“I knew about him beating her, but I never knew how it would affect you kids.”
A statement recently made to me by one of my Mom’s childhood friends. I think this statement solidified exactly why I have been speaking out about childhood domestic violence (CDV) the past few years. I’m amazed at how many people don’t think at all about the children and how they’re affected. How growing up in a DV household effects them while the violence is taking place and forever after. How it will affect them personally and in every relationship they will have throughout the rest of their lives – relationships with friends, co workers, significant others, with their own children and even their children’s future relationships. A vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Now.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first witnessed violence in my home. I was told it started before us kids were born. So, I suppose I’ve witnessed it since birth. The memories of the violence I can recall go back to maybe age 5, through age 17. I remember being little, wearing a pink nightgown and robe. I got in the way of my father beating my mother. I was thrown across the room into the wall. Though the violence was always directed towards my mother, I attempted to intervene often. Sometimes I would intervene physically, other times, I’d just yell, or other times, I would hide until it would stop. Most times, I’d have to run out to the neighbors for help, asking to use the phone to dial 911. I attempted to call family and 911 from our home once and the phone cord was yanked out of the wall by my father.
My childhood was walking on eggshells, telling lies, keeping secrets. It was filled with sleepless nights, with my sleep being interrupted often by the violence. Many nights, I’d clutch my teddy bear as a little girl while my Mom would be trying to get us dressed to leave or we’d flee outside in our pajamas to wait for the police or go somewhere for the night. I’d beg the neighbors and the police to help us. To help my dad. I always slept with a night light on. I still sleep with a night light on. This is a small glimpse of my life from birth to the age of about 17. The violence got more intense and happened more frequent over time.
As a teenager, I intervened during my father’s violent rages when I could. I remember telling my mom she could leave, she SHOULD leave, and finally, I told her I was done. I wasn’t going to stay around and put up with it anymore. I would leave. I had the means to escape those nights by myself when I had my driver’s license and my own car. I couldn’t make my mom leave and I couldn’t make the violence stop. I’d stay overnight with friends whenever I could. I threw myself into my school activities, all the while pretending everything was “normal” with my family and I was “ok.” We were far from “normal” and not “ok”.
My memory is “fuzzy”, but halfway through my senior year of high school, when I was 17, my Dad stopped drinking and the violence stopped. I vaguely recall relatives, my maternal grandparents for sure, getting involved and staging an intervention. I remember, as well, expressing my feelings to my Dad about being fed up with living that way. Though the violence stopped when the drinking stopped, the damage of the past 17 years loomed in the air. Fear lingered as we continued to walk on eggshells, scared that at any moment things could erupt again. Nobody talked about the violence or the alcohol abuse. Friendships of my Dad’s changed, some were no longer.
Two years after I graduated high school, our family moved to a new home. A fresh start, I guess you could say. I bought a home with my fiancé in 1991, about 15 minutes away from my parents. We were married in 1993 at the age of 22. I had my daughter in 1995 and my son in 1998. In 1999, we moved an hour away to Pennsylvania where we still reside. During those years, my Dad slipped up a few times and “fell off the wagon.” In my early 30’s, there was an incident where he became violent with my mother and the authorities were called, led to his arrest. Though living an hour away and being an adult, all those feelings of fear and anxiety just rushed right back in. Thankfully, my dad got himself back on track. And then, there was finally some dialogue between my parents and me about the alcohol abuse and violence. This was a huge turning point for us. Keeping everything so silent was unhealthy.
I coped with my home life throughout the violence by participating in sports in school and having a very active social life. I have to thank my friends, teachers, coaches and now husband for unknowingly helping me unlearn many of the LIES that I learned growing up in a home with domestic violence. I’m not sure who knew or didn’t know what was going on in my household at the time, but they were catalysts for change that made a difference.
I am now 44 and have a pretty “normal” life and can say that I am more than “ok.” It wasn’t easy to get where I am today and some days are still a struggle. I am a former child of domestic violence. I am a survivor. I will take what I have learned as a child of domestic violence and continue to be the best wife, mother, friend and co-worker I can be. I will continue to help other children of domestic violence. I will be their voice.
To those of you who have ever wondered…“Does domestic violence affect the children??” Yes, growing up with domestic violence affects the children in those homes for life.