First, I’d like to say thanks to Melanie for asking me to guest post. I am going to touch on what it was like to grow up in house with a father who was fueled by domestic violence and alcohol.
When you grow up in a house where there is domestic violence, it’s like being on a small boat in the ocean. You know it’s unstable, dangerous, and eventually going to tip. You just don’t know how or when. So you learn to always have your guard up. You compensate for the ebb and flow. You prepare for the worst.
I learned to watch for cues. For instance, some of the ones I learned to watch for were the time of day- the later it got, especially after dinner, the better the chance my father would come home drunk. I learned that if he came home drunk it would be hell on Earth for my mother. I learned to watch my mother’s actions and emotions. If she was fidgety and nervous, I knew she was also watching the time and waiting to see what would happen…
Another was holidays or special occasions- my father would often find fault with something my mother or a family member did, and this would result in him starting a fight to either not go, or to make us leave early. I still to this day can remember how embarrassed I would feel.
You grow up not knowing who you are, because you are not able to be who you are. You can’t grow up in that environment feeling free to express yourself or feelings. You don’t want to do or say anything that may trigger the abuser. The triggers for my father were pretty much anything my mother said or did. You can imagine how tenuous that environment was.
I learn to go inward. I kept what I thought, felt, needed, and wanted inside. I had to, I was on a sinking ship in survival mode. I learned crisis management very, very early. Knowing how to manage or avoid the violence happening became a key to my everyday existence.
As you get older, by older I mean 6,7,8, you learn new techniques. You are now able to read and write at least somewhat. You have seen and tested what works and what doesn’t so you have a new set of skills to help you survive.
Quite a few people will tell you that children don’t always know what’s going on, or that they have a “child’s perspective”. While that is true to some extent, it is also hugely false. I grew up knowing that what was going on was not right. I didn’t know how wrong it was, but I knew it wasn’t going on in everybody’s house.
The moms that volunteered at my school didn’t have black eyes, fat lips, or bruises. They didn’t jump out of their skin if they heard a loud noise. I learned something was way off at our house. Hell, I knew that before kindergarten!
I was a great secret keeper by the age of 5. I had to be. I was afraid of what would happen if I told. By afraid I don’t mean being taken away from my parents or my father getting in trouble (that probably wouldn’t have happened back in late 70’s/early 80’s when I grew up) or the worst fear… Having to watch my mother get her ass kicked and handed to her over and over and over again.
My father, to this day, is still an alcoholic. Maybe not as violent because he is getting older. He still has a nasty, violent temper when he gets started. Let’s just say the leopard hasn’t changed his spots…