Category Archives: child abuse

The Devil Wears My Sister’s Face

When I think of the Devil, I see an angry, red, scowling face. I don’t see a mythical figure. I see my sister. This is the only part of her I ever saw.

“Nobody will ever love you. Nobody will ever want you. Nobody will ever be your friend. You’ll never be anybody,you’ll never do anything.” So went the litany of non-affirmations she heaped on me constantly. She drew an imaginary line down the middle of our bedroom, and I was never, ever, allowed to cross it, unless it was to reach the closet, or one of the two doors leading out of our bedroom. She was older than me. She knew me better than anyone. She had to know what I was really like. I believed her. Sometimes, I believe her now. When I entered a room, she wrinkled her nose, like she smelled a foul odor. I was convinced that I stunk until I was 30 years old. How she managed to remember to wrinkle her nose every time she saw me, I don’t know. But she did. I got the message. I stunk, and my mere presence was distasteful. I felt ashamed.

As a child, I was small for my age. My sister is five years older. She was always bigger, and when she started hitting me, it was never a fair fight. When I reached my final adult height, I was almost 5’3″. She was 5’8″.It was never going to be a fair fight. I could never win, and she used her height and weight to her advantage. By the time I was six, she was hitting me every time my parents left the house, although she felt free to attack me when it was just mom in the house. All mom would do was scold. Both of my parents knew that it wasn’t safe leaving me with her, yet they did, knowing fully well, I would be in pain and hysterics when they got home. She always warned me never to tell, but I did anyway, so she would be punished. If I was in pain, I wanted her to hurt, too. I didn’t think it was fair for just me to hurt. So I would get it again the next day, so really, I guess it was my fault. Her favorite method was slapping hard. You cover more area when you slap, and she was fast as she slapped me as hard as she could up and down my body. Twisting the skin of my arm in opposite directions was a favorite torture method, as was digging her fingernails into my arms as deep as they would go.

Our father was as scary as she was, but he didn’t hit as much. When he did hit, it was with a belt. His favorite scare tactic was to slam the door to our bedroom open, turn on the lights and come in screaming at the top of his lungs in the wee hours of the morning, school night or no, for us to get up, because he’d found a microscopic speck on a piece of silverware or a plate. We’d get up, shaking in terror, and wash every plate and piece of silverware in the house. We did the dishes together, every, single night, her washing, my drying. She took advantage of the opportunity of our being alone in the kitchen to verbally and physically abuse me, but we were both very, very careful to inspect everything that passed through our hands. That we were going to slip up was a given. We were children. Every time we did miss something,here came Dad, blasting through the door. To this day I have a highly exaggerated startle response. Any noise will set me off, and I had then, as now, a considerable hearing loss. I’m still waiting, at almost 55 years old, for my dad to come blasting through the door.

When he was home, Dad sat. We waited on him hand and foot…taking his boots off, keeping his glass full, plate full, whatever he needed. When he wasn’t home, and when my mom started working when I was twelve, I did the same for my sister…or,else. She sat in his chair, and while I didn’t take her shoes off I had to make her lunch, and keep her glass full…or else. She would hit me worse than she normally did. Should we share something, she’d cut it in one big piece and one little piece, because “Rank has it’s privileges”, as she put it. If I accepted the small piece, it was one less reason for a sound slapping.

I had nightmares from her threats. She would threaten to kill me, and once threatened to put a knife in my back. That caused a nightmare that reoccurred well into adulthood, but thankfully, I am free of it now.

Home was a living hell. School was a living hell. Denied any special education but speech therapy, because my parents were afraid that if I met other kids like me, I would lose my speech, I was in regular classes and subject to nonstop harassment because I talked funny, and wore hearing aids. In high school, someone. I had known in junior high told me in front of a group ” I used to not like you because you talked funny and wore hearing aids.” Thanks…I think….I also had trouble with math, and trouble focusing on my work, because I was too depressed to deal with anything. It was just easier to zone out in class and focus on nothing. The only places I,was safe was with my speech therapist, or church. My family was non religious, and I had been invited while young to go to Sunday school. While I may not have been very popular, I was safe. No one ever hit me, made fun of me, or said nasty things. To this day I am grateful. I grew up, and got married in that church. We had a great youth group, were loved, cared for, and had some great times.

