Carla's Story - Children Witnessing Abuse
Carla, one of the many children witnessing abuse, in the form of domestic violence inflicted by her step-father on her mother, is very familiar with the effect on children, including the physical and verbal abuse toward herself and her siblings. This is her story:
It started when I was five years old. My mother, twenty years old at the time, had just separated from her first husband, my step-father and father to my baby sister, just a few months old. We were living with my grandmother. My mother met The Monster in a bar where she waited tables. They became a couple immediately. She thought he was strong, a real man. He lavished her with attention and made her feel protected, something she had never felt with anyone else. After a few weeks, she brought him home to meet her children. Even though I was very young, I will never forget the moment I first met him. My first thought was how scared he made me feel. That feeling never went away.
Within a few months, she became pregnant. They married right away in a civil ceremony with no guests, not even her children. Five months after the wedding, my new sister was born. Shortly thereafter, they moved out of my mother's parents' house to his parents' house. There was very little money and even less space in the crowded house. I was sent to live with my great-grandparents, with whom I had lived as a baby. Although I was thrilled to be back with my beloved grandparents, I also felt abandoned, as if my mother had chosen him over me. It was many years before I realized that the control had already begun, that she was already lost in the cycle of violence. I stayed with my grandparents for about six months. When I came home, I felt like an outsider.
It didn't take long for me to realize how violent The Monster was. I lived in fear constantly. He rarely hit anyone; he didn't have to. The threats, coupled with the verbal and emotional abuse, were more than enough to keep us all under his control. Occasionally, he would slap me or my mother to punctuate a point. He was a master of psychological manipulation. He loved to play games. When we had done something to displease him, real or imagined, he would ask us about the incident in such a way as to make any answer seem extraordinarily stupid. The questions were almost rhetorical, yet he always demanded an answer. These games made us terrified. I responded by freezing whenever he began this game. I couldn't speak or move; I was simply frozen with fear. My non-response infuriated him even more, usually resulting in a hard blow with the heal of his hand to my ear or the side of my head. This was "discipline". Remember, I was only seven.
He played these games with all of us in slightly different forms tailored to our reactions. At the same time, his control over my mother was increasing. He used threats and intimidation, or when he felt he needed stronger measures, he would grab her tightly by the upper arms or slap her. The occasions when he would "snap" and fly into a physically violent rage were actually rare compared to what one might imagine. They occurred on average every couple of years, although sometimes more or less frequently. As time goes on, I remember them with less and less clarity, but I do remember that on those occasions, she would be bruised all over her body. I remember her having a black eye after at least one of those episodes, but usually the bruises weren't visible to the casual observer. The severity of the rages increased with time, as did his drug abuse. In the years since, my sisters and I have debated what role his drug use played in his violence. We have come to agree that drugs were not a cause of his violence. He was always prone to violence and a controlling nature. They did make the mood swings more sudden and more severe, though.
As the years went on, the situation grew worse. The drug use escalated, and our financial situation deteriorated. Although The Monster always had a decent paying job, he spent most of the money on drugs. By the time I was twelve, he had switched from snorting cocaine to injecting it. We moved often within the rural county in which we lived. We moved to the outer most border of the county, a sparsely populated area near his parents' home. The house was actually a converted mechanic's shed, sometimes called a Quonset hut. The floors were concrete, there were no finished interior walls, and the outer walls were unfinished with exposed insulation facing the living area. There was a makeshift second floor, almost like a loft, which served as a bedroom for my mother and her husband. We three girls shared the only room with walls on the ground level. The walls were studs covered with Sheetrock on one side, and the room had no door. We hung an old blanket in the doorway to create privacy. We slept in bunk beds. Being the oldest, I took the top bunk, while my sisters, at ages 5 and 7, shared the bottom bunk. The house was infested with mice. At night I could hear them in the insulation batting in the sloping exterior walls over my head. To this day, I am terrified of mice.
We lived almost a mile from our nearest neighbor, ten miles from the nearest convenience store, and twenty-five miles from the nearest real town. We had no phone and my mother's car ran only sporadically. Living in the rural area that we did, The Monster was a hunter, like many other men in the area. He kept a loaded hunting rifle next to the front door. He insisted that we all know how to take apart, clean, reassemble, and fire his weapons. This was in part to ensure our respect for those rifles. We knew that if we picked one up and tried to fire it, the recoil would knock us on our butts.
