Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

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On Sunday afternoon, I spoke to my cousin, Mina.  One of the questions she asked me was how I became a good father after all the abuse I had suffered as a child – how I broke the cycle …

To begin with, my wife is a natural born  mom – and being an elementary school teacher, she had studied child development pretty extensively in college.  She knew definitively how she wanted to raise our children.  I knew what not to do from being Pat and Ed’s child, Rhonda knew what to do from instinct and study.

We were emotionally involved from the moment our oldest child was born.  We practiced Attachment Parenting – our young children were seldom away from us, they even slept with us.  We were always there for them, never allowing them to ‘cry it out.’  I spent many nights rocking a baby, or sleeping on my back while my child slept with his or her head resting on my heart.  We wanted them to know and understand we were always there for them.  Always.

We had immense respect for our children, and we built relationships with them.  We didn’t make arbitrary rules they had to follow.  We were not punitive.  As a result, our children wanted us to be happy with them, not disappointed in them, and their behavior usually reflected their desire.  Proper discipline is not punishing a child for making the wrong choice, it is gently guiding a child to the right choice.

I understand that there is a clear purpose for childhood; to explore the world and find your place in it.  To discover your passion, your dreams and your talents.  To find your gifts and learn who you are.  As parents, we play a critical role in this discovery – we facilitate and make it possible for our child to become who he or she was born to be.  We follow their lead – helping them achieve by setting goals and rewarding accomplishment.

I figured out what was important to me, what I thought they should know to be successful at life; namely, to question all authority, even mine – and I taught them this from the beginning.   I wanted them to know themselves, and to be true to themselves above all.  I wanted them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.  I wanted them to understand that they could talk to me about anything – there would never be judgement or reprisal.  They had to know that my life wasn’t my own, it was their’s … and that would never change.  I am their father; first, last and always.

I don’t think there is one right way to break the cycle of abuse, but for me it was all about understanding my role as a father, and the purpose of childhood.  They had to feel loved, safe, wanted and valued.  They had to have a solid relationship with their parents to be healthy and happy.  They had to have their emotional and physical needs met in order to do the work of being a child … and I had to make that all happen.

When you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, everything in life is easier – being a parent included.  I had a plan – a well defined path to walk, and I did everything in my power not to veer off the path.  When I was at a loss, I thought about what my father [and mother] would have done … and I did something else!

I found that my deep and intense emotional attachment to my children was the strongest guiding force in my life – by investing myself so completely from the moment I became a father, I broke the cycle.   There was just no way I could ever hurt someone I loved so deeply, and respected so completely.

It’s fair to say that I feel abusing a child to be the most vile, immoral thing anyone can do — especially if you are the child’s father, the person who is supposed to love, protect and nurture.  I have never wanted to be like my father, not in any way, and knowing that was empowering all by itself; when you know better, you do better.

Today, my children are young adults, but they still come to me for guidance and advice.  They tell me their plans for the future, the future I helped make possible. One son studies medicine, the other studies political science and law, and my daughter, at seventeen, is already so accomplished in her chosen field her older brothers often teasingly tell her to stop for a while because she is making them look bad.  They share their fears, dreams and broken hearts with me – and they allow me to know them, to know who they truly are – and that is a priceless gift.

In retrospect, I don’t think breaking the cycle is so very difficult …

Continuing it is what is unthinkable.

Last Night …

my sons met their only first cousin for the first time; my niece is 19, and my sons are 21 and 23 — my daughter and niece had met each other only twice before; this is another sad reality of broken and dysfunctional families …

Child abuse and the resulting mental illness, and often estrangement, have an impact on people’s lives for generations.

My sister’s child and my children should not be strangers to each other – we should not now, for the first time ever, be enjoying dinner and celebrating the accomplishment of one of our children together.  There should have been recitals and graduations and holidays, there should have been a sharing of laughter and tears and support and love all along.

It’s been nice to have my aunt Bev back in my life, and having my brother-in-law and niece at my daughter’s performance last night meant a great deal to me; we’ve all missed so much.

The effects of broken, violent, abusive families are far reaching – I’ve known this for some time, but I’m only just now beginning to realize what it all means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Week

Again I write in the middle of the night …

It was an emotional week, a seriously emotional week.  I didn’t sleep much – there were several reasons for this, none of which include insomnia due to Depression or Bipolar Mania.  My state of mental health has never been better – and in a week where my emotions were constantly tested it feels really good to be able to say that.

