Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

Hi everyone, thanks for joining me once again for the final story in this series. Everyone who has contributed to this project has done a wonderful job and I am grateful to all of you, but each story has been from the perspective of a survivor in a violent relationship. I really wanted to include at least one story from the perspective of a child who had grown up in an environment of domestic violence, but unfortunately I didn’t receive any stories like that, so because I believe it is such an important perspective to include, I thought I would volunteer my own.  I will caution you, this story may be triggering and is not easy to read. But I decided not to pull any punches, and to really lay out the truth about what went on in my home growing up. Even people who know me may be surprised at the extent of the violence; I just want to be clear that I am not ashamed of anything that happened. I did nothing wrong. My mother and sister did nothing wrong. We were the victims, we are the survivors. And I am ready for the world to hear our story. 

Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, and read these stories. Just by witnessing these words, you are making a difference. 

Growing up in a violent household isn’t easy to explain. It isn’t all like what you see in Lifetime movies; it isn’t all as obvious as black eyes and screaming fights. Sometimes- many times- violence is much quieter than that, much more insidious. It was that way in my house

I think the number one word that comes to mind when describing my childhood home is this: confusing. Damn, was it confusing.  It’s not just that it was chaotic, though it certainly was. It’s that no one had a clearly defined role in the family. Mother, daughter, wife, big sister, little sister, friend, adult, child, lover, whore, caretaker, confessor, victim, savior, and others were all interchangeable roles for the three females in the family; that is my mom, my older sister, and me. We shifted personalities at the whim of my father, who also had his own little cast of characters that he played: father, husband, surgeon, family man, abuser, pedophile, rapist, philanderer, and general, all-around sociopath. We spent our days and especially our nights in a mixture of terror and exhaustion, wondering who was going to be what next.

As a child, I got extremely mixed messages from both parents, but especially my mom. On the one hand, she was very careful to make sure that she raised me to be a feminist, equal to a boy in all the opportunities I was given and the things she said to me. She gave me trucks along with my Barbies, made sure I admired Cinderella and Sally Ride, and said I was so smart I could be anything I wanted to when I grew up- no one could stop me.

Except while she was telling me all of this, I was watching her wither away in an abusive marriage. My father stopped her from seeing friends and her family, from taking a job outside the house or even working from home, from using any of the degrees she had earned. My mother is a brilliant, talented, educated woman, and he convinced her that she was worthless and stupid and couldn’t even do housework correctly. I watched him treat her like less than shit you wipe off your shoe my entire life. He slowly took away every little bit of control and happiness and sanity from her. I watched him screw other women behind her back. I dealt with him abusing my sister and me behind her back, which he knew was the worst way possible to hurt her.

When you grow up with a tyrant who rules your home like this, things are never safe. You don’t even know what that word means. Stable and secure are pretty meaningless too. Because one night your father might come home, get pissed off, and threaten to kill your cats. Or, just because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll hold an empty handgun to your six-year-old head and pretend to fire. Or while you’re doing your homework he’ll walk into your room completely naked and act like it’s no big deal. He’ll make dinner for himself and forget to feed you and your sister. He’ll pinch your ass. Pull your hair. Shove you into a wall. Molest you. Rape you.

And that’s just the stuff he did to me. He pretty much did the same to my sister. I don’t even know everything that he did to my mom, and I don’t want to. I know he abused her verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, and even reproductively, by forcing her to have her tubes tied which ended up in a hysterectomy after a post-op infection. It was horrifying.

It’s hard to really make someone understand what it is to live under the constant threat of violence unless they literally have. It’s terrifying, but it is also exhausting; physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Because you’re not only having to live with it, you have to keep it secret. You’re all living in this silent warzone, this strange compromise gets struck where you can be fucked up inside the house, but once outside it’s all pretend. It’s like a bomb in a Tiffany box; it may look pretty on the outside, but when you open it up, the contents will still kill you.

For those of you who have children who have lived in violent homes and are concerned about how they will be affected, I can tell you one thing: they are aware of so much more than you think. You think you are hiding the stress and trauma from them but you are not. They understand what’s happening and they want to help. They want to protect their parents and themselves and make it all ok. They think it is their fault that things are falling apart. They think this so they can have some control over a situation in which they have no control. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to “stay together for the kids’ sake.” The kids do not want two miserable parents together. They would so much rather have two separate, functional, happy parents, BELIEVE ME. They would rather have a struggling single mom in a safe home than a rich, extravagant home that is filled with chaos and violence. Do whatever you have to do, but make your kids feel safe. That’s all they really want.

