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I'm A Survivor, Pt. III

Hi, everyone. My name is Nessa. I was emotionally, verbally, and physically abused by my father. I was verbally and emotionally abused by my sister. My mom did nothing to stop it. Every time I spoke up, no one listened to me. But I'm also something more. I'm a SURVIVOR. Well, here it is. The conclusion to my three-part series on what it means to be a survivor. And this one may be the toughest blog to read. It's been a challenge of finding out the right things to say without hurting anyone. But in the end, I can't please everyone for the rest of my life, and sometimes blatant honesty matters more than telling others what they want to hear. That's all I've been doing for so long, but I can't afford to not be true to myself anymore. If this is too tough for you to read, stop after this paragraph. If you decide to continue, I applaud you for getting to know the root of how my "issues" and mental health illnesses came to be. It's been emotional for me in therapy to go deep to the root of my feelings, thoughts, and experiences that were anything but pleasant. But I found that this series, in particular, has provided much-needed release and healing. And by doing so, I hope to reach out to others who have had similar experiences and remind them something important: no one is truly alone. Cliche, yes. But also very true. And it took me a long time to realize this. I hope it's not too late for you to realize this as well. (takes a deep breath) Okay. Here we go.

It seems appropriate to first talk about fathers since Father's Day is coming up on Sunday. As much as I like to see the close bonds and relationships between children and their fathers, I often feel resentment. My father and I never did those experiences that so many of you did. I never felt the love or pride a father should have for his children. I didn't have very many good memories of him growing up. I was always scared of him. Make that terrified! No matter how hard I tried or whatever I did, I could never please him. He didn't play with me or encourage me at all. He wasn't the father that I wanted him to be. At a young age, there was one time he said "shut up" to me when I wanted to clarify something to him. There were times when I actually defended his behavior as "normal," even to my mom and sister. Or better yet, I kept my mouth shut. Anything to not let anyone know how truly bad things were when I visited my dad. Can you believe it? There were even times I actually thought my dad was cool for acting the way he did because of the times he would take us to the movies, the mall, out to dinner, even to Chicago on a rare occasion. Sure, he would do all of those things and more. But there was no love. And that's the one thing I craved so much I thought I would go crazy. It was especially hard on his birthdays and Father's Day because whenever I would get him a gift, and I would come back to his house several weeks or months later, that gift is on the floor or buried underneath cigarettes and magazines. I was confused and hurt. Why didn't he like those gifts? Were they not good enough? Was I not good enough? And then, out of the blue, he would act out all over again. Particularly on me. It was as if I was his punching bag.

Welcome to the cycle of abuse. As I got older, I realized that I didn't want to be like my dad for so many reasons. First, I didn't want to have diabetes as I got older. And I didn't realize until much later that it was because of the constant takeout he would buy for us, along with the lack of exercise. But he was also a heavy smoker. I took the D.A.R.E. program when I was in elementary school, and I took what I learned to heart because I was just that scared of turning out like my father. There were even times when I wanted him to quit smoking, but he never did. I found out later that he never went to the doctor or dentist. I also didn't want to be like him because he never showed any emotion but anger. If you know me, you can see I can show a VARIETY of emotions, sometimes out of control. But at least I had that wide range. My dad, on the other hand, only seemed to have anger, indifference, and sarcasm. Nothing more. The thing about emotional, verbal, and physical abuse that can be especially hard to believe is for most of my life I never thought it was a problem. I always believed, all the way through college, that his behavior was normal and that he could be a nice person if he really wanted to. Even when he came to visit me in college the one time, I thought I would have a normal dad because he was nice enough to take me out to lunch and drive through the college town together. But there was one thing that bothered me when I graduated: he only stayed long enough to see me walk across the stage, but then left immediately afterward. He didn't stay to give me a hug or say congratulations to me. That not only happened at my college graduation, but it also happened at my mom's graduation when she completed her Master's degree. But once again, I swallowed down my disappointment and didn't discuss it with him when I returned home to live with him. That was a big mistake. The next nine months with him were anything but rewarding. I was struggling to find work, I was doing nothing but watching TV and surfing the internet, and I was also attending therapy sessions. He was the exact same person he was when I was a little kid. And I was scared once again. But there was one moment where I finally realized that I had enough. My therapist recently put in a request for my medication refills, and since my mom and I were out running errands, I asked my dad to get the medication for me. I thought it was a harmless request. But when I got home, I was verbally attacked by him. He didn't stop yelling at me for what seemed like hours when it was only several minutes. I tried to tell him to not take it out on me, but he didn't listen. He went downstairs, and I was left crying. At that point, I realized that his behavior couldn't be normal anymore, and I told my mom that we had to leave. Fast forward to 2020, and I'm still living with my mom in Maryland. But at least we were far away from my dad. (Before you all ask, my parents divorced in 1996. My sister and I lived with my mom for obvious reasons, and around this time, my mom was struggling with her part-time job and we couldn't live together. She was living with a family friend, and I was living with my dad.) The end result? Six years of one-on-one therapy and revisiting the most painful of memories of me and him. But that was only half of the abuse I've experienced.

