Part 1: A Victim of Childhood Abuse Becomes My Abuser

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Yesterday was my 42nd birthday. (That’s me above celebrating my 8th birthday with three of my sisters.) This morning, I decided to start sharing, in parts, my personal deconstruction process which has helped me in my healing and recovery from trauma and abuse.

Although my book and blog specifically detail my recent life history and abuse, the bigger story of my abuse started many years ago long before I met the sociopath. I’m hoping by sharing the bigger story of me, of Paula, others can come to terms with their past as I have and accept themselves, warts and all, in order to move forward with more awareness of our capabilities and our limitations.

How did I fall victim to sociopathic abuse? Why was my self-esteem and confidence diminished despite all of the seemingly good things I had going for me? Why was I delusional and depressed? Why did I choose alcohol to drown my fears and need to forget? Why is it important to remember in order to finally let go?

My wish in writing and sharing my deeper story is to shed light on possible answers to these questions, for me and for you.

Part 1: A Victim of Childhood Abuse Becomes My Abuser

Never in a million daydreams would I have imagined being a victim. Being a victim of trauma never even crossed my mind growing up.

As a child and young woman raised in the Appalachians of western Maryland, I was surrounded by economic extremes. I attended kindergarten sandwiched between friends who didn’t know what a home-cooked meal looked like and friends who rode to school in luxury cars and wore fur coats at recess.

I didn’t allow myself to think too much about how unfair life seemed for Timmy or how much I wished I were Cassandra. I was generally happy and content being me.

I loved my parents; I loved my sisters; I loved my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. I grew up feeling loved and respected by the people who mattered most in my life. And I was determined to make them proud of me and never regret loving me.

I had older sisters I looked up to and a younger sister I protected. I yelled at boys who teased her and defended her against mean girls who took her meekness for weakness.

The funny thing is, unfortunately, when it came time to defend myself against a giant, I failed.

I was 18. A high school senior on my way to college in the fall. He was also 18. Already graduated but not in college. He was working at a local pizza parlor and trying to break into semi-professional lacrosse. A year before I met him, he had been a member of the Maryland High School Class 1A State Football Championship team. I thought that was impressive. He was passionate about sports and had dreams and potential. At 18, that was good enough for me. I called him my boyfriend for 6 months.

The abuse started in subtle ways (at least they seemed subtle to me then; today I would see them as glaring red flags). There was a poke here on the arm and another on my forehead. The pokes would come unannounced as I was talking or expressing an opinion, an opinion he didn’t like.

One day, the pokes were replaced by full-shoulder grabs, like he was trying to contain me and constrain me from speaking more about whatever it was I was trying to say. I was initially shocked and confused.

I remember saying, “Why are you grabbing me? No one grabs me and touches me like that! My father never even grabbed and touched me like that. What makes you think you can?”

Instead of him standing back and recognizing what he had done and that it was wrong, this 18-year-old boy began to cry. Sob. Stories of his childhood abuse at the hands of his father came rushing to the surface, spilling out of him. They seemed to never end.

Being locked in a closet for hours and sometimes days. Witnessing his father beat his mother until she bled. Witnessing his brother being terrorized. Being beaten senselessly with a belt or a bat or a pot or a pan…whatever his father had handy.

I cringed. My emotions oscillated from anger to shear disillusionment as I listened attentively to his accounts. I didn’t know how to soothe him other than to hug him and tell him that I was sorry that he went through what he went through.

I tried the best any ignorant 18-year-old woman could try. One would think he would welcome my attempts to soothe him by hugging me back or with a “Thank you” or a “I’m glad I can talk to someone about this.” No. My attempts were not met with humility. Rather, they were met with contempt and with anger and violence:

“You think you’re so special and smart and good. You’re nothing! You don’t know how easy you’ve had it. You have no idea what I have been through. Don’t pretend to understand!”

And the pushing and the shoving commenced, which, over a short period of time, eventually led to smothering, kicking, attempting to break bones, and threatening me with a loaded gun.

Why? For what purpose? How did hurting me, beating me up and shaming me help take away his pain and suffering? An eye for an eye?

Again, I felt shock mixed with fear and pity. I wasn’t recognizing that this person was taking out his hurt and pain on me. I kept thinking I could help him and make some sort of difference in his life. Model love and care. I wasn’t seeing that this victim of childhood abuse was now becoming the perpetrator of violence against me, an innocent young girl who desperately wanted to understand him and to see him free from his pain.

Instead of telling my mother or even my younger sister, I kept his secrets inside while shameful secrets of my own were forming. I made the mistake, 24 years ago, of trying to make sense of the senseless. Little did I know, my attempts were in vain and would chip away at my self-love and self-worth and lead to my own self-destruction.

To be continued…

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