ABUSE AND CONSEQUENCES…but the cycle can be broken

Shared by Darlene Parks

To look at me now, one would probably never suspect I was hotheaded and violent in my teens and early twenties. But, reviewing my life, it may have turned out much differently had I not had influential people in my life who taught me that tempers, being mean, and storming off don’t usually solve problems. These behaviors usually create more problems: being disrespected, avoided, and consequently feelings of isolation and hopelessness. It took many years to change my attitude and behavior, but luckily, I learned the consequences of my actions.

Understanding the Source

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It probably began with my mom, who grew up in an environment where her father was an alcoholic. I was afraid of my grandfather when I was little. The sheer size of him, at 6’4”, with a robust physique and a stern countenance, could scare anyone. I spent summers with my grandparents and often would hear arguments between my mother and her brothers and parents. I’m not sure what they were about; I was instructed to stay outside with a book or play on the swing set. 

My mom also had a temper of her own. I remember once when I was in first grade, along with one or two other children, I had gotten caught hanging onto coat hooks in the classroom. The teacher reported it to my mom, and of course I was punished. Maybe a couple of years later, I wanted to go outside sledding with the other kids down a steep driveway in back of our house, but mom said no. I disobeyed her when she was otherwise occupied. When she found out, she yanked me into the house, and proceeded to whale on me with the skinniest belt she could find, leaving deep, dark welts on my legs. It took a while to recover from that. Aside from the physical episodes, she was also verbally abusive: I was stupid. I was fat. After hearing that repeatedly, I was convinced she was right.

When I was in fourth grade, my mom married for the second time. This time it was to a man who seemed nice in the beginning. However, he apparently had been on medications to control his temper. Mom, being a nonbeliever in any type of medications, made him stop taking them because she said his eyes looked “glazed.” Unfortunately for us both, he became physically and verbally abusive. Often, they would come home from work and start arguing or fighting, and a few times he came after me, but then mom went on the defense and yelled for me to get out of the house. I would spend time at a friend’s house until their parents told me to leave because of dinner, homework, or even bedtime. Sometimes I went from house to house until it got dark. By around 9:00 p.m., I would start getting hungry and tired, and wonder if it was safe to return home. I usually tried sneaking in the back door, hoping it was a calmer atmosphere, and by then, it usually was. It was then I noticed bruises on mom, or something broken in the house, or a hole in the wall where a fist was put through it. One time, I went straight to bed, only to be awakened by mom at 10:30 pm telling me dinner was ready, but by this time I just wanted to stay in bed. She forced me to get up and eat something. 

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Desperate Action

By either fifth or sixth grade, between the turbulence in the home and my feelings of worthlessness, I decided enough was enough. I had stumbled across some rat poison in the home and put it on my sandwich and planned to eat it at lunch. Unfortunately, a classmate had taken my sandwich and ate part of it when he experienced a sore throat, I believe. That was not my intention at all, and I had to confess to get the sandwich away from him. Luckily, he was ok, and it was not a sufficient amount to kill anyone, or do any permanent damage. When asked why I did that, I was too afraid to admit it was my home life, so I made up another reason: I was lonely and wanted a brother. Everyone bought it and so things continued as they were.

Eighth grade came along, and mom again sent me to grandma’s for the summer. My grandfather had died when I was in sixth grade, from alcoholic cirrhosis, so that home was a peaceful and calm environment now, and grandma was really good company. We played games, had tea time in the afternoon, and watched TV shows together, but none of this occurred until the work was done on the farm property she owned. Over time, she taught me how to clean, how to cook, and basically how to respect people. The summer ended, and it was time for high school. Mom didn’t want me to return home just yet because things were still rocky with her husband, and she was trying to get out of the marriage. I started high school, only to find how far behind in math I was. We had moved three times in eighth grade due to my parents being unable to hold down a job—so I was in three different schools that year, and each one seemed to be in a different section of math. Apparently, I missed a lot of the transitional math, since I had no clue what I was doing in first year Algebra. I got my first D and was devastated. It wasn’t that I was a smart student, but I had never gotten anything below a C. My math teacher took the time to talk to me, figured out why I was having trouble, and tutored me after school. I asked my mom and grandmother if I could finish my freshman year there. My ending grade was a B that year in her math class. 