My sister and I weren't close at all. Not in the least. And that's another reason why I resented holidays celebrating siblings, particularly sisters. I never had a special bond like many of you have with your siblings. I didn't tell her my deepest, darkest secrets and thoughts. I didn't share any clothes with her. I didn't listen to the same music she did. I was always considered weird to her, and for many years, I was left wondering why. It was especially evident when I was growing up that no matter how hard I tried, I just could not get her to like me. I tried tagging along with her and her friends, but I was always left out. I tried listening to some of the songs she listened to, but I didn't like them and she thought that was a problem. I was uncomfortable with her cussing. She seemed to take great pleasure in avoiding me and making fun of me. I always wondered deep down what was wrong with me that made her hate me so much. We were both so different, and she never appreciated the things that made me different. I couldn't even be in the same bedroom with her. There was one time when my mom and my sister had an argument that didn't end well. My sister slammed the door and as she was crying, I heard her say repeatedly, "Go to hell, mom!" I was terrified that she could harm my mom. I was scared to go to sleep that night. There were instances when I would wake up in the middle of the night and move to the living room couch to sleep in peace. I was that petrified of my sister. There was one time when I was getting ready for confirmation, and she and my mom went shopping for the dress. She ended up choosing the dress, and it was absolutely hideous. I never felt more uncomfortable and ugly in my life. There was also one instance when I ate some slices of her leftover pizza because I was hungry. She got upset, and I almost ran away from home because of it. I overheard her and my mom talking and she made the comment that if I was going to be a singer, I shouldn't be so fat. That hurt me on so many levels. What's wrong with a fat singer? There was one time when I went with my sister in her car, and a song came on I didn't like it at all. It was Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl." At the time, it made me very uncomfortable, and I wanted to change the station because of the content. My sister mocked me and played the song very loudly. To this day, I still cannot listen to that song. It is nothing against the gay and lesbian community, but "I Kissed A Girl" brings up bad memories for me. When I tried to be like her and curse, it brought her great pleasure. It only brought me pain and confusion. People would ask me how my sister was doing. I would lie and say she's fine, but deep down, I didn't want to talk about her at all. We were complete strangers. I didn't want to attend my sister's graduation at all because of the way she mistreated me. I ended up hiding in the costume room in our high school theatre department for most of it. I tried to get myself out of going to the graduation dinner, but I was forced to go by my dad. People asked me if I would miss my sister once she moved out to attend college. I would say no, and people wouldn't take me seriously. But I was being serious. I couldn't wait for her to leave. It gave me peace of mind and I could focus on myself without my sister's influence. I was so glad when she moved out. That didn't last long at all. My sister ended up dropping out of college during my junior year of high school. She ended up moving back in with us. It was also around this time my mom lost her job as a dietitian. Funds were extremely tight for all of us, and I wanted so much to save money for my own needs. There was one time when my mom asked for help with some groceries, and I politely told her no. I was saving up for something else. When my mom left the room, my sister told me that if I didn't help her out, I would be an ungrateful daughter. Out of fear, I ended up helping my mom. But that was only the beginning of my financial woes with my sister. She would ask me for money CONSTANTLY. If I received a check, she would ask for money. If I got some money from my dad, she would ask for money. And do you know why I always fell for it? It was because of this sentence: "I promise to pay you back." I was stupid enough to fall for that sentence time and time again. And my sister would make me promise to not tell my mom about this at all. She even made the comment that it was what siblings and families do. It was especially bad after my freshman year in college when I came home for the summer. I received a big refund from the university and my sister saw it in the mail. Once again, she asked me for a large sum of funds, promising me that she would