“My father took his own life when I was 5 years old. I remember riding in the car to the gas station with my mom and 10-month-old baby sister so we could call the police. I remember sitting on our front porch, hugging my mom as the paramedics wheeled him out of the house. I remember living at my grandparents’ house for a while after ‘he left’. I remember my mom’s best friend picking me up from the funeral home on the day of his funeral. I remember having a hard time managing my emotions. I remember seeing a counselor to help control my tantrums. What I have a hard time remembering is him.
My father died in 1994. Suicide and mental health were even more taboo than they are today. Consequently, my family decided to keep what happened a secret and my mother was not able to seek the counseling and assistance that, looking back now, she desperately needed. As my mother moved through the stages of grief, I learned to pick up the slack. It took years for her to escape the anger she felt (she still reverts back to anger even today). I constantly heard how much I look like my dad and how I was destined to end up just like him. (It wasn’t until high school that I actually learned how my father died. I just figured that she meant I was destined to be worthless and end up dead). Although there wasn’t ever much mention of my dad, when there was, he was painted as a monster. Naturally, I felt like having similarities whether physically or in personality was a bad thing.
As time went on, I continued to believe what my mom would tell me. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t see the point in living either since I was inherently weak. My mother never hugged me or told me I’m beautiful. In fact, she would point out all of my flaws. My teeth weren’t white enough, my face was gross because I developed acne. If I got anything less than an A at school, I wasn’t smart enough. When I entered high school, I wasn’t really sure who I was or what my purpose was. I thought the way I felt was normal. I just figured that everyone was going through the same things with their own mothers. I was constantly grounded (My mom would turn the doorknob around so she could lock the door to my room). The verbal anger began to turn physical. I was constantly called to the counselor’s office to explain bruises. I would lie. I thought that if I told the truth, they would take my mom away. I did not want to feel abandoned by the only parent I had left.
Through the help of my close friends and one amazing teacher, I made it through high school and went to college. I was finally free from the prison I had been stuck in for over 10 years… or so I thought.
The mind-blowing thing about abuse is that it does not discriminate. I was a smart girl. I never had less than straight A’s. I was a kind girl. I would always think twice before acting even though I knew I would constantly be yelled at no matter how saintly or rebellious I was. People tend to think that there is a certain type of person that could never end up being manipulated by another human…. until it happens.
The freedom of living out from under my mother’s thumb in college gave me a new outlook on life, or so I thought. I met my college boyfriend my sophomore year. He was going to school to be a firefighter and was just a few years older than me. I wasn’t allowed to date in high school (and truth be told, I didn’t really have the confidence to even speak to a guy in the first place), so other than a quick ‘first love’ experience the previous year, I thought I hit the jackpot and may even climb out of the hole that I had been trapped in my whole life. Everything was wonderful at first- he treated me like a princess. He became friends with my friends. He bought me gifts and told me I was beautiful, which was something I hadn’t heard before. He told me he loved me. He made me feel safe.
We got an apartment together the following year. Once he had established that I was his, things took a dramatic turn. I was no longer beautiful. I was getting fat and needed to work out. I couldn’t ever keep the house clean enough. I couldn’t please him intimately as often or good as he wanted. when he would get mad, everything was my fault. One night, he picked me up, put me in the car that we shared, and drove me to my friend’s dorm. He told me I was not allowed to come back home. That night, I got a call from the police department saying that he had been arrested and gotten a DUI. The reason he drank too much was my fault. I tried to leave more times than I can count.
I kept going back. Even after he pushed all of my friends and my family out of my life and convinced me that they didn’t care about me, I stuck by his side. Why? Because this was my destiny. This is all I was good enough for. I deserved this because I am me. On a normal day, I would walk to school and work, but on days when he was mad, he would insist on driving me. I was late every time he drove me. The car was a hard place for me to escape. He could yell there and know that I couldn’t try to escape. When I would try to jump out at a stop sign, he would slam his arm against my chest until I had trouble breathing.
‘Nobody else will ever love you’ is what he would say to get me to stay and I believed him. I was nothing without him.
The final blow came the night that our dog fell down the stairs. He blamed me saying I threw the dog down the stairs on purpose. Therefore, he picked me up and threw me across the room ‘just as [I] had thrown the dog’. I landed upside down on my neck on the futon. My neck was displaced. This was far from the first time he had pushed me or hit me, but for some reason. This was different. I was able to get into the car and drive to his mom’s house. I didn’t have contact with anyone else in town and my family and friends were over 2 hours away.
This was rock bottom for me. I feared for my life that night and for the first time in my entire life, I envisioned my future. I found my purpose. I took pictures of my wounds, but never pressed charges. I may have taken back some control, but he still had some. I was afraid that if I pressed charges and he lost his job a firefighter, it would me my fault. Nonetheless, I was able to move in with my grandparents and complete my student teaching the following semester. I was happy.
He would find ways to push himself back into my life- logging in to my bank account, using my money to pay for his bills, he even showed up at my grandparents’ house. I continued to press forward and focus on myself. I forgave my mom for neglecting my emotional needs as a child. She was not in a place to take care of me when societal standards and pressures mixed with her own depression kept her from even taking care of herself. I focused on my students. They will always deserve more than I will ever think that I deserve myself.
After finding myself, I found my soulmate. Right when I least expected it. With him, not only do I feel loved and safe, but I truly AM loved and safe. As I look back on my experiences, I have come to realized that those two things were all I ever wanted.
Suicide does not mean survivors were not loved. I have learned more about my dad through my experiences in life than I ever did when he was alive. I love him. I miss him. I know he would be proud of overcoming what he didn’t. I still grieve the loss, but I also use it as motivation to advocate and spread awareness.
Suicide, abuse and domestic violence do not define me. It gives me a different perspective and a different platform to educate and take pride in knowing that I am no longer just surviving. I am thriving.”
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