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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Family Matters: Surviving Abuse

Today's post is a serious one. As much as I like to find the humour in family life, some things simply require our full attention. If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse, I hope this will help you find the courage to get away and seek help; a safe and healthy life away from such a toxic- and dangerous- reality that many people face. A very special thank you to Lalia Frolick for sharing her story with The Pampered Baby.

Contributed by Lalia Frolick, Found Frolicking

This post is a really big deal for me. Those of you who've been following for awhile will know I started blogging March 1st, 2013. Almost an entire year ago. Well, this post is one that I thought about writing when I first created my blog. But I have put it off, and put it off, and put it off. Because I knew it would be hard for me to write. It's now nearly a year since I had the idea to write this post, and it's time for me to finally share it with you.

Once upon a time... There was a little girl, who we will call Elle. She loved watching "The Little Mermaid" and playing make-believe, with her little sister as the prince (who was not a very willing one, by the way). While most her age were starting Kindergarten, this little girl was being moving from place to place with her family, all at the whim of her restless father. It seemed reminiscent of the story of Goldilocks. No matter where they might have moved to, something was always wrong. It was never "just right." So they would move. Again, and again, and again. But you see, Elle's father's problem was not the place that they lived. It was the place within himself that made him restless. To quiet that voice he would drown his sorrows in alcohol and cigarettes, hoping to find happiness at the bottom of a beer can. But the little girl didn't pay too much attention. It was who her father was, and she loved him.

Many years, and many moves, later... they bought a big house in the country. By this time, the little girl had three siblings, and not just one. The house was a mansion to her, with a room for a parents, and yet a room to each child upstairs. With a small pond on the side of the house, Elle and her siblings would go on many adventures. With only two neighbors, neither of which was within a mile of them, it seemed the sky was the limit. Each day, they would walk through the tall grass, play house in the perfect little nooks underneath giant bushes, and explore the rest of the abundant nature that was their back yard. And each night, Elle fell asleep staring at the moon outside of her bedroom window, and listening to the songs of the crickets in the tall grass.

But the void in the heart of the little girl's father was getting harder to ignore. Every night, he drank several large bottles of beer. Every morning after, he was always angry, and ready to pick a fight. Harsh punishments were administered for a toe out of line. It was at this time that the little girl finally noticed when her parents would fight. Her father would beat his mother, screaming at her and hitting her for any or no reason at all. During these times, Elle would crawl into her closet, pull the door closed, and curl up against the wall. The angry voice filled the house, and there was no way to get away. She would feel the ground beneath her rumble as her father beat her mother. It seemed as if the house was trembling as she was. She would hear her mother reply to things her father said. But it never made things better. She could hear the pain in her mother's voice, and practically see the tears streaming down her face. But it would go on, and on, and on. The little girl would eventually be unable to take it anymore. Elle would shut her eyes tight, and let tears stream down her face. "I wish I had never been born," she whispered to herself over and over again, her lips trembling. You see, as so many little children do, she thought it was always somehow her fault.

It was not long after that Elle was told a little brother was on the way. Her mother's tummy grew as the child inside it did. But even that did not stop the arguments or the beatings from happening. Days and months seemed swallowed by darkness. The only escape the children had were the adventures they shared together in their backyard, away from the world and its realities.

The little brother was born, and after the Y2K scare, the family had to sell their house. They all squeezed back into the one-bedroom apartment they had been in and out of since Elle was small. You see, the little girl's grandfather had lived in that apartment for many, many years. So the family of seven lived in the apartment with the grandfather. And Elle couldn't see the stars anymore, or hear the crickets singing to her as she drifted to sleep. When the episodes happened, there was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. The bedroom door was shut and locked to prevent the kids from seeing, but nothing could stop them all from hearing. The children grew quiet as the anger consumed the apartment. A somber cloud always hung over the entire family the rest of the day. The girl's littlest sister would crumble and cry as she once had, and she would hold her close, and stroke her hair. She told her, "It will be okay," as she hoped it would one day. But all of the children were little, and they would move on. By the next day, all was right in the world again. As the kids grew older, however, something started to change. Some of the anger that was always directed at the mother, was directed at the children instead. Listening to the TV at a volume above a whisper would result in a 2-hour time out if they were lucky, or several spankings with a cord that left blisters and bruises for days, if they were not.

