Child Abuse: How to Heal

by Charles Davis
(Louisville, Kentucky, USA)

My earliest memory was being whipped mercilessly with an electrical chord for the high crime of jumping up and down on the bed with my brothers. I still remember him turning the corner, the light that hung on a cord at the top of the stairs, the dingy red runner carpet.

As I lay there after he left, with my face pressed into the pillow to muffle my sounds so he wouldn't come back, with my two brothers beside me in the old bed on the second floor, a wall went up between me and the world. In a way I blamed them for goading me to jump though I had been at first reluctant. I vowed I'd never be close to anyone again because they just got me into trouble, and I'd do anything to avoid those cuts and stings again: funny how a 2-year-olds' brain works.

This set a couple of bad patterns in my life. The first was isolation, vowing always to do things on my own. The second was that it seemed each time I was full of bliss, something bad would happen. I'm not sure if that was the fact, but the events I remembered were when I was happy and then something came along to quash it.

The abuse continued until I left home, and occurred on a regular basis. I've had my head beaten into a wall. I've been stomped with big leather shoes, like he was trying to put out a fire. And always the belt that left my back bleeding.

But my worst memories where when a high school teacher noticed welts on my neck, had pulled back my shirt to see my back covered with them, and took me to the counselor's office. I was embarrassed, but the worst part was that they would not (at that time in the mid 1970's) call the police unless I told them to. I made excuses for my father: he was under stress, it didn't happen often, etc. Later in life I was so ashamed at making excuses for him and not having the courage to take advantage of the opportunity to change things. "The shame of shrinking courage in the face of pitiless brutality" is a phrase I heard that really captured my feelings.

The other was that he didn't even show up when I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. I graduated high school early and joined at 17 to get away from home. At 115 lbs and 5'10" I had nonetheless done great, graduating near the top of my class. He said he was "too busy", but I think the real reason is he didn't want to acknowledge I'd done something he couldn't. He couldn't even give me that. I sat on the bus alone after the ceremony for a few hours, waiting for the others to say goodbye to their families and join.

My real purpose in writing is to offer practical advice for you who have been through hell too. Here it is:

If you have been abused, you have to heal. If you don't, you will go on to perpetuate bad in the world. In fact, decades from now it won't be the abuse you received that bothers you the most, but the pain you caused others because you could not shake its effects. It is inevitable. If you beat a dog, it will end up mean and will bite someone.

Now, you may not beat your children, but maybe you will find it impossible to be close to them, or you won't be open with your spouse, or some other aberrant outlet. People who feel worthless treat themselves and others without respect.

How do you heal? Well, keeping the previous statement in mind helps. Here is another. Read some stories on this blog, and pick out a few that are worse than yours (there always is, you know).

Now, think about what advice you would give that person. Now, take that advice yourself.

It will always end up with something like, "You just have to find some way to let it go. You have to move on. You have to replace old, bad memories with new, good ones." This advice all sounds trivial, until you discover it for yourself.

One thing for sure, the longer it takes you to heal, and more shallow the healing, the more mistakes you will make with your own friends and family. So, get well as soon as you can and as best you can.

Next, find something to love. I found having a pet, and treating it with great kindness, was very healing.

Also, exercise a lot. Exercise is like a meditation. It gives you a sense of power and control. It improves your mental state, and lets you work off your anger in a beneficial way.

Get help. If you are depressed, there are lots of great drugs out there. When I was suffering depression, there was none of this, and my life in my early 20's was extremely painful. Don't suffer. Get help, accept help, and do what your doctor tells you to do.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. These are especially poisonous to abused people, as they will cloud your thinking, prevent you from maturing past your problems, and cause you to do really stupid things.

Finally, try to be the most decent person you can be. I've been almost rich, I've been almost famous, but none of this means anything or is of more importance than just being a decent human being. That, in the end, will be what you are most proud of.

I used to react to almost any adversity with anger. It was my one weapon. You have to learn to let go. Reading some books on Zen thinking will help, regardless of your religion, or even if you have no religion. I found a little book, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck, very helpful in helping me take a few steps back and look at things (especially my own mind at work) with perspective.

Finally, realign your expectations. You won't end up President. You may not end up rich or famous. Your goal is to be happy and content. That's all. There really is nothing more to life.

If you can do this you will have done something very important for humanity—you will have broken the chain of violence.

I can only say it is worth it. I could have ended up a criminal, a murderer, an evil person. I made my mistakes along the way, but I somehow, at age 50 ended up a decent person, somewhat successful, and with a wife I love and who loves me. One day of that is worth the decades of struggle it took to get here.

Darlene's comments to this Child Abuse Article titled "Child Abuse: How to Heal" can be found at Comments below this submission. Depending on system activity, there are sometimes delays in comments going live on my site; but rest assured, they do eventually appear. So if you don't yet see them, I hope you will return later to read what I, and possibly others, have written. I thank you for your patience and understanding.

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Comments for Child Abuse: How to Heal

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Aug 09, 2008
You became the man your father wasn't...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

A very thoughtful post, Charles. I would add to the list only forgiveness. Not forgiveness that says what your abuser did to you was okay; it WASN'T okay and will never BE okay. I'm talking about forgiveness that says you have let go of the anger, hatred and resentment, and that you no longer allow your abuser to control you, your thoughts and your actions.

