Sometimes I’m not really sure how to start besides by saying, “I am a survivor of domestic abuse. My mom, however, is not.”
It’s almost 100% foolproof that people’s next assumption is that Mom was murdered by my dad. She was not.
On the contrary, after committing almost twenty years of physical, mental, verbal, and emotional abuse towards Mom and I, my brother killed her. He was arrested the very next morning, after a short run from and stand-off against the police. One would think the next steps were clear cut and dry, as my brother admitted over the phone to me what he had done, and warned me not to go home to find her. There were also several years of prior documented police visits as a result of “domestic disturbances.” But as I explain in my true crime memoir, Working for Justice, it would still take me a long time to see him convicted. He abused the criminal justice system in a way that was reminiscent of the way he abused us for years. It was exhausting.
When my brother was eventually imprisoned years later, I felt like I could finally grieve. It had seemed like my brother’s demanding legal proceedings had kept me arrested until then as well, but within the grief process. Now, with it “over,” I was ready. Time to move on, right? Well, sort of.
I had no idea just how difficult the process of healing would be. I assumed since my brother’s reign of terror had finally come to an end, so would the trauma. However, I quickly saw the more we bury below our surface, the more there is to bubble up later. Trauma cannot be neatly compartmentalized until it’s been confronted.
Thus, once the abuse stopped and I was able to finally face it instead of just trying to survive it, a long, arduous road began to unfold. And as rocky as it was, I knew I had to follow it until I saw a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
If not for myself, then for my children.
But not only did I have the task of diving in to all the detriment my brother had caused, I knew I had to rehash it soundly enough to remove its hold on me. I had to relive so much: my mother’s murder scene, our preceding abuse, the “why’s,” the “how’s,” and I had to do it enough for it to lose its power over me. Talk therapy and the right counselors undoubtedly helped a lot. An immense amount of grace and forgiveness did, too.
That was the most difficult part of it all, the forgiveness.
Not that I have forgiven my brother; if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever will or ever could. I also don’t think it’s a necessary step for my healing either. As I wrote in my memoir, “I truly believe forgiveness allows some of a victim’s lost freedom to transfer right back to their abuser. It functions to allow the guilty party to feel less grief over their offenses. But this ‘forgiveness’ is never a victim’s burden to carry. What is our responsibility is allowing ourselves… space to heal” and to forgive ourselves. I am proud to say that after ten years of hard work and personal advocacy, I have forgiven myself for forsaking my own safety for someone else’s fortune. And boy, has the process been life-changing.
That wasn’t all though. After forgiveness and healing and mastery over my memories, I had to learn the skills it takes to establish healthy boundaries. Then I had to re-evaluate all my relationships by those standards. Finally, I had to let go of a lot of people in my life because they didn’t respect my process. That resulted in fewer friendships and even a divorce. It was gutting, and undoubtedly provided some fresh trauma to hash out in my therapy sessions.
I would be lying if I proclaimed I remained fixed to the healing process either, especially when I considered my naysayers. It is, of course, infinitely easier to pretend trauma and its effects don’t exist than to become aware of the pain and discomfort it causes. Especially when your intentions are questioned. I have been accused of “playing the victim card” because I tout my status as such so often. But I think my sharing is actually more a part of my healing process, than reflective of my personal inability to heal. And I think someone else’s inability to hear my proclamation for what it is also is more reflective of their own necessary growth than my own.
So, hang in there, friends. This shit ain’t easy, but it’s worth it. I promise, you’re worth it.