#WhyIStayed – Growing Up in Domestic Violence

There wasn’t just one incident that stands out, one knock-out punch or fatal wound, but my childhood was flooded with ongoing domestic violence, and for the most part I blamed myself for all of it. Even though I’ve gone through the story a billion times in therapy, perhaps I haven’t really processed what this has done to me psychologically. The terrible anxiety, overwhelming fear of failure, being so depressed ALL. THE. TIME., being unable to accomplish tasks that should be easy because my mind is a big mush pile of terror. Yea, maybe growing up in a house of abuse has something to do with that.

Since the whole Ray Rice scandal — where he knocked his fiancee out cold in an elevator and — oops, got caught on camera — domestic violence has been a hot topic. So has the hashtag #whyistayed where women are posting on twitter why they stay in relationships where they are abused. And, yes, men are often abused as well, so let’s not forget that. Regardless, of the stories out there about domestic violence one that I read talked about a woman whose friends asked her if her husband “hit” her and she said no (but he shoved her and bit her and even broke her wrist.) Not everyone is a puncher.

I feel bad for my father. He grew up in a working class family, the oldest of six. His father had a temper and a hot fuse. Since I can remember my dad has been morbidly obese, slodging to work an hour on the train five days a week, getting home after sunset with barely any time to see his family. So when he came home and my mother stood at the door complaining about how I didn’t clean my room or I wasn’t doing my homework, he got angry, very angry. If I did something “bad” enough I’d get a quick strapping and go up to my room to cry it off and tell myself how horrible I am over and over again. Then would come the fighting. My mom would tell him that he didn’t HAVE to beat me for it. He’s get extremely angry at her for suggesting that, as she went to him to solve the problem and in his mind he solved it. Or they’d be fighting about something else. I really don’t remember a day going by when they weren’t fighting.

Most fights were benign. They’d yell for a while, her in her high-pitched voice, him low-pitched and fuming. Eventually the noise would die down and I’d fall asleep. Then there were other nights… or weekends, when there was more opportunity for an eruption… when things got uglier. At some point I’d walk downstairs to try to stop them. I remember once walking between my dad and my mom and telling him that if he wanted to hurt her he’d have to hurt me first. He usually stopped then, and acted as if nothing happened.

When the worst fights occurred I wasn’t around. Once, he shoved her so hard that her glasses broke. Actually, I recall her telling me he had done this before – on their honeymoon. He’s caused her arm to bruise numerous times. He doesn’t think he abuses her. He thinks everything is her fault. And I think it’s all my fault. Well, not so much currently, it can’t all be currently as I moved far away and don’t tell them about my problems. On the phone the other day my dad could sense sadness in my voice and he said “are you doing ok, you sound sad” to which I replied “I’m fine.” There is no point telling them the truth. Removing my drama from their lives doesn’t stop the abuse, but at least I can’t feel responsible for it.

I was afraid that one day I’d come home and I’d find my mother dead. I knew that my dad would never mean to kill her. He wouldn’t get a gun or a knife or anything and plot her death. But he’s a big guy and she’s rather small. It wouldn’t take much for him to accidentally break her neck. I tried not to think about it. But the reality was you can’t just not think about this stuff, even if you’re not thinking about it, even if you are convinced that it is all your fault.

So now that I’m this 30-year-old adult and fucking up my life by being unable to maintain a job and get stuff done, now that I’m supposed to be self sustaining and prosperous on my own with a stable, full-time role where I can use my mind to make shit happen, I just fall apart. The saddest thing of all is that the only role in my life that I’ve ever done somewhat well in was one where my boss was rather mean to me and degraded my work. But he provided the structure I needed to succeed. I felt comfortable in that environment, go figure. He knew it too. And I worked my ass off and you know what, I did a really good job because I wasn’t trying to be great, I was trying to be good enough. And I needed to know that I wasn’t good enough and what good enough was so I could strive to be it. As soon as I was in a role where my boss was a sane, nice person, I fell apart. That makes me really sad. That makes me scared about my ability to succeed in any role in the future.

I don’t want to put all of my work issues on this, but what I can say is that growing up in an abusive household really fucks with your mind and your sense of self worth. I know a lot of other kids had it a lot worse than I did — I’ve heard horror stories of much worse abuse, alcoholism, molestation, etc, and I had none of that. My family was sober and made decent money and we lived a comfortable life, with the exception of all the fighting. I just need a way to get past all of it. But the reality is my mother is still with him after all these years. He’s dying of cancer and he won’t be around much longer so she wouldn’t leave him now, but somehow he still finds it in him to call her stupid, to belittle her, to shove her on occasion, to do everything to humiliate and degrade her and treat her like a piece of shit. And I’m trying to find a way to make peace with him and all of this before it’s too late. I just want to move on so I can be a real adult. So I can have a family of my own. So I can do well in my job and not feel like I need permission to be successful and happy. I don’t know how though.


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5 thoughts on “#WhyIStayed – Growing Up in Domestic Violence”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Also give yourself a break. You’ll find another job soon. There’s no shame in spending some time between jobs until you find the right one. Both men and women can be victims of abuse in a relationship, but in most cases men won’t stick around whereas it seems many women do.

  2. This post makes me want to give you so many internet hugs right now.

    Domestic abuse is such a rough thing to go through. The most important thing for you to remember is that under no circumstances was it your fault. You should be proud of yourself (not “should” as in a command, but “should” as in you deserve to be). You’ve put yourself on a stable footing financially, are in what seems to be a good and loving relationship with your significant other, and are making efforts to mend this relationship with your father. All that takes real resilience. And though maybe things aren’t 100% yet on the job front right this second, you’re putting yourself out there. It’s hard, but you’re doing it and all those little acts of defiance and willingness to live are so commendable.
    Taylor Lee recently posted..The World Doesn’t Owe You A Thing: Stresses Of A Female Breadwinner

  3. Sounds typically Chinese.
    Yet in this American interpretation of twisted… everyone actually loves each other at the same time.

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