As my sister’s high school years came to a close, she became even more violent than her normal slaps, arm twisting or nail digging, and I had to be very alert to make sure she didn’t cause any serious damage. I remember two times when she very well could have harmed me permanently. When I was in seventh grade, in a fit of rage, she came at my face with her long fingernails, fully intending to drag them down my face. Since I was sitting, and wearing boots at the time, I kicked her, hard, every time she lunged for my face, as I covered my face with my arms. Finally I managed to hurt her enough for her to stop. That day was a first. I got grounded for hurting my sister. That she was going to try to claw my eyes out and disfigure me made no difference, and in fact, she had managed to disfigure someone. One of my nieces, as a toddler, slipped and fell on a furnace grate. My sister watched as the baby burned. When she screamed, getting my older sister and my mom’s attention, causing them to run into the room, they were livid. When they asked why she didn’t save the baby, all she had to say was that she didn’t feel like getting up. Our niece recovered. She still has the scars, and luckily, they are really faint. But she shouldn’t have to have even that.

My sister took a course in cosmetology, and I was made to skip a day of school so she could use me as a model. She cut my long hair off to above my shoulders. I was devastated. Emboldened by being allowed to to this, she would start in on wanting to do my hair at home, too. The time I resisted, she simply beat my head against the hard porcelain sink until I could fight no more.

I did have friends. Two girls from the neighborhood and I became friends and by the time we were teenagers, we were inseparable. They are friends to this day, and there aren’t enough words to describe what they mean to me. They, and their parents treated me as normal. In junior high, I made another friend, and we were close all through high school. We also are still friends.

The year I was in eighth grade, my sister left mid school year to go into the military. I was elated. I was free of her. I saw her a handful of times until I got married, none of them spectacular times. My mom and oldest sister kept her up on my doings…upon hearing that I finally had a boyfriend at age 19, she asked “what’s wrong with him?” Later, she came home on a visit. Looking him up and down, she asked one thing: ” What does he see in HER?!” My relationship with my boyfriend led to marriage. My sister didn’t come. She didn’t want to come.

I’d like to say that we both grew up, matured, and became friends. I can’t say that. She had two failed marriages, both of which resulted in children, except for her oldest, she didn’t raise. Her oldest child is emotionally scarred beyond belief. An unloved, abused child is not a happy child. They have no contact. The second child escaped her when she broke the child’s arm as a toddler. Raised by the father, the child did not see her until adulthood, when our oldest sister died. The two youngest children were raised by their father. I have never met them. She kept secret from them the fact that I existed. I told lies about her, you see, about things that “never happened”.

When the youngest found out about me, as a teenager, it took years for her to find me. She wanted to meet me once when she came through my town, but couldn’t. Her mother wouldn’t tell her my name. I still have never met her in person. We are in touch via social media. I am grateful. I worried, cried and prayed for years. We long for the time when we can afford to meet in person. Her relationship with her mother is not close, is the only thing I can say. To say more would be violating another person’s privacy.

Am I over her? Not completely. I no longer pale at the mention of her name. Sometimes I disagree with her assessment of my worth. A lot of times I still agree with her…and as I continue to struggle with depression. Do I blame her for my depression? I believe that I may have suffered from depression anyway. Some of my early memories are of being depressed. That she was allowed to treat me they way she did angers me. I see glimpses of her personality in previous generations leading back to a great great grandfather who emigrated from England. His sons were terrified of him. My Aunt was traumatized by his granddaughter, her mother, and my grandmother. My grandmother was mean, and my father could be cruel and heartless as well.  However, unlike my grandmother and sister, he had a great sense of humor and could be fun to be around.  I can definitely assert  that my sister has inherited these traits, too, and there are clues that she passed these traits on, although her youngest child has been spared them.  After college, my depression hit full force, and I only had two short lived jobs. My dad apologized to my husband for my being so worthless, and told all who would listen, just what a waste my life is. This is my current struggle…making peace with the things my dad and sister have said, and finding my self worth. My dad is long gone, and despite the cruelty he could have, I miss his sense of humor, and ability to tell me how to fix anything. My sister is still alive, but we have no contact. I tried for years to have a relationship, but it is not possible. Her opinion of my worth has not changed. I wish her well, and I wish her health. It’s really, as far as she is concerned, all I can do.



Filed under child abuse, Sibling abuse

PTSD, Depression, and The Problem of Suicide: When Life gets to be too much.

Recently I have read about an awful lot of suicides among everyone from people among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, public figures, and even young people among our local high school students.

The devastation that suicide leaves behind is tremendous. Loved ones are wracked with guilt, and wondering “Why? Why didn’t I see this coming?” In the case of someone who suicided out of anger, the emotional trauma is even worse to loved ones left behind, because the person wanted to punish them. They’re already going to wonder what they could have done, or think that the event was their fault. Reading an angry note left behind saying “This is all your fault” just makes the situation even more painful, and it’s cruel.

