I’ve put this story off for awhile. Partially because I wanted to avoid it, I didn’t expect it to be this emotionally painful to write. But the other reason is simply that it felt impossible to put the experience into words. I’m pretty sure this writing falls far short of depicting the entire scene. Psychological abuse is funny that way. It’s not one singular event. It’s a bunch of tiny events, that when looked at individually don’t seem that bad, but when put together collectively become too much for a person to handle. The worst part is there’s no definitive proof that the abuser has done these things. Once you find out that someone is deliberately causing these terrible things to happen, no one would ever believe you. It sounds so far fetched. When someone asks how or why I developed PTSD, I can’t give them an answer. I can’t explain it. Early on, I couldn’t even explain it to myself. So much gas lighting had gone on, I didn’t know which way was up, and I couldn’t determine truth from lies.
Every day I hope my dad gets caught. His moves become braver and bolder. He seems to think he is invincible and can get away with anything because so far no one has been able to keep up with his games. But one day, someone is going to get hurt. He’s already showing signs that he is capable.
Trigger warning: Not long after I walked away from him, he turned around and killed my brother’s dog. There is no definitive proof, an investigation was never done, but I’m certain it was him. He called my brother soon after and told him that he wasn’t safe where he was living and that he needed to come home. My brother listened. It was the same exact line given to me, and I had listened too. My brother was kicked out of my Dad’s house when he was seventeen. He lived out of the back of his car for a long time, slept on friends couches, etc. During it all, he bought a Great Dane who he adored. That dog kept him alive through some dark times. My brother came home from work one day and couldn’t find his dog. He kept calling for her, but she never came. Finally, he opened the back door and found her with her head bashed in by a brick. The next day he came home and the house was turned upside down. All of the dog’s toys and collars were laid out and organized neatly across his bed. Dad told him not to report it. That it wasn’t worth it. The same way he told me not to report anything.
My dad likes to prey on the vulnerable, and I made myself an easy target. I had just given birth to my third child, and like my previous pregnancy, was already showing signs of Postpartum Depression. My dad offered to take my two older kids for a week while I recuperated and focused on taking care of a newborn. I was more than happy to take him up on that offer. A month later I received a phone call from him. He told me that while my three-year-old daughter had been there, she had made some very sexual behaviors that sent up all sorts of red flags that something horrible was going on. My dad told me that she wasn’t safe and that we immediately pack up our bags and come home that night. I argued. I was still on maternity leave, there was nowhere my three-year-old needed to be that I wouldn’t be with her. There was only a tiny handful of people who were ever left alone with her, and nearly all were family. Not to mention, my husband is in the military and was gone for a month due to training. I could handle things on my own and take the necessary steps needed. My dad made it clear that I would either come home that night or he would come down and get me. I loaded the kids into the car and drove the seven hours it took to get to his house.
If there was ever a moment where I should have listened to my gut instincts, this was it. I didn’t understand the intensity of my own emotions. I didn’t want to take my kids there, anywhere but there. I cried the entire drive, I felt pain like I’ve never felt before. I remember thinking that if life hurt this much, then I didn’t want my kids to live it. Postpartum depression is a horrible thing especially when current trauma is added to it. I seriously contemplated driving off the road, but of course, I didn’t. Instead, I continued to drive. I felt as if driving home was akin to driving straight into Hell. Honestly, it was. But I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way.
I grew up being taught to be submissive to my father even as an adult. I knew my voice no longer existed once I walked through those doors. That was basically the way of things. It happened almost immediately. It was dictated to me where I would live, who I would associate with, etc. My father insisted that we do not take my daughter’s case to court, that it “wouldn’t be worth the emotional toll”. I disagreed and refused to back down on that point.
The same day I got there my father pulled me aside and said, “There is something your not telling me between you and your husband. What is it?” I told him everything is fine, and he told me he didn’t believe me. A few days later he asked if my husband had been hitting me. The answer was no.
Finally, my husband made it to town. I was a mess. Utterly. I would stare off into blank space for hours at a time and not respond to anyone. I know now that this is called dissociation. It scared the hell out of my father. I never noticed the time was missing, but I doubt I would have much cared. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t find my appetite. I quite literally didn’t sleep for days on end. My brain simply wouldn’t shut off. I remember that I had started to hallucinate in the middle of one night. I was beyond sleep deprived. I was now trapped in a place I considered hell and I didn’t want my kids to be there. I’d rather die than raise them there. My toddler had supposedly been sexually abused. I no longer had any say or control in my life because it would now be ruled by my father and husband. And now my husband had officially quit his job back home. It was over, and we were officially trapped. I had my very first panic attack that evening. I didn’t understand what was happening, I literally thought I was going crazy. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stop the racing thoughts in my head, and I needed to get away.