My cousin’s disclosure was shocking, and my concern for her well being occupies my thoughts almost constantly.  That the abuse and resulting mental illness wasn’t confined only to my immediate family, but extends to my father’s siblings and their children as well, leaves me feeling a bit lost.  I had gotten a grip on my own situation, but this casts a far wider net; who knows where it began, or where it will end.

When I started this blog I had no idea where it might take me, but even if I had had a clue then, the revelations of this last week would have been filed under Never Gonna Happen.  Tommy, an abuser?  No way in hell.  His daughter suffering from depression because he beat her?  Absolutely not.  Ed writing me a heartfelt letter taking responsibility for everything he did and everything it caused?  Dream on …

But that was my week.

I’m blaming Tempest’s Blog Genie for the last shock;  when she nominated me for a Liebster Award, one of her questions was:  “If a blogging genie came to you and offered you three blogging-related wishes, what would you wish?”   My answer included, “To know how my blog impacts Pat and Ed on an emotional level.”  I don’t didn’t believe in the Blog Genie, but I now have a bit of respect for him; he granted half a wish – a whole wish and I’m sure my respect would be more complete, but half a wish is better than no wish at all …

Ed’s letter of late yesterday afternoon was sincere, and it came from his heart …

The thing is, child abuse is unforgivable.  It is just that simple for me.  I’ve built my entire life on a sense of well-defined integrity and honor.  A code of morality that is rooted in doing what is right simply because it is right – no fear of consequences or damnation for wrongdoing; no hope of reward, eternal or otherwise, for doing what is noble. And …

I believe in very few absolutes; I don’t see many things in terms of Black and White, but child abuse is absolutely wrong and there can be no forgiveness here.

However, when someone takes responsibility for what they did and what it caused, and is willing to work to make it right in any way they can now, I’m inclined toward a New Beginning.  It’s too late for second chances, and with forgiveness out of the question, it has to be Start Over.

I’m doing this simply because I believe it is the right thing to do … and that’s what I do, what is right.

I knew I was owed an apology, knew I needed to hear what I heard yesterday – firmly believed I was owed at least those things.  And I knew getting them, if I ever got them, would have an emotional impact on me, but I didn’t know how completely his admission of guilt and assumption of responsibility would disarm me.  I  just didn’t know how angry I was at Ed until all of a sudden I wasn’t angry anymore.  I am understandably guarded and cautious, but today I don’t see him as the enemy.

He didn’t offer excuses, there were no ‘buts’ … he didn’t tell me how badly abused he was as a child – didn’t even mention it.   It didn’t matter to me before, but it does now.  He can tell me now because he is no longer offering it as justification for what he did to me.  He can tell me now because it probably does matter, somehow.

I don’t know why I think he finally understands, but I think he does.

I have no immediate plans to see him,  I still need to process and digest.  I Need to rest and make peace with the emotional week I’ve had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Point Was …

 

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When I was sick – psychotic and suicidal, and my doctors – all of them; endocrinologists, cardiologists, psychiatrists, our GP and even my therapist was trying to make me understand why I was sick, my wife was close to her emotional breaking point.

I kept insisting that whatever was wrong with was me, it had to be physical.  I did not then understand the connection between deep depression and its physical symptoms such as aching joints, blurry vision, short term memory loss and the features of Metabolic Syndrome – my wife, on the other hand, kept hearing the truth from my medical team; “He’s mentally ill because he was a badly abused child.  He’s at the age when for many survivors it all comes back.”

Rhonda, my wife, was dealing with a very sick husband and children who were distraught over the changes in their father.  Her life had been torn apart at its foundation; I am normally soft-spoken, low key, intensely intellectual and acutely aware of the emotional needs of my family; I was no longer any of those things; I had become someone she didn’t even know.  And I was suicidal.  She was terrified and she felt helpless, vulnerable and powerless.  That she didn’t have a nervous breakdown is some sort of miracle.

She, in her fear and emotional pain, wrote a letter to Pat and Ed telling them I was desperately ill and exactly why that was.  The letter was a scathing indictment of their parenting; it was honest, brutal and it was raw.

