Childhood in Motion: Growing Up Scared

Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their< functioning.

Nearly, 15% of women (14.8%) and 4% of men have been injured as a result of IPV that included rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).

 
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No child should ever fear a parent. And by fear I mean truly fear, not the healthy fear of disappointing them.

To be honest, I didn’t know I came from a violent home until I was older. For me yelling and screaming were the norm. Even today as I look back, it’s hard for me to remember some of it because I just blocked it out.  But the older I got, the more I knew that what I experienced and saw was not normal.

To the outside world, I lived a normal life. I had a mom and dad and older brother. Sure, we didn’t live in a house or even a great part of town, ok, so we were on reduced lunch and made ends meat, but I arrived at school each day clothed and clean. My father worked outside the home and my mom was a SAHM, except for driving a carpool and running the church nursery. Normal.

In reality, my parents were divorced and living together. My father was an alcoholic and an adulterer. He was angry and a drunk and emotionally abusive.  He was also physically abusive. The bumps and bruises on my mom and the broken finger that I never really knew about. But the worst part was the words. The put downs, ridicule, demeaning, and threats. I just recall all the yelling all the time. It never seemed to stop or let up. So, I drowned it out or escape. My brother and I spent a lot of time outside exploring the apartment complex and building forts in the trees. Out of sight, out of earshot.

I was young, just 8 when my father was finally taken to jail, so my memories are faint. But I can recall crowding into my brother’s room with bags packed just waiting for my father to go to sleep. I can also remember waking up with white knuckles and my teeth clenched because I held onto my blankie and stuffed dog so hard during the night so I would have them in case I was taken in the middle of the night.

My mom tried to protect us by putting us into activities. I spent countless hours at the local YMCA playing sports and twirling and being enrolled in dance classes and Karate. I’m not sure where my mom got the money, but she did her best to help us lead a “normal” life. But inside, inside the walls of our home and inside my head I was lonely and afraid.

However, as much as I was lonely and afraid, I was the strong one. You see, my brother is technically my half-brother (although later adopted by my father)and half-black, so he was never going to be truly accepted by my somewhat racist father. But me, no I was the princess. Literally, he called me princess and to this day I hate the term. (No offense to those of you who call your daughter’s princess). So, when you are the chosen one, the others depend on you. My mom and brother learned that they had to go through me to get things they wanted or needed, which lead to a cycle of manipulation.

For example, as we walked the aisles of the grocery store, my brother would want a certain cereal and my father would say no. So, he would ask me to ask for it. Feeling guilty, I would and the cereal appeared in our cart. And so on. The same thing went for just about anything from restaurants to movies to any activity. As long as it was my idea it got done, so I became the middle-man. I learned I could get anything I wanted if I just asked, but at the same time, I was made to feel bad for my brother. Let’s just say it wasn’t healthy modeling for a child.

But then two days before my 9th birthday it all changed. My life was turned upside down as my father was arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. I was somewhat oblivious to it at the time, but it affected me. I was forced to speak to multiple officers and social workers. I had to dodge media as the case was quite covered. I had to leave through different doors at school so that my grandparents couldn’t see me during the trial. I was just 9.

I grew up a ton between 9 and 12. My dad was sentenced to life in prison and I had no contact with him.  My mom moved us from the school I knew and loved to a new City and new schools and new friends. During that time my mom also married a man 21 years her junior and just 10 years older than my brother. He wreaked havoc on our home life and ended up causing more harm than good. I still loathe that man.

You see, domestic violence is a cycle. My mom never learned what a healthy relationship looked like, so when one ended she entered into another one. And those behaviors and patterns can be passed on or projected. For my brother and I, it made us untrusting. We both struggled with commitment in relationships because we feared getting too close to someone only to be hurt. We modeled the behavior shown as well. To yell when we wanted to be heard and scream and throw when things did not go our way. To this day I have to try so hard not to lose my cool with my child because it was the parenting that was modeled for me.

I have also expressed other ways my childhood affected my relationships, but it also provided me a true platform to speak from. When I decided to compete in the Miss Texas pageant and needed a platform I had one. I was a true advocate because I had lived the life. I was intimately connected to it. I knew about shelters and emotional abuse and hotlines. I knew about children who jumped at the sound of loud noises and never wanted to go home. I could speak from experience and show people that there is another side.

I wanted out. I never wanted to be a product of my situation. I wanted more for myself from education to a marriage and family. I wanted that American dream. But I am lucky. I had teachers who cared about me. I had coaches who took me in and treated me as their own. I had resources that many do not or do not know exist. So many people are not as lucky. Some victims never recover and some never make it out alive.

 
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