When a Parent Becomes a Terrorist

I’d spent my childhood afraid of my father, and when I became a teenager that fear didn’t go away — it just became tempered with rage.

Trigger warning: abuse, stalking, disordered eating, self-harm

Abuse is like terrorism. It is terrorism. When you’ve suffered abuse, you can spend years living in fear that it — that your abuser — will come back.

I cut my father out of my life on my 26th birthday. I’d tried for years to have some sort of relationship with him, but every time we got off the phone I wanted to binge-eat again. Every time he dropped by unexpectedly, I spent the next several hours double- and triple-checking the door locks, my heart threatening to pound itself out of my chest.

I’d spent my childhood afraid of him, and when I became a teenager that fear didn’t go away — it just became tempered with rage. When I entered college, I tried to let go of the rage. For a while I fooled myself into thinking I had.

I hadn’t. I’d just masked it; convinced myself my relationship with my father was good now. Never mind that no matter what I did, nothing was ever good enough for him. Never mind that every visit, every talk, every email exchange with him was full of venomous barbs, the same verbal abuse that had kept me down since I was a baby.

(You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. He started his verbal abuse the day I was born — and never stopped reminding me of exactly what he’d said, because it was hilarious to him.)

I’ve spent most of my life thinking I’m ugly, stupid, smelly, a waste of space, a worthless daughter, a mistake (his word, not mine). I was hammered with those beliefs falling from his lips like the word of god.

He was always angry. You never knew what would set him off. To be near him meant walking on eggshells. Something might be a lighthearted joke one day but would have him shaking me and screaming in my face the next. His temper was completely unpredictable.

He was worse when he drank scotch, which mercifully happened not that often. But I knew, if that amber liquid was in his cup, to keep my mouth shut and avoid him until he’d slept it off.

During the separation, the endless divorce, I began to fear he’d murder my mom. I started doing anything I could to keep him happy — because I believed if he was happy with me, he’d leave her alone. Of course, keeping him happy never worked; I never knew what, exactly, would keep his mood level, and I have a deep rebellious streak that I cannot seem to tame no matter what I do. I’d always slip up, and he’d be angry again.

I’ve lived with the fear that he’d kill my mom for almost twenty years now. He hates her, though she never did anything to him.

He thinks she stole me; he thinks she brainwashed me to hate him. She didn’t. She didn’t need to — I needed no help in cultivating an unhealthy-to-me amount of hate for the dude who donated the sperm to make me.

The night before my 26th birthday I got a letter from him in the mail. It was full of more abusive statements. It left me in tears on the floor of my bedroom.

Then, in the perfect clarity that comes when you’ve cried out all the moisture in your body and you’re sure you’re going to die from the pain in your heart and you transcend that into a perfect numbness, I realized it was time. I had to let him go. I had to cut him out of my life.

I’m sure he thinks he loves me, but that’s not good enough. His “love” is toxic and abusive. His “affection” puts a shard of ice in my heart, encases me in fear.

After I cut him off — sending him an email telling him I never wanted to speak to him again, never wanted to hear from him, that he was effectively dead to me — he spent a year stalking me online, asking my sister (his other daughter) to get me to talk to him, sending me messages on Facebook and via email.

I, of course, felt terrible — I’d been well-groomed by him.

People wonder why others don’t leave abusive relationships, whether those relationships are romantic or familial or platonic. “It can’t be that bad if she won’t leave him,” people will say. Or, “She’s obviously abusive; why won’t he go? Why won’t he help himself? I guess he’s weak and stupid.”

The people who wonder this have never suffered abuse. If they had, they would know the answer as to why people don’t go, and they would know it has nothing to do with being weak or stupid, or the abuse “not being that bad”.

Abusers know what they’re doing (on some level; not necessarily consciously). They’ve done it before. They’ve picked up their skills either from practice, or from having it done to them.

Abusers also often come from an abusive background. This is why it’s called the cycle of abuse — people repeat roles that played out earlier in their lives.

Part of the abuse cycle is grooming. Grooming is what makes it possible for people who say “I’d never be with someone who abuses me; I’d get out right away” to find themselves trapped in a long, abusive relationship.

Because abusers never start out as terrorists. They start out funny and charming and smart. A bit into the relationship, you might notice a bit of a temper, but that’s normal, right? Everyone gets road rage from time to time–the food at that restaurant was really bad. Besides, they made up for it right away. They apologized for yelling. They brought flowers.

Then you notice that the temper gets lost more often and the time between it and the flowers or reconciliation becomes longer. Yet the time never takes too long, always coming just when you think you might have had enough. Then you think to yourself, “No, I am really loved. People sometimes just get mad.”

It’s a process, grooming is. They get you used to a cycle of behaviour wherein they abuse you and then they apologize. By the time the really bad stuff starts — the stuff that anyone would look at and say, “That’s abuse” — you’re already tightly ensnared in the web.

My father groomed me for years. I’d get the abuse, and then I’d get a reward for suffering it. I began to believe the rewards were proof he loved me, and the abuse was just his clumsy way of expressing his love.

Even if that’s true, it’s no way to live.

