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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • January 17, 2015 in Columnists

    Don’t be the beast

    My father was one of those men who sit in a room and you can feel it: the simmer, the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose, and do something terrible.
    John Burnside, A Lie About My Father: A Memoir

    To those people who grew up with domestic abuse, get thee to a counselor now. You saw it happen and you know it was unmitigated hell. You remember your parent crushed and fallen, battered and broken as the angry one with the clenched fist stood over the quivering, crushed victim. You remember the terror, the urge to protect and the equal urge to hide. I’m betting you swore you would absolutely never do it. Nuh-uh. No way. Not you. You remember that monster face of rage, hate and violence and you swore that mask would never go on your face.

    There is some chance that you will never go there, but I’m telling you that you simply can’t be sure of it. I know this from bitter, personal experience, not so much as a partner, although I have my tendency to poke and smack (mostly) playfully to make my point or when I’m annoyed by some bit of obnoxiousness perpetrated by my husband. I know this because I was raised by parents who were prone to explosions of fury that were accompanied by either my mother’s full-armed slaps across the face or my father’s brutal, warningless spankings.

    I, too, swore that would never be me. I would never hurt my child. I would never say brutal things, or scream, teeth bared, things I could never take back. Oh no. I would bring my child up in love, positivity and gentleness. I would give my daughter the childhood I never had but yearned for.

    Half of that – no – at least 80 percent of that – came true. I was a better mother, even as a single mom, than both my parents put together. Mind you, I never attained my mother’s spotless house or my father’s lauded career, but I raised a daughter capable of being a magnificent mother and that sure does count.

    But did I succeed in quelling the demons of violence they infected me with? No. Not at first, and it was all the worse because I went into it unarmed. I truly believed that I would never do those things I hated so much. So imagine my shocked horror when my hand went up and then slapped, when my spankings were harsh, when I shrieked words that were absolutely unforgivable. The first times it happened, I honestly wanted to end myself. How could I do what caused me such suffering and to a child I loved more than my own life? How could I be the same sort of monster as the people who destroyed my belief in my own worth to the point where I still struggle to find it?

    But I did.

    I only wish I’d had someone to tell me to go get counseling while I was still pregnant so I would know that, when tempers get high, when stress is overwhelming, every single bit of nastiness we ever got will rise up inside us and erupt out. If we know we are capable of it, we have some chance of deterring it. We can learn strategies for cooling off, for walking away, for at least learning enough control not to let the beast out of the cage and destroying those we love most.

    Did I eventually beat it?  Yes. I did. I stopped hitting. I stopped screaming (most of the time). I stopped the vicious, nasty, cruel, angry, brutal monster I had been infected with and then I stripped pieces of her away until she largely disappeared– and what little remains can be quelled. I can stare her down and she backs slowly away because I’m stronger than she is. Was it hard? Oh, yes. I tell people that becoming a good person is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but nothing on earth is more worth it. My daughter has largely forgiven me, trusts me personally and with her own daughter – I am safe to be around. Do I still writhe with guilt? Oh, yes. Do I grieve for the pain and harm I’ve done? I always will. But I am not the person I was raised to be and I never will be again.

    If I can do it, pretty much anyone can.

    So, people who grew up with domestic violence, get thee to a counselor, I beg of you. Do it before the first evil action, because once you’ve done it, you’re there. You are everything you ever hated and, what’s worse, as a former victim, you know exactly how it feels. You know exactly what you’ve done. Stop it in its tracks before it even starts. Do not be the monster you remember from your own childhood. Don’t be the child who grew up in terror and then became what he or she feared most. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Don’t be in denial. Humans carry the seeds of violence and you’re human. It’s in all of us intrinsically, but for those of us who grew up surrounded by – or victims of – its manifestation, we are far more vulnerable to it.

    Don’t be the beast. The beast has a bad end – sad, lonely, abandoned and loathed. Permanently the bad guy. The evil one. Don’t be that person. Nobody will hate you for having to struggle with it, but they will if you unleash it. Get help. You deserve it, and so do your loved ones.

    • Amen sister! I too grew up with an extremely cruel and abusive father. I hid the scars, both physical and emotional, for most of my life. It was when I finally decided to have children of my own that I chose to go to counseling to quell any possibilities that I too could turn into that raging, uncontrollable demon like my father! Best thing I ever did for myself and for my own children. I learned that kindness (which I have always tended towards anyway) outweighs being feared. I learned that seeing that gleam that spoke of love in my children’s eyes was far more beautiful than a spark of unknown, unspeakable terror. I learned that teaching them compassion would far outweigh ego. I learned and learned and learned until the boogyman stopped existing for me! Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece, girl! The good outweigh’s the bad. Always! Always! Always!

        • Maya North

        • January 20, 2015 at 7:50 pm
        • Reply

        I wrote this for parents, but also for batterers. There are some who are irredeemable, but I have to believe there are people — especially men — who swore they would never do it and then it takes them by surprise, they throw that first punch and the die is set. If we are just warned that it’s possible, particularly those of us who were abused, and get help before the fact, how many lives could be rescued before they’re blighted?

      • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      • January 20, 2015 at 11:14 am
      • Reply

      Thank you for your bravery in sharing, Maya. Way to break the cycle of violence!!! It is a cycle, and it will rear its ugly head in each generation until someone breaks it. Counseling, as you urge, is the way to break that cycle. You have given yourself, your daughter, your grandchild, and the generations yet to come, an invaluable gift.

        • Maya North

        • January 20, 2015 at 7:53 pm
        • Reply

        I had ONE honest conversation with my parents where they basically admitted “we were no sort of parents to you.” I didn’t contradict them, but I did say “I can’t hate — I don’t bear up under close scrutiny either and besides, who do I hate? Where did it all start? You two went through hell and I suspect your parents did, too. So where do I start despising people? Or can I turn the lens of compassion on the unwilling links of this chain — and let it end with me?” It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I did it alone; my experience with helping professionals was largely so endangering and traumatic that I was terrified to seek help. I know this for scarring from my past, hence my recommendation people find a professional and nip it in the bud before it starts. <3

    • Maya thank you for your honesty. I have been there….the screaming lunatic. wondering HOW?? Bless your journey…xx

        • Maya North

        • January 21, 2015 at 9:04 pm
        • Reply

        We have to rip off the scab over the abscess so it can heal. It’s agonizing, but until we do, it stays, poisoning everything…

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