pay me back. I tried telling her that I was saving up for Driver's Ed, but she made me give her the funds anyway. I was barely able to pay the tuition for the course. I know what you're asking. Does this end? Yes, but not well. It was nearing the end of summer and it was almost time for me to go back to school. My sister had asked for funds yet again and I said yes. Same line: "I promise to pay you back." Same threat: "Don't tell mom about this." But afterward, I was crying and scared because I had reached a breaking point. I went outside my dad's house to call my mom and explain to my mom what happened. My mom replied she would talk to my sister. Five minutes later, I went back inside and the first thing my sister asks me was, "Why did you tell mom about this when I told you not to?" I replied, "You figure it out." I immediately rushed to my bedroom and locked the door. I began to cry and shake as my sister tried to open the door. She pounded and yelled, "YOU'RE THE WORLD'S WORST LITTLE SISTER! YOU'RE A CUNT! AND I'LL KICK YOUR ASS IF YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE!" The front door slammed and I knew she was gone. I ended up going on Facebook and unfriending her and blocking her. Then, I called my mom and told her to come over to the house. About a half-hour later, my mom showed up and hugged me and tried to comfort me. I never felt more scared for my life until that moment. All through the night and for much of the following day, I stayed inside my bedroom. And the door was locked. I only went out when my sister went out of the house. Later on that day, she came in and apologized to me. She asked for my forgiveness. I said nothing but only nodded. But deep down, I couldn't forgive her. Not after that. Not after so many years of hurting me, manipulating me, treating me like crap, and not appreciating the individual I was growing up to be. For so many years, my dad and sister hurt me and I was crazy enough to think that this was normal. But it was so many years later that I realized that it wasn't normal. A father shouldn't use his child as a punching bag. A sister shouldn't treat their sibling so cruelly. They both misused me, treated my kindness as a weakness, manipulated me, and never really loved me at all. When I first started therapy, it was painful to discuss the memories of my upbringing with others. There are times when it still is. But the aftermath is what takes the longest to comprehend, as I would soon find out.

Did I immediately cut off all ties with my father and sister? Not right away. I still asked my dad for birthday and Christmas gifts after we moved to Maryland, and I initially thought that it was out of love. But there was still one memory that haunted me that led me to cut off ties with him permanently. When I first told my dad in an email that my sister abused me for so long, he told me that I "should've done something about it." That both hurt and confused me for so long. It's not really love if someone doesn't actually support you in trying to cut ties with someone who's hurt you for so long. I finally made the conscious decision to permanently cut ties with him after several years of therapy and seeing that his behavior wasn't healthy to me at all. I even unfriended him and blocked him on Facebook. That was back in 2015-16. It was a little bit harder with my sister. By the time I graduated, she moved to California. So I wouldn't be able to see her on a regular basis. But there were times when she would come for a visit for Christmas or for part of the summer in Maryland. And that made me uncomfortable. For my mom's sake, I did my best to be civil to her. But it was so uncomfortable seeing her again and having to hide my true feelings. To make matters worse, none of my other relatives knew about what happened between us. There were fears of them not believing me or forcing me to make up with her. Whenever my mom announced that my sister was coming, I wanted to hide. I didn't want to be anywhere near her, let alone be in the same room with her. Had my mom forgotten what had transpired between us? Oh, right. She didn't know the details and wouldn't believe me anyway. Later on, my sister moved to Germany and I felt more at peace. But there were still times when she would come for a visit. I had the option to opt-out of visiting her since my mom had a car. (Before I go too far, for a while my mom and I had my sister's car at our disposal since she was moving to Germany, but because of the many overdue loans she had, we were forced to sell it. We now have a car again, no thanks to her.) There was even a Christmas I spent with my friends from church and that was one of the best holidays I've had in a long time. There was one time