The incidents that were uncommon became common. The mother would go to work everyday, while the father was home with Elle, and all of her siblings. He would not let them attend school, so each day during the week the children had only him. Yet he lived in his own world, and knew so little about his own children that he didn't know their favorite colors. He would even mix up their names. He was more and more unhappy with his life, and in an attempt to gain some control, he controlled each and every move the mother and their children made. The children rarely had contact with children their age, and no friends. The father continued to drown himself in alcohol, but it wasn't enough. After a back injury, he was temporarily given marijuana medically. But he became addicted, and after he was cut off from it by the hospital, he would seek it out elsewhere. Twice a day, he would smoke, and he was always irritable and short with his children when the high wore off. It got to the point where Elle's father was spending $1,000 a month on pot. No one could stop him.

There was rarely a week that passed without each of them being severely punished. Being slapped, hit upside the head, whipped with a cord, and insulted were all run-of-the-mill. One day, after such an incident, when the mother came home she asked how their day had been. One of the sons decided to tell the mother what had happened that day. The mother was very upset, and went immediately to confront their father. Another big fight happened. As soon as the mother had turned around, the father went to his children and hissed, "Who ratted me out to Mom? We'll talk about this tomorrow!" The children looked at each other. They held their breath the next morning after their mother had left for work. But it seemed, this once, the father had forgotten. Nothing happened. The children learned not to speak to their mother about what happened at home. The mother would have bruises on her face, and everywhere else. Anything that anyone could see was covered up with make up. It was the only time, and only reason, their mother ever wore make up at all.

When Elle was finally a teenager, she learned to escape her circumstances within the pages of good books. It started with the magical world of Harry Potter, and continued with almost any other book she could get her hands on. It kept her quiet, and out of trouble. Days turned into months, where she would do her best to think of little else. The episodes and incidents continued to happen, and the family spoke of them to no one. The little girl was so afraid to speak about these things, that she would not even confide in her diary about such things. None of the mother's friends knew, and the children knew better than to say a word about it to anyone. As far as anyone else knew, they were, more or less, a normal family.

One day, the little girl actually thought about their circumstances. For the first time in her life, she allowed herself to consciously analyze the situation. The strong love she once had for her father dwindled to dust, as she recognized the depth of what he was doing to them all. This made her angry, and rebellious. Elle's father had taken to calling her a fat cow several times a day, and it only fueled her anger further. From then on, whenever her father started to hit her mother, she would step in. Every time an argument brewed, and her father's temper started to simmer... she would hope it would stop at that, even though she new better. But it never stopped there. Sometimes she would just yell at him to stop, other times she would put her hand on his arm to make him stop. He would yell at her, but it had the affect she was after: it put a stop to the abuse. One Christmas, the father made the mother return all the Christmas presents to the stores. Christmas was the mother's favorite time of year, and so this made her very sad. So on Christmas Day, she went out in the morning to the gym and stayed there much longer than usual. The little girl, who was not so little anymore, got into her first physical fight with her father. An argument started over a loaf of bread, and ended with the father's hands in a tight grip around the daughter's throat. He whispered threats to her, and it only came to an end when the grandfather stepped in. The mother came home, and as with any other incident, not a soul mentioned a word of it to her. It seemed, after that point, a new boundary had been crossed. When the second daughter rebelled also, he would hit her, slap her, and verbally degrade her, not much differently than he did with their mother.

Things continue to escalate. Elle, finally 18, decided it was time to finally leave, as she always told her mother she would do. She couldn't stand it any longer. A few months before she turned 19, it finally happened. She had taken her belongings from the apartment little by little, storing them in a rented storage unit. The father didn't notice. She told her oldest brother to look after everyone in her place. Then, one early morning, she woke the father up from his sleep, and told him she was leaving. She wasn't coming back. He tried to protest, but she reminded him there was nothing he could do. She was 18, and she was going. She held her breath as she quickly left the apartment that was host to so many horrible memories. Elle did not even have time to say a proper goodbye to her siblings. She knew she couldn't linger. After the shock wore off, she knew he'd be looking for her. As soon as she walked a block away, she turned a corner so her direction couldn't be seen from the front of the apartment. She walked another block, and turned the corner again. Only now did she let herself cry as she continued to walk away. She worried for her mother and siblings. But what could she do? It was time for her to finally begin her life. Two blocks later, she ducked into a parkade, and she was safe. She'd done it. She was free.

