Growing up and moving on: How my dad’s abuse impacted my life

The relationship between our parents is the first we see as a child. It has the potential to set what we will expect and accept in our future relationships as we grow. What happens when that relationship is one filled with fear and violence?

As a child, I witnessed my mother suffer from domestic abuse at the hands of my father and it has affected me in ways I am still realising to this day, at 21 years old.

They met in a pub, ‘the good old fashioned way’ some might say. He was with a friend and was drunkenly swearing, to which his friend made a comment about their being ladies present (my mum and her friend).

His response? To turn, look at them and ask sarcastically: “Where?”

She was working in a hotel in the Lake District at the time, waiting to join basic training for the Royal Navy.  When she walked into work a few days later, he turned out to be the new chef in the kitchen there.

He made some apologies for his previous behaviour and they began to get along well. It wasn’t long until they were more than friends.

It also wasn’t long until he began to hurt her. I’m not sure when the first time was, I’m not sure my mum is either to be honest.

She gave birth to my sister, and then 23 months later, me.

There was an instance my father was convicted for the abuse that he inflicted on my mother. In this particular attack, he had cracked her eye socket and caused a shard of bone to puncture her eyeball, which still remains there.

I don’t remember this incident very well, as I was quite young, but I have seen pictures of my mum after it, her bright blue eyes entirely red where they should be white. Her hair was a mess where he had pulled and kicked her and she looks like she not slept.

He was charged with section 18 assault, under grievous bodily harm.

They had moved to Bury where my mum is originally from. It was here she finally left him for good. She, like so many women, had tried before but hadn’t managed to make it stick.

Over the years, we saw him on and off and witnessed his abuse of my mother even though they were no longer together.

I last saw him when I was seven years old. By this point, he had began to set his sights on turning us against our family. He would lovebomb me and my sister.

We would stay with him every other weekend and he would buy us presents, let us stay up late and eat sweets. One particular tactic, he would ask if we wanted to stay for longer, and then when my mum refused due to school and other things… he would slyly say: “Well, sorry girls, your mum won’t let you.”

But he wasn’t always nice…

As a child, I was somewhat a tomboy, obsessed with football and climbing trees. He used to shout at me and tell me that no one would like me if I was like that. He told me on multiple occasions I was ‘thick’ and ‘unlovable’.

He had begun to tell us lies when we asked about what he had done, that our mum was a liar… that she had stolen us from him, that she was a bad person.

Once we realised what he was doing to us, manipulating and bullying us even as children, we decided, independently, we no longer wanted to see him.

I remember when he was told this he said: “Fine. Like I care. I could do without two lying little b****es in my life anyway. [My sister] will be pregnant at 16 anyway, and Jess will be locked up by 14.”

I’m sure there was more to the text, but that’s what I remember most.

Me, about five years old

When I was young and still seeing him, I remember being so confused as to how he could be so nice and then snap at the slightest thing.

As a teenager, I began to wonder why my father didn’t love me. Why was I not enough for him? What did I ever do to him that he said those things?

I would get so angry at what he did to my mum, my sister and me. When we were first living in the council housing after the refuge, my mum was so sick. Her mental health was very poor and most days she couldn’t leave her bedroom.

Family events were often a struggle, we didn’t have as much as our cousins and, as a child I would be jealous of them. Not really for their material belongings, but for their lives. They went on holidays with their mums and dads, they had days out and picture perfect memories. My dad didn’t even know my birthday.

I had my first panic attack at 13. It was a P.E. lesson and we were playing basketball and all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. I remember thinking I was about to die- my chest was seizing up, the tears were hot and heavy and I couldn’t feel any air going down my throat. I had pins and needles over my entire body. I also started to self-harm around this age, a truth which I’ve not admitted to many people. I was having panic attacks almost every day at this point.

I began to see a therapist, the first of many, who told me my body was essentially ‘overflowing’ with emotions. She told me that since I hadn’t ever really confronted the memories I had, even the knowledge of what had happened, my body was struggling to keep it in.

She used the analogy of a balloon and said that a balloon can only be blown up so much before it pops. I was popping.

I was diagnosed with panic disorder, anxiety and depression.

I had forgotten things from that time. I was told as a defence, my brain couldn’t cope with the things I had seen and heard, so it had essentially hidden the memories from me. It took years of cognitive behavioural therapy to begin to remember and confront things, and I still remember new things every now and again.

As I grew older I improved and declined in stages. I realised recovery is not a straight forward path- it is a rollercoaster. Some days, I would wake up and find myself full of energy, enthusiasm and excitement for the day. Others, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my bed. I don’t think the teenage hormones helped much…

Me, about 14 years old

There were times when I would think to myself ‘oh, I feel okay, I must be fixed’. And then when the next stage of feeling low came, it would hit ten times harder than the last, because I’d thought I was finally okay and to have that taken away from me was what devastated me most.

It wasn’t until I was around 17 I began to fully take control of my emotions. It was in the lockdown and I decided I didn’t want to let him have that power over me anymore.

I realised none of what had happened was my fault and that it wasn’t anything I was lacking that had caused him to act the way he had, but it was entirely his own flaws that were to blame.

That realisation didn’t stop the effects my body still felt. Even now, at 21 I massively panic at the slightest hint of confrontation, and it can have serious impacts on my relationships and friendships.

Very rarely do I tell a person that they have upset me, because to me, I’d rather suffer through things than have someone potentially angry or upset at me, which has meant that I’ve allowed people to consistently treat me in unacceptable ways.  

Through the years of working on myself, I have become better at this, and don’t allow myself to be treated in a way I do not deserve, and I cut off a lot of people who had taken advantage of my struggles to defend myself.

I also know now, that I’m worth something, that I’m a good person. I know I’ll always have downs and I’ll likely always have panic attacks and feel angry but my life now is good, I have an amazing set of family and friends and a long-term boyfriend who treats me right and supports me through everything.

Me now, 21 years old

It took a lot of work to get where I am, and it’s not finished yet, but I got where I am today despite everything I have been through, and I now use that as strength to keep pushing through.

I’ll never know what made him the way he was, and that’s something I’ll have to come to terms with, but I’m no longer asking myself what I did to cause it, but why he chose to do what he did.

And it was a choice, we all have things in our lives that affect us in ways we can’t control, but when it comes down to it, we choose the things we do. He knew it was wrong, and he chose to do it time and time again.

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20 May 2024 7:25 pm

oh Jess that is such a shame, what a life of trauma for you all, i do hope you continue to beat this and live a full and happy life xxx

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