I work with an intensity. If you interact with me personally, you see that that intensity perforates my life, every aspect of my life. I fight for everything and am protective of those I care about. Some people don’t like that. It’s too much. They don’t understand why I act like that because they don’t know my background.
Here is my story…
Just like every child, when I was born to my parents, my mind was new and impressionable. The day I turned 3, my sister Caroline was born. A week after I turned 5, my sister Julia was born. As a 6-year-old, I actually remember the day my sister Lucy was born because I remember being taken out of school to go to the hospital for her birth. That’s all I remember from that day. You see, despite the fact that I have a near identic memory, I remember very little from my childhood. Of the little I remember, over 90% of it occurred at school. Home is mostly blank for me. I have a general idea of what my daily life was like, but I try not to think about it.
In this life, I had answering machines hurled next to my head. I had expletives yelled near me and at me almost daily. I was criticized for my weight, ADD, back pain, allergies, and any other defect my father could find in me. Everyone besides our immediate family, including our extended family, respected and praised my Dad because of the money and success he had earned. People would tell me how great of a guy my dad was. People would suck up to me to try to get into his good graces. On the outside looking in, our family looked amazing: 4 beautiful girls, 1 gorgeous housewife, and a successful executive = 1 big happy family. NO! I knew what it was like on the inside, and I knew that no one else believed me.
Having to live with someone day in and day out who acts somewhat normal most of the time, and then randomly bursts into fits of rage, followed by acting like the rage never happened, is awful. This is a very effective bullying technique that terrorizes the people around you. I never knew when the next fit of rage would happen. It didn’t matter what I did to try to prevent it. It would come. I remember thinking about this dichotomy of how crazy it was to see two completely different personalities on one person and knowing that no one outside of my immediate family would see it or help. Most nights I spent crying myself to sleep based on the Dr. Jeckle Mr. Hyde characteristics that my Dad portrayed and the fact that I was a child stuck in this position with no one to help me.
I remember inviting my friend Fran over to my house. We were playing outside near the boat. All of a sudden, my dad about 50 feet away started swearing up a storm. He was yelling and throwing things. Fran and I hid behind the boat so he couldn’t see us. He wouldn’t have lost his temper if he had seen Fran. He didn’t do this in front of other people. His tantrums were just for us, his family. My friend Fran looked over at me and whispered, “I’m really scared.” “Me too.”
By the time I had become a teenager, I had lost all sense of normalcy. I had been diagnosed with ADD in 4th grade because I almost failed the 3rd grade. This was well before ADD became well known or commonly diagnosed. I was sworn to secrecy about my defect. I know the name suggests that it is a disorder, but it was made clear to me that it was a defect that should be hidden. In fact, my parents paid full price for my ADD medication despite the fact that we had insurance so that no one at my dad’s company would find out that I was ADD. My family also kept our religion a secret from our extended family because we had switched churches from Catholic to non-denominational Christian. Yet another secret was added to the family vault. It wasn’t until my wedding that our extended family learned the truth.
With medication to wake me up, insomnia before bed, and nightmares every night, I was put on Codeine (a powerful sleep medication) to help me sleep. I would wake up with Adderall and sleep with Codeine. I ran like a machine just trying to make it through every day. Every morning was a living hell to wake up and live another day. I was exhausted and hated every day. My mother would yell at me to get up and constantly threaten to leave for school without me, just taking my sisters. I couldn’t have that happen. I couldn’t be alone in the house, and school was the only place where I could escape the home. I had to go to school because missing school or getting in trouble at school would prevent me from having a safe place to go every day. If my teachers didn’t like me, no one would. Unfortunately, the only positive adult influences in my life were my teachers, and I respected them so much. I couldn’t have them not like me. This is why to my peers I often come off as teacher’s pet.