As far as how I was affected by growing up like this, it’s hard to tell. I ended up with severe anorexia and bulimia, a dissociative disorder, self-harm issues (mostly cutting), a prescription pill habit, and horrifying posttraumatic stress disorder. But how much of that was due to witnessing domestic violence, and how much of that was being a direct victim of sexual violence myself? There’s really no way to know.  Both affected me in deep and profound ways, ways that I still deal with to this day.

So how, you’re probably wondering, did my family’s violent situation end? Well, it sort of ended because of me. I finally went off the deep end at 15. I couldn’t take it anymore and I tried to commit suicide, which landed me in a psych ward, which began the process of family therapy with the therapist who recommended my parents get divorced, which finally began when I was 17 and ended when I was 19. It took many, many years of therapy for all of us and a lot of moving around and of course, cutting my father out of our lives completely to be where we are today, my mother my sister, and me. And where we are is a pretty good place: moving forward, looking to the future, hopeful, peaceful, and free.

Finally, gratefully, free.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

10 responses to “Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

  • Tricia Mcknight

    Hello Sarah: Please let me intro myself; Patricia A. McKnight, Author: My Justice. Wanted to let you know how much your story touched me. It is amazing we actually survive sometimes. My stepfather was an evil man and my mother knew it but didn’t care; he wasn’t evil towards her and that’s what mattered most. Anyway you ask for other stories and a friend of mine shared your blog with me. Wanted to let you know that I have attached a blog here. A Survivor’s Words – this tells just part of my story and there are many other blogs of mine on blogspot.com/triciagirl62. hopefully you and I can have a connection here and become better acquainted with each other. Please find me on facebook so that we can make a connection there a well. Be blessed in your journey of healing. It takes a lifetime to untrain the behavior we have been trained. i wish you great success and please know my prayers are with you. take care, happy thoughts for you 🙂

    • writingforrecovery

      Thank you for the kind words. It’s always nice to hear from other writers, especially published authors! I just found your blogger page and am quite touched by your story as well. It all sounds quite familiar, unfortunately. But it sounds like you, too, have reached a good place. We should both be proud of our journeys. Thank you for reaching out, I look forward to speaking with you more. 🙂

  • Rev. Frances

    I can feel your strength through your words. Sending you blessings and healing light to you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Valda Dople

    I think this is among the most important info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

  • Carmen

    I am so glad you shared and I read this.See, I lived this way for a short time and walked away after 19 months of “what was I thinking by marrying this guy”. My daughter was 14 months old when I left for the first time.I called my parents to let them know what had been happening since I married and they have never been the same since.I was raised well and now this? Your story has touched me because it is almost a
    replica of what I endured,but I was the wife of the abuser.Thewas free

    • Carmen

      Oops! I felt free! I knew this was not normal and I did not want this for my child.She deserved a good childhood like me. Now, after all these years,my daughter has told me that the best thing I did was not stay in that situation. I was a single parent for over a decade and It changed my life in a good way by teaching me to live each day to the fullest with strong Faith, hope, love and respect and to always appreciate the simple little things in life.I am now happily married 7+ years and have been able to experience what life is really about.

      • writingforrecovery

        Wow. Thank you for sharing your story! I am glad what I wrote touched you; I am so much happier though, that you prevented your daughter from suffering the same fate that I did. It was a brave and difficult decision that you made; but your daughter is right, it was the best one, for everyone involved. Not many women in violent relationships have the courage to reach out and say “This is wrong, I won’t tolerate this anymore.” You are one of a strong and fortunate few who get out and stay out, who even recognize that there is a PROBLEM. That’s huge right there. You knew something was wrong! Most people in violent relationships can’t even SEE them as violent or troubled or messed up. Credit that to your good upbringing. You could only tell this guy was treating you like crap because you had a good model to compare your relationship to. Most people don’t and that’s why they don’t leave; it seems normal.

        Anyway, bottom line, I am grateful to hear that you and your daughter are safe and content after experiencing domestic violence. I hear so many tragic stories, it’s always wonderful to hear from someone like you! Peace, Sarah

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