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Chapter 1

In the beginning, there was me...

If you looked at my life through the peephole you’d think that everything was “normal.” That’s because my parents were good at hiding things from the outside world. Let’s face it, they were even good at hiding things from me. When you don’t know anything different, abuse looks normal. 


While both of my parents are narcissistic, the way they displayed their narcissism made their abuse different. My mom was both emotionally and physically abusive. She always wondered why I was “Daddy’s little girl” and barely had the time of day for her. We were always clashing and now that I look back at things I wonder why I didn’t clash with him too. After all, he’s what we’d call “passive aggressive.”


Everyone has their own “normal” though. What’s normal for you may not be normal for me and vice versa. The one thing you and I can probably both relate to though is the sad fact that when you’re born into an abusive family you think that’s “normal.” In fact, I just thought I had “strict” parents and that was okay. 


Why was it okay? Probably because I learned to do anything they asked of me in just the right way to please them. You see, this is where my people pleasing issues stem from. I knew that if I dared to step even an inch over the line I’d get the belt. So, I did what I was told and made sure to excel in school too.


During this time I also learned how to be resilient - a trait that would serve me well throughout the rest of my life.I honestly feel that this is something that most of us who’ve been through any type of abuse have had to learn. There are times when we feel as though we’re toeing the line only to have our abuser lash out at us for something that we never saw coming.


This happened to me when I was about 5-years-old. I honestly don’t recall why my uncle was at our house or what he was helping my dad with, but I do remember asking my mom “Why’s he so fat?” Of course, I was 5-years-old and didn’t know what I was saying was wrong. I have to believe that my mom did know that what she was doing was wrong though.


Her response to my question was to force feed me a huge spoon of mayonnaise. I remember standing there crying, begging her not to do it. I also remember choking it down because I had no choice. Somehow I managed to gag it down but now every time I look at mayonnaise I continue to gag. Of course, I learned something that day: I learned not to talk to my parents because doing so wasn’t “safe.” I also learned that I couldn’t trust them to tell them anything I was thinking and so I became a quiet child who toed the line and did whatever it took to please my parents.


Unfortunately, I can sum it up by saying that I learned to manage my emotions in an unhealthy fashion that day. I feel that all of us who’ve been abused can find a time when we initially learned unhealthy coping mechanisms. While I didn’t experience all of the following unhealthy coping mechanisms, I feel it’s important to share them so that you can possibly identify them in yourself or someone you love. They include:

  • Intense, continual feelings of fear, terror, pressure, and depression

  • Being anxious (oftentimes described as having a pounding heart) or in a state of constant alert

  • Problems sleeping (e.g., nightmares)

  • Issues with eating (e.g., loss of appetite)

  • Trouble forming relationships

  • Difficulty trusting others, concentrating

  • Regression

  • Poor academic performance

  • Aches and pains, vomiting, incontinence

  • Substance abuse

  • Risky behavior (e.g., promiscuity)


Unfortunately, I experienced most of these in one way or another. I always felt pressured to be “perfect” which caused great anxiety in my life and when I had to take a test I couldn’t eat. Since we were moving around so much and I never had a relationship with my parents I felt like nobody could be trusted so I never formed any relationships.


I must admit that I’m blessed. Even though I really didn’t “know” God, He was still there protecting me throughout all of this time. While you may find that hard to believe, I can see where I could have had to deal with other issues like substance abuse and risky behavior, “but by the grace of God go I.” (1 Corinthians 15:8–10)


The way I experienced them was different depending on my age, but there was always a stamp of abuse on my life. Why could my teachers never see it? Personally, I think it’s because abuse wasn’t widely discussed during the time period while I was in school. So, to them I looked like a well behaved, high performing kid. Do I think that they’d have seen things differently today? I would honestly hope so, especially since by middle school I was subtly acting out more. 


Before I discuss how my behavior changed over time, let’s take a moment to look at how children who experience trauma deal with it throughout their various stages of development. By doing so I hope you can see that my soul was always screaming out for help but in different ways based on my age. With that being said, here they are:

  • Preschool age children will cry or scream a lot, have nightmares, wet the bed, develop poor eating habits, revert to baby talk, recreate the trauma in their play, ask questions about death, and show signs of stunted growth development.