when my sister wrote a letter asking for my forgiveness. She told me that she always wanted a sister like her, and realized that she would never get it. I ended up tearing it up and throwing it away. I wasn't going to fall for that again. Not after the last time. But in 2019, I did do something that was worthy of my Christian friends' approval. When my sister came for a visit, I stayed with her for a while and watched a movie together. Then, I whispered to her, "I forgive you." She thanked me and told me that we can hopefully pick up from where we left off. When I told my mom this, she was over the moon and started chatting about all of the things we could do together. But once again, there was something that troubled me. "Pick up from where we left off"? Wait a minute. For so many years, you never acknowledged my individuality. You misused me, used my kindness as a tool to give you money, belittled me, and never considered me as your sister. I may have forgiven you out of the grace of healing and moving on, but that's all. You had your chance to repent and change and see me for who I am, but you never did. I tried so hard to be like you, but that made me question who I was as a human being. A human being you never appreciated. I'm sorry, but there's no more "picking up from where we left off." I made the conscious decision to cut ties with her several years earlier, and I even wrote a letter to her. But my mom told me that the letter hurt my sister. What was I supposed to do? Sprinkle it with hearts and daisies? Not show my true feelings? That's all I've ever done in my life - hide my true feelings for the sake of keeping things normal and civil in our family. I came to the sad realization that our family was never normal, to begin with, let alone loving to each other. I had to accept the harsh reality that my family would never be like the perfect family I saw from my friend's posts on Facebook and Instagram. All I ever wanted was to be loved for who I am, and I never got that. I can't keep living a lie anymore. I'm sorry, but you're out of my life. Forever. Or for however long the rest of my life will be. I realize you're not the same as you used to be, but how do I know you won't hurt me again? How do I know you will now accept me for who I am if you never gave me a chance, to begin with? How do I know you won't ask me for money again after doing it constantly, thinking that it was normal in families? How do I know that do I know you won't manipulate me or misuse me again? That's a risk I can't afford to take. (I'm sorry, Mom. But not everyone is welcome on the journey of this crazy thing called life, even if it's family. Not after so many years of manipulation, abuse, and hurt. I shouldn't have to be civil for the sake of pleasing you and keeping everyone together. I shouldn't have to hide my true feelings any longer. I know people change, but after so many years of abuse, I shouldn't be forced to reconcile and "pick up from where we left off." I just want to discover being my own person, and if it means cutting ties permanently, then that's the way it has to be. I know this breaks your heart, but I need to discover who I am, away from all of the hurt.) If there's one thing I want my audience, particularly my mother, to know is that it was NEVER easy for me to be civil to my sister. I never wanted to hide my true feelings for the sake of spending the holidays together as a family. I never wanted to keep this all to myself and go on as if nothing had happened. I never wanted to be so strong because of all that was going on. All I ever wanted was to be loved for who I am. All I ever wanted was to be heard and understood. All I ever wanted to be was for the pain to go away. All I ever wanted is to not be seen as a crazy person. All I ever wanted was for people to be on my side, and not side with my sister or my dad at all. There were even times that I considered both my sister and my father dead to me because of all the pain they've caused me. I get that we're family, but families shouldn't have to have so many issues that it causes me to be the one to get the most hurt. Families shouldn't make it normal to use each other as punching bags. Families shouldn't have to make it normal to ask for money from each other to the point where you're flat broke and can't even support yourself. Families shouldn't have to manipulate one another to get what they want. Families shouldn't have to disregard one's humanity for the sake of being comfortable or for civility. Families shouldn't have to be any of those things. All I ever wanted in my family was unconditional love. I never got it. Especially from the people who were supposed to give it to me. That's what breaks my heart to this day.