Plenty More to Learn

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During this time, I still had some things to work out. I was not nice to fellow students. If they said something I didn’t like, I would hit, scratch, walk away, or say something unkind. My grandmother, my uncle Pete, and his girlfriend Linda took the time to talk to me, tease me to teach me a sense of humor, or just show by example that the way I was behaving was not acceptable. That started the teaching and healing process, but it wasn’t until I made friends with a girl named Sandy, who was also from a divorced home, that I felt I could bond with someone and start to sort things out. The solace of the farm and in particular a gravel pit I loved to walk around, gave me a place to hang out all to myself and talk to God, and just think things through. By the end of my freshman year, I knew I wanted to finish high school there. I think I knew I needed the stability. I was making friends and was at peace and happy. High school ended, and then it was time to return to my mom, who unfortunately, had not had the chance to see me really grow into a woman and still thought of me a little girl.

I started nursing school, and I again did something that mom didn’t like. I can’t even remember what it was, but I don’t think it was something that should have upset her so. She started to hit me. I put up my arms to protect my face, which made her think I was fighting back. This made her even more angry, and she went at me again, until this time I grabbed her arm so she couldn’t hit me. She realized I was stronger than her; this was something I hadn’t realized either until that day. During a momentary pause, I quickly grabbed my purse and again hit the streets. I ended up going to my boyfriend’s house and sat outside awhile before working up the nerve to ring the doorbell. He was at his dad’s that night, but his mom, who had taken a liking to me, let me in and I spent the night there. When I returned home the next day, mom started to treat me a little differently, but I was still very leery of her.  

 Mom was very one-sided with her views, and if someone dared to disagree with her, they were always wrong, and they heard about it. She had no censorship whatsoever. Mom lost a lot of jobs because she couldn’t seem to get along with people. When she was able to make friends, she could never keep them for any length of time. I remember one day when I was in nursing school, one of those short-lived friends came over for coffee. I had been in the bathroom and I came around the corner just in time to hear my mother say, “I don’t know how Darlene gets all these good-looking boyfriends; she’s not that pretty.” While I knew I wasn’t a really pretty girl, that’s not the kind of thing one wants to hear from a mother’s mouth. Luckily, most of the guys I met were more attracted to me as a person. What angered me even more than the comment itself was the fact that she denied it afterwards, and even over the following years. 

As I progressed through school, I started the course on Psychiatric nursing. I saw a lot of similarities between my mom’s behavior and that of a Paranoid Schizophrenic. I recommended she seek help. That comment blew up in my face, and I quickly dropped the topic, realizing she was unable to admit she had a problem. It wasn’t until my kids were grown and her health started to fail that my suspicions were confirmed by a doctor. I finally had my explanation for her behaviors. 

Avoiding Old Habits

After nursing school, I got a job at the hospital where I trained. Though I had matured a lot, I found I got frustrated easily, and started to revert back to being a hot-head, to where I could see the dismay and angst of my co-workers. I then started to work harder on controlling that temper, remembering my mom and her troubles at work. I didn’t want to lose my job, because I was trying to get an apartment of my own and get out from under my mom’s negative influence. Yet even after I moved out, she managed to make me feel worthless. I felt there was no way out, so I took a bunch of sleeping pills and alcohol, thinking it would kill me. It either wasn’t enough, or there was some Divine intervention, since I woke up about a day and a half after that. It did scare my mom when I didn’t answer the phone or the doorbell, but again, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her it was her. I don’t even think I was honest with my therapist. 

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It was about a year later that I met my future husband, who made me feel loved and worthwhile. Work was going well, with praise during my reviews. There was hope for a good future. I had learned to control my temper, and learned how to deal with most of the frustration in my life, including my mom for the most part—though I still had some stumbles along the way. Again, with the help of my husband and even his family, I was able to work through things eventually. I hope I came through for her in her final years, though I still doubt I ever became the “perfect” daughter she wanted.

Refusing to Repeat

I vowed to myself that I would not make the same mistakes she made, taking note of what NOT to do. Though I may not have been the perfect mom, at least I could try to be a non-abusive one. I did not want my children to go through the turmoil I had growing up, and did not want them to be afraid of me the way I was of my mom. If anything should substantiate this, it should be that I have been married for almost 38 years now, and though I’m not always in agreement with my spouse, we have been able to talk things out quietly and rationally and able to reach a mutual agreement. I have kept friends for over 40 years, and my two children are wonderful, respectful children and are now parents themselves. The moral of the story here is that the cycle of abuse can be broken—if one is determined. I am living proof. 

 
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