  • Children who enter elementary school will become clingy to adults they trust, have trouble sleeping or concentrating, worry a lot about their safety, become startled easily, get upset by minor injuries (e.g., bumps, bruises), and repeatedly tell people about the trauma because they’re afraid it’ll happen again.

  • Older children feel depressed and alone, avoid places that remind them of their trauma, have trouble sleeping, engage in risk-taking behavior, develop eating disorders, engage in self-harm (e.g., cutting, suicidal ideations, abusing drugs or alcohol), talk about the trauma in detail, and become promiscuous.


I know for myself while I can’t remember preschool, I do remember that at a young age I started clinging to adults like my third grade teacher (whom I mention in more detail later in this book), got startled easily, and became really upset when I’d get injured. Eventually as I entered highschool I became depressed but I never knew why. After all I didn’t know that my family wasn’t “normal.” I also believe that the only reason I didn’t become sexually promiscuous was because I was attending a Baptist highschool and nobody was acting out in that way at that time. I say this because I know that later, when I was with my abusive partner, I was addicted to the dopamine (the “feel good” chemicals in your brain) that I’d get from being sexually active with him.


As I look back, I can see that God was with me and spared me many hardships. Nevertheless, it took me until I was in my 40s to admit that I have feelings about all the trauma I’d been through in my life. I think the reason it took me so much time is that I became good at running and was living my life in a constant state of fight-or-flight. 


The fight-or-flight stage was first coined by Walter Bradford Cannon. It’s how your brain reacts to any trauma that’s threatening your survival. For me this was my parents. As you’ll see throughout this book they had a way of controlling me even as an adult. Their continual manipulation was seen by me as a threat to my very survival.


When your brain is in this state catecholamines and norepinephrine (a.k.a., noradrenaline) are activated. Noradrenaline is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. When secreted by your brain it increases your blood pressure and makes you feel anxious - like you need to run away from something. This chemical was initially created to help cavemen run away from dangers such as prey, now it’s used to help us know that we need to run away from other types of trauma. Unfortunately, since I’d been abused as a child my fight-or-flight response was always activated and I was use to living with it. This doesn’t happen when you grow up in a healthy environment. However, since I didn’t, I’ll need a medication for the rest of my life to help calm my brain down just like someone who is missing a body part will need a replicated body part to help them throughout their lives.


The interesting thing is that throughout all of this time my parents were taking me to church, ensuring that I wasn’t only active in youth group but that I also attended a private Christian school. In fact, my dad was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church USA at one point. So I assumed that I was being brought up correctly in a Christian home.


Truth of the matter is,it’s easy to proclaim to be a Christian without really knowing God. It’s easy to get up and go to church, be active there, and even ensure that your child is active there. However, this isn’t what God wants. He wants a relationship and I never knew this until I was in highschool, if not after that. Nevertheless, as I look back at things now, I can see that God was always there in the midst of this madness.


By this time things were growing more volatile though so God wasn’t someone I sought after. In fact, I saw him as being legalistic too. I thought that if I did what I was told and went to church and was active there, life would be great. My parents even enrolled me in karate where I also excelled. Yet, I was an agry child. I never lashed out by rebelling, messing up in school, or doing other things that most children do but I was getting tired of being beat with a belt for no reason whatsoever - for just doing the normal, childish thing. I was laid face down on my parents’ bed and beat so much that to this day when my great dane’s tail hits me wrong I still have flashbacks.


One day I was so tired of it that I decided to lash back. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise though because you can only push a person so far before the proverbial shit hits the fan. While I’m not sure what caused me to snap that day or why my mom was standing behind me, I almost choked her out but something (possibly God intervening again) stopped me. Nevertheless, this was a turning point where I was finally feeling that something wasn’t right - a point that every child will eventually reach. This was the first time I remember questioning the “normality” of my childhood.


Now that I look back at my life growing up I have to wonder if my parents even thought that what was occurring in our household was “normal.” After all, my dad had us moving every couple of years under the guise of getting a better career to take care of our family better. Now I can say that the only thing I ever wanted for as a child was to stay in one place long enough to settle in and make some friends. Unfortunately, that never happened and my parents also never had any meaningful connections with our extended family past when I was in first grade which is why I’ll always wonder what they were hiding.

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