The hard part was all the brainwashing. I was taught that I was not good enough. I wasn’t thin enough and had a defect disease that was shameful. I was not taught how to manage money because my gender didn’t need to know how to do that. I would just marry a rich husband, and he would take care of me. No wonder being thin was so important! I felt terror and fear every moment of every day. I never knew if my dad was going to snap and kill me, my mom, or my little sisters. I felt protective over my little sisters because no one was fighting for us, and they were smaller than me.
Where was my mom in all of this, you might ask. She was there, fighting with my dad every night trying to but not actually stopping it. I begged and begged and begged her to leave him, to get a divorce, to get me out of there. She never did. In the end, I had to stop it for myself and my sisters. Even though I was the child, I had to rise up and put an end to this. High school is really where it all started turning around.
Until I was in high school, the few people I told about my dad’s anger and outbursts didn’t believe me. They thought I was exaggerating. I had told my cousin Leah. She didn’t think what I said about my dad could be true. I didn’t know how to convince her. I remember this one night only because of her reaction to it. This was a normal night to me. This night, I had a bad stomach ache and wanted to skip dinner. My dad said that that was ridiculous and that I was not allowed to skip family dinner together. I tried to fight, but he won. I was frustrated and started to make a plate. I felt so sick that I couldn’t decide what to put on my plate. In the time I was taking (about 5 min), my dad was getting pissed off because I was not adhering to his timetable. At this point, my father told me to come into his room with him. Normally he would yell at me in front of my mother and my sisters, but this time he took me aside so that he wouldn’t do it in front of my cousin. Words were exchanged about how long I was taking and that I needed to “Get it together.” I’m sure I said something snarky, and he yelled into my face, 2” away from me. “FUCK YOU!!” I said, “Okay, fuck me, fuck me.” Then I walked out, and we ate dinner as though nothing happened. For me, this was nothing. This was my normal. As I walked out of that room, Leah’s eyes were wider than I had ever seen them. She whispered, “Are you okay?” I looked at her curiously, “Yeah, of course.” Later that night, she told me that she got it now. I think I laughed at this. I thought, “Wow, that was nothing. You should see him when he’s really mad.” This night was important because Leah was the first person to believe me.
Later that year, also 9th grade, I was going to sleep over at my friend Margaret’s house. Margaret’s neighbor was coming to pick us up and had graciously agreed to drive us to my house to get my clothes before taking us home. On our way back to Margaret’s house, it was my job to provide directions to get out of my neighborhood area. I forgot to tell Margaret’s neighbor to turn once, and she had to turn around. When I realized this, I apologized profusely, and she responded, “It’s no problem at all! We’ll just turn around.” At this, I was floored. What? You can just turn around the car. No one has to yell. No one has to cuss. No one has to cry. Really? You can just decide not to be mad, and that is okay. I had never EVER experienced that before. It floored me. This was such bizarre behavior to me. This is when I started to realize that there were different choices in how to behave. At this point, I knew I hated my life, but I didn’t know that what was happening to me was wrong or that it was abuse. How could I? I had been brainwashed to think this was normal.
When I was in 10th grade, we were moving to a new house. At one point, I’m not sure what I did, but I did something to make my dad mad. I didn’t carry some boxes correctly or something else equally absurd. My father confronted me asking why I did that. I said, “I don’t know.” There was no real answer to this question. I can’t read his mind. He asked again. “I don’t know.” He said, “Come on B, why did you do it?” On the third question, I would always respond, “Because I’m stupid.” My dad would always respond, “No you’re not. You’re very smart.” It was the one thing I had. My teachers said so. My standardized tests said so. And, most importantly, the person who hated me the most in the world, my dad, said so. This little fighting ritual was the only time that my dad would tell me that I am smart. This time, it was, “Come on B, why did you do it?” “Because I’m stupid.” “Maybe you are.” Then he walked out the door. Intelligence had been the only thing that my dad would give me. It was something I clung to so desperately. I made perfect grades and studied hard because it was all I had. My dad’s statement crushed me. He hit me where it hurt, and he knew just how to do it. Twenty minutes later we were leaving for dinner and a movie as a family. I went to my mom to explain what happened. I begged her to let me stay home. She said, “Maybe.” Then she talked to my dad, came back, and told me that I had to come. I silently cried the entire 30 min car ride there. I had mastered the art of silently crying since I was never allowed to cry. During dinner, tears streamed down my face one after another. It was embarrassing and humiliating to be doing that in front of an entire restaurant. I continued my silent crying throughout dinner and halfway through the movie Fat Albert until I started laughing because it distracted me from my hell. My dad’s comment had blasted away the only semblance of love and acceptance that he had given me. I started to really see what he was doing to me.
