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.