“I am not an alcoholic!” he exclaims loudly as he slurps back the last of a 70cl whiskey bottle. The alcohol doesn’t scare me, it never has. What scares me is the angry result of a bottle down, which would generally lead to me taking the brunt of a father’s frustration after a long day. “I am not an alcoholic!” he shouts again as I wonder which of us he is trying to convince: himself or the 13-year-old girl before him.
As an adult, I have been called many things: stubborn; unforgiving; relentless; steadfast and more often than not, a bitch. None of the above are an insult in my books, in fact, I am proud of who I am today based on what I have had to endure in my lifetime and this week, all of those memories have come to a head – my head to be exact. The conclusion I have reached? I am the survivor of childhood abuse and no longer will I feel guilty for the sins of my father.
I didn’t ask to be born.
Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful that I was born because without my life, I would not be as fortunate as I am now to have the love of my partner and children. I would never have been present for all of the lessons I have been taught nor would my experiences be a learning tool for those in a similar situation. I am here and have been for the better part of 33 years yet only now am I finally finding my voice to speak out against the acts committed against me by someone who was supposed to be the best example of a human being in my life.
I understand that my childhood was not easy for my parents. I am the oldest of four children, siblings without whom I would never have made it past my teen years. We did not have a lot of money and yet now more than ever I have learned that money is not the be all and end all to a happy existence. I come from a broken home, a single parent home that disallowed for much privilege and spoils. None of these things are the reason I am bitter about my youth because despite any of these contributing factors, a happy home can be formed, nurtured and can thrive without the materialism of modern society. Life was not always bad, we definitely did have some good times and my best friend’s home became my escape when my home life became too difficult to handle but for the most part, I became a human punching bag for the frustrations of my father. Our home was not broken because our parents were not together – our home was broken because I did not have one.
Before my parents had split, I witnessed spousal abuse between them at a young age. Once my parents went their separate ways when I was about 12 years old, I lulled myself into a false sense of security by thinking that the physicality of my father-daughter relationship was finally over, that the hidings that crossed the line between discipline and abuse were a distant memory and I was finally free of him. I was wrong. The timeline is rather hazy at this stage, some 20+ years later, yet the memories I have remain emblazoned into my mind like hieroglyphics on the wall of a sacred pyramid, never to be removed and always to be remembered.
I remember being a very nasty 12-year-old when I realised my thought process to be incorrect and unfortunately my mom and stepdad received the brunt of my anger. I was thrust into a parental role for 3 younger siblings at such a young age yet even that isn’t the worst of it, in fact those were really great times and despite the usual sibling arguments that you can expect in a sibling group of four, we were close. We grew closer in the commonality we shared of being an unwilling target for the anger of a parental figure, my father.
I am often told that I don’t ‘understand’ what was going on at that time and that I do not know the ‘truth’ of the situation but to be honest, I don’t really care. As an adult now with children of my own, any truths and understandings of an adult level are kept away from my daughters. My concerns, health or financially or otherwise are not for them to worry their little heads. I recognise that as a parent, I chose to take on the responsibility of raising strong children without hindering their development in any way. Without disciplining them past the physical boundaries. Without blaming them for anything that they haven’t any control over – sadly, I did not know this same courtesy.
What I do know and remember is that I was beaten, many, many times: that I was kicked and punched and pushed around at every turn. I know that to everyone else, my father was a revered member of his friend circle and profession despite being the ‘hand of discipline’ at a home that we grew up in without my mom or any stable female role model whatsoever on a consistent basis. I know that I was blamed for many things, mostly beyond my control. I know that I was forced to raise myself and my siblings in a home environment that saw my father either at work or drinking, forced to cook meals from an empty fridge or hand over my own hard earned money. I know that I was lied to, over and over again throughout the many years living with a man who treated me like I was a house slave instead of a daughter. I know that I watched different women get treated the same way and yet I remained the bruised favourite for him to break physically and mentally on a daily basis. I know that I was endangered, I know that I was in a vehicle with a drunk driver many times and I know that I have a memory of a fight where my father was hitting my mother as he drove his landrover, also drunk.
