Growing up in a violent home shakes your entire being and it is hard to explain fully to someone who has not experienced it. I have lost most of my childhood memories but, through the years, many suppressed memories have made it back into my brain. Most of them are not good, however, they serve as reminders of how much I have overcome. It took years for me to stop talking about my childhood in the third person. I rarely spoke of my past, however, when I did, it felt like I was talking about someone else’s life. The look on a persons face when I would share an incident would surprise me. They would be shocked at what I was saying, but I would be shocked at their reaction. I finally realized that it was I who didn’t understand that the things I had experienced were traumatizing. I had spent my entire life in survival mode and didn’t have time to look back at the past. It was all I could do to just focus on getting through the present day. In a violent home, you are always walking on eggshells and waiting for the next bomb to explode. My dad was a constant, unpredictable bomb.
When we were kids, we were all given nicknames. My siblings were given animal names like duck, bear and buffalo. I, however, was given the name “Imp”, which means little devil. I remember being so annoyed that I didn’t get an animal name! As my story unfolds, you will get a clearer picture as to why I was assigned that particular name. My main nickname, however, was Nini (knee-knee) and I have no idea how that came about. All I remember was that I was teased relentlessly because I was a very small and skinny girl. My siblings and other kids would shout things at me like, “shut up, skinny nini”, “nini-pini is so skinny”, and “You’re so skinny you should turn sideways so you can disappear”. Of course, compared to what my parents called me, these things were irritating, but they didn’t hurt me. Honestly, I was the angriest kid in the group and I could be just as mean, ok…wayyyy meaner, to them. But then came the day when that name would be used against me to lure me out of the perfect hiding spot.
My father, who had changed into a completely different man before he passed away, was a heavy drinker back in those days. He was an angry drunk and that was to our detriment. We all knew that, if he wasn’t home by a certain time, he was out drinking and there would be hell to pay when he got home. As soon as we would hear his car drive up, fear would take over our entire bodies and adrenaline would take over everything else. The four of us would run as fast as we could to try and find the best hiding place that would keep us from getting the beating that was eminent. One night, I ran into my bedroom closet, hid in the corner and piled a bunch of my dirty laundry on top of me. I knew I was safe because, having such a small frame, it just looked like a small pile of clothes. The house went dead silent and we could hear dad fumbling through the door. As per usual, I heard him calling each of our names as he walked through the house looking for one of us. Wisely, we all remained quiet in our respective hiding places. All of a sudden, my bedroom door opened and my blood froze and my heart stopped. As soon as the closet door opened I quit breathing so that the pile of laundry wouldn’t move and give away my perfect hiding spot. But then, unexpectedly, I heard him call my nickname (which he rarely used) in a kind of friendly, singsongy voice that I hadn’t heard before. He sang, “Nini, where are you? I have something for you.” In that moment, with the rationalization and hope of a 7ish-year-old innocent child, I thought, “Wow, he is actually in a good mood tonight. I wonder what he got for me?!” So, I threw off the dirty clothes, stood up in the closet and shouted, “Here I am!” To this day, I distinctly remember the smile on his face that said, “I got you”; then he reached for a wire hanger that had been hanging above my head and, well, we all know what happened after that.
The crazy thing about this incident is that I wasn’t angry that I got the beating because those were “normal” and I knew I couldn’t avoid them all together. No, it was more angering to me that he had fooled me! I had the perfect hiding spot and I should not have been the one to have been found. Instead…I willingly gave it up! It never occurred to me that he rarely used my nickname and never brought us gifts. Something inside of me just wanted to believe that, “this time was different.” I couldn’t believe I gave it up!
That is the mindset of a child who knows nothing but terror and violence. I didn’t think anything of getting punched, kicked, slapped or spanked with a belt. Although in any situation these things should not be the norm, they were for me. My only mindset was to figure out how to minimize my turn. I don’t know how I ever mustered up the courage to ask him this, but one day I remember asking him why he assumed we had done something wrong and needed to spank us before he found out if we had or not. His response was, “Well, either you did something wrong or you are going to. Either way, you need to be punished for it.” So, there you have it: the catch 22 that secured a senseless beating for whomever was found first.
Most of the victims that I have helped have had children and it pained me to see their sweet little faces with eyes full of fear. Children who live in domestic violent situations are usually either extremely shy and insecure, or angry and rebellious. But the most heart-wrenching thing is when a child begins to mirror the behavior of their abuser. In my story, I was the angry and rebellious kid who brought all of that anger into my adulthood. I didn’t hesitate to put anyone in their place if they tried to mess with me. I had been beaten up for so long that, by the time I escaped to the streets, I was just over it. I was determined that no one would ever hit me again. It pains me to admit this, but I was not a great person going into adulthood. But, honestly, how could I have been? The odds were against me.
The anger I carried ended up being much of the reason that the first several years of my marriage were pretty rough. It wasn’t until my marriage hit a wall in year seven that I knew I had to get my crap together or I was going to lose everything I cared about. That was when I got serious about living my life for Jesus and giving Him everything. It was the first time that I had to truly face the hurt and anger that drove me and to allow Him to teach me that I could be different.
I wish I could say that my anger immediately disappeared and that I was great from then on, but that isn’t anyone’s reality. I made the decision to change, but the change was a journey filled will many mistakes. I have worked extremely hard on my life and I celebrate how much I have transformed and am a better person. I will never proclaim to be perfect because, literally, NO ONE is! However, I am proud of having made such leaps and bounds that, when friends hear stories about who I was back then, they cannot comprehend it. I have a very strong personality that may come off as ‘edgy’, but that is just me being human. But when it comes to my heart, I am a softie who cares deeply about people; especially people who are hurting.
One thing I can tell you unequivocally is that it is not easy to pull oneself out of such a deep mental, emotional and physical hell hole. When you take into consideration that I experienced 8 out of 10 of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)1 , it is pretty much a miracle that I am as healthy as I am and still standing. My battle has been uphill all the way and there were countless times when I felt like giving up. However, I fought long and hard, and I am finally in a place of peace with who I am. Now, being single again, about to start a new job and possibly having to move, I have no idea what my future holds. What I do know is that whatever it is, I am going into it with passion and will give it everything that I have to give!
It is so important to know that, escaping from an abusive situation is only the beginning of a very long journey in the healing process. It takes years to reprogram the brain and believe that you are important, that you are valuable and that you deserve to be loved. It takes even longer to fully trust people again. If someone you know has escaped abuse, please keep in mind that they need even more support after they are free. They need a community to surround them and to build them back up. They are broken and need help to put the pieces back together through unconditional Love, kindness, patience, encouragement and sensitivity. Honestly, I didn’t know that I needed that kind of support, but I wish I had because it would have made my journey just a little easier.
There is no place for judgement in this life. It is far too easy to judge someone who looks different or acts differently that we think they should. But if we could just stop and take a moment to learn about the people around us, we may discover that there are some serious over-comers around us. For example, if you know someone who is grumpy all the time, maybe try to find out why. If they are grumpy just to be grumpy, then walk away. But if they are grumpy because they have been hurt and are broken, be the friend that they need. We allow ourselves to be so busy thinking about ourselves and our own troubles, that we forget to look around and consider that others are troubled too. Who knows, you may pour into someone’s life and be surprised at how much they give right back into yours. We all need community and no one should have to walk their journey alone.
Until next time, be a faithful friend and stay safe!