The adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is challenged by this gut-wrenching recount of a childhood gone completely awry.
Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of child abuse.
What images travel across your mind when you hear the phrase, child abuse? Perhaps, you picture harsh spanking or a cruel backhand. You might envision scared children, doing their best to hide lumps, scratches, welts, and bruises.
Maybe you’ll think back to an acquaintance, friend, or family member—sexually abused by an uncle, teacher, or a corrupt preacher sharing more than his faith. These are all despicable examples of abuse, with which I can sympathize and empathize.
Now, I want to suggest that verbal and emotional forms of abuse can be just as hurtful and leave just as many scars… invisible as they may be.
I consider myself somewhat of an expert, when it comes to abuse. I’m not a doctor or psychologist. I don’t have a degree, in fact, I never even stepped foot inside a high school. Eighth grade was the last grade of school I attended, before my already complicated life started to downward spiral.
My sister, who was seven years older than I was, physically abused me since I was an infant. Michelle would push and shove me, like many older siblings do, but there were always times she took it much farther than that.
Once, she tricked me into putting my finger in the jagged metal teeth of a folding lawn chair. I think I was four or five. She slammed the back down and sawed my finger to the bone. Another time, she lured me beneath an active beehive. From a safe distance, she hurled a rock that resulted in angry bees attacking my face and body.
That experienced earned me a lifetime of buzzing, black and yellow nightmares.
When I was six, my sister began molesting me. This sexual abuse persisted and progressed for a year, and reverberations of those heinous acts complicated my life for decades to follow. By the time I hit puberty, I was abusing myself on a regular basis. This dark coping skill followed me into adulthood and will possibly follow me to the grave.
Clearly, I’ve endured vicious forms of physical punishment and sexual abuse. Perhaps that’s not enough to make me an expert … fair enough. I do think it earns me the right to present a valid opinion. The verbal and emotional abuse inflicted upon me did just as much damage … maybe more, than every other form.
Research shows that children exposed to maternal verbal abuse are three times as likely to develop personality disorders like OCD and Borderline Personality Disorder. Verbal abuse can show itself in a variety of forms, including bullying, defaming, defining, trivializing, harassing, blaming, berating, taunting, threatening, and name-calling. The latter two were my father’s specialty.
“It’s possible he just liked holding the fear over us, like the sharp-angled blade of a guillotine. I don’t commend the man for never hitting me. He might as well have. I’ve become an expert on pain and suffering, and I can say quite adamantly that physical pain and discomfort pale in comparison to mental and emotional anguish.
I think I would have preferred a father who skipped the verbal assaults, and just gave me a good backhand occasionally. The pain would dissipate in minutes as opposed to the never-ending burn of insults and degradation. I suppose abuse is abuse, no matter what form it comes in, and the torture of it is infinite, when it’s at the hands of someone who’s supposed to love you.”
—Excerpt from, Surviving the Fourth Cycle
My father was a frightening man, who abused alcohol, drugs, woman, and his own family. I remember him bursting through the door one night, Budweiser in hand … stumbling. He had a strange woman with him, who he introduced as his new girlfriend. They disappeared into the basement, laughing stupidly and my mom disappeared into her bedroom, crying hysterically.
I did some crying too, that night, left alone with my big sister while our parents busied themselves with flagrant infidelity and emotional turmoil.
My sister scared me and filled me with dread, but my father filled my life with paralyzing terror and a perpetual sense of impending doom. I thought he was going to kill me, and I had a perfectly good reason for believing that.
He told me he was.
I heard horrifying stories about my dad from uncles, grandparents, aunts, and even my mom. This was the monster, who threw a kitten into our living room wall, killing it instantly. This was the psychopath, who cut the arms and legs off a squealing mouse over the bathroom sink! My father told me he wanted to kill me on more than one occasion… sometimes he whispered it.
