I was four years old hiding in my mom’s closet, covering my ears from the relentless yelling and pounding. My older sister holding me tight singing “Jesus Loves Me” into my ear so I wouldn’t hear the horrific sounds coming from our living room. The sounds of our father beating our mother as she pleaded for her life.
Despite my sister’s best efforts I heard it all, I remember it all, and when I close my eyes now I can place my 30-something year old self back into that little four-year-old body. My childhood was stolen from me due to witnessing domestic violence on a regular basis.
My father was an alcoholic. And when he drank he abused my mother.
They married young then had my sister and I within a few years. I’m not sure when the abuse started, but I can’t remember a time when it didn’t happen. I was a toddler the very first time I can remember my mom pushing my sister and me into the closet, hiding us from what was about to ensue. My sister was three years older than me, and she quickly became a little adult learning how to console me from the terrors to which we were exposed. When I think back on my childhood I remember life hiding in the closet most. Mornings, evenings, nights where I fell asleep holding tight onto my blanket, tear drops dried upon my puffy cheeks.
Fortunately, my sister and I only had to endure half of our childhood in a house that experienced domestic violence. My mom was able to save us and herself from the devastating effects of our drunken father. We were able to get out and start a new life without him, a life that did not involve hiding in closets fearing for our mother’s life.
Being a child that witnessed domestic abuse changed me in every way possible. It changed the way I interacted with others, it changed the way I made relationships, it changed the way I kept secrets, it changed my whole outlook on life. Even after we were free from the chains of domestic abuse I experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, aggression, extreme guilt, separation anxiety from those I loved, not to mention concentrating on school work was nearly impossible. I was lost in a deep, sinking hole wondering how I would be able to move on and be like everyone else.
Help came through counseling and talking out my feelings. My mom, sister, and I attended weekly counseling sessions both individually and together for years. Through this I was able to come to understand the lingering questions that constantly ran through my head. I finally had peace. Although I knew the effects of domestic abuse would live with me forever I also knew I had to find a way to overcome them.
Here I am thirty years later living a wonderful life with my husband and children. Getting to this point was not easy by any means, particularly with dating. I found that I was always on edge when dating men; I was looking for signs that they might be a man who would abuse me. Learning how to navigate the dating field involved more counseling and therapy, but thankfully at the end of that long, winding road was my husband. He attended therapy with me and got to know my past and understand why I may act the way I do. He has been my saving grace and calm in the storm being an adult child behind domestic violence.
Witnessing my father punch my mother in her face over and over again, hearing him scream words that no child should ever hear, feeling as if my mom would die at any given moment at the young tender age of four years old was extremely damaging to every fiber of my being, but I was able to come out on the other side okay because of my mother who provided me with the support I needed to heal and cope.
While I consider myself lucky that we were able to be removed from our abusive household, not all children are that fortunate. But you can help. It’s proven that children behind domestic violence who have at least one caring individual in their life are more likely to build resiliency and cope in positive ways. If you know a child or children living in a home bound by domestic abuse, can you be the one person that could change their life with your support, encouragement, or love on a daily or weekly basis? Yes, you can.