I was fifteen the last time I was beaten. The burger joint where I worked part-time closed late. There were hours of cleaning equipment and mopping floors to finish the day. My shift was supposed to end earlier in the evening but someone didn’t show up for work so I had to close. It must have been after midnight as I sat in my supervisor’s car, waiting for a ride. She was saying goodnight to her boyfriend in his car. I just wanted to go home and go to bed, to get a few hours sleep before getting up for school the next day.
Suddenly a car came screeching to a halt nearby. I recognized it and got out of the car where I was waiting because my parent had come to pick me up. I had no idea what awaited me.
Apparently my parent had fallen asleep earlier and woken up to find that I wasn’t home yet. Somehow they were convinced that I had been partying on the streets instead of working too late for a ninth grader. They started screaming at me, calling me awful names, hitting, slapping, pulling my hair until I crouched in the floorboard of the car, just trying to get away.
The next morning I woke up with an ugly black eye and cut, swollen lips. Something shifted in me that day. I clenched my fists and vowed that if they ever hit me again, I was going to hit them back.
Memories of a Hard Childhood
I’ll admit that was hard to remember and write. It’s so different from the life I live now with my family, it seems like a bad dream. Both of my parents are gone from this world, and we were reconciled before they died. I don’t share the story for vengeance or shaming anyone, and I continually forgive when memories crop up. Instead, I’ll share my story because it could encourage someone, somewhere, who has struggled with overcoming a hard childhood.
My earliest memories include being slapped without warning, getting yanked out of bed from a sound sleep and spanked for wetting the bed, and nosebleeds from being hit in the face. Who knows what I’ve blocked out and don’t remember. That’s okay, I don’t want to.
Please know that I’m not a psychiatrist, therapist, doctor or any other professional. No college degree here. It’s not the point of this post to diagnose or treat emotional issues. I’m just sharing my personal experiences and thoughts, partly because I was challenged by a mentor to do so.
Being treated this way from birth creates a certain self-image and self-talk. Anxiety and fear feels normal. Shame is a way of life so we shame others. Like many of you, I’ve spent a lifetime learning awareness about the effects of a hard childhood.
Growing Up Broken
I finally stopped wetting the bed when I got married at age 20. What a sad and embarrassing indicator of my emotional brokenness. I remember that, to my surprise, I began to cry at the sad parts of movies after I was married. I think I finally felt safe. My husband was kind and never spoke a word of criticism to me. He was a safe harbor after years of harsh words and unpredictable punishment. The problem was, I took my parents’ place and shamed and beat myself up because that was what felt normal to me.
Our first baby was born when I was 22 years old. She was followed by a brother twelve months later and before long, I was the mother of four under the age of four. I knew very little about cooking and keeping house when I married, and even less about babies and toddlers. It didn’t take long for me to wrestle with the question:
How do you give someone what you yourself did not receive?
I entered motherhood so depleted, so devoid of acceptance and self-worth. I didn’t know what normal looked like, and I didn’t know how to be a good mother.
Thus began my journey of learning about love: understanding that God loves me far beyond what I think, learning to love myself, and overcoming fear and shame so I can open up to loving others. I’ll share more of that journey in Part 2 of Overcoming a Hard Childhood.