Thirty Five Years Ago Today…

My father passed away from chronic heart disease. He had congestive heart failure due to a heart weakened from rheumatic fever as a baby, genetic weaknesses, caused by familial inherited (very) high blood pressure.  He had coronary artery disease and had his first heart attack at 32 years of age.  It killed 1/3 of his heart. I was ten years old, and incredibly impressionable.  He soon had a triple bypass which gave him ten more years of life.  Some time during the process he decided to leave the wife and kids, and did.  I never really missed him. Until he was 100% gone, and then it took quite a bit of time.  I finally cried about five years later, when I realized that I did actually have fun things to share with him, and that it really was too late.

My ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score is very high.  My father contributed to that in a big big way. So, to say that he’s this great guy well, there were great things about him. He was not on a day to day course, a great guy.  For the record, he did offer an apology before he died.  I believe today that the apology, which was not very specific, has helped me to at least put his actions ‘away’ somewhere.  I try to leave that particular drawer closed.  I don’t want to see anymore.  That is until I want to see.

He once ran over a dog, to get even with my mother while they argued.  I am pretty sure he killed it.  We had a little dog given to us (the family) and he, named Pepper, peed on the brand new carpet.  Said dog was new to the household and family.  My father chased that little dog around the house like a mad man.  He was more than visibly angry, he was enraged.  When he finally got that little dog cornered, he took the belt that he had in his hands, and struck that dog and laid the little dogs head wide open.  It was a heavy, brass belt buckle. How Pepper lived through that, I will never know.  Mom did take him to the vet.  I sure that the vet and mom’s nursing skills helped at least some.   Somewhere on this blog, I mention that I remember hanging on my fathers knee, (that is all the taller I was).  I begged him to stop hitting, “mommy”.   Another time, I remember him flinging dishes across the length of the kitchen.  Mommy and we (self and sister) were going somewhere.  Dishes broke over the top of my head.  My sister was still young enough to be in a stroller,  and I was holding my mother’s hand.

And this is the shit I remember! There is so much more I could add.

This week has been hard emotionally and physically for me.  I learned that I have congestive heart disease.  The doctor who diagnosed it is not a cardiologist.  He is flummoxed, there is no physical reason for it.  I have clean arteries, my valves are good.  I just don’t pump the blood I need.  Go figure.  I am only 56 years old.   And I do want to live.  But, in my way, I’ve spent years trying to kill myself too.  If you were to really look, and if I let you really see, you’d see that I am scarred up from the top of my head all the way to my toes.

I learned to deal with the violence I saw from a young and tender age by using self harming behaviors.  The first time I remember the self mutilation was when I was still young enough to have a cuddle blanket, and sit on the floor in front of the television, sucking my thumb, and watching cartoons.  I made myself bleed.  Dad came out of the bedroom, stomped through the living room and out through the front door.  He scared me to death, I hid my bloody calf under the cuddle blanket, a baby quilt made especially for me.  I got away with it over and over again.  Probably hundreds of thousands of times.  The behavior is sand blasted into my brain.  It never really stops.  One behavior simply substitutes for another, and it all comes back around.  I bite the insides of my lips, pull out my eye lashes, and eye brows, I eat and eat and eat – and I make myself bleed over and over and over again.

A nurse at the hospital this week, (remember, I am 56 years of age) was trying to find a suitable place to draw blood, made comments about how scarred up I am.  I informed him that I grew up with some pretty bad, dysfunctional assumptions, that it was self-abuse.  Some people do meth or cocaine, I made myself self bleed or deformed.  It is a form of self-medication, as twisted and weird as it seems.  I think in all honesty, that if the small child had been looked at and truly seen, then told that none of it was her fault, that maybe she’d stop. (the old, ‘if, then’ programming)   But, for now, she carries on and screams out, creating scarring everywhere – a symbol of the fight to be, a symbol of the fight back then.  The fight when those big people did nothing more than pin her down – it becomes a symbol of the wanting of peace and love, and for those around her to learn to be gentle.   It really is just a scream.

I find it interesting that this news came so close to my dad’s death anniversary. I’ve always known that he and I had some invisible tie.  But, I do not know what it was or is. I never understood it.  Whatever it was, it was strong enough that the day he died, when I was 3000 miles from the man, I knew someone somewhere was having a problem. It bothered me so much that I was pretty frantic.  At the time, my husband (now ex) was working on a roof.  So, I thought maybe he fell off.  But, I also know that I never really felt it was him.  What it was, was my father dying.  So, yeah, some kind of tie that bound us together and will for the rest of forever…

He and I were not particularly close as I grew up.  There were fun things that he did for us girls, and with us girls.  But the terror, that I felt when around him, pretty much left me
in a very tempered stance.  I was always bracing for a backhand, or something else. There was a ton of mental space between he and I.  I accepted his praise when it came and I dodged the bullet when he was not happy with me, or someone else – anyone, really.

My maternal grandparents, are the people who kept sanity alive and well in life.  They let me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was loved.  There was affection and encouragement.  They considered my father’s side of the family uncivilized, and I am sure that probably is an understatement.