One day that same year when I was twelve, my sister, who was five years old, threw a fit because I was doing my homework and wouldn't play with her. She screamed, a favorite tactic of hers when she was little and wanted attention. My stepfather came into the room and asked what I had done to her to make her scream. As usual I was petrified and unable to speak. He did what he usually did when I angered him: he hit me in the side of the head with the heal of his hand. But this time, he hit me so hard that I lost hearing in my left ear for three days. All I could hear was a constant ringing; in fact, I still get ringing in my ears from those old injuries. That was the day I told my mother that if he ever hit me again, I would leave and she would never see me again. I don't know what was said between my mother and stepfather, but that was the last time he ever touched me. Unfortunately, the rest of my family wasn't so lucky.
His episodes of extreme rage toward my mother became increasingly more frequent when we lived in that house. There were two incidents that were particularly terrifying. One day, she was visiting some neighbors. My mother and stepfather had been friendly with the couple for many years and my mother volunteered to cut the man's hair for him. She was on her way back from the neighbor's house when my stepfather arrived home (I had remained at home to baby-sit my sisters). He met her outside and began screaming at her. He ranted that she was supposed to be home for him when he arrived, and that she was a terrible mother for leaving her children alone (I was fourteen at the time). He accused her of sleeping with the neighbor. All the while, he was pushing her, throwing her on the ground, hitting her in the head. Finally, he threw her into the brick barbecue pit next to the house, hitting her repeatedly after she hit the bricks. When she didn't get up, he suddenly quit and went into the house. She got up slowly. It took weeks for her back, which was injured from being pushed against the bricks, and the bruises to heal.
Around that time, I became suicidal for the first time. I never attempted suicide, but the thoughts rarely left my mind. Once during this time, I had a breakdown at school. I couldn't even stand up, I just sat in the bathroom crying hysterically for two class periods while I tried to calm down. If I hadn't had a few very good friends to help me through that time, I am certain I would have killed myself. The last rage happened just over a year after the barbecue pit incident. One day, my mom brought home a coffee table that our neighbor was going to throw away. It was in good shape, and we needed one. When he got home, he flew into a rage saying that we didn't need the charity (we did), how dare she embarrass him, etc. His father was there, he just stood and watched. My sisters and I also stood and watched, but it was because we were so terrified of him we literally couldn't move or speak. When he pushed my mom against the wall and lifted her off the ground with his hands around her throat trying to strangle her, I thought he was going to kill her. At that moment, my grandmother arrived. She came into the house, saw what was happening, and quickly picked up the hunting rifle he kept loaded by the front door. She put the barrel against his head. That got his attention. He said "Don't you know that thing's loaded?" Grandma said "You're damn right I do, and I know how to use it." He finally put Mom down and Grandma followed him out the door pointing the rifle at him until he got into his truck to leave.
He didn't come back that day, or the next. My grandmother took my sisters home with her; my mother and I stayed to pack. The next day we moved out. During the packing process, we found over 65 intravenous needles hidden throughout the house. One was in a jar of pasta, some were between the mattress and box spring, some were hidden in dresser drawers and under couch cushions. That was when we both realized how bad his drug use had really become.
We lived with my grandmother that summer and into the fall before my mother went back to him. Things were all right for a while, as they always are when an abuser is trying to convince his victim to stay. Although I had been seriously depressed on and off for a couple of years, nothing could compare with the depression that hit me about six months after we returned. I started confronting the Monster instead of cowering, or alternately, I would just act as if I were agreeing with him so that he'd leave me alone. The conflict between he and I became unbearable. One day, shortly after my seventeenth birthday and in the midst of my near-suicidal depression, I woke up and couldn't tie my own shoes. It was then that I realized I needed to get out, fast. One day while he was out of town working (our only times of peace), I confronted my mother. I told her that no one was happy and that I intended to leave. She said he'd call the police to bring me home. I replied that if he did, I'd stay, but the day I turned 18 I'd be leaving and never coming back. When she realized that I was serious, she agreed to let me leave. A few days later, I moved out. The Monster didn't say a single word to me the entire day.