He had the same threats for my mom too, and her constant expression of her own fears nurtured mine to overwhelming proportions. My imagination added fuel to the fire, and I had nightmares about coming home to bloody murder scenes, and a patiently waiting daddy. I never feared the boogeyman when I was a kid, because there was no room in my life for childish nonsense.
When I heard noises in the middle of the night, I thought daddy was finally coming to get me.
I spent my childhood doing my best to avoid my father. Sometimes I was so anxious and sleep-deprived, going to school was impossible. My mom would hide me under the cellar stairs until my dad went to his second-shift job. She’d say, “There’s no telling what he’ll do if he finds out your home again!”
If I was too sick to go to school, he called me a pussy or a wimp. He called me things like that all the time, and his empty shark-like stare dared me to disagree with him. He had a knack for staring and torturing me with his icy gaze until I inevitably burst into tears. That’s what he seemed to want …
“Told you …you’re a pussy.”
He loved to threaten me by snapping his leather belt between his hands and telling me, “You know what’s coming,” or “It’s almost time to take your medicine like a man!” He never missed an opportunity to scare me either. If my mom reminded me to be careful because the stove was hot, he’d threaten to come in from the other room and sit me on it, so I didn’t need reminding anymore.
He never did any of these things, but the constant threat was a virus in my mind, convincing me my days were numbered.
In retrospect, I was lucky in the sense that my father wasn’t around much. He worked a lot of overtime, went out frequently, and spent a fair amount of time unconscious. Therefore, the sting of his words and the burn of his stare, were not daily occurrences.
In the midst of the turmoil, however, my young mind couldn’t recognize that fact. I lived my life quiet and discreet, trying to avoid the perversions of my sister, the threats of my father, while not bothering my mom with my problems … she had enough of her own, I thought.
My dad didn’t always threaten pain and death when he decided to pay attention to me. Sometimes, he would go through phases where he wanted to make a man out of me. That’s how he put it. This typically involved trying to force me to fight, for his amusement or my humiliation.
In the midst of a childish argument with a friend he might appear, smoking and drinking, demanding I handle my problems with my fists, again… like a man. He would yell and call me names like pansy or mama’s boy. He’d look down at me across the dented red and white beer can he pressed to his lips, punctuating his disgust.
Situations like that always ended in me bursting into tears in front of my friends —friends whose dads played Atari with them at night, and catch with them in the afternoon. Friends, who would no longer be allowed to play with me anymore, after they ran home with tears of their own and another story about Nathan Daniels’ psychotic father.
When I took interest in bodybuilding, martial arts, and wrestling, I decorated my walls with posters of Hulk Hogan and Bruce Lee. My father tore them down and called me a homo and a fag. His words bludgeoned me, as if he were throwing rocks at me instead of insults. I was the daughter he never wanted, he said.
He came up with another plan to make a man out of me, once he decided I was a little homo. He was going to take me to a prostitute, whether I liked it or not he warned, and we weren’t going to leave until she, “Fucked all the gay out of me.”
A vile current of sickening despair surged through my heart when he issued that threat. My sister already forced sex into my life where it didn’t belong and now my dad was promising to do the same. Thankfully, that warped plan of his never came to fruition.
My mother, after eighteen years of enduring her own abuse, finally found the strength to throw him out, get a restraining order, and file for divorce. My father got quite a bit scarier after that, but there’s no room for that story here. I want to stick to the point.
The physical and sexual abuse I survived definitely scarred my body and mind and destroyed decades of my life. However, the verbal emasculation and abuse administered by the man who should have loved me more than anyone, did just as much damage and is proving to be harder to overcome.
I think I got it right, in the excerpt above… abuse is abuse, no matter what form it comes in, and the torture of it is infinite, when it’s at the hands of someone who’s supposed to love you.
If you’re a victim of any form of abuse, or you know someone who might be, please get help immediately. You don’t have to take it, and you’re not alone!
Child Help USA National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILDS, 24 hours a day, or…
National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233, 1-800-7873224).
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