Approximately 5-6 years of it was all I could handle before my belongings were shoved into a bin liner and I left home. Broken, unloved and manipulated into feeling sorry for a man that took my childhood away from me even though I did not ask to be born into a situation over which I had no control. So NO, when I am asked if I can ever forgive these transgressions, this will forever be my answer and my first instinctual reaction. I have never and will never feel comfortable in the presence of a grown man that drinks in excess and has been known to physically abuse his children and his partners over the years, no matter how ‘sorry’ for him I have felt that he would end up alone. This is no longer my burden to bear, bear enough burdens I already have.
I can confidently say that I have never expected perfection from my father, or anyone for that matter. I have learned that human beings can and do make mistakes, unfortunately I have also learned that there are human beings that can and will never take responsibility for their action or behaviours. I have learned that some people are bound by their own selfish pride and acknowledgement of their own mistakes is impossible. I myself am not perfect, by any means – I have made mistakes and I have owned them, I have learned from them and I have apologised where I see fit. I do not think it was too much to expect some sort of acknowledgement over the years and now, 20 years later, I no longer seek it. I have decided to no longer hide in the shadows of the shame that was my father’s fist, the same fist that hit me repeatedly in the head so that marks would not show. The same father that put on a face to the outside world of bravery and strength, of victimisation at being a single parent yet behind closed doors did not know how to show his own children the love or attention that they deserved. I would say that I have done pretty damn well to get to where I am today despite my own misgivings, I have learned who I never will be in life – to my own children or to anyone else.
As a grown woman, I have set a standard for myself. I will not be spoken to disrespectfully by any man, woman or child. I will never apologise for who I am and I do not have to explain myself to anyone at any time. The truth is, my life is now finally my own and the only person responsible for how fantastically I turned out is me, because I chose to rise from the ashes instead of let the wind blow me away. I will be honest and open to anyone who disrespects me, my family and most importantly, my children. I am a fierce lioness and I do not owe anyone anything. I am phoenix from the fire and I will burn like the bright light I am until my dying breath, no thanks to him. I surround myself with people who enrich my life and the lives of my children, I surround myself with positive influences and love. Always love.
It’s funny how even now, as a 33-year-old mother and wife, this man who once bruised my body and my mind now tries to bruise my ego by guilt tripping me into feeling sorry for his situation that forced his hand (literally). These abusers – yes, that is what they are – will always look for a way to control who you are as a person, whether it be by force or by manipulation. Without power, they are weak and angry, mere shells of themselves because they do not recognise any differently. NEWSFLASH – I will not be manipulated, I will not be guilt tripped and I most certainly will never allow myself to be put into a position that compromises my safety in any way, because even now, I cannot trust that I am physically safe. Not even moving countries has eased my mind in that regard, no matter how hard I have tried.
No, I do not know the full extent of the circumstances that allowed a man so angry, so bitter and so full of hatred to be my parent. No, I do not know how we got to a place that saw four children being raised by one man who knew only how to love with the power of his punch or kick. No, I refuse to bring in arguments about other people into this equation because my issues with them are my own to resolve. No, I do not care that everyone else has been able to ‘move on’ and forget the bad times even though I haven’t because I never, ever will. I will never ever do myself the disservice of forgetting the hardships I had to overcome to be the amazing human being that I am today – THAT is the miracle here; that I am who I am not because of him but in spite of him.
I never really had a good example of what or who a father should be, none of us did and yet here we are, amazing parents to beautiful children who will never know a life like I knew. Who will never know what it is to crave attention and love, never feel the brunt of adult frustration on innocent childlike bodies. Who will never ever have to question my love for them because they know it, every single day they know it and are raised in a household full of it – whether we have everything or nothing at all. They are growing to be strong, independent women as their mother has become and I couldn’t be anymore proud than I am right now.
