Domestic violence takes many forms and, although the abuse usually begins with one person, it can quickly become a learned behavior. When you grow up in an abusive environment, children pick up on the behavior and begin to mirror the actions of their abuser in one form or another. You can never tell which way one child will respond to the abuse compared to another. Some children will become afraid and submissive, while others will be afraid but will respond differently. My response was to become a fighter no matter the cost. Once, we asked my mom who the angriest kid growing up was and she said I was and my siblings agreed. At the time I was shocked by this because, I knew I was angry but didn’t think I was the worst one. Looking back I was very angry but, to be fair, I had many reasons to be! Other than anger, emotions were taboo in my house because they only served as invitations to be ridiculed and laughed at. Vulnerability was a weakness and you never showed your emotional cards. I was a scrapper and would fight my way through anything and everything and can’t remember crying outside of getting a beating. However, there was one occasion where I allowed myself to show how I was feeling and I paid for it greatly.
Growing up, the only way that we settled disputes were yelling matches, throwing things and fist fights. There was one occasion that I don’t recall why, but two of my family members and I were fighting and I found myself in a very bad situation. The argument became so heated that they ganged up on me, laid me out on the ground and started punching me. This was the first time that I was facing two people beating on me and I felt upset because I knew that I couldn’t win against the both of them. I had no way of stopping them and felt so helpless that I gave up and started to cry. When they realized that I was crying they suddenly stopped punching me, burst into laughter and started to make fun of me. Often, when I think of this situation, I wish I had taken another hundred punches rather than to have let them see me cry. Crying meant weakness; weakness meant failure; failure meant vulnerability; and vulnerability is never a safe place in an abusive house. In that moment, I promised myself that I would never let anyone see or make me cry again…ever! The promise that my 11 year-old self made would have repercussions on my mental psyche for years to come.
In a toxic environment, you do what you have to do just to survive day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Being laughed at was worse than any punch and my only recourse was to make sure that I never allowed anyone to see me in a vulnerable state again. Vows are powerful things to speak into existence and they hold our hearts and souls captive until we break them off. A self protective wall was built around my heart that day and it would take many years of hard work to break it down. Eventually, I had to go back to that moment and break the vow I made in order to find freedom in learning to be vulnerable and trust people with my heart.
The most important part of this story that I would hope any reader would grasp is that it takes years to unravel abusive programming. It is not easy to come out of a domestic violent home and live a productive and healthy life. If I could go back in time, there is one thing that I would change and that would be to prioritize finding the time and money to get counseling. This would have fast tracked the processing and healing that I needed to go through. Instead, I gave in to the misconception that, once you accept Jesus into your heart, you no longer need counseling, medication or help because your life will be easier in every way. I would like to personally debunk this idealistic viewpoint.
I have a very strong faith in Jesus and He has been my best friend for over 30 years. However, God gave us brains, intelligence and education for a reason…He knew we would need it! Early on in my Christian walk I was convinced that, if I just had enough faith, I could be healed from my past. Faith is real. Faith is important. Faith is what has gotten me through every hard thing in my life. Having said that, faith does not prevent struggles, it does not prevent hardship, it does not prevent medical obstacles and it does not bypass the necessity of the healing process. What I have seen in my life is God’s faithfulness to walk with me through each and every hardship and to help me grow and become a better person through it. Faith is important to me and I have become stronger in my faith in spite of what I have walked through, especially in the last four years. However, I am thankful that I have gained the wisdom that has allowed me to be 100% real throughout this process. My family and close friends know how hard I have worked to stay in a positive mindset, choosing Love over and over again. I have no regrets about how I have handled the struggles in my life and I stand confident in the strong woman that I have become. But the road to get to where I am today was very long, very hard and sometimes lonely and discouraging. Thankfully, I have an amazing community, which I have been intentional about building, that has continually Loved me and encouraged me along my journey.
Victims of abuse need to be understood, to be valued for their growth, to be appreciated for their tenacity to overcome, and to be Loved for who they are in spite of the unfortunate cards they were handed in life. Who around you could use words of encouragement? Who around you needs to feel valued? Who around you needs to be honored? Recognize the accomplishments and efforts of those who have overcome because they are most likely still on their journey to being whole again and could use some uplifting words to keep them going. Never underestimate the power of positive words to a weary soul!
Until next time, honor those around you and stay safe!