Later that year, I was on a trip to Disney World with my immediate family. I threw a stuffed animal at my sister to stop her loud singing. Upon realizing this, my dad took his right hand and balled the collar of my jacket into his fist and lifted my 15-year-old body off the ground until my nose was 1” from his nose. “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN,” he screamed in my face. Then he dropped me swiftly to the ground. I went into the bathroom and locked it. I called a friend of mine named Matt. We had only been good friends for a few months but I felt I could trust him. I told him what happened, and he said, “That is not okay.” He was the first person to say that to me. Today, he’s my husband.
A few months after that, at the age of 16, I moved out of the house for a boarding high school and, later, went to college. During this time, I started to understand what my father had done to me. I started to process it because I finally had a break from the abuse, which allowed me to see the entire situation more clearly. Though, I still went home to visit, and when I was home, the abuse continued.
When I was in my sophomore year of college, I spent my spring break travelling to a basketball tournament with my parents and sisters. It’s important to know for this story that I injured my back playing basketball in high school and, at 18, was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. My spine was deteriorating, and I lived in constant pain for years. My dad was pissed about my pain…yet another defect in his crap daughter. He had been pissed about my pain for a while acting as though I CHOSE to have this pain and needed to “man up”.
At the basketball tournament, I was chatting with my dad and some of his friends. In trying to get my attention, my dad tapped my shoulder. I turned around because I had had a sharp pain in my lower back that felt like knives stabbing me in my spine. I was used to this. I had to tell others to not touch me because of the pain. I asked my dad (as I had asked him many times before), “Please don’t touch my shoulder. Just call my name when you want me because my back hurts when you touch my shoulder.” He hated this. He started yelling and cussing in my face and telling me that it was ridiculous that my back was so messed up. This was the first time he lost it in public in a big way. At the time he started yelling, a time-out was called. The entire stadium went silent, and every word my dad yelled echoed throughout the stadium. I got up and walked and walked until I found a seat far away so that my family couldn’t see where I was. With tears streaming down my face, I received a few texts from my mom and my sisters saying that dad shouldn’t have done what he did.
That one hurt. I had finally gotten away, and he found a way to hurt me again. I was done, and I didn’t want him doing this to my sisters. He had to learn. I decided to leave him. I was going to never see him again. The only thing he could hoard over me was his money, and I was SO over it. Yes, money is nice, but it wasn’t worth the pain in my soul. I had a full tuition scholarship to college, and I was being paid for research. I got great grades and could get a job. I would be fine, but I was done. I texted my boyfriend, now husband, my plan on the car ride home. I couldn’t talk to him because my father was inside the car with me. My boyfriend supported my choice. I wrote a text to my dad explaining that I was leaving and that my sisters and mother could come visit me but that I would never see him again. I would never come home for anything, including holidays and birthdays. I was out, and there was nothing he could do. As I shut my trunk in my packed up car, I sent the text to my dad. I heard later that my dad received the text immediately, read it, showed it to my mother, and said, “What do I do?” My mother said, “GO TALK TO HER! NOW!” I got in the driver’s seat and started driving. My dad ran in front of my car, and I slammed on the brakes.