You said: "I made excuses for my father: he was under stress, it didn't happen often, etc. Later in life I was so ashamed at making excuses for him and not having the courage to take advantage of the opportunity to change things." Charles, this wasn't about lacking courage—indeed, you exhibited incredible courage—it was about an adolescent young man whose brain was still developing and incapable of certain thought. It was about an adolescent young man who loved his father, because even in the face of such brutality, loving your father as an adolescent young man was natural, and so was trying to protect him. It was about an adolescent young man who would rather have taken more beatings than chance losing the father he loved. There is NO shame in that, Charles, none whatsoever.

Your father was not there for you throughout your life to encourage you and tell you—show you—how proud he was of you, but you should be so proud of yourself. In spite of what you lived through as a child, you turned pain into power. You learned lessons along the way that many abuse survivors—your father likely being one of them—never contemplate, let alone gain knowledge and wisdom from.

I don't know if your father is still alive or not, but if he is, there may come a time, as he nears the end of his life, that he will be full of regrets. At this moment, as my own father lies dying in a hospital bed, he has a great deal of time to reminisce. He now cries every day with the knowledge that his children have in one way or another distanced themselves from him (2 won't have anything to do with him; 2 have remained on occasional visiting terms, only able to tolerate his self-centeredness in small doses; 1—me—drew a line in the sand over his abuse toward women and refused to have a relationship with him until he was ready to accept responsibility for his violent behaviour). A week ago, I saw him for the first time in ten years. "I have SO many regrets," were among the first tearful words he said to me. Whether or not such words will ever pass from your father's lips to your ears, Charles, I don't know. What I will say is that regardless of how twisted your father's thinking and actions were toward you, deep down he knows you had integrity and tremendous strength of character; traits he did not possess.

Thank you for sharing your story and healing advice with my visitors and me.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Nov 04, 2009
Thank you
by: Anonymous

I am the mother of a little boy who was abused for nearly three years by my "father". The healing process seems like it will never happen. He is sad, angry, hurt, mad. Sometimes all at the same time. He is in counseling but he often feels like the only good thing will be if he dies. That breaks my heart. I love my son with all my heart and want to help him. Hopefully your story and others can help us both. These stories give me hope that he can heal and be the happy little man I know is inside.

Nov 14, 2009
by: Anonymous


Feb 04, 2010
Moving forward is so hard
by: Anonymous

Thank you for reminding me that others have stories that are just as bad or worse than mine.
My own memories are spotty; I can only recall maybe 5 incidents. I have total amnesia. The neglect I suffered was so severe, my mind has blocked it out completely. I have no memories at all before approximately age 12.

God Bless

Jan 04, 2011
one time, too many
by: Anonymous

i have been physically abused by my father 3x's and called the police om him once,1st time when i was 6 , he beat me 100x's w/ a shoe all over my body for not going to bed one night,2nd time was when i was pregnant w/ my son, i said something in the heat of an arguement he didn't like and he twisted my arm and pushed me on the bed and put his knee in my stomach 3rd time was at our family reunion just recently,i was putting dishes in the dish washer and got angry and slammed the plate in the sink 'cause it wouldn't fit, and he told me to leave the kitchen to calm down and i mouthed off at him and that's when he grabbed me and pushed me out of the kitchen onto the floor and i was trying to get away from him,but i couldn't until my sister ran over and jumped on him in a vise grip, and held him down so i could get up, when i got up i was so angry i had the chance to kick him really hard but didn't, instead i grabbed a lamp and threw it down on the floor, and started cuzing and yelling at him to never touch me again.The sad part about it was my girls saw it and all the women in my family. i don't condone how i acted by slamming the plate or the lamp, but it's going to take me a whole lot longer now to ever trust,forgive, or let go of my anger towards my dad.3x's is many,but one time is too many.

May 13, 2012
me too
by: Anonymous

I was sexually abused and physically abused as a child. My father attacked me with a knife to my throat. I suffered a breakdown because of all the stress I was under. I say that there is no such thing as "mild abuse". All abuse is wrong and parents need to reconize that a child is not a punching bag or a sex toy. A child has rights and needs to be taken seriously. I was also made to feel that happiness is only a sham. It is not. I move out on my own five years ago and my pain attacks vurtualy vanished. It was great to come home to peace.

Nov 29, 2012
I was the abusive parent!!!
by: Anonymous

I'm here looking how to help my kids heal! Sadly they are young adults both in college & failing in life! Why?? Cause I abused them when they were kids... Not like I was abused, but abuse nonetheless!! I swore I would never be that parent but I was!! I want to make up for all I've done and help heal them!! What do I do to undo the pain???

From Darlene - Webmaster: Anonymous, I commend and applaud that you want to help your now-adult children. I'm going to refer you to a series of emails that were an exchange between Jane, an abuser who wrote to me in 2007, and myself. I'll warn you that it will appear very harsh, but please read it in its entirety. I took the approach I did with Jane because I believed she needed a wake up call. My replies within the emails are chock-full of important information that can ultimately help both you and your children. I send you love, light and healing energy.

From Victim to Victory, a memoir
Darlene Barriere
author. speaker. survivor. coach
From Victim to Victory, a memoir

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