One Brave Survivor's Story of Abuse
The following story is that of a brave survivor. She is sharing her story so that others can feel supported to safely share theirs. She encourages survivors to acknowledge their experience and believe that it is possible to obtain the support needed to recover and live a fulfilling adult life.
Commonly when talking about domestic violence you think of abuse occurring between two partners involved in an intimate relationship, and that is a common misconception that ignores the children of these relationships. While I am a survivor of domestic violence occurring in two romantic relationships, I am also a survivor of domestic violence from childhood. None of the abuse I have experienced was easy, or better, but I believe that the domestic violence I experienced in childhood impacted me more greatly. I also think that the trauma in childhood led me into those two unhealthy, abusive relationships in adulthood.
As a child, I grew up in a somewhat unconventional environment. My mother was married and divorced three times by the time I was 17 years old, and none of her marriages were to my biological father. My father had not been there for me, and I did not even meet him until I turned seventeen years old. As many lessons as I had learned from my mother's mistakes, I learned just as many from each of her husbands. My mother's choices helped shape me into the woman I am. Each of her husbands abused me. I also witnessed abuse occur between my mother and each of her husbands. The first husband sexually abused me from infancy until age four. Her second husband physically abused me from age four until age six. Finally, the third husband verbally and physically abused me from age seven until I moved out at age fourteen. After years of verbal abuse and being belittled, at fourteen years old I decided to move in with my grandparents, whom always had a significant, positive presence in my life.
Until moving in with my grandparents, I lacked positive coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills. But, after eventually meeting with a therapist I had received the closure needed to become mentally healthy. With closure came a sense of self-worth and desire to do better. I focused on my academics. My grades rapidly improved, I went from a C- student to an A+, B+ student, and made honor roll on multiple occasions. I was able to dedicate the appropriate time to homework and studying since I did not have the excess stressors and worry of being hurt.
I can recall, time and again, my mother threatening me as a child, and it usually did not bother me, until I was ten years old. My third stepfather and I had gotten into an argument. By this point, I had grown comfortable screaming back, and he had never physically abused me before, all bark no bite, until now. He shoved me into a wall, I pushed his arm away from my chest, and he walked out of the house. I looked my mother dead in the eyes and told her I would call the police if he touched me again. Her response, "Good luck dialing a phone with ten broken fucking fingers." I knew at that moment that I was alone. She wouldn't protect me. She wasn't just saying words out of anger, or to appease him; he wasn't there to hear her defend him. She meant it. She valued his safety more than mine. She yet again cared about a man more, a man who was harming me, than me, her daughter.
My mother is a domestic violence survivor, and she also a domestic abuser. Her story is not mine to tell, but her actions that impacted me are. She loved to play victim until she didn't. She would play the "pity me card," and she played the "pity me, my daughter is a victim" card. She also loved to play the role of "hero-mom," fighting back against the men who hurt her daughter.
Her husbands were physically aggressive with her, hitting her, throwing items at her, one even held her at gunpoint while she was pregnant. She was verbally abused and claimed she was sexually assaulted. I feel it is important to note that time and again she used physical force in retaliation, and on occasion, initiated the physical aggression. Regarding verbal and mental abuse, she would taunt her husbands in front of me, belittle them, emasculate them, just genuinely attempted to hurt them, make them hate themselves-and she was successful. Eventually, her husbands realized that she was a formidable opponent and I wasn't. I think they figured that hurting me would be something that would hurt her, and to their dismay and mine, they were wrong. When I would come close to leaving home, she would guilt me into staying with her, because she felt safer with me.
I think a lot of people view women who "fight back" against abusive men, as strong and doing nothing wrong, but when those physical and mental blows are evenly initiated, you have two toxic, unstable, abusive people in one relationship, impacting an innocent bystander [the child[ren]].
Reflecting on my past, I hold my mother accountable for what I experienced. The complicit parent, standing idly by, having the power to be the adult, to save me, and she didn't. To her credit, for husband one and two, she eventually left, but the damage was already done, and she hopped into a relationship with a man who abused me verbally and emotionally before they were even married.
I mentioned earlier that I entered two relationships in adulthood that turned abusive. I do understand why leaving is not as easy as it sounds, but I still do not know how a parent can watch their child be raped, beaten, and verbally accosted for fourteen years. I have heard time and again that when you become a parent, you live for your child, you do whatever you can to protect your child, and all my mother did was protect her interests.
When leaving home at 14, and leaving my two violent relationships, I found four internal conflicts I was dealing with, which made it difficult to leave. I felt fear of the unknown, guilt about leaving my mom and newborn brother, my self-worth was non-existent, and as messed up as it is, I still loved every person who abused me. When I made decisions to leave, it was because I was ready to have a better life. I knew I would die if I stayed in contact with any of those abusers, either they would have killed me, I would have killed me, or I may have ended up in a dangerous lifestyle which would have, undoubtedly, led to death. No matter who tried to help me or how, it didn't matter, I needed to want to leave, and I needed to be ready to leave. When you have many conflicting feelings for someone, positive and negative, it's hard to walk away. How do you forget the good memories when you were treated right? For me, I am lucky that I had a great support system to help me when I finally chose to walk away.
Living with my grandparents opened my eyes and created a future. It showed me what life should be like. My mother lied and made decisions, which were self-serving, and she always took the easy way out; that is not what I wanted to emulate. I used my mother as a guide to what someone should not be. Her intentions may have been good, wanting me to have a father, and a home, but her executions resulted in awful consequences. Her values that I observed are what I learned to reject. Hopefully, I am on a path to being a good person, and one day a great parent, who can provide safety and love. But, I always live with the fear that I will fall into the lifestyle I am most accustomed to, dysfunction and hurt.
This survivor knows that no one survivor's experience is the same, but she would like to extend the offer to anyone who would want to talk with her about their situation. If you are interested in speaking to this survivor contact, Ashleigh Diserio, and she will put you in touch. If you prefer other resources, some are provided below.
- Crisis Helpline - (202) 561-7000
- DC Citywide Sexual Assault Hotline - (202) 333-RAPE
- House of Ruth Domestic Violence Hotline - (202) 667-7001
- Maryland Domestic Violence Hotline/Resources - (800) MD-HELPS
- My Sister’s Place Domestic Violence Hotline - (202) 529-5991
- Virginia Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Hotline - (800) 838-4753
- House of Ruth: 24-hour hotline, shelter, and counseling for battered women and their children - (202) 667-7001
- My Sister’s Place: 24-hour hotline, shelter, and counseling for battered women and their children - (202) 529-5991
Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.