 

I know I said I wouldn’t share the details of Ed’s correspondence with me here often, but this is difficult for me to process, so …

 

Ed wrote the following to me earlier this week:

” … I have read all of the blog and tried to understand everything that has happened to you. I am really just now becoming aware of all your pain and suffering. The only insights I had of any of this was the letter Rhonda wrote to me several years ago, telling me about all your emotional  traumas. I didn’t respond then, because it wasn’t from you. I was afraid that I would be rejected in any efforts I made. It wasn’t until I became aware the public blog that I felt able to start to reach out to you again.”

 

My reply:

 

“Rhonda was cleaning up your mess, Ed.  And regardless of your level of understanding at the time you received that note – of my illness or her intent, you knew every single word she wrote was true.  You owe her, make no mistake.  Without her loyalty, support, understanding and love, I would be dead today.

 

 

You do not get a free pass, here.  You knew you were an abusive father, you have always known that.  You beat me Ed, time and time and time again.

 

 

You were afraid of rejection?  Rejection?   How pathetic are you?

 

 

You were afraid of facing the truth, your truth.

 

 

Get real and get honest or leave me alone. “

 

 

As a father, his words disturb me deeply – on every conceivable level;  it isn’t about the father, it is about the son – the man, his child, who is sick.  He didn’t respond because he was afraid of rejection, and the letter didn’t come from me?  Jesus Christ, give me a break;  we are not in the third grade.

 

 

For the record, I couldn’t have written a letter then – I literally could not have written a coherent sentence then.  I wanted to die!  And he didn’t respond because he feared rejection,  and I did not personally compose the letter.  Do either of those things even matter in this context?  Are they not completely tangential to the point?

 As usual, it is all about Ed

 

 

No one, least of all Rhonda, expected a response of any sort; she had accepted that Pat and Ed were beyond weak and incapable of assuming responsibility for what they had done, but she was also distraught and needed to lash out at the people who had caused so much pain and suffering to her own family.

 

 

Rhonda kept her idealism for a long time – she clung to the notion that somewhere deep inside Pat and Ed there had to be some sort of humanity, some sort of love and concern for their children.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, she needed to believe this — and she did until she just couldn’t anymore.  To this day it is hell for her to imagine me as a helpless child growing up in Pat and Ed’s House of Horrors …

 

 

but she did not want Ed to respond to her letter, only to make him feel something – after all that he had done, and everything it led to, she wanted and needed to make him feel.

 

 

After his response earlier this week, I don’t think she succeeded.

Dear Mina …

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It is the middle of the night in California, but I can’t sleep for thinking of you and what you shared with me today.  There are so many things I’d like to tell you, and in my current state of emotional exhaustion I am sure I will leave some out, but I will make a start.

When I was growing up, Tommy – your dad, was a sort of hero for me.  He did things his way, not following convention, but forging his own path.  He traveled the world and had grand adventures; he was like a literary character come to  life, and he was my uncle.  Tommy was cool.  

Throughout my adulthood, even before the devastating earthquake in Japan prompted me to reach out to Tommy after decades of no contact, I still thought about him.  I wondered what life had given him and what he’d made of it.  Tommy was, in my mind, somehow larger than life in many ways.  

You once told me about your Uncle Eddy, my father, and how you remembered him helping you to learn English – he’d been so kind to you, so patient and caring. Those things were not easy to hear because they were the antithesis of the man I knew – they were, for me, a glimpse of what should have been but never was.  

I now know how hard it was for you when my stories of Ed shattered your belief in who he is – because yesterday, reading your words about my Uncle Tommy, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I didn’t want children either, for the same reasons you don’t want them; I was so afraid I’d hurt them, so afraid I would continue the cycle, so afraid I lacked the patience necessary to be a good father.  Now, I cannot begin to imagine my life without them; they are my life’s greatest gifts.  

Having been an abused child does not mean you will hurt your own.  You are so aware of what happened to you, so cognizant of how it made you feel … your perpetuating the abuse is not at all likely; people who don’t understand repeat the cycle, people who know better do better – and you know better.   

