I’ve never told my story publicly and in full like this before, but for my fellow survivors, I hope that my story shows you that you can have a better life. You possess the power to forgive and heal.
My idea of love as a child was watching my father throw stuff, yell and hit my mother. My mother often said that her life was a spitting image of Francine’s in The Burning Bed. She tried for years to leave my father, moving in and out of several shelters. But, she loved my dad and would end up lying to the shelters, saying that he changed, just so that we could go back to him. During one of my parents’ many fights, I recall crying a lot. Next thing I remembered was sitting on a children’s toilet in the emergency room, wondering why I couldn’t urinate. I also remembered not understanding why the police were there, and thinking that my father’s nightgown looked funny. Years later, I found out that my father had beaten my 5-year old body with a baseball bat that night, so severely that I had blacked out and lost normal body function for several weeks after.
That night was one of my “first lessons in survival,” as my therapist put it. I began to repress my emotions afterwards to avoid being hurt again. Yet, that’s not to say that I felt nothing in the years that followed. I felt constant fear and anger, the only emotions I had learned from my parents.
As an adult, I would throw stuff, yell and break things, without knowing why I was so angry. I even avoided buying glassware, because I had broken so many glasses (thank you, Target, for your hardcore acrylic cups!). I didn’t have the tools to deal with my anger, only the fear that I would become like my father. When I finally started going to therapy, I felt like a child emotionally – I had to relearn everything.
Though therapy helped, I still felt angry a lot. By the time I reached my late-20’s, I wanted so badly to understand the abuse and to show my father how it had affected me. But, I was scared to confront him, the man who punched my face at age 20, abused my mother and caused me so much fear in my childhood.
At around the same time, I took a trip to the Amazon rainforest. There, I met a local priest, by chance, who said that he “saw” my pain; that my parents loved me and had tried their best; and that I had to forgive them to move on. As crazy as it sounded, the priest’s words resonated with me. I knew it was time to confront my father, and subsequently bought a one-way plane ticket to visit him.
At my father’s house, I was so nervous that I avoided the topic for the first few days. After all, it had been years since we had last seen one another. Finally, on the last night of my stay, I abruptly turned to my father while we were watching TV, and let the words flow out. Why did he hit me and my mother? Did he know that I had repressed my own needs as a child out of fear? Did he also know that I was terrified of becoming a parent, because of him?
To my surprise, he didn’t walk away, brush me off or get angry. Instead, he sat there, talking with me for almost 5 hours. He listened to what the abuse did to me, at how angry I had been. He also opened up about how he had been hit as a child and how he had thought that was “normal.” I appreciated hearing his views and his listening to mine. For the first time in my life, he heard me. And, that’s all I needed to make peace with him.
As soon as the forgiveness took place, I felt this weight disappear. I was free to finally become the person I was meant to be. In the four years since that conversation, I have delved into my passion of art and have proudly joined the art community in Brooklyn. I am also happily married.
I am telling my story for one reason: to give hope to those who do not think that they can heal from their abuse. I have achieved what most people in my group therapy have yet to, which is the ability to forgive and heal. While I’m not over my anger entirely, I have become more aware of it. I am still learning to grieve my trauma rather than to hold it in. You may feel hopeless at times, but don’t ever let the abuse or the fear that you’ll be just like your abuser(s) rule you. For many years, I unconsciously held on to what I learned from my parents, which were anger and fear. But, I’ve since learned that I can have a better life and good relationships, and so can you. It’s ok to ask for help. We will only come out with more knowledge and self-awareness.
Lastly, to the service providers in this field, thank you for giving me food and caring looks, as well as for helping my mom, all those years ago in the shelters. Those were some of my safest and fondest memories of my childhood.
The image shown here is a piece that I created. The three hearts represent my parents and me, and the glow of the hearts symbolizes the warmth that I so craved as a child.
To protect my family’s privacy, I have asked to not give my name. You can call me “Susie,” though.