Trigger warning: family violence
Psychologists say we search out similar situations to those we experienced as children. Scenarios which bring out similar emotions and allow us to reenact all those unresolved issues from our youth. They allow us to go over them, again and again so that we can let out those old emotions.
I like to think I haven’t fallen into that trap. I like to believe that my logical brain will prevent me walking down such a blindingly obvious path, but what has logic got to do with how we live our lives? I’m not wanting to be let down – who does? I don’t search deliberately for that outcome. But yet I feel it over and over again, and every time it comes it feels more and more painful. The smallest let down from a friend, becoming an outlet for all those pent up feelings from my younger days. Time and time again.
I remember the times. My heart racing, smashed glass, upturned furniture, running scared, shaking with fear, hiding from the anger. That one place he never could find me, so long as I ran there quick enough. I didn’t had ‘proper’ bruises so it couldn’t be ‘proper’ abuse. The knife was just a joke, it was part of the Sunday dinner ritual. Children aren’t abused on a kitchen counter with the sun streaming through the sky lights. That’s not how it works. The choking was just for fun. I was overreacting as usual, even if I thought I couldn’t breathe. Where’s your sense of humour? He was such a nice guy. Lovely neighbour, put the old girl’s bin out every week. So friendly, wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I knew I was angry with him. I’d always known I was angry with him. I’m still angry with him.
But her. She wasn’t to blame. She was innocent. But she let me down.
Those late nights away from home. Those weekends working all hours.
She’d shout at him when he lost his temper. Beg him to stop. One time she asked me if she should leave him. I never did give her an answer. She promised family counselling. It never came. Every time the sun rose, all was forgotten.
Except I could remember. That’s the best form of teaching isn’t it? The ‘involve me and I will remember’ school of thinking. Quietly teaching me that all-important life lesson: put up and shut up. Telling me firmly and politely to accept the hand that fate dealt me; to stay with someone even if they did things you hated; to stay with someone even if they hurt someone you loved.
That night, when I was 15. Sitting on my bedroom floor crying with the pain of it all. The fear crushing me under its weight. The door was ajar. Risky. Someone might hear.
Then I realised – that is what I wanted.
She was downstairs working. Between tears I wondered how long before she’d notice.
It was taking longer than I expected. I glanced at my watch – it was 2am. My bedside lamp on. My door ajar. The tears still flowing. I was ready. Ready to pour it all out. The fear. The pain. All of it. I’d reached the point of no return – everything was boiling out of me.
This was my moment, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through me just at the idea that this would make things different. Now she would understand. The floorboards creaked as she quietly made her way upstairs. I held my breath, waiting for my door to swing open. But that creak wasn’t coming from my door, she had opened her own one. Then, click. In a split second it was shut.
The smallest sound with the biggest repercussion, reverberating throughout my life. Telling me to do the same. Shut it in. Don’t speak out. This is how we live our lives. Fear and silence are the norm.
I was stunned. How could she not notice I was awake? How could she not feel the pain creeping out of my open door?
In that moment I learnt that I should never speak out. That people don’t want to hear about the pain.
I’m still reliving that moment. Reliving that with my ex. Relieving it with ‘friends’ who’ve ditched me and run out on me in my hour of need. But I have to take the blame too. It’s not just them. It’s what I have come to expect. I haven’t consciously searched out these moments, but my subconscious has allied myself to people who aren’t there for me. My actions have encouraged them to stay away, to avert their eyes from the sliver of light shining from the bedroom doorway. To close their ears to the ever-so-subtle clues of the pain within.
I’m an adult now, with free will and lots of opportunities open to me. Those lessons are not the only ones I’ve learnt in life. Those lessons did not remove that free will. They just made it harder for me to listen to her. Harder to know what is acceptable and what is not. Harder to know what is healthy and what is not. And perhaps, worst of all, they taught me to be quiet and not ask for help. I’m realising this now, although realisation and changing years of entrenched behaviour are two entirely different beasts.
Not all hope is lost. I’m doing my best to build friendships with meaning, relationships based on equality. And most important of all I’m trying, through hell and high water, not to pass on these lessons to my son. I’m trying to have more patience with him, to apologise when I get it wrong. I’m giving him a home where he can grow without fear. I’m allowing him the space to talk about his feelings – good and bad.
One day, hopefully, he will lead a life independent of me. A life that searches out scenarios from his childhood; scenarios that allow him to experience life in a happy and healthy way. Scenarios he can love. A life he can love.