I jumped into my car and took off. I drove around town in the dark and cried aloud. Eventually, I calmed myself enough that I was able to go back home. I walked in through the side door and overheard my father and step-mother talking at the table with my husband. My father’s words cut like no other, “I love my daughter dearly, but you can’t trust a word that comes out of her mouth. She will lie about anything.” I am probably one of the most honest people you will ever meet. I’m not very good at the whole lying business, my face gives away everything; therefore, I don’t try very often. For my dad to say this hurt, and I couldn’t figure out why he would say such a thing. Turns out, he was trying to undermine me, trying to plant seeds of doubt into my husband’s head.
My dad continued to ask if my husband hit me, I couldn’t figure out why he stuck with this. Maybe because he had hit my mom so many times he couldn’t imagine I’d marry someone any different? Who knows. Then he began telling my husband that he thought I must be cheating on him, that would be the only explanation for why I would be so upset about moving back home. Eventually, my dad began asking me who I was cheating on my husband with. I wasn’t hurt anymore. I was just pissed off. Then I caught my husband online, sneaking around behind me, looking for evidence that I was cheating on him. I had written a name of an author on a piece of paper, my husband looked up the guy’s name in conjunction with the town we used to live in. I walked by as he was doing the search, stopped, and showed him the title of the book online. But there was Dad already putting a wedge between us.
He had taken me away from family and friends, removed my support network, removed my husband’s family from the picture who were angry with us for questioning them, and now he was trying to remove my husband from the picture. I saw what he was doing and I was scared. My husband didn’t hear my pleas, he thought I was being paranoid.
My brothers wouldn’t have anything to do with me anymore. In fact, they acted completely disgusted to be near me. I had no idea what caused this change, but I was pretty certain that Dad was behind it. My brothers and I are incredibly close, but everyone stopped calling me a couple months before all of this transpired. I didn’t think anything of it at the time because I was so incredibly busy with everything else going on in my life. Looking back, I’m pretty sure those same round table discussions my dad used to have with us about our mother were now being had about me.
My father tried to get me to spend time with an old friend I had grown up with, except now she was into hard drugs. It was a small town, everyone knew her reputation, and I had no desire to be affiliated with that. He began making comments such as, “Unfortunately, grandparents can’t just take custody of their grandchildren. We’ve already looked.” Why, would they have looked into this? I knew the answer. He was doing the exact same thing to me as he did to my mom.
I couldn’t convince my husband of what was happening, and he refused to leave. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t have the finances to pick up and move on my own. Honestly, even today I am hurt by his refusal to take action. Even if he didn’t see the problem, he saw what was happening to me. He saw how terrified and hurt I was, and he didn’t care. He stood back and watched me develop PTSD and disregarded my pleas to leave.
By this point, depression had gripped so tightly that I could hardly get out of bed. I’d have panic attacks that would literally last for hours at a time until I’d finally pass out from the exhaustion of it, and then I’d wake up for it only to start again. Apparently, this isn’t normal, but my brother experiences panic attacks exactly the same as these, so I guess I’m not alone. I’d simply stopped eating almost entirely by that point. I quite literally did not function. My father came over one day and stood over me as I sat curled up on the couch. He told me that I was just like my mother’s family who couldn’t handle stress and would completely crack underneath the pressure. He told me that I was going crazy. His eyes were shining, he was so happy. It was like he was getting a high from it all, off of what he was saying, off of seeing me in pain. I hated him in that moment.
I’d been contemplating suicide for a while, it seemed like a relief, an escape from where I was at now. I couldn’t live like this anymore. I knew that the only thing worse than what I was dealing with right now is if I woke up from a suicide attempt and had to deal with those ramifications. Whatever I did, I wanted to make sure it was foolproof.
Trigger warning: My husband worked nights so once he was gone, I got the kids tucked in bed, and sat and waited until they were asleep. I planned on slipping out of the house and stepping out onto the train tracks.
Luckily one of my mother’s friends realized that something was terribly wrong. She pounded down my door and refused to leave until my husband came home the next morning. I’ve never been so angry with someone as I was that night. But now I am nothing but thankful.
After that, I recognized that I needed to get on antidepressants because I clearly couldn’t do this without. I went to my general doctor and what he gave me took the edge off. My dad hated the medication, he said he liked me better without it. I’m sure he did. Then one day he came over and demanded that I hand over the prescriptions. I refused and he became irate. I walked out of the room, he turned to my husband and said, “Give them to me now.” My husband insisted that he didn’t know where they were at and my dad stormed angrily out of the house. Looking back, I think he knew exactly what would have happened if I had immediately stopped taking those drugs. I think he hoped for it. If he couldn’t get his grandkids one way, he would get them another. He also knew that with the heavy drug prevalence in the town we lived in, there would be no way I could get the prescriptions refilled ahead of time.