I hope that one day I will be able to feel a little less bitter towards a childhood I did not get to have but until that day comes, I can do everything in my power to ensure that I do not make the same mistakes. That when I tell my children I am going to do something, I do it; that they will always know my love and will never know my wrath. I want my children to look back at their own childhoods with nothing but fondness and happy memories and I consciously strive every single day to make that happen for them, no matter what I have to do to achieve that.
The sad reality is that I have spent majority of my adult life fighting against becoming the person he was, fearful that I too would abuse my family or those closest to me. Scared that I would turn to showing love in the only way I knew how, through anger and abuse. I have spent many of these years angry at being cheated out of a normal childhood, sad at not knowing what a loving father-daughter relationship was like and disappointed in myself for not having the courage to speak out about my childhood abuse. No more. I am confident that I am not like him at all no matter how many times he will tell me that I am. I know that I am strong and I am worth far more than what he showed me as a child and for this reason, I surround myself with only the purest of love and affection. No man will ever raise a hand to me or to my children, of that you can be sure.
Love is never wanting to hurt anyone; not physically and not emotionally. Love is doing your very best at all times to ensure that the one you love is happy and secure. Love is only ever wanting the very best for your child or partner and not wanting to break them down mentally or spiritually. Love is a million little gestures and shows of affection, a hug or praise. Love is a ‘well done’ and ‘I’m proud of you’. Love is giving someone a life instead of allowing them to merely exist. I now know what love is, I also know that I did not know what it was before.
A tiny part of me has always wanted to say thank you to my abuser for showing me who NOT to be. For giving me the perfect example of the parent I did not want to be or the person I will never allow myself to become. Militant, bitter, angry and alone is not a good look when it is all said and done. I have always believed that children who come from an abusive household will either go one of two ways, completely off the beaten path to repeat the cycle of abuse or in a completely opposite direction. I spent a long time wondering where I would fall when I had my own children, desperate for someone to love me unconditionally. Now I have two children whose love, despite being very different, knows no bounds and I know exactly which path I chose – I chose to break the pattern, the circle of abuse has been broken.
Here I am, openly talking about what happened to me as a child and yet I am perfectly aware that it could have been a lot worse but it wasn’t, I made it out alive. I am fortunate in that I was not sexually abused and to those victims I shed tears on the daily, I cannot even imagine what that must have been like to deal with. I was, however, physically abused by my father, my flesh and blood. For many, many years I was his sparring partner without any warning, something which he to this day has never admitted to nor has he sought help for his alcoholism (which he will adamantly deny) or his anger issues. His recent behaviour has proven to me that nothing has changed and that he is the same man that raised his fist to me as a young child, only now he cannot raise his fist so he lashes his tongue instead. I was verbally and mentally abused as a child, sworn at and ridiculed. The worst, most brutal punishment of all was that I was not loved because I was in the ‘care’ of someone who had no idea what love was and still to this day, does not – the head of a household of one, on a constant mission to retain and regain power over everyone and everything with an obsession for money and respect.
I watched day in and day out as a grown, adult man raised his fists to a woman and his children. I watched as he drank himself into a stupor every single day and blamed everyone else for his circumstances instead of himself and then I waited to take the physical brunt of his frustrations in a drunken tirade. We may not have had a lot but that was not the problem at all, I would have been happy with bread and water on a stone floor if it meant that I was made to feel worthy of being alive. Something that only recently I have realised that I have earned the right to be, on my terms surrounded by people of my choice.
I am a survivor of child abuse.
This does not define me but it is part of who I am and why I am the way I am today.
SIDENOTE: I am extremely grateful to the people in my life who uplift and love me unconditionally, I am also eternally grateful to my amazing siblings who had to live the ordeal with me and my mom who had the strength to change her situation. They are better people than I for being able to forgive and forget for the sake of peace. I am most grateful to my two darling daughters who have shown me what unconditional love truly is – you are my greatest accomplishment xx