I Was A Child, No One Told Me It Was Abuse
When we’re young, we think our parents are perfect. We believe that we’re the luckiest in the world until those teenage years when we begin to notice that like everyone else in the world, our parents have flaws. When I turned sixteen, I realized that my father was abusive. I changed my name two years later, sickened by my previous name that, to me, symbolized a great father-daughter relationship. I wanted to ensure that my father could never find me. I was more than his daughter - I was his victim.
Until I was seventeen, my house felt like the 1950’s. My mother would cook and clean all day. She gave up her life for her husband and children while my father would go to work, returning to his castle and the family he kept under his heel in the evenings. Men were above women in every form. My brother was an all-star while I was the stupid little girl. None of my opinions mattered, my C average at school wasn’t worth mentioning, and I was treated like I was worthless on a daily basis.
How was I supposed to know that it was abuse? It wasn’t as if I had a hard drive in my brain with a dozen past lives to compare with my current one. Emotional and psychological abuse was my childhood. It was all I ever knew, so I didn’t know any better. My mother didn’t even know that he was abusing me because I never spoke up about it. I thought it was normal and, even worse, I felt I deserved it.
I didn’t question his drinking, even though I was taking out the alarming amount of empty wine bottles out every morning with the milk cartons. I never gave it a thought when he would scream at me while he was drunk. Every night I would avoid him. One evening I walked right into him by accident. I was preparing a snack and found him staring at me with his typical drunk face. I asked him if he wanted something and he replied aggressively with ‘I’m just looking!’I retreated before anything else happened.
I was also oblivious to the abuse my mother was facing. His fury at the precision of her dinner time plating was rooted in his need to control. That and his desire to get started on his two-to-three nightly bottles of wine. I thought that was how a man was supposed to treat his wife.
I only started to wonder about my father’s behaviour when I began to carefully examine other people’s fathers, seeing how strong their relationships were, how they laughed and talked with ease. I could barely manage small talk with mine and subconsciously rejoiced whenever he would go on one of his week-long business trips. There was also an increase of domestic abuse commercials on the television. They terrified me because I found myself relating to the wives and children suffering from domestic abuse.
Another reason why I never questioned his behaviour was his constant storytelling of his own painful childhood. He guilted me into convincing myself that he was a decent father. He also managed to convince me that a good parent was one that could buy you whatever you wanted for Christmas. I had (and continue to have) a brilliant relationship with my mother and brother, filled with laughter and hour-long conversations. I never questioned why I could go to either of them with my thoughts or problems and never to my father.
I was also bullied at school, so my self-esteem and confidence were weak enough to believe anything he told me. It's no secret that children are just as at risk as adults of domestic abuse. The specific difficulty with abused children is that no matter how obvious it may be to others, even if it’s physical, sexual, emotional and psychological, a child is always told it’s their fault and, because they have no comparison, they believe it.
My abuse came to a halt when my mother had finally had enough of hers. They separated in early 2016. It was the first time that I’d ever physically feared him. I avoided him like the plague, although he insisted on staying in the house. He cornered me one morning and asked if he was making me uncomfortable. Not wanting to be cruel, I replied ‘I don’t understand why you’re still here while you’ve been asked to leave.’ He began to rant on about how much he loved me. I felt sick. I wanted to spit in his face. It was then that I realised how much I hated him. He left later that day after putting on a dramatic, manipulative display of emotions. He seemed to want us to beg him to stay. We didn’t beg because he frightened us. He left, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
It could have been worse - I know that. A recurring thought I have is “At least he didn’t physically abuse me.” This inevitably follows with the thought of “am I really grateful that I was only abused emotionally and psychologically?” Which makes me incredibly sad.
Sometimes I’ll have flashbacks to interactions that, at the time, I’d thought were ordinary. The flashbacks help because they allow me to discern that these events were not normal - they were abusive, and they were not my fault.
It was his birthday last week and I didn’t text him. He didn’t text me because I changed my number. I never want to see him again, which, to some people, sounds like it may have been a difficult decision to come by. I never had a father, though, so I feel as though I never lost one.
It’s been nearly two years and I’ve started to heal. I forced myself to find a psychologist, and have made amazing progress. I’m on antidepressants, I’m conquering my anxiety and depression, I’m making new friends at university (they asked me to sit with them in class, and I nearly cried) and with my name change, I’ve started becoming proud of who I am.
It amazed me how little I knew about myself before the separation. I knew that I was depressed, I knew I was scared, but I never knew how angry I was. My anger was mostly directed at myself but I spent the last year redirecting it and trying to let it go so that I can move on. I’ve also discovered my strength, my ambition, my compassion and my power through all of this. I am grateful to find that this experience has shaped me, and I am grateful to have the strength to choose the way that I let this affect my life moving forward.
I don’t know if I will ever be entirely rid of my father. What I do know is that I am better off and that I can (and will) regain my sense of self-worth. I can be the person I want to be - In fact, I probably already am and haven’t fully realized it quite yet. I also know that I was lucky. I speak up and I write about my experience because I know there are children, women, and men who aren’t as lucky. So many are trapped in an abusive relationship and don’t necessarily see a path out. I hope that I can encourage people to realize their strength because it’s the one gift abuse gives us. I hope people read this and recognize that they can use their strength not only to withstand abuse but to escape and overcome it.
By: Claire L. Smith
Twitter and Instagram: @clairelsmxth