Education is the key to this whole mess.

I wonder how many of us will die fairly young and younger, before our society realizes what real damages have been done by bullies who perpetuate and pass on the damage that has been done to them from the generation before that!  What it takes is education.  Education is the key to this whole mess.  This is not about political correctness.  This is about the emotional, and physical harm that comes to children of both sexes. It is the harm that makes children sick, and kills young women and men, regardless if the death certificate says ‘suicide’ or by ‘disease’. I think my certificate will read that death is by “broken heart” and I think that would be very accurate in every imaginable way.

This is not death by disease — this is a broken heart.  A heart killed by hurt, threats, violence, dismay, isolation, insanity, rejection, being used, piled on, hit, twisted, tortured, raped in every way, insulted, put down, demeaned, made to feel small, neglect, shoved down,  rejection… rejection…

I realize that he was probably abused.  I’ve heard some God awful stories about my grandfather.  At least two of the eight siblings at one point or another accused him of
being a molester.  In his defense, grandpa was dead by that point and could not have argued back.  But it all started somewhere.  Dad had some pretty ugly stories about being taken behind the woodshed and beaten.  He felt that he was the black sheep of the family.  And as sad as that seemed to make him feel, he never realized that he made one of his daughters feel pretty  much the same way.  Probably a case, of him, not being able to climb out of his past, and entering into a more healthy future.

What I have learned through my quest of genealogical insights is that this cycle is
very generational.  The elder mistreats the younger.  The younger fights to live through it, and then becomes the elder.  The cycle is perpetuated this way.  To make matters worse, there is generations of history where parents approved of young (as in teenagers) women marrying men 20 and 30 years their senior because the man was settled, had built a life for himself, and could provide well for his woman-child, and children.  This culture  has left a trail of victims of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse.  The women believing their vows meant forever, left them feeling stuck and so they stayed there.  Rape was condoned, probably even encouraged.  After all, every good man deserved an heir and farm hand.  Women have been taught to submit for literally generations upon generations.

I was the oldest, so I was pretty safe in terms of my father wanting an heir.  One mistake was OK, I guess.  But, when my little sister was born he stated to the doctor that she was the wrong sex.  The conversation ended with the doctor telling him to put her back himself.   What my father said spoke volumes about the value of a little girl child, even in ‘modern times,’  after all we are talking about 1965.  Gloria Stienem was alive.

Thankfully, my sister was a large baby (over 10 lbs if my memory serves me right), and
dad was not afraid to handle her.  We have a photo of him holding my sister.  Apparently he was afraid to hold me.  I was over 8 lbs, I think.  So, on top of all else, he and I probably never got that bonding that parents seem naturally drawn to with their children.  The bonding that the child’s very life depends on.

So, this week, I found out that I have congestive heart failure.  I have not even seen a
cardiologist yet.  I have no clue what the answers are to my conundrum.  I am putting a lot of thought into my situation.  I have known for sometime that I’d eventually reach this point.  I’ve always known, or at least had an instinctual feeling that I would not live to see a truly old age. I have taken care of myself the best I could.  My arteries are clean.  I have no valvular issues.  There is no physical or structural reason that my heart is not pumping 2/3 of the blood that I need to function.

Because, physical damage is not what is wrong here, I’d have to say that the origins of this are what I already knew and expected.  Number 1: I have a birth defect.  My natural pacer stopped working properly when I was a teenager, when I started passing out, at least once a month, and often more than that.  At age 42, it was discovered that not only do I pass out, but I go code blue.  My heart stops, restarts eventually, and I then come back in Afib. So, I got a pacemaker.

Being abused as a child sets you up for multiple experiences of stresses.  I believe that stress took a birth defect and twisted it every which way anyone can imagine it.  Growing up abused, landed me  into an abusive marriage, then to taking up with an abusive boyfriend,  living with unavoidable and unloving flak from members of the family who think that what I say is a lie, and that I’d stop  or should stop talking about what I think about (all the time),  has all taken its toll.  And the toll is the ultimate price: health, a good life is a destroyed life.

As you become educated you realize that most of your relationships, with nearly every one, even with your ‘girlfriends’ are dysfunctional.  I can only speak for me here, but I started cleaning house years ago.  Of course, it took my step father molesting one of my children (over and over, and over) before I could wake up (become conscious) enough to realize what was going on.  By then it’s too late because the next generation has been abused, and has built up an unhealthy defense system, and then you have the stress of that child trying to grow up in a very confusing world made more confusing by most family members ignoring, or denying the abuse and in the case of said child’s father, heaping on yet more.  (Said step-father went to jail.  The judge said it was the most under charged case he’d ever seen.  Mom {me}  worked with the DA who said the case was undercharged to so that the case could be won, and said perpetrator could be made to go to jail, and later on, file as a sexual predator once he was released.)