My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1920, I think it was. Upon doing more research, I discovered the reason. He had fallen off a windmill a year earlier. His physical pain must have been tremendous. There was no pain management in those days. He checked out because he could no longer endure the pain. He was found hanging in the barn by a grandchild. This is the problem with the aftermath of suicide. Someone has to find the the deceased. Someone has to suffer the trauma of  being the first person on the scene and seeing the results of the person’s final act.  Physical pain drives many people to end their lives. So does emotional pain.

When someone comes home from battle, and the war is always with them, they see their present world through the glasses of their former world, the war. They have learned behavior to  cope with the danger they were formerly in. Upon hearing a loud noise, some people may dive to the floor. Others many grab for a weapon, any weapon to save themselves. However, upon returning home, the responses that may very well have saved  a person’s life  in war will hinder  their functioning back at home. The self preserving behavior that was formerly so useful has now got to be unlearned. The problem is that by now, the behavior is second nature. It’s unconscious. When the person says “I can’t control it, it just happens, ” he or she is being honest. What few people tell them is that with a lot of work, a lot of the innate behavior can be unlearned and weeded out. It won’t happen overnight. This much I can tell you from personal experience. I have never been to war. I do have PTSD from a painful childhood ruled over by an angry authoritarian father.

It wasn’t unusual  for my sister and I to be awakened at 2 in the morning because Dad had found a speck on a fork or a plate. Dad would burst through our bedroom door screaming at the top of his lungs, and the next thing we knew, my sister and I would be standing sleepily at the sink cleaning every dish and piece of silverware in the house.  To this day I startle at the least bit of noise, and it wears me out when I’m in a situation where I am constantly exposed to unexpected noise.   Dad is long gone, but my body is still waiting for him to come screaming through the door.

This is just one of my PTSD reactions. Let’s continue about PTSD in a military person returned from war. The person suffering will relive the horrors of the things they saw. He or she will constantly find themselves reliving events long past. The current reality fades and they are once again in a convoy, fighting for their lives, seeing, smelling and hearing death. How can you not be tormented by watching your buddy die? Or seeing dead civilians or children?  Or they’ll be fine and suddenly read or hear about someone in the same exact place or situation that they were in, and the war comes back to them. Thoughts and feelings run the gamut to “It could have been me, Why wasn’t it me?” to “Why am I here when my buddy isn’t? ” The person may feel that they don’t deserve to be alive. Not many professionals know how to deal with PTSD. Few people who have not been to war understand what it’s like to still be living in a war you’re no longer fighting, except, yes, you are still fighting it. You’re fighting it in your head, and you need help getting the war out of your head and moving on.

Physical pain from illnesses or accidents, are easier to deal with than they were in 1920, but even now some people come to the point where the pain has taken over their very being and they can get no relief.  Some people may look ahead to where they see that their disease is going to progress to, and not be willing to get to that point in their lives. They want to spare themselves the indignity of helplessness and unbearable pain down the line and spare their families from the stress of care taking.

Depression is an insidious disease that often leads to suicide. The feelings of emotional pain become too much to bear. The toll of day after day of being immobilized by emotional pain and bombarding one’s self with thoughts of things like : “I’ll never get better, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I hate myself/everyone hates me” become too much in the sufferer’s opinion to bear any longer. Depression is also acerbated by a person not forgiving themselves for mistakes, major or minor and moving on. They may try therapy and not like the therapist and decide after looking for others that therapy isn’t for them. If I could say anything I would say “If you’ve found ten that haven’t worked, keep trying. There’s more than just ten people in the profession.”

The person may feel worthless or in the way, and all the evidence the person sees only backs up the person’s warped view of reality.

In my case I often think that the lives of those around me would be easier if I wasn’t here, because I often feel that all I do is take up space, cost money and distract people who do enjoy life from living their lives. I often feel like I’m in the way and that I do not belong here. I watch people around me live their lives and I feel like I’m looking through a window. I get so frustrated with myself because it seems like I am constantly failing. How hard is it to keep a house clean? It shouldn’t be that hard. Apparently for me it is. And so I let this failure help me define my self worth. I’m told that’s wrong.

I   used to be horrified at the thought of suicide and felt bad for the survivors. I still feel bad for the people that are left behind and are hurting because they lost a loved one. Unfortunately,as of late I have began to understand why the person who took his or her own life did so, and I can no longer criticize them for their choice. Some times I’m almost envious. And this is what bothers me. So far what has kept me has been my fear of pain and dying and not wanting to cause my husband pain. I hope that this will continue to be the thing that holds me back. In the meantime, my prayers are with everyone who suffers from emotional pain, or mental illness of any kind.

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Filed under child abuse, PTSD, Uncategorized