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.
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