admit it but while she sat in her room crying, listening to the screaming going on downstairs, she was being abused. When my father made comments on my weight or how I would go nowhere in life if I followed my dreams. When my father would rather caress a bottle of rye than my mother. We were all being abused. When my mother stood at the base of my stairs screaming at my father to let me go as he brought me down the stairs in a lock that would easily break my arm and my sister sat at the table trying to avoid the tears that salted her food as she quietly ate. Abuse is as silent as it is loud. 

Make no mistake; this wasn't the full story. My father would rather have hugged his bottle of rye than his wife or myself for most of my life. Just before my mother left him, he decided to get clean. Everyone informed me that I should love him, that I should be proud of him. He was changing, after all; everything he had done before was just the bottle talking, it was the addiction; and for a while it looked like they where right. It looked like I just couldn't get over what had happened. Except it wasn't me. Except after my mom was gone I was forced into the role of his wife. I had to cook and clean. When we went out, for some reason, people always asked if I was his wife, and he got pleasure out of that. He liked it when people asked that. It meant that people thought he could get a younger woman, it was a boost to his narcissism. It made me feel sick. Realistically, I look like a younger version of my mother so that could very well be what it was, but it will never stop making my stomach turn in a fit of disgust and anger. 

It took months of blatant favoritism, neglect, forgotten birthdays, and never being enough for me to finally decide to leave. When I did he had started drinking again, staying out all night, every night with his friends, seeing his girlfriend we where never allowed to see. In fact, he never called his newest fancy his girlfriend until at least 6 months had passed, instead calling her a 'unidentified friend' and saying it was none of my business. When I finally did leave I was told that I was broken. That I "needed to see a therapist because I needed to learn to accept him how he was, drinking and all." 

It's sad to say the best memory I have of my father is when he used to make me BLT pitas for lunch on a weekend. I loved those things. I haven't talked to my father for four years, despite that he still claims that we talk every day and are the perfect family. I don't mind as long as he doesn't actually contact me. I don't know where to stop this little spiel of untold truths. There is always more that can be said or done when dealing with abuse, always one more person who understands. 

But for now, I will end this on a happy note. I'm at college for Social Service working out of spite to my father. He told me I couldn't do or achieve anything in the academic world, that all my ambitions where a waste. So I went into a program I can help others like myself, I can prevent more people like my father from hurting others the way I was hurt. And honey, I am doing amazing. 

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Monsters and Me: Growing Up with Abuse
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