People react to traumatic experiences in different ways. Some overeat, some overwork, and some turn to substance abuse. Some become people pleasers, others, people alienators. Some develop anxiety disorders. Others fall into depressions that are deep dark and difficult to climb out of.
The effects of my own tragic childhood and difficult marriage manifested itself in me becoming passive and unassertive. I had no idea how to say “no,” how to ask for what I need, how to stand up to mistreatment. I knew how to survive. That was what I had been doing from birth.
Until my early adult life I experienced one trauma after another. I was born into a family wrapped in both poverty and domestic disharmony. My parents, involved in their own issues, neglected both my physical and emotional needs. Shabby clothing and poor hygiene created problems in school and with the neighborhood children. I remember being bullied, ostracized and isolated.
My adolescence was a nightmare. As I moved on to my teen years I became involved in unhealthy relationships in a desperate attempt to gain approval and recognition. I was unhappy, restless, unfulfilled and bored. My talents, ambitions, dreams and goals had become but a faint memory. My parents solved the problem of my juvenile delinquency by sending me away at the tender age of 13. How they rid themselves of my presence is a story in itself.
I packed my bags and said goodbye, not realizing that my departure would become permanent.
My mother asked me if I wanted to visit my old neighbors who I was quite friendly with since they had a girl my age. Always looking for new adventures, I agreed enthusiastically. I packed my bags, boarded the bus and said goodbye, not realizing that my departure would become permanent.
After a few days, I wanted to go home but Mrs. L said that my parents weren’t home and that I would have to remain for few more days. The few more days turned into weeks which turned into months and years. At some point I began to wear down and retreat into my own world. My voice was silenced. My heart was broken. I didn’t fight anymore. I fulfilled my responsibilities (which included housework and babysitting) like a robot.
I stayed there until I was 15 and then moved in with my older brother and there I remained until I met my husband. At that time my self-image was so poor that I didn’t think anyone would ever want me. So I married the first person who proposed. I still can’t believe the poor judgment I displayed as a result of the traumas I endured.
Marriage did not solve any of my emotional problems. If anything it exacerbated them. I accepted my husband’s frequent temper tantrums as one more demonstration of life’s senseless pain. While the other young women in the park were comparing brand names on baby strollers, I sat there almost in a stupor, wondering vaguely if it was “normal” for a man to yell for anything and everything. A ketchup stain on the face of a 15 month old baby, a sticky spill on the refrigerator door, an inability to attend a family celebration due to the flu, all evoked either an excessive utilization of vocal cords or the “24 hour silent treatment.”
So there I was, barely 22, a meek, passive, unassertive woman with two rowdy children living in the shadow of a “scream machine.” I had no family support since my brother got along with my husband and was not interested in discovering his behavior behind closed doors. I tried to cope and, being a shy person, was more than willing to keep silent about my situation. On the outside we appeared a handsome couple with two beautiful children. But the reality was a far cry from that “pretty as a picture” family.
I busied myself with my kids and stayed out of the house with them as much as possible to avoid his temperamental explosions, but my life was held together by scotch tape. Then one day things came to a head.
It was a sweltering summer day in August, with temperatures hitting 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had no choice but to stay in and turn on the air conditioners. I settled on the sofa with a book while my two toddlers busied themselves in the bedroom. Suddenly, I heard a deafening bang. I ran into the room to investigate and what I saw will always stay etched in my mind.
At that moment I didn’t think about my safety. Avoiding my husband’s fury was all I could think about.
The huge seven-foot armoire that nearly touched the ceiling lay face down on the carpet with my children inches away. How this huge thing fell is a mystery I have yet to solve. How the children escaped unharmed is a miracle for which I will be forever grateful. It was an hour before dinner and I knew my husband would be annoyed at seeing the place a wreck. So I did something that in retrospect was very dangerous. I lifted the huge thing by myself. At this point I will mention that I am five feet tall and weigh less than 100 lb. But at that moment I didn’t think about my safety. Avoiding my husband’s fury was all I could think about.
I pushed and pushed, and with a power I didn’t know I possessed put the armoire back in its place. At first I didn’t feel any pain but that night I awoke at midnight with excruciating pain in my back. The next few days were spent with visits to the orthopedic doctor and then lots of physical therapy in an attempt to put humpty back together again. I had sprained my neck and strained many muscles in my upper and lower back. I needed time to recover but my husband decided that “it’s all in your mind” and refused to allow me to rest. He yelled and screamed that I “get moving” until I became so upset and exhausted I remember feeling faint. The room spun around me as I dialed an ambulance.
Lying there on the gurney with the sirens blaring, it finally dawned on me that I could no longer bury my head in the sand and deny the reality. I could no longer afford the luxury of silence and passivity. I had two children who needed me. The time for change had come.
I mentally calculated my assets, trying to figure out if I had what it took to make a U-turn in my life. Money stashed away? Not much – $20 in my bank account. Physical energy? Wouldn’t give that too many points, not with my broken back anyways. Emotional strength? A broken heart and a crushed spirit. Support system? One true friend who knew the truth. It wasn’t looking good.
Then I remembered the biblical story of Joseph. His silken coat in shreds and he himself tossed like a piece of refuse in a pit filled with writhing snakes, he did not give up hope. All the odds were against him. What did he do? He cried out to God who saved him and watched over and protected him as he journeyed to greatness. Eventually he became the viceroy of Egypt, the most powerful nation of the world.
I felt a kinship to Joseph as I added one more asset to my meager list: God. With Him at my side I could do what I needed to do. Determination washed over me and the will not just to survive, but to thrive, burned inside me.
Determination washed over me and the will not just to survive, but to thrive, burned inside me.
While waiting to be examined I got into a conversation with a friendly nurse and gave her a shortened version of my situation. Without hesitation she said, “Oh, a domestic violence situation” and called over a social worker who provided me with a lot of information which included a telephone number of a domestic violence hotline. With instructions from my doctor to rest, I was sent home. The next morning as soon as I had the privacy I needed, I dialed the hot line number. Within hours I found myself and my children in a women’s shelter. With their assistance, I eventually moved into a clean cozy basement apartment.
Having creative and artistic abilities, I found a job designing gift baskets. I loved talking to customers and helping them express just the right words on the gift card for the recipient of the gift. Spending my days working with flowers, fresh fruit, decadent chocolate and sweets helped to lift my spirits.
Moving forward for me meant shedding the skins of passivity, of fear, of isolation from healthy human contact. It meant practicing saying “no.” It meant discarding useless values and adopting healthy new attitudes. It meant praying daily and asking God for his continuous love and support. It meant joining a creative writing program in the local Y, which I found to be therapeutic and healing. It was there that I bonded and formed lasting friend-ships.
The process was slow and needed continuous perseverance but I finally began to feel that I was breaking loose from the confining cocoon that was holding me back. I realized that I had emerged a butterfly, free at last.
There is no situation too hopeless for the Almighty. There is nothing He can’t do. He is with you waiting for your call. His help can come in an instant. His love for you has no boundaries. Feel His embrace. Feel His hand holding yours. His desire to care for you is beyond anything we can ever imagine. My friend I tell you: You can do it! You will do it! You will overcome your obstacles and move forward into a new day. You will succeed. That is the reward of faith.
The author is using a pseudonym.