The beginning of my adulthood was being married to a young man who had to have grown up in some horrible circumstances.  I got beat almost every night.  Of course, he was playing with me, and had no clue why I felt so abused.  That was the exact same stance that dad took.  Both of them were just wrestling, and meant for it to be fun and playful.
But, when that little girl, or young woman is reduced to tears, and has visible bruising on her body (along with broken teeth), then something is wrong.  Behaviors need to stop, be reviewed, and people need to realize that the behavior(s)  needs to stop for the emotional well being of the little children and/or vulnerable young woman.  Before I left that man, I had been so beaten down that I could not enter a bank with out profuse tears.  I could not hold a job at all.  I still have trouble with that one, and I am 56 years old.  Once I decided to leave him, emotionally, I still was at the point where I did not make a move until I had checked in with a HEALTHY friend to make sure my choice was rational, and a good one.
I did NOTHING unless I’d bounced off of someone else first.  I had been told I was an “empty headed play thing” way too many times, and had come to believe that I was insufficient as I was told I was.  To justify that sentence, just know that I had been told many times by my ex, that I could not make decisions for myself because I never thought of the consequences first.  He literally told me to let him make all the decisions in MY life.

My thoughts now, are that he probably got that lecture from his father, and he was just passing on the helplessness to someone he could control.

Let me just say with the ex husband and boyfriend I did try to fight back.
But, I soon learned that even a physically strong woman is no match for a strong young man, especially when she has had no self defense training.  Believing in my marriage vows,  and believing  that the relationship is forever, especially with the first husband – eventually the girl has to demure, give up, retract, give in.

Before I was married, I had this little girlfriend who was just a year or so older than me.
She wanted to play big girl games.  I did say no at first.  But, the harm that had come previously set me up to become even more a young girl who could not and would not fight back. Eventually this ‘molest’ became enjoyable, and I had to learn to live with that.  What made this a ‘molest’ was not the age difference.  What made this very wrong, was the power imbalance that was there.  Her personality was powerful compared to mine, she had questions, and actions that she wanted to explore.  She refused to take NO for an answer.  Looking back at it, there were no healthy moments when that happened.  I grew up with a great deal of shame around that situation.  At ten years of age, I thought I was to blame.  At age 20, the first person I ever told about this situation was my ex husband.  I cried and cried because I thought I was “crazy” and it was all my fault. I begged him not to take any future children away from me.

His answer was to ask me to sleep with his sister. He wanted to watch.  

Let me say that one more time.  His answer was to ask me to sleep with his sister.  He wanted to watch.

I was terrified by life.  I was terrified by people. I was completely TERRORIZED.
That situation started on my tenth birthday.  I have no idea how long it lasted.
Later in life, I never slept with his sister. But, the shame of being asked fell on me, and I had no one to share it with.  So, I carried that along with all the rest of my childhood scars.

It just got piled on.

I think my heart might be tired.  It has had enough.  My elders, 98% of them simply asked too much from the little girl.  There was no perfect behavior.  She was incapable of that.  Early on, both parents made it quite clear where I stood in life.  Twice my mother informed me as a little girl, that she could never trust me again. Those were HUGE words, to this little girl.   My parents, were people capable of doing good things, but, I believed they had a daughter that they did not want.   I grew up sure that I was adopted, and wishing I were if I had not been.

Can it be any wonder that I have PTSD?  How could my heart, my mind, and my body not be exhausted.  How do I continue to fight, and keep my head above water?  My only answer is to say, that you surround yourself with beautiful and supportive people and you move one step at a time, until you over come what you can.  One baby step at a time.

I have worked very, VERY hard at recovery.

I will fight.  I will do what the heart doctor tells me to do.  I want to live.  I want to go on.

But, for those who study this phenomenon, let my voice be heard and counted.  The consequences of a dysfunction in a family, the trauma endured by the child – the damage is great and lifelong.  It is LIFE ENDING.  EVEN DECADES AFTER THE FACT.  I can’t say that I will EVER get over it.

About PeggyAnn

Professional PC Consultant, Researcher, & avid people watcher, Peggy Ann Rowe started into her genealogical quest at age 15 after watching the mini-series, "Roots" with her parents. This new obsession has fueled her love of history, & study of cultures & societies in every epoch. Today she is 57 years old with four kids who are all grown up (& all have flown the coop). In between her 'gigs' with clients she volunteered at many different non-profits. Former President, Secretary, and Director at Large on the board of the Douglas County Historical Society for 10+ years, and former Secretary at the Cloverdale Historical Society (Sonoma County) for nearly 10 years. This website is an attempt to share the knowledge she has gained about her family ties with others who may be interested in the same things. She does not guarantee 100% accuracy and does hope that you will send corrections. To learn more about her, click the "about" button in the page menu. Thanks! Another goal of this website is to disseminate a message (i.e. education) about domestic violence, child abuse, and all forms of sexual abuse to society at large. The message comes from real experience from the whole spectrum of the violence from sexual abuse by a perpetrator to sexual abuse perpetrated by a husband, to the abuse of children within the family. Peggy has seen it, lived it, and been hurt by it. There will on occasion be details that might be hard for some people to read, and a warning is usually posted at the beginning of the essay so that those who want to turn and not read may do so. The only way to teach and to let others learn what to avoid is to SHARE what happened with every detail necessary to make the point. Thank you.
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