Eventually, my mother-in-law came to visit the grandkids for their birthday (we always have one party since their birthdays are only days apart). She noticed I wasn’t okay at all, and then the same lady who stayed with me the night I wanted to attempt suicide told my mother-in-law everything that was occurring. My mother-in-law offered her home to us. We literally packed everything we owned in the middle of the night and ran. I changed my phone number, cut contact with anyone who has contact with my father, deleted everyone from social media, etc. My husband didn’t understand it all at first, it took a long time for him to comprehend what had happened, and honestly, that truth didn’t come to him until we had a marriage counselor get involved.
The panic attacks, depression, and suicidal ideation never let up even after we left. I still couldn’t bring myself to eat, so finally, I reached out for help. I was diagnosed with both PTSD and anorexia. The anorexia didn’t surprise me, I’d struggled with it in high school and with the stress of everything else, it resurfaced. The PTSD hurt to hear, although it immediately explained everything I’d been experiencing. Everything I had endured, the isolation, abuse, gaslighting, threats of losing my husband, my kids, the loss of family and friends, being able to stand there and understand everything that was happening, yet not being able to do anything to prevent it, somehow this all led to the classic symptoms of PTSD. I was terrified that my dad would come back and beat me bloody, he told me he would if I ever left. I was scared that someone would find my body in a ditch one day. I never took my eyes off my kids because I worried that he would show up and they’d get in the car with him. Suddenly I realized that if one person who you knew so well and trusted so much could cause that much damage, what does that say about the person walking behind you on the street? What is that person capable of? I didn’t trust anyone anymore. I was terrified of everybody.
There has been a lot of grieving on my part. I lost my dad, my brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, all in one blow. It hurt. I could have never foreseen my dad doing what he did, he had become someone I didn’t recognize. And what made it hurt all the worse was the realization that all of those things told about mom were lies. The reality of what happened back then hurt immensely and brought with it a huge wave of guilt for me. It took a long time for me to understand why. What my dad was thinking, why he operates that way, what I did “wrong” to deserve that, etc. I needed to understand things from his perspective to make peace, and even though I have, it still hurts.
My father is the clinical definition of a narcissistic sociopath. He really doesn’t have the capacity to love in the same sense that most people do. The only was he can experience love is in that he craves the attention and admiration others give him so he will do almost anything he can to get it. But also to be noted, he isn’t able to empathize with people, it doesn’t come naturally for him. Growing up, my siblings and I were our father’s narcissistic supply. Children see their parents as superheroes, there is no better supply than your own children. It’s part of the reason for the custody battles when we were younger. He couldn’t imagine living without that supply.
He hasn’t handled my siblings and I becoming adults very well. He’s hated and tried to destroy every relationship any of us have been in with others. My dad always refused to come to my house and I could never understand why. Now I think it’s because it was a painful reminder that he was not the center of my universe, that I had a world that revolved outside of him.
My dad begged me to move back home for years and I always refused. The town holds a lot of painful memories for me, and it wasn’t a place I was interested in returning. But more, it’s not a great place to raise children. The area is impoverished, methamphetamine production is rampant, the unemployment rate is double that of the rest of the nation, and to find anything to do you have to drive forty-five minutes away. My refusal to my father had nothing to do with my dad himself but the area he lived. I grew up there, and there was no way I’d give my children the same upbringing, especially considering the kid friendly area we lived at the time.
I didn’t realize why Dad was asking me to come home, not because he wanted to offer my husband a job, but because he wanted to fill his narcissistic supply. I didn’t realize that every time I told my father no, his anger boiled up further. How dare I not want to be near him? How dare I not want to raise my kids next to him? Eventually, his anger grew to a place where he felt justified in punishing me. He wanted to hurt me the same way I had been unknowingly hurting him. And if I wasn’t going to freely give him what he wanted, he was going to take it.
The knowledge hurts. Understanding that the man I called Dad never really existed but was just a facade is devastating to try to accept. I will never be able to have a relationship with the person that I miss because he never really existed. I wish my father were whole, and that none of this ever happened. But of course, wishing can’t make that happen. My father created damage that truly can never be repaired. I will always struggle with the after-effects of this. PTSD will always be a reality in my life, and it will always impact my family. One day I will learn forgiveness, but I haven’t fully gotten there yet.