I don’t know if I have ever hated Ed, outside of moments fueled by anger.  Neither do I pity him because he was an abused child.  I have deep compassion and empathy for survivors of child abuse, but when they go on to abuse their own children they forfeit all rights to compassion, empathy, consideration and even pity from me.  Personally,  I would rather be hated than pitied – pity is a contemptible emotion reserved for the pathetic and weak.  That said, weak, pathetic men are the men who abuse, so  I understand why you feel  pity  for your father, and it is appropriate, but I cannot muster any emotion or feeling at all for Ed.  

Depression is hell.  It is dark and frightening; unsuccessfully treated it can turn your life upside down.  If your meds aren’t working, it might be time to try new meds.  If your psychiatrist isn’t able to bring your symptoms under control, get a new psychiatrist.  And don’t forego therapy.  Exercise, listen to music you love, read, find your spiritual self, spend time with your friends, take your dog for a walk, focus on what makes you feel happy and good.  Tell your story, sing your song and live!

Love,

Tim 

 

Just Sad I Think …

It’s been a surreal day; my head is full of random disconnected thoughts that I’m afraid will never coalesce into an articulate post, but I’m going to try; right now I need to write …

In reality, I guess it’s been more than a surreal day – my thoughts and feelings have been disordered since Ed emailed me last Friday; my cousin’s revelation earlier today merely added to the storm currently raging in my mind.

I’m not sick, in fact I’ve never been more well.  I’m not depressed – sad, but not depressed.  I’m not anxious or manic.  I’m not having flashbacks, but those could easily come now I’m sure …

I’m just so sad.

It’s tragic, all of it.  Violence, abuse, denial – an entire family, through God knows how many generations, whose solution has been to sweep it all under the rug and pretend everything is well.  There was no abuse.  There is no denial.  There is only “False Memories” and now a man – their nephew or son who cannot let go of the bad and focus on the good … 

There was no good.  And even if there had been, it wouldn’t change the bad – wouldn’t erase it or its legacy; mental illness is forever, it isn’t curable.  And it isn’t a choice.

Their thinking is flawed — I know that’s ironic coming from someone who has experienced psychotic depression, but it’s true; their thinking isn’t sane or rational – it isn’t even based in common morality.

Is this why they saw rape in the way they did?  Is this why they believed a fourteen year old girl could give consent?  Is this why they excused Ed’s repugnant, degenerate behavior?

Lord help me …

I never saw it, but did my father beat my mother?  He beat his children, did he beat her too?   I am no fan of my mother, but a man who will hit his wife and children is capable of anything … anything.

And the silence.  Keep the secret no matter the cost – keep it now, keep it forever.

Fuck the kids – their feelings don’t matter.  Lose control and beat them, they’ll get over it or they won’t; makes no difference either way.  We’ll just say their memories are false …

Or that children deserve to have “the fire whipped out of them.”

I am out of words,

FOR NOW.

But I will not be silent.

I will not pretend.

I will not let go of what I didn’t ask for to begin with and could not keep from coming back even though Once Upon a Time I did, miraculously, manage to turn my back on it all.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Want to Know What I Have Always Known

The following was left for me on Facebook by my very brave and special cousin in Japan:

 

My father told me he was beaten by his father when he was a kid too. My father is usually a very fun nice guy but has some temper issue and when he snap, he is just out of control, beats his kids and wife severely.
My mom once went to hospital because
her ear drum was broken when he hit her.
My sister remembers almost nothing and has memory issue still now, I guess her brain is trying to protect her. She remembers things were horrible though.
In contrast, I remember everything so clearly. When I close my eyes, I re-live the moments of hell. Sometimes it is just too much to bare. I have been seeing a shrink since I was 17. I am 27 now and has been popping anti depressant since but it just doesn’t seem to do any good.

I had strong hatred for my father. But what I feel now is a pity.
He once told me that he himself cannot understand why he does or say the things he does to us.
He is a victim of child abuse too. 
I simply feel sorry for him now.

Despite the love I have for children and always dreamed of having lots of my own children, now I do not plan to have any children of my own. I cannot risk someone to go through the hell I went through. If there is even a slightest chance, I just cannot do.
That is my way of breaking the vicious circle of the family.
It is quite inspiring to see you raising three children wonderfully though.