As it turned out, this is exactly what had to happen. A year later, the mother escaped with all of the children, and the grandfather, too. Once she finally knew that her husband was abusing their children, too, she knew she had to get them out. She tried to speak to him reasonably, and he threatened to kill her, and their children, if she ever left him. With no other choice, she escaped much the same way her daughter did. The mother and her other four children still live together. Far away from the father, they are finally safe, and finally happy. You'll be happy to know the little girl is, too. In the five years after she moved away, she married her best friend, and started a family of her own. They continue to live happily ever after, even though not quite like it goes in the fairytale.

There's something else you should probably know. That little girl is not made up. Nor was she simply inspired by the countless experiences that children around the world have been subject to.

That little girl was me.

We cannot control our pasts. We can only control the now, and in that way shape our future. The textbooks say that you become your parents, and that we will repeat their mistakes. That we all have a tendency to recreate the conditions in which we grow up, continuing the cycle, however vicious it may be. But I am telling you it doesn't have to be this way. To anyone who's childhood was less than ordinary, I tell you this: you deserve better, and you can do better. You cannot change what happened, but you can decide how to live your life now. You choose how you act and how you feel from this point forward. Accept your past, and embrace the future. Whether you have experienced, or are experiencing, domestic violence, bullying, or any other type of abuse... You are strong, and powerful, and you can break the cycle.

As soon as my husband and I decided to start a family, I really began to reflect on my past again. It was something I had scarcely done since I left that apartment in 2009. It was easier, and less painful, to not think about it at all. Funnily enough, I started to truly heal from the experience during my pregnancy. I thought of all the things that had gone wrong in my childhood, and it brought me peace to know that I was already doing things differently in my life. My husband and I do not yell or scream at each other, much less reduce ourselves to a physically fight. Our son is 17-months-old, and I can say with complete honesty that I have not only never hit or abused my son in any way, but I haven't even thought of doing it. There is a difference between fear and respect, and I have no desire for my son to fear me. I am grateful for my past, because it has taught me what not to do. I hope one day, when my son is old enough, to share the story of my past with him in depth. I hope that I can teach him what I myself have learned from my upbringing, without him having to go through any of the things I have lived through. I look at my son, and am grateful for each day. Grateful that he has a life where his parents both love him, and each other. That he has the stability which seemed like such a luxury to me as a child.

When I think back on my childhood now, it seems to awful and too bizarre to be true. And then I remember: truth is stranger than fiction. Thinking about my childhood within the confines of my thoughts, I don't think of it in terms of good or bad. It just... is. But I still don't seem to be able to get the words out when I even begin to express to another person in words what my childhood was like, or recounting memories. It is those times when I am looking someone in the eyes, and trying to tell them something about my past, that it truly hits me what I've lived through. My past, in so many ways, feels like something too dark to even speak of. Therefore, the things I am telling to you now, are things that even my husband has only been told in bits and pieces.

I share this in the hopes that someone out there going through something terrible will find hope in it. I know on the darkest of days, reading something like this would have made me look at the future a bit more brightly. For me, the biggest thing to fear was fear itself. When I stopped being afraid, it changed everything. There is the saying that goes, "What doesn't break you makes you stronger." But for myself, I would amend that to, "What breaks you makes you stronger." For I had to reach the lowest point, before I was able to find the strength I needed within myself.

Lalia is the blogger of Found Frolicking: A Thoughtful Crunchy Mama Blog. She was born and raised in the San Francisco bay area of California. She was taught to love all kinds of foods, and always had a natural inclination towards animals, nature, and the environment. Lalia now shares what she knows and opens up conversation on the topics of natural living for the whole family.

You can find her Facebook, Twitteron her YouTube channel, Pinterest,  Google+, and follow her on Instagram. You can also subscribe to her blog by following her on Bloglovin', and email subscribe to it through FeedBurner.

If you or someone you know needs help escaping an abusive situation, here are a few organizations that can help:

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March 2014 posts sponsored by Cutie Pie Boutique