When the abuser is your parent

(Editor’s Note: Rachel Held Evans recently opened up her blog to an in-depth look at abuses within the church. Her posts are all worthy reads and I hope you’ll make time to read them, especially if you are in church leadership. There is also plenty of abuse taking place outside the church, and not all abuse is sexual in nature. Our guest blogger wrote to me last year after reading A Silence of Mockingbirds, to tell me how much Karly’s story resonated with her. Unlike Karly, however, our guest blogger suffered at the hands of her own father. Such is the case for many children whose parents abuse them, or allow them to be abused, creating forever a complicated relationship. Toss into that mix the expectation that an abused child is thus “obligated” by their own theological leanings or social mores to  forgive their abusers and life grows even more hair-pulling complex. Please feel free to share your thoughts with our guest blogger. Thank you.

 

art by Zhang Peng

 

By Liz

Comfortably Numb.  That was how I used to identify myself to my own self when people would ask how I was. My response was always the same: “Fine” or “Okay, Thanks & you?” The responses were always generic, pre-planned, and I never skipped a beat. I made sure the timing was right, on point, and never suspicious. Yet I knew I was a walking, talking suspicion.

It was 90 degrees in the burning summer sun in Southern Philadelphia, where the summers are humid and brutally warm. Yet there I was, in long sleeve shirts and pants, covering what were hidden. Under those clothes were bruises, healing wounds, scabs and healing bones that were only identified by close friends and family, all of whom knew who put them there, and all of whom looked the other way. They turned a blind eye to my sunken-in eyes, protruding bruised cheekbones, cuts above my eyes and lips, and the yellowing of the healing bruises. I grew fond of the color yellow, simply because in my case, it was a color that represented healing. I was one step closer to donning a quarter sleeved top instead of a sweat shirt, or in rare cases, a t-shirt.

I never slipped on a story or explanation. I planned them all, and made each one more convincing than the next. I was numb to the pain of it all, and comfortable with lying about my healing wounds. I was comfortably numb. I was numb to the pain, and comfortable with the lies. That was the life I lived.

I am now 24 years old. I am a journalism student, and a survivor of parental abuse. I endured that said abuse for close to 10 years. My father, an alcoholic now in recovery, remembers very little of the frequent hospital visits, the blood stained carpets that I’d spend hours scrubbing, the fussing over my morning make-up by my naïve and fragile mother, always making sure the Catholic school I attended would never know of our sickening, painful private family life.

We had a dress code at my school, golf shirts and skirts in the spring and summer, sweaters and skirts in the fall and winter. I was the only student that wore my sweater year round. I had ready-made, bulletproof answers for the teachers and staff that questioned my decisions to wear thick stockings and wool sweaters in late May, the permanent darkening beneath my eyes, the occasion black eye and busted lip, and my consistent absences which were always coincided with a hospital note instead of a simple doctor’s note. It continued on for years to follow, and the marks became impossible to hide.

The final time my father touched me was in the fall of 2011. We were arguing over something trivial. He was drunk, and while I knew better than to argue back in his failed condition, I was enraged and at my limit. That day, my father strangled me in the presence of my mother and boyfriend. I remember little upon waking up aside from the cops asking for a statement and my boyfriend beside me. I began to ramble one of my ready-made stories, while still struggling to regain full consciousness and breathe normally. I looked into the eyes of my mother, who witnessed the decade of pain I endured. I then turned to my boyfriend, who would allow me to lie no more.

The numbness was gone, and the pain washed over me like a tsunami, a wave so heavy it crushed my soul and swallowed my lies. For the first time in my entire life, I told someone the truth. The truth consisted of dozens of sets of blind eyes, how I had learned to lie so well, & how my lies convinced everyone, including myself.

I remember the look on the policeman’s face as he checked my arms, legs, back, and stomach. I knew it was hard to believe, but my body told the story alone. I pointed to each mark, explaining the date, time, and reason why I had received that particular bruise. In those moments, I realized that between my ready-made lies I had stored the truth somewhere deep inside me. It only emerged when the pain finally did.

My father pled no contest and served no time, which was a decision that was ultimately left to me. He was required to complete alcohol treatment courses as well as anger management classes. Despite our past, a past that I would never get back, pain that may never cease, and a life that I was forced to endure at the hands of the adults that claimed to love me, I am working to repair my relationship with my father. I am working on forgiving, and although I can never forget, and the scars will never disappear, I believe that I can learn to love him, if he learns to be a person other than the man that spent so many years attempting to end my life, even if he didn’t always know it or remember it.

I often wonder why it was me. We lived in a house, my father and I, with my mother and little brother. I was his punching bag, his anger release tool for years, and the answer as to why I may never receive. I spend my days now helping various individuals with poor self image, bullying related issues, and domestic abuse victims. I have found that my painful past can bring someone a future void of any of the scars I bear.

Finding resolution with my father took forgiveness; forgiving him, forgiving my mother, and the other family and friends that turned a blind eye out of fear. I have learned to spend every day grateful and thankful that I made it out of my story alive. These days, I am no longer numb. I feel. I feel everything. And I am comfortable, both with who I am, and with where my journey brought me. I would say that this is my stories end, but I am one of the lucky ones; for the second chance God gave me, is what makes this a whole new beginning.

 

*April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Take the time to educate yourself about child abuse. Read A Silence of Mockingbirds or any of the many books listed on Rachel Held Evan’s blog.

 

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • http://twitter.com/upsidedwnworld Rebecca Trotter

    Honey, it’s been less than 2 years. I’m a strong Christian and a FIRM believer in forgiveness. I’ve forgiven and stayed in relationship with people who have done things others would see as unforgivable myself. But one of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes we’re in such a rush to forgive that we don’t give ourselves the time we need to heal. I’ve spent my entire adult life with a man who grew up with extreme abuse. It’s been a long, hard struggle which has sometimes meant not being in contact with his parents for extended periods. Forgiveness is one part of the healing process, but it’s far from the whole thing.

    When I was in my 20s, I was good friends with an older woman who had grown up with incest and other abuse. As a young Christian, she forgave, declared herself free and moved on. In the decades that followed, she ate her way to 400+ lbs, suffered frequent, disruptive flashbacks and nightmares and was only really starting to deal with the damage and her feelings about her father at the age of 55. I just can’t help but worry that you may be rushing to forgive as a way of avoiding dealing with the residue of the abuse as well as ugly feelings about the people who were responsible/negligent.

    Of course, I could be presumptuous. The fact that you are able to share your story says a lot and obviously, you’ve been really resilient so far. But I just want to say as one Christian to another, don’t let the command to forgive become an oppressive obligation and don’t accept the veneer of freedom and reconciliation to stand in for the hard-won real thing. I’ve seen it happen many times.

    BTW, I did a video on forgiveness not long ago which gives my rather quirky take on forgiveness, cuz, like I said, been there, done that! Not saying you need it – just putting it out there. :)

    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2013/01/30/forgiveness-video/

    • http://twitter.com/karenzach Karen Zacharias

      Thank you Rebecca. Important wisdom here. Thank you,too, for the link.


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