This has been an interesting week. Many of you have seen a new depth and breadth to the emotions splashed across my Facebook page, or heard first-hand about the darkness my family has experienced this week.
For years, I’ve hidden the pain and sorrow of something terrible — and that’s often the nature of domestic violence. Before you think otherwise, let me assure you that it’s not at the hand of my husband. Rather, this unfortunate affliction came at the hand and words of my mother. And like many victims (yes, I’m coming to terms with that word), my sisters and I kept quiet. But this week, after another traumatic incident in our lives, I’m done being quiet and bound by chains. I’m finally doing something I should have done years ago. I’m speaking out.
People often don’t know what to say about the things that victims of physical and emotional/psychological abuse go through. It’s an intense issue that strikes so deeply: how could another person inflict such distress on another? Let alone, a mother on her children? People who inflict abuse often appear to others to be angelic, charming, friendly — and certainly not any of the vile things that you would associate with an abuser. And to our friends and many observers of our family, that’s exactly how my mother came across. Even close confidants, who knew the poignant details of the abuse, would meet her for the first time and suddenly change their tune. “You’ve got to be kidding me — she couldn’t do any of that to you, she’s soooooo nice.” That’s literally what one person told me.
And yet, it happens. I’ll spare you many of the details. But my siblings and I were severely beaten throughout our childhoods. We were called unimaginable things. We were threatened with more pain and suffering beyond what was actually inflicted. My mother threatened to kill all of us on multiple occasions. When we’d try to seek out our father to live with him, it only made things worse. I’ll share three incidents with you that I had to dredge up this week as I sought a protection order against my mother.
When I was about four or five, we were out with our mother late at night. I don’t know what set her off (it literally is the blink of an eye that can set an abuser off), but she stopped on the side of the road in the middle of Weld County, Colorado. She made me, my brother and my older sister get out of the vehicle, and she drove off and left us standing there. I don’t know how long it was before she eventually came back and got us. But the three of us young children, in the dark of night, were at a loss. To this day — some 30 years later — I can remember the shelter I envisioned building with my siblings.
Another time, when I was 11, I was home during the day, as I was homeschooled that year. My mother took off with a friend skiing, and I was bored. So I picked up the phone and called my grandmother. Yes, it was long distance. But I had no concept of phone rates. My grandmother later called my mother, irritated that she’d left her kids home alone. My mother became enraged. She said it was because of the cost of the call. But perhaps it’s because she was called out for her behavior. I was severely beaten. My head was used to break my closet door, if that helps you understand it further. I was locked in my room for three days, only allowed to leave to use the bathroom. I was given water and wheat rolls for sustenance (to this day, I hate those rolls). And after three days, I was forced to come up with a list of reasons why I should be allowed to remain a part of the family. Because I made a long-distance phone call during the day.
The third one isn’t so much about me, as it is about my kids. My mother was watching our children one night when they were young. Ian and I were out for an evening, and were going to come back to her house to spend the night before driving back to Moscow. We thought everything had gone smoothly until we were driving home the next morning. I still remember the exact place we were when Noah, almost 3, managed to blurt out, “Grandma choke me.” He then showed us how my mother had grabbed him by the throat. Eli, age 5, then revealed that they had not picked up the toys they were playing with and Grandma had become enraged — to the point where Zoe, not quite 3, went and hid under a table, where “Grandma couldn’t reach her.” Eli said Grandma had spanked him several times. They all began to cry, and she had given them a bath to calm them down. (This was right after some news of a mother drowning her own children, which totally freaked Ian and me out.) We vowed never again to leave our children unattended with her and have not done so to this day.
These may not seem significant to you. But imagine living this life day in, day out for years. Even as a young adult, the physical abuse remained until Ian and I began a relationship. I was put in counseling (by my mother, of course) when I was a young girl. But when I told the counselor I wanted to see more of my dad, she relayed this to my mom, who beat me for it. I haven’t trusted a counselor since. The emotional/psychological abuse continued until about two years ago, when my sisters and I sent a “do not contact us or our families” note to my mother. So we thought we were good, and finally began putting the pieces of our lives back together.
Until this week, when my mother showed up 2,600 miles from home in my sister’s church. My sister had moved several states away from the last-known (or so we thought) location that my mother had for her. Not only did she show up in her town, but my mother was in her church! This is extreme stalking behavior, and unfortunately all too common. My mom knew of so many things she hadn’t been told, even well into our 20s and 30s. Obviously, she hasn’t stopped.
So earlier this week, I attempted to file a domestic violence protection order. With her showing up in what had been assumed as a place she had no knowledge of, it once again brought back all the pain and trauma we’d been subjected to. In one instant, I went from a strong woman, to a torn-apart and fragile little girl.
I was shocked yesterday when the court informed me that while they could grant me a temporary restraining order, when we would have a full hearing in two weeks, I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a protection order because this latest incident hadn’t been against me. Yet, undoubtedly, my mother knows exactly what she’s done to my sisters and me and our families. The judge was extremely sympathetic as she acknowledged we were playing right into my mother’s hands.
An abuser wants the victim to fear, to be in dread. An abuser exerts control over victims in a sick and twisted manner. An abuser, who senses that she may lose her victims, stalks and creates an inescapable presence. When the stalker/abuser is your mother, she also has access to all kinds of information about you because she has your DOB, your mother’s maiden name, your social security number, your last addresses, etc. All those security questions are easily answered. There is no end to the madness.
So imagine, after all of this and finally getting the nerve to seek legal protection, being told that you can’t have it. That you have to sit and wait for her to act against you in order to protect yourself or your family. I was devastated. I can’t recall the last time I had such a reaction to anything. But in the following hours, that emotion became anger. Perhaps a righteous anger? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, I’m ready. Let her stalk me — let her do anything. Because the next time anything happens, she’s done.
Why did I bring this up today? For several reasons.
- If you suspect someone has something whacko going on in life, ask! No one ever asked me if I was okay, even when I was sent to school with a black eye. And help them. Be adamant. Reassure that you care.
- Protect the people around you. Remember that the worst people in life can be the sweetest folks on the surface. Don’t give out information that isn’t yours to give, even if it’s confirming a co-worker’s office location. Ask the person to have a seat while you call and find out if it’s okay.
- Know that even the strongest people can fall apart when facing severe psychological distress. They may not want to talk, as I didn’t yesterday, but reaffirming your support and care is priceless. (Thanks to my dear co-workers yesterday, who — even though it brought more tears when talking about it — let me know I wasn’t crazy.)
- Even strong Christians, who definitely trust that God will deliver them, need continual reminders. I never once this week doubted God. But the enemy is so strong and powerful that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and stuck in a cycle of fear. Pray for people who are facing this. It’s amazing what the power of prayer can do.
Yep, this is a dark topic — but one that I’m bringing to light. To know more about domestic abuse, I encourage you to read a book by Danielle Steele called “The Long Road Home.” It will give you some insight into the kind of person I have dealt with my entire life. The person who is careful to hit in places that aren’t seen by other eyes. Who paralyzes with fear. Who leaves you devastated.
Finally, in closing for today, know that I still have a long road in front of me. We don’t know where my mother is right now. For all I know, she has access to this blog post and is convinced I’m telling lies (abusers are good about creating their own stories, which become their realities). I may go through a lot more fire, and resulting tears and pain. But know that I have the almighty Savior on my side, and will fight this to the end.
If you can, listen to the words of this song by the Newsboys.