So I felt bad after I cut him out, because the rewards had trained me well — always to think about him, about what I was doing to him, about what a bad daughter I was.

I kept the inner voice telling me I should let him back into my life at bay, and held out for a year.

Around my 27th birthday, I decided to give him one last chance. It would not be without conditions.

I wrote out a lengthy letter, outlining the conditions I expected him to meet if we were to have any sort of father-daughter relationship again. I was very, very clear, resolutely firm on my boundaries (which were very narrow — they must be, with him: he will take any widening of boundaries as a sign of weakness, inviting a fresh invasion).

He responded with a message that broke several of the conditions outright.

That did it. I was satisfied, finally, that I had done everything I possibly could have to save the relationship, to save him. I was able to put that part of myself, the part that whispered in my ear But you’re not giving him a fair chance! to sleep. A deep sleep from which it will never wake up.

I gave him more than enough chances. I gave him more chances than he deserved. Him, the man who doesn’t believe in giving people second chances, because “Screw me once, never again!”

(Everyone is out to screw him. He is paranoid and delusional.)

He didn’t stop stalking me. Sent me a message around Christmas. Tried to friend my best friend to stalk me via her profile.

A while ago, my mom was sleeping in the other room and I was just dozing off. She had a nightmare and screamed out in the night. I woke up in a tearing hurry, convinced I’d find my father standing over her and the dog, a smoking gun in his hands. He’s done it–he’s finally done it–he’s killed her and now I’ll kill him ran through my tired, fear-soaked brain.

Of course, Mom was fine. The dog hadn’t even stirred, which tells me there was no real danger — he’s pretty good at distinguishing. His nose would have alerted him to a stranger far before my mom would have shouted in fear.

But this is the terror I live with, every day.

My father knows where I live.* He says he doesn’t, because he’s a liar, but the place I live has been part of my mother’s family for over twenty years. I spent most of my childhood here, visiting my Oma. He knows where it is.

In late January, I started receiving calls from the intercom downstairs — you can tell it’s from there because of the double-ring. The messages were silent (if I’m not expecting anyone, I wait for it to go to message so I can see who it is before I answer — this is part of the terror). They came every day at the same time.

I was scared to leave my house. Coming up from the car with a load of stuff, I would be on hyper alert, waiting to hear my father’s voice down the hallway, and ready to bolt back to the car if I did, tearing out of there in an effort to escape to anywhere else. I was convinced he was waiting downstairs to charm someone into letting him in, just as he used to do in the bad old days in the throes of divorce.

It turns out the calls weren’t from him but I lived in terror for weeks, afraid he’d come by for a “visit”, to “talk” to me about “this silly silent treatment”.

It’s much easier to keep at bay those voices in my head that live by virtue of the grooming I’ve received when he’s not physically near me. Faced with him in real life, I don’t know what I’d do. Cry, likely. Scream, probably. Attack him? Maybe. Tell him I was wrong (when I wasn’t) and let his toxins seep back into my life (which would eventually kill me)? Definitely possible.

This is what abuse does. It turns life into a battle against terror. Every day, until the day he dies, I will fear him. that he will come back to hurt me again, to kill my mom — to finish the job he started when I was a child, to destroy me completely.

My father is a terrorist. I am always on red alert.

~~

*I am in the process of moving, but I am not fully out of my old place. Midpoint next week I will be settled in my new house, the location of which he is ignorant. I will finally feel safe in my living space again.

Ragnarok, day 2

ARISE JORMUNGAND.

Ragnarok, day 2

It is still snowing like whoa over here. Stopped briefly yesterday in the late afternoon/early evening, but when I woke up this morning it was back in full force.

The world is ending covered in water. Fenrir has eaten the sun. ARISE JORMUNGAND.

Anyway. Today is my rest day after surgery — yes, my surgery was Wednesday, but I’ve been busy every day since. Probably been overdoing it a bit. I promised myself I’d spend today resting, possibly sleeping a lot.

I’m still in a considerable amount of pain, though it is nowhere near the amount of pain I was in when the teeth were still occupying my jaws. This pain is a healing pain, and it is annoying and slow to go away, but I can be patient and deal. I am now eating semi-solid foods, like omelettes and quiche and such, which does quite a bit to improve my mood.

Tomorrow I’m planning on posting something very revealing about my childhood/upbringing and being a survivor of abuse. It was an article I found very hard to write; I’ve been sitting on it for a few weeks while I decided if I had the strength to share it. I finally decided I do have the strength to share it, so it will be going up tomorrow.

Please note if the comments turn abusive I will turn them off. I might have the spoons to share my story, but I am not required to weather the sadism of trolls, nor am I required to weather people who will come to the defense of my abuser. (Yes, there are people who defend my abuser(s). Because abusers aren’t abusive to everyone; if they were they would not have any licence to operate, and they do.)

If you find these topics difficult to read about or triggering, you may want to skip reading the blog tomorrow.

Hope everyone has a great end to their weekend, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

-Katje

Living in the shadow of fear

[Content warning: suicide, domestic violence, self-harm, disordered eating, abuse]

On Sunday night it took me a while to doze off. There’s construction going on nearby for the new Skytrain, and they’re doing it all night. I have to sleep with my window open when it’s so hot, so at night my bedroom is full of the sounds of heavy machinery beeping and men shouting at each other.

