TRIGGER WARNING: this true story includes an account of a recent tragedy in my family. Please proceed with caution.
Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall…
and down will come baby, cradle and all.
June 3, 2016. Hot, lazy, I’d just returned from a business trip the night before. My girls had a crazy week full of post-school revelry after we celebrated my older one’s graduation exactly one week prior. We had girl drama with a boyfriend and some mean girls. We also had the usual issues like me stocking the fridge and them not wanting anything I had bought. “Hey, mom, can we get Panera?”
Over the years as my girls and I have worked to recover from our abuse, all while being subjected to more of it in various forms, I have lived with the nagging knowledge that my girls are at increased risk for all sorts of things. If you have read previous references to the ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences), you know this includes everything from sexual promiscuity to drug use to self-harm. In other words, even long after the trauma itself, there are adverse effects as if the individual was changed on a cellular level. The child who puts on a happy face, no matter how good their support or mental healthcare is, could be hiding so much more than the pain you likely know about. They become fragile. Right before your eyes, they are wasting away without anyone really noticing because they got so good at masking their feelings.
Then, you are faced with a shock to the system that completely upends your life and alters your perception of everything.
When I first began to write about my experiences recovering from domestic abuse, I made myself one promise: I would be transparent, truthful, and never hold anything back. There have been many times I wanted to not put something “out there” for the world to see, but it’s those times that I realized someone else is in pain from the same thing and may find comfort in not being alone on the journey. Because of this, I am sharing the story of our most recent trauma as a result of long-term abuse.
I was sitting on the sofa treating myself to a rare binge of TV. From upstairs, my daughter yelling, “MOMGETTHECARWEHAVETOGOTOTHEHOSPITALRIGHTNOW!”
“(Sister) JUST TOOK 13 GREEN PILLS!”
911. Call the boyfriend who is a pharmacist. Call the ex-boyfriend who co-parented them for 5 years and now lives in Florida. Try not to throw up. Try to focus. You’re in healthcare, for God’s sake, get it together! You’ve pumped people’s chests before. Breathe, dammit. Repeating, “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.” Throw clothes, phone cords, medicine in a bag. Crate the dogs.
Try to sound coherent when talking to the paramedics. Ride in the ambulance to the hospital. Text close friends for prayer support. Avoid thinking about the fact that this has been your greatest fear in raising girls whose father was abusive. Remember friend’s counselor’s term for it, “Emotional incest.” Curse him while wracked with my own guilt.
Activated charcoal. Watch her blood pressure and pulse plummet repeatedly. Friends gathering at the hospital. Call my 80 year old mother in Florida. Try to stay focused on right now instead of the long road ahead.
Stable. Involuntary admission to adolescent psych for treatment. Ride in ambulance number two. Fill out paperwork and answer questions at 2am while still in a daze. Leave my baby with strangers for help when all I want to do is hold her and never let go.
Aftermath and the “New Normal”
During the course of treatment, it was discovered that my precious, smart, vivacious, beautiful, generous, loving girl has been hiding untold volumes of abuse perpetrated against her by her father. She didn’t want to face it, to admit it, to cause trouble, to see me in court yet again fighting for what they need. This father, whom she has only seen and spoken to once since September 2014, continued to eat away at the fabric of her soul. Like unseen moths silently destroying her, this pain she carried from his actions was devastating. Hidden behind her beautiful smile.
Two days after her discharge from the hospital, I had to face him at the courthouse yet again. Then I had to tell him what happened and present him with the proof that she has now been diagnosed with PTSD.
Of course, he made it about him, he was a victim and needed to see her RIGHT NOW. No. Just no. Never. In fact, over my fucking dead, cold body and those of many friends.
Somehow, we want to believe it stops once they are no longer in your house. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even stop after No Contact. It doesn’t even stop with good counseling and psychiatric care. If it’s hidden, or denied, or desperately trying to be forgotten, it just grows like a parasite.
No one reading this who has experience with an abuser, particularly narcissistic parents, is surprised by this. That in itself is tragic. Those who have not experienced this, please count your blessings, and promise yourself never to doubt the story of a domestic abuse survivor. You can easily spot those of us who are telling the truth.
We’re the ones whose lives are shattered over and over, but keep telling our story unwaveringly, and gluing the pieces back together with our tears.