Abuse. It’s a strong word, and is taken very seriously (as it should be). The lines for physical and sexual abuse are pretty well drawn. But what about verbal abuse? When do you know if someone has crossed that line? For me, answering that question took about 4 years.
I started figuring out something was not right with my childhood when I was 18. I had been married for a year and a half or so, and was learning what real love felt like. I was also learning that other people my age remembered their childhood, while mine remained blacked out for the majority of it. I had noticed the black outs when I was about 16, but didn’t know what to make of them. I was scared of acknowledging they existed, and what that meant. Did I want to know? If I had blocked the memories out, why on earth would I want to remember? Now that I had someone I knew I could trust, and that truly loved me, I felt safe enough to start unearthing my past.
I grew up thinking that my mother’s first husband was my father. That’s what the paperwork said, and that’s who my older brother’s father was, so I never questioned it. They divorced the Christmas I was 6 years old, and shortly after my step-mother began telling people that her husband was not in fact my father. I came home from my weekend visit very distraught over the matter, and asked my mother about it. She (in her mind) was honest with me and told me that those accusations could be true. Since that time, I have come to learn that I do not know who half of my DNA is. I will not go into any further detail on this matter, as it is her story, not mine.
This knowledge caused me years of self searching, tears, and confusion. What did this mean for me? How could this possibly be? What is wrong with me? This confusion was aided with mixed messages from my mother. One day I would hear “you are the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. You are my angel. I don’t know what I would do without you!” The next day (or sometimes even hour) it would be “If you hadn’t been born I would still be married to [my first husband]! Our marriage fell apart when you were born. If only we were still together.” followed by the reassurance: “I love you my angel”
Confused yet? I know I was!
My Mom married my Step-dad when I was 7, less than a year after being divorced. Before she married him, there were a lot of dates. For some reason, though at the time I was with her Ex every weekend, I went on a lot of them. The things I blocked out until a year or so ago are not pretty. There was a man that was beyond scary (I was grateful that was only 1 date I had to tag along on!) There was a guy she saw pretty seriously for a few months. He smoked (which I detested. Sorry, I just can’t stand the smell and the effects on health!) and I never felt comfortable around him. He scared me, but in a different way than the other one. He seemed nice enough, until we went on a trip with him, my Mom, his teenage daughter and her boyfriend, and yes, 7 year old me. I recall there being an issue with his daughter sleeping in the same bed as her boyfriend, which seemed odd given what I witnessed between my Mom and this man. Needless to say, I was relieved when I met my new step-dad, he was by far the nicest one yet! He was the first and only date my mom had I actually felt safe around. It took some getting used to him, but now we are closer than blood. For this reason, I call him my Dad. He was the one who put in the time, financial support, and effort into fulfilling that role in my life. He was consistently there for me, therefore he earned that title from my heart.
Before I came to those conclusions, however, there were visits with my “father” every other weekend. He was rarely home, usually working or avoiding being home. His wife and her kids occupied the house and most of my time while I was there. To be quite honest, I don’t recall very much about these visits. I do remember crying a lot, wishing he was home. When he was home and I got to spend time with him, one of my step-siblings would always insert herself into our one on one time, monopolizing the majority of his attention. Given that this man truly despises confrontation, he never did anything about it. While he was gone, I got an ear full of negative comments about my mother, who at the time was the only person I trusted. I was asked that while I visited, I call my step-mother “MOM”. This did not go over well with me. I had enough to deal with as it was, and this was the last straw. The more she insisted, the more I resisted. The verbal abuse I received at home was echoed with a new angle of abuse at my “father’s” house. Occasionally I would come home and sob to my Mom about the horrible visit. The older I got, the less I did this, because I soon learned that sharing my pain with her increased the amount of time I spent dealing with the issues. We would spend hours talking about how horrible her Ex was and his new wife. This did not help me feel better, so when I was asked how the visit went, I started answering “fine”. When I was 11 I begged my Mom and my “father” to please not make me go anymore. I was tired of the tug of war over me, and I did not want to be stuck in the middle. I felt safer with my Mom than I did with my “father” and his wife (and my step-sister), so I formed an alliance with her because she needed me.
I am going to pause my story here. You can continue reading in my next post, which will be coming soon!