On 2 September 2019, my dad passed away after a painful battle with cancer. There were so many emotions related to his passing: grief, confusion, anger, and even relief. I know now that he's hopefully in a better place, but there's still so much to muddle through. In the weeks leading up to his death, I learned that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but never sought treatment. Why? I have three mental health illnesses, and I took the initiative to seek help and treatment. Why couldn't you have taken a page from my book? Was it because of your upbringing? Was it because back then seeking help for mental health issues was considered taboo? Was it because you were ashamed? I wish you could've told me. His family didn't show much love or affection openly, and even he was picked on quite frequently. That in turn caused him to only show anger, indifference, and sarcasm. Why couldn't you have broken the pattern and start something new? Why did you have to continue it by using me as a punching bag? Why couldn't you have loved my mom differently? I wish you could've told me. I didn't attend his funeral for obvious reasons, but I heard that when he was in hospice, he told the hospice chaplain that he was proud of me. If it took you being sick to say this to him, why did you never openly say it to me? Was I that much of a failure that I disappointed you, even though I worked my butt off in school? Why didn't you say to me "good job" after a performance or a hard test? Why didn't you show me how proud you were of me? I wish you could've told me. The last thing I told my dad before he passed was "I forgive you." And that there were many people who loved him. I guess a part of me wanted him to be at peace, and for me to move on with my life. My mom even said that him hearing my voice may have been the final thing he wanted to hear before he went to heaven. He even said that he was sorry for all the times he mistreated and hurt me. Maybe he wanted that peace, too. Do I wish things could've turned out differently? Hell, yes! I may never know why God placed the abuse in my life and I had to endure so much. But I know this much: It has made me a stronger, kinder, more loving, and courageous person than I could've ever imagined. I hope those of you living in abusive relationships realize that you are not alone. No matter the severity of it all, you are never alone. Yes, there's pain, but you should never give up hoping for a better day. You should never give up hoping to break free. You should never give up hope that you can cut ties with the cycle of abuse. You should never give in to despair. You should never accept the way things are when you are destined for better things. You should never stop loving yourself and others because of how bad things are. Don't underestimate the power of HOPE. If you are living in an abusive relationship, there are plenty of resources out there that can help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is one of them. Loveisrespect.org is another resource. Even this link explains in great detail on what you can do: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/getting-out-of-an-abusive-relationship.htm I just want you to remember some things that I had to learn: *You are NOT to blame for the way the person acts towards you, no matter how many times that can be rammed into your head. *You DON'T have to settle for this behavior. Your values matter and you do have the right to say no. You even have the right to leave this relationship. *You deserve to be in a safe place. *You deserve to be loved for who you are, no more, no less. *You have so much to offer in the world, and there are people out there who can help you see your potential. *You are strong. *You are beautiful/handsome. *You are courageous. *You are kind. *You have worth. *You are special. *You are amazing. *You are talented. *You are powerful. *You are intelligent. *YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Wow. I never imagined that I would reach the end of this three-part series. And there's a lot going on in all of them. I sincerely hope I didn't scare any of you away. That wasn't the point. The point in this was to show you how much of my life was tough, but just as full of meaning. It was to reach out and show you how much of these experiences have shaped me into the woman I was meant to become, and still learn and grow in the process. But most of all, this was to tell you something that's especially important: each and every one of us has a voice. And that voice is POWERFUL. We can either use it for hatred and putting down others, or we can use it for love and lifting others up. I choose love. Every. Single. Time. I hope this series has opened your eyes and allowed you to think about how so many things need to change. Things like normalizing mental health. Things like not giving up on those with "issues." Things like speaking up against domestic violence. Things like being supportive of those living through the darkest of times. Things like not being silenced for talking about topics deemed taboo for today's society. I've been silenced for so long to hide the pain. I will never do that again. This may be one of those times when I can breathe easier from opening up like this. But at the end of the day, I spoke up. And that's something that I won't take for granted. Yes, it's scary and traumatic, but I would rather use my voice to inform, inspire, and heal others rather than do nothing at all. Don't be surprised if I come back to this again and again. It's become a part of me, and a huge part of the healing process. And I will leave you with this quote: We have to realize that love is the ultimate healer. Love transcends all pain and emptiness. Love is the bringer of peace and the remedy for chaos. Hi, everyone. My name is Nessa. I emotionally, verbally, and physically abused by my father. I was verbally and emotionally abused by my sister. My mom did nothing to stop it. Every time I spoke up, no one listened to me. But I'm also something more. I'm a SURVIVOR.

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