As I got out of the car, I said, “Move.” “No.” “What do you want?” “I want to talk.” And talk we did, for 3 hours in the driveway, where we both ended up sobbing. After that conversation, he never raised his voice to me again, and he backed way off from my sisters. I stepped in and defended and cared for my sisters as though they were my own children. I read their papers, heard about their boyfriends, gave them life advice, helped guide their college applications and career searches afterwards, pulled connections to get them internships when possible, praised them when they did a good job, and told them when they needed to work harder or correct a behavior. I am honest with them, and they listened to me. When they have questions about money, they come to me. When they have questions about relationships, they come to me. When they have questions about their careers, they come to me. I am a parent figure to them because I would not let my dad do to them what was done to me. When my parents started coming down hard on my sister Caroline for not having perfect grades, I stood up for her against my parents. Caroline was starting to feel really crappy about herself, and I knew how much it must suck to be my sister in school. I got perfect grades and scored top 1% on every standardized test. Every teacher saw that she was my little sister and thought she would be the star student and then was disappointed when she wasn’t. That sucks. I explained that to my parents because HER best is the best. Her best is good. They needed to back off. I took the responsibility for defending my sisters because my dad was a monster, and my mom didn’t get us out of the situation. Someone had to defend them.
Years passed after this monumental moment. As a family, we functioned much better. My dad had scaled back significantly, and we were able to function semi-normally through holidays and other family functions. Life was not as terrifying as it used to be. It felt pretty calm considering the storm we had being living in previously. Though, all that had happened had not gone away.
After Lucy moved out of the house, my mother realized that she hated my father for what he had done. She had put up with him when she had the distraction of her children, but with the last child out of the house, that was gone. She didn’t want to give up on her marriage but couldn’t leave things the way they were, so they started going to counseling. They spent years looking for the right counselor until they found her and years after that going to counseling with her. Finally, my parents offered to pay for counseling for me, something that I had asked for for years, but it had to be with their counselor. I figured I’d at least try considering she knew the situation very well at this point. One spring, I spent 60+ hours in counseling with this therapist. We went through my awful childhood, and I got the chance to really process what happened. After this, I set up time with my parents and the counselor to go through my childhood experiences. Unfortunately, even though my parents had been prepped by the counselor for this, it did not go well. I was made to feel as though I were lying for parts of the story and blamed for wanting to share my story with anyone. Of course, that did not stop me, and none of the nit-picky details that my father tried to rip apart were part of what you’re reading now.
I tried to explain to my parents that they needed to treat me with respect and as an equal to my sisters after years of being treated unequally. They disagreed. The last conversations that I had with my parents were when they were yelling at my face in a way that I would not find appropriate to do to any living thing. I had tried for months after opening up to them to try to find a way to continue our relationship, but after my mother yelled at me that my sisters were higher priority because they didn’t have husbands to take care of them and after my father in a different conversation started yelling expletives at me at the top of his lungs 8 years after his promise to never do so again, I was done. I stopped speaking to them and felt free and peaceful in a way that I had never felt before. My relationships with those close to me got deeper due to focusing all of my love and energy on those who return it rather than those who do not.
Today, my family has come a long way and still has a ways to go. My parents are still in counseling working through their issues. My father has significantly improved his temper and still has some work to do. My sisters and I are becoming so amazingly close. We are finally developing a sisterly relationship instead of the parent-child relationship we used to have. This background is hard to overcome, but we’re doing pretty well, considering.
Having gone to counseling about this entire experience. I am now able to accept the fact that I was physically, emotionally, spiritually, and verbally abused by my father and physically, spiritually, and emotionally abused by my mother. I have grieved my childhood and processed my story, but I share it because it still does and will always shape who I am as a person. My strengths are intelligence, hard work, self-awareness, empathy, trust, and hope. I am intelligent because it was the sole measure of my self-worth. I am a hard worker because it was treacherous not to. I am self-aware because after being brainwashed, I verify everything about myself with data. I am empathetic because I know what it’s like to be alone going through my struggles. I am trusting because I know how awful it feels when others doubt you. I am hopeful because I know the strength that I have to persevere.