Eventually, I did start to fall asleep.

And was immediately waked up by a shout of terror from my mom’s room. I got out of my bed in blind panic, stumbling through the apartment to her room, one thought going through my sleep-fogged brain: he’s done it. He’s finally found a way to kill her.

When I was 9 the divorce got started, got put into motion. The litigation from it lasted until I was 20. It was named the second-worst divorce case in BC history.

My father, my mom’s ex-husband, is abusive, violent, and unpredictable. He’s also a gun-owner*, which is not a happy mixture. Living with him is walking on eggshells. You never know what will set him off.

For a long time, I was deadly afraid of him — I was afraid of what he could do to me. I feared he’d succeed in gaining custody of me. I feared the abuse. When he got really angry, I feared he’d snap and kill me.

Eventually, the fear of what he could do to my person faded. I became an angry, jaded, bitter adolescent, and I was suicidal. I no longer thought he’d kill me; often I’d fantasize about killing myself to show him who was in charge. I dyed my hair and got piercings and tattoos, because I was exercising control over my body. After spending a lifetime with one parent trying to exert complete, absolute control over not only your physical person but your thoughts, your emotions, your beliefsā€¦I grasped onto anything that could give me a sense of control again, and I held on hard.

I cut myself. I binge-ate. I starved myself. Mom tried so hard to keep me healthy, but there was only so much she could do without becoming another controlling influence in my eyes; without losing my trust. She did the best she could with what she had, and in my eyes that makes her the best mom in the world. She’s the reason I didn’t kill myself.

The fear that I had of my father didn’t go away, however. I spent years appeasing him, years trying to keep him happy with me, because I feared he’d kill my mother.

He hated my mother. Every time I visited him there was some ranting about what a horrible person she was, how she was making me fat and lazy and all these other things that meant I’d never be loved by anyone else. How I was just like her and this was, of course, a terrible thing. And though he never realized I knew it, I could hear the comments, I understood what he meant with his veiled barbs: he wanted her dead.

So for years I tried to be the daughter he wanted. I tried to be the trophy he wanted to keep on his mantlepiece, perfectly under his control; when I couldn’t do that, I tried to at least not piss him off so much.

It was a losing, uphill battle. My very existence troubles him — he once called me the most expensive mistake he ever made — because I am so much like her. My mother. Because I remind him of her; because I came from her; because he hates her.

Sunday night mom’s shout of terror brought me tearing out of my bed and down the hall, not even grabbing a weapon, hoping to beat him back with fists and claws and the pure rage of a daughter who’s spent zir life trying to protect one parent from the other. I was convinced he was there, in the apartment — he knows where it is, after all; my Oma owned it for 20 years before she died — I was convinced he had finally come to off my mother. A final revenge for when I cast him out of my life last year because I was finally done entertaining his clumsy, toxic “love”.**

Mom, of course, is fine; it had only been a bad dream. Her screams didn’t even wake the dog, who was fast asleep in the living room. I think he would have started from sleep had a new smell entered the house, and he’s not exactly fond of tall, widely-built men.

I, however, took another hour to get back to sleep. My heart didn’t stop its rapid pulse for at leas 45 minutes; I breathed rapidly, straining my ears for any sound, any indication that what I feared may actually come to pass. That night I had terrible nightmares all night that kept me tossing and turning; nightmares about him.

It’s like terrorism. Living under the fear of your abuser, living under the fear that he will come back and hurt you — it is a special, personal type of terrorism. And for me, until my father dies I will be living in the shadow of that fear — the fear that he’ll take away my mom, the most important person in my life.

He’s already tried and failed to take away my sense of self-worth, my ability to be loved, and my autonomy. My mother is the last thing he can take from me, and I’m afraid I won’t have the power to stop him if he decides to try.

And that fear won’t go away, unless I let him back into my life and try to keep him happy. Unless I sacrifice my own mental well-being. Unless I decide to accept the suicidal ideation, the worsened eating disorders, the fear he’ll invade my space yet again on one of his “spontaneous trips” to my town. Unless I decide to make myself miserable just so I can keep him happy, and keep a well-trained eye on him, and keep him away. from. my. mother.

That fear stays. Because mom and I have talked about it, and we both agree — nothing is worth the way he hurts me. Nothing. And even if I did do all that, it wouldn’t be a sure thing. There would always be a chance he’d do it anyway. In a situation like this, there is no such thing as security.

I refuse to give up my liberty for a false sense of it.

-Kat

*This is not an attack on gun-owners. However, my father is USian and he did bring with him said attitude towards guns. He frequently disobeys Canadian gun laws, because he thinks he’s above them, and once — when I was young — he almost shot me while he sleptwalked. So while I do have friends who are gun-owners and don’t have anything against guns per se, I’m not too keen on them being kept by an abusive, violent, arrogant man who believes he’s above the law and talks frequently about “hunting” women.

**I’m sure he does think he loves me, in his way. It’s still clumsy, toxic, and abusive, and I deserve better.