Monday, 10 February 2014

my dad, part 2: bomb blast

(my dad, part 1: a broken heart)

Somewhere after that first kiss at 13, abuse became the new normal in our house. Once home from school we kids were constantly on guard against my dad who prowled around the house, mostly naked, hoping to surprise us. My older brother hid in his room; the rest of us moved around the house in pairs, afraid to walk alone. With the abuse came threats too - that if we told anyone, there'd be more serious consequences - and we were innocent and fearful enough to believe him.

(This is proving a hard post to write. I find myself standing back a little, needing distance - so if you find this a bit unemotional - it's not, really it's not! ;-)

The pain and confusion of those days was horrendous. I remember getting out of the house as fast as I could in the morning - sometimes escaping from my dad in my pj's and spending the day hidden in the bushes in a park near our house until I knew the other kids would be home from school. Other days I skipped school because I couldn't face keeping up the pretense of 'normal' when everything was falling apart.

Since my dad was a peeping tom, I'd line the windows and door of our bathroom with towels every time I took a bath. Paranoid? No. My dad built a shower with a glass door facing into our laundry room. We mostly never used it. The one day I did, thinking my dad was out, I looked up to find him watching me through the glass and I shrank away in total humiliation.

My GP prescribed sleeping tablets around that time since I had trouble sleeping - I didn't tell him why - and since the days were so awful I began taking them first thing in the morning. Then one day, so numb emotionally but aching for a way to feel the pain, I dropped a glass in the kitchen and drew a sharp shard across my palm - again and again. This soon became a habit - the only way to physically express what was happening to me on the inside.

There were five kids in my family, and the others' stories aren't mine to tell - but I will say that three of us tried to commit suicide, some more than once, during that time.

The method I chose was slow - I decided not to eat! Perhaps feeling that if I lost enough weight my dad would lose interest in me; or perhaps because not eating made me feel clean, strong and in control like nothing else did.

One day my maths teacher reached out and asked, "Laurel, there's something wrong, isn't there?" For the first time I felt that someone cared, that I just might get help if I found the right way to ask for it. So with a pounding heart I made an appointment with our school guidance counselor. I spent hours in her office before finally finding the courage to 'tell' - and then shrank in fear and relief when she said she had to take action.

So my mum found out and my dad was warned. I'm not sure if social services were called in. But nothing changed. Nothing changed! Until my mum realised just how serious things were and moved us to a safe house. But even that was temporary. The police advised us kids to stay home the first day while mum went to work, but my dad figured out where we were and turned up on the doorstep. I turned and ran out the back door and into a nearby shop with my dad in hot pursuit. The police were called. But my parents talked it out and got back together, and in a quiet moment not long afterwards my dad made sure we knew that, once again, nothing had changed.*

Except that my parents began sending me to weekly appointments with a psychologist - the best thing they ever did. This incredible woman sat me down, listened, and then taught me how to look at my situation and say, "This is awful - but it's not the end of the world." For the first time I began feeling that I might actually get through this tunnel and out the other side.

She didn't talk to me about food - but she did warn me that if my weight dropped beyond a certain limit, I'd end up in hospital. And of course for me, that weight limit was like a red rag to a bull! (Photos from that era that will remain under lock and key until my kids leave home ... or maybe 'til I'm buried! I'm like a stick insect with a Michael Jackson hairdo - what was I thinking?!?)

At 17 I was made dux of our secondary school. An ambulance waited outside the awards ceremony to whisk me off to hospital, where I spent the next month in a solitary room on suicide watch, with windows locked shut and all books and personal possessions confiscated. My only comfort during that time was the sensation of a warm blanket wrapped around me; to this day I'm sure it was God's way of saying "I'm here! I haven't abandoned you!"

They put me on drugs that fogged my brain, but one thing stands out - I refused to let anyone come into the showers with me. The nurses were afraid I'd fall over, but they didn't realise how potently impossible it was for me to let anyone see me like that!!

Then I was sent home - and my dad was still there. I applied for university and he laughed at me, saying "If I were you, I wouldn't bother - you'll never make it!" - which made me determined to prove him wrong.

But before I left home, my mum had a court order put on him while he was away visiting family in another town. He couldn't come back - although he did try, once or twice. So we were technically safe - just a little too late because the bomb had already fallen.

* I should make it clear that I don't blame my mum - not really. In her day the shame of divorce was much stronger and she didn't know how she'd survive on her own. She was also a victim of abuse. The one thing I regret is that she never let us see how overwhelmed and frightened she felt - if she had, we might have had the freedom to express our feelings too. 

(to be continued)


  1. If you've suffered from abuse in the past (or know someone else who has), there is hope!! Please see the resource page - lots of good stuff out there to help people like us recover & find freedom xx

  2. The eternal God is your shelter, and his everlasting arms support you. He will force your enemies out of your way and tell you to destroy them. Deut 33:27.