I moved in with my boyfriend, finished high school, and began the long process of healing. I had very little contact with my mother, even though they only lived ten miles away. I needed the space to sort through the confusion that haunted me. Even though the depression had lifted, I was still an emotional mess. I had nightmares that The Monster was trying to break into the house to kill me. I had anxiety attacks. I cried at literally anything. A year later, my boyfriend and I married. I had recovered enough that I actually asked the Monster to give me away! Miraculously, it was a beautiful day with no fights or conflicts.
Shortly thereafter, my mother left him again and divorced him. However, I still had a lot of healing to do. A short time later I started having nightmares of being locked in a bathroom for two days at a time. In the dreams, I was a child, and they took place right after I had returned from my grandparents' house, when I had been having "accidents", what I now know were trauma induced episodes of loss of bowel control, a common condition in young victims of physical or sexual abuse. Even though I remembered the "accidents", I wasn't sure if the dreams were real, so I asked my mother. In tears, she told me that all the memories were real. She cried and begged forgiveness for letting him hurt me. I told her that I loved her and that it was okay, even though I wasn't sure that it was. I continued to struggle with periodic depression. She let the Monster move back into her house. He was still using drugs at a terrifying rate, only now, he couldn't hold a job anymore. By now, the hallucinations had begun. He sometimes sat all night by the window with the loaded rifle in his hands waiting for the "snipers in the trees" to attack.
He began to physically abuse my sisters for the first time, except they had seen so much abuse directed at my mother and me that they fought back. My middle sister left when she was sixteen and moved in with my aunt. My youngest sister got caught up in the their drug use, and by the time she was fifteen had dropped out of the ninth grade and was addicted to methamphetamines. He moved to another state at about that time. A few months later, my mother followed him. I told her that I wouldn't let her take my sister to live with him, so I had her move in with me. I had no idea how strung out she was until she was actually at my house. With our help, she got straight. Things weren't perfect, but at least she was clean. She stayed with us for almost a year, and finally moved out. She had a few relapses, but for the most part managed to keep things together. She met a wonderful man and after a few years they married and now have a beautiful baby girl. She attends church regularly and for a time even taught Sunday School. She's still hoping to find time to finish school after the baby gets a bit older. My other sister (the middle one) is on her own. Her love life isn't the greatest, but she's a happy independent person. She got her high school diploma and plans to go to college this fall.
My mother didn't get out for two more years after she followed him out of state. She finally left him for good, only to hook up with a man who murdered someone in drug deal gone bad. Luckily, she didn't stay with that one for long. She's not the woman I knew as a child. I wonder if that intelligent confident woman is gone forever. She's still confident, but it's different now. Something snapped. My sisters and I think she may be starting to recover. She's started to make an effort to contact us, which is a big step. I keep hoping that someday my sisters can know the person she should have been, the person she used to be.
The bottom line is that we're all out. We're safe. We're finally mentally healthy. We're the lucky ones.
Return from Carla - Children Witnessing Abuse to Domestic Violence Stories
In This Section:
Domestic Violence Stories
In another of Lundy Bancroft fantastic books, The Batterer as Parent takes the reader inside of homes affected by domestic violence, imparting an understanding of the atmosphere that battering men create for the children who live with them. It show how partner abuse affects each relationship in a family, and explains how children’s emotional recovery is inextricably linked to the healing and empowerment of their mothers. Also cover the important but often-overlooked area of the post-separation parenting behaviours of men who batter, including their use of custody litigation as a tool of abuse:
To order in the US: The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics (Sage Series on Violence Against Women)
When Dad Hurts Mom. This is a must-read for any woman with children still in or finally out of an abusive marriage. He covers the myriad of ways in which children witnessing domestic violence are affected, the prejudice in the legal establishments and the patriartic world has made the life of female and child victims of abuse difficult. And then he gives you tips on how to conquer this situation and help heal our kids from the trauma of witnessing abuse:
To order in the US: When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse
To order in the UK: When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse
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