Sadistic child abuse threatens a child’s safety and forever changes their psychology. Many children do not recover and struggle with self injury, addiction, and severe mental health issues for the rest of their lives. Here is one woman’s account of how she survived, one step after another, and chose her health over hatred.
I was nine years old when I experienced my first panic attack. My father, a malignant narcissist, (i.e. a psychopath), a sadist, had just finished what my siblings and I now refer to as ‘a session’. The beatings were just the icing on the cake for him. He enjoyed giving hour long sermons or so before the physical abuse was to start. These long build ups amplified our terror and his pleasure. With his physical and raging power to grandstand, he began these sessions by letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that he had the right to kill me for an indiscretion. His favorite Bible verse, growled, was perhaps Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Crouched, red faced, screaming at the small quivering child inches from his face, he would spit:
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, he will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This, our son, is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice…’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst…”
The message was not lost on me, even as a seven year old. If our rooms were not cleaned as quickly as he though appropriate, if I made us late for church, if (horror!) an “Oh God” slipped out, we were defying God, himself. The Ten Commandments held children were to honor their father and mother. A toe out of line meant that we had deliberately defied that commandment, and therefore God himself. This was a sin worthy of death. My father was “merciful” by beating, berating, and terrorizing, rather than killing me. And truly, I did fear that he would kill me, my mother, or my siblings.
The incest, well, that wasn’t sanctioned by God, it was just our little secret- a secret for which God would of course forgive him. But for me, well, it was just his job to save us from eternal damnation by not sparing the rod and spoiling the child.
On the day of my first panic attack, I had been in his bedroom for well nigh an hour- the only place he fully unleashed Mr. Hyde. He enjoyed making the process long- it increased his sadistic glee. He had finished his sermon- letting me know why my sin was defiance against God and justly punishable by death. The beating was about to begin.
As was common, I was instructed to choose the weapon among his many leather belts that hung in his closet. The beating began. He put his superior, terrifying strength, and unhinged hate into it. If I cried soft, broken tears, the whips might end at ten lashes. If I was defiant enough to scream in pain or cry in hysterics, that was an additional form of rebellion that needed to be beaten out into submission. In my terror, I complied with any and every demand he made.
On this single occasion, however, my overwhelming panic got the better of me. I ran from his room- an act of unimaginable insubordination, as fast as my short legs could carry me. I headed for the living room, and hid behind the biggest chair, which only I was small enough to fit behind. I imagined staying there for days. Who needed food? I was invisible.
My body had other plans. My hysterical sobs that I tried to silence gave way to suffocation. I couldn’t breathe. Nothing I did would allow me a full breath. I knew, then, that I would die. I curled into the fetal position, gasping. I no longer stifled my noises. I knew I would asphyxiate soon. My mother, usually the warm and gentle parent, marched into the living room, hearing me.
She, I now believe, was acting out of fear of my father- for me and for herself. She knew his rage was epic at my rebellion. She ordered me out from behind the chair. Her normally warm voice was stern and full of fear. I crawled out from behind the chair, gasping out choked sentences.
“Can’t breathe…can’t breathe…help…”, I clutched at my throat.
“Stop it!” She had no patience for melodramatics. And she knew the force of rage that was behind her. My father blew into the room. He was at a crouch, down near my level, face red, like a feral beast. He screamed in a frenzy. The words, if intelligible then, are lost in my subconscious now. I was dragged back to the bedroom. The memory ends, like a movie reel that has suddenly gone black. Like many of my memories of my father. No doubt, the reckoning was severe.
For many years after I let the home at eighteen, I medicated with marijuana. It was the only thing that tempered my panic and anxiety. Eventually, the drug turned on me- using it made me feel more anxious, more depressed, more isolated. And I had become dependent. I made the decision to stop using it- cold turkey. It was difficult for me, but I was lucky, relative to the many who are addicted opioids. I decided my recovery- if it was to happen- would have to come another way.
As I’ve grown older, with much therapy, I now understand that I suffer from complex PTSD and an anxiety disorder with panic attacks. My functionality, at all, is “a miracle” according to my therapist. I attribute this to a number of things.
I’ve learned there is no magic pill. Don’t misunderstand me, I take my antidepressants without fail. But that will never be enough. I will never not be the little girl who was soul murdered, and incestually, physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused. But I refuse to be defined by that. I refuse to let him win.
My recovery requires daily effort. I’m not going to wake up one day and feel ‘I’m all better now!’. Every day, I must make the effort to survive. To thrive.
When I am terrified, I try to make myself leave my safe bedroom and go for a walk. When I spiral and feel without hope, I write in my journal. I make plans with wonderful friends who know me, my past, and support me unconditionally. I channel my anger into positive. When I am angry at my past, at my father, at the adults who failed to rescue me and looked the other way, I exercise. I work harder at work. I use the rage to push myself further.
He did not steal my soul, as it turns out. My anger, my refusal to given in, pushed me through college, pushed me through law school. I did not have a parent guiding me through this. I had me. And I refused to let him win.
Perhaps most cathartically, I write haiku (shared on twitter). I’ve noticed with happiness that even when I deal with the darkest aspects of my soul, the majority of my haiku end on a positive note. I remind myself daily: he did not win. My soul was not taken. His hate is not mine, and I do not have to carry it.
The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. And so every day, while refusing to condone or even forgive him, I decide not to hate. Hate is a substance which destroys the vessel in which it’s kept. If I allow myself to hate him, he will win. Once and for all. I will not allow that. I will not hate. Not even the sadist without conscience, who has no remorse for the trauma he inflicted on his family. I do not hate. I love. That which I can not love, I release. Self love is as important as any other- I will not allow my self love to be destroyed by the hate he, or anyone, wants to pour into me. It is not a one time process. I remind myself of this and do it daily.
He is the most pitiful of all- one who can not love. I can not help him. I will not chase an impossible goal of waiting for his apology. I will not compromise my self love in allowing him to control me- even by hating him. I will not allow him to destroy me with his hate. I will not allow him to destroy me by my hating him. I have won.