 

It speaks for itself, but I will say:

 

She shouldn’t have to fear having children of her own to love and nurture – to raise as children should be raised.  Her past should not make her so fearful  she is willing to forego knowing the joy of being someone’s mother.  She should not have to endure the lifetime of depression she will now have to endure.  She should not know what it is like to hate, then pity her father.  She should not have to relive the hell of having been abused when she closes her eyes at night …

To those who say false memories, I say bullshit!  We are not all – an entire generation of this family’s children – suffering from the same false memories.

Denial will not help.  Blaming the victim who is only telling the truth will not help.

FIX IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT YOU DID AND WHAT IT CAUSED — SPEND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TRYING TO MAKE IT RIGHT FOR THE CHILDREN, YOUR CHILDREN, YOU HAVE HURT SO BADLY.  STOP IT HERE AND NOW SO NO ONE ELSE EVER KNOWS THIS PAIN.

I have never in my life been so deeply ashamed of my last name …

 

 

 

Multigenerational Abuse

I’ve been concerned for some time that the abuse in my family was multigenerational (I am speaking of my father’s family specifically).  Comments made by a paternal aunt indicating she had “the fire whipped out of her” by her mother – and that she “deserved it,” as well as her belief that her son has false memories of his own childhood – false memories she ignorantly and wrongly attributes to his his having Bipolar Disorder – in addition to Ed’s admission that he was “severely beaten” as a child – led me to believe that abuse is woven into the tapestry of our family …

This morning I awoke with confirmation; a cousin left the following comment on my Facebook page:  “Both my sister and I have been suffering from depression for over a decade caused by being abused by our parents. So I’m with you all along with this matter.  I guess it’s a family tradition.”  This is a cousin who lives in Japan, a cousin I have never even met because she was born after I became estranged from Ed.  She is young – the courage it took for her to make this admission humbles me.

This is not a scathing review of my family, it is a plea to end the abuse.  I write this post trembling and in tears, it gives me no pleasure to have been right.  I did not want my uncle in Japan, a man I admired, to be like my father – just as his daughter did not want her “Uncle Eddy” to be like her own.  We both wanted someone to believe in …

This is how it goes generation after generation.  The abuse, followed by denial, allows mental illness to grow and flourish – to permeate the very foundation of a family.

Enough!

Enough!

 

 

 

A Return to the Wound

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I am recognizing how true this is  – “You cannot disown what is yours.  Flung out, there is always the return, the reckoning, the revenge, perhaps the reconciliation. There is always the return.  And the wound will take you there.”     Wherever there is.

When I first learned about the far reaching effects of child abuse – the life long struggle survivors face, the mental illness caused by an abused past, I was enraged. To have lived through it, to have survived it and gone on to happiness despite my horrific childhood had been such a victory for me – such an accomplishment.  And it suddenly felt as though none of that mattered – life was about one more injustice, one more struggle, one more uphill climb.  The past was never really gone, it could come back without warning and destroy me.

I was suicidal then.  What was the point in living if everything was outside my control and could simply be taken away?  My wounded heart, soul and mind were in need of a respite that just wouldn’t come – instead, they returned over and over again to the pain of my childhood.  For years I hadn’t thought about my parents, or my past, and all of a sudden I couldn’t keep the flashbacks from happening — PTSD is cruel, and the effects of PTSD exacerbate Depression.

Depression is my biggest nemesis – that and anxiety.  I don’t think clearly at all when I’m battling them.  I’m irritable, paranoid, unreasonable, delusional and psychotic; my therapists, doctors and family telling me that I could reclaim my life, that I wouldn’t be sick forever, that everything was going to get better went in one ear and out the other.  I was incapable of holding on to hope …

And just about the time I reached the end of my rope, the meds began to work … and my calm and balanced mind allowed therapy to work.

Eventually I understood and accepted that

it always goes back to the wound,

and wherever the wound takes you.

“You cannot disown what is yours.”

But you can [through therapy] learn not to give it any power in your life.

Back to Work

Dear Reader,

As I do not want to turn my blog into Silence Shattered, the Daily Soap, I will not be publishing my conversations with Ed, or even sharing the details on an ongoing basis.  I will, however, update you from time-to-time as the situation unravels.  There is much to be learned, for all us, in the process of healing in whatever form it takes.

Thank you to all who voiced their concern, I appreciate your words of caution and the caring behind them.

And now it is back to the work of Empowering Survivors and Increasing Awareness of the Connection Between Child Abuse and Mental Illness.

Tim