The broken reality is that physical abuse happens in foster care. Sexual abuse happens within relationships that are considered safe. Emotional abuse and neglect happens to children at the hands of their parents. Verbal abuse happens in lunch rooms or at bus stops.
But facing the realities and having tough conversations often does not happen when it comes to abuse. It gets pushed under the rug- way, way, way under the rug. For some people who have been abused, blocking the hurt is a survival technique. Abuse always resurfaces; whether it’s through addiction, triggers, PTSD, or continuing the cycle.
Abuse happened to me.
The man who emotionally and verbally abused me grew up in a home where physical and mental abuse was the norm. He spent a significant amount of his energy hiding that from everyone, including me. I think at some level, I knew there was something going on behind closed doors, but I never thought it was as abusive as it turned out to be. When I found out I was pregnant, he experienced a loss of control which exposed his abusive home. The gravity of the situation took me awhile to comprehend, and, by the time I understood it, I was part of the cycle too. He tried to gain control back through anger and belittling those around him, including me.
I will never forget the night I decided to walk away and not turn around. I had just gotten a great scholarship to night school and I was on my way to orientation. He called me and said, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. How could you go to school and not be there to make me dinner at night. How could you leave your kid alone so you can waste money on school?”
I was done. Right then and there. I remember thinking, “This isn’t happiness. I want to be happy.”
My story took me years to be able to speak out loud. I was afraid to be honest. Afraid to speak about the emotional trauma I was exposed to because often emotional trauma isn’t seen as “actual abuse.” I was afraid that my family would disown me; after all, that’s what he had told me they would do. I was afraid to tell the court during our custody dispute; I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to believe I was unfit or not stable. I was afraid to lose my daughter.
Stepping out of the whirlwind that is the cycle of abuse was hard. It was one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever done, especially at the age of eighteen when I was a new mom. Deciding I was done was a simple choice, but healing, learning boundaries, and moving forward was a long uphill battle.
I learned to grieve how I wished my life would have played out; a husband, a home, a good school district, lots of babies running around, laughter floating out of the open windows on summer nights. I processed my hurt, created firm boundaries, and accepted my experience as part of a cycle of abuse. The same abuse that I had hid for so long was the same pattern as everyone else involved: unhealthy and a continuance of the cycle.
Abuse happens. It happened to me. But the abuse also ended with me.
As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch with a mug of tea watching my daughter staple together the book she just made. Our dog is eating her peanut butter kong and the front door is open. My daughter laughs over something she’s probably remembering from school. Her laughter floats out the front door and into the world.
The life I thought I would miss out on just looks different now. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I’m in no way thankful for the emotional trauma and mental abuse that happened in my life but without it, I wouldn’t have the beautiful life I have.
If you are with an abusive partner or living in a toxic home, you are not alone. There are local resources that will give you shelter, guidance, and support.
Milwaukee Women’s Center (414) 671-6140 – 24/7 Hotline
Waukesha Women’s Center (262) 542-3828 – 24/7 Hotline
Sojourner Family Peace Center (414) 933-2722 – 24/7 Hotline
National Hotline Number (800) 787-3224 – 24/7 Hotline