Panic was a feeling I was all too familiar with as a child.
I would often wake up to empty bottles on the dining room table; the glasses of wine had left red ring stains, a sign that there had been heavy drinking the night before. I’d always slip into a state of anxiety, looking to escape before my parents woke up and had a chance to clean up their mess. Their alcohol-fuelled nights were always intense. I’d often wonder if they had been fighting or making love.
Growing up, I watched mom and dad care for each other. They were that loving couple that would spontaneously begin dancing while making dinner. I vividly remember my mom getting all dolled up for a romantic soirée with my dad. While she was putting on her mascara and daydreaming away, I asked her if she was going out. Her eyes glued to the mirror, she said, “I’m getting ready for your father!”
I looked out the window, captivated by the colors of the leaves. In retrospect, my innocence was endearing; I can recall wondering where babies came from, and thought to myself, “Well, if kisses made babies, my parents would have thousands, just like the leaves on the big oak tree in our yard. I always believed in love ― especially theirs.”
As usual, dad came home and they’d be inseparable. My parents genuinely loved each other and their passion was incredibly strong... but it wasn’t always tender.
“Unlike my parents, I sought professional help through therapy and spiritual coaching. I discovered that I deserve love without punishment.”
Throughout their lives, my parents always turned to booze. Bringing that unhealthy habit into their relationship was like throwing gasoline on a raging fire. They were dangerously similar; always volatile, reacting to each other with the same intensity. It was as if they thrived on the rush of pushing each other away to make up. This instability riddled my sister and I with fear, but there was an unspoken rule: We were to sweep our problems under the rug and pretend everything was fine beyond the four walls we called home.
I remember one of the worst instances when things were less than fine ― in fact, they were catastrophic. It was the middle of the night. I was 6-years-old, hiding under my blanket. I heard my mother’s calm, yet fearful voice through the crack of my door, begging my father to stop kicking her. I felt sick as I heard the abuse from my bedroom. I was powerless, and knew I should stay in bed until everything quieted down. Although I was just a child, I could feel their turmoil on such a deep level. All I wanted was for them to stop fighting and be happy, with or without each other.
After the violent storm, I opened my bedroom door, which was full of colorful stickers from my collections of cartoons. I saw spots of blood on the floor, which got bigger as I followed the trail down the stairs. In my white nightgown, I tip-toed around the red spots, which led me to the bathroom. My tiny body trembled with fear. I opened the door, and there she was: my mother, lying on the floor crying, holding her face. Her expression showed pure defeat. Shocked to see me, she turned away and desperately insisted I went back to bed. I ran to my sister’s room, curled up in her bed and cried.
The next morning came upon us like a thick fog. Everything felt different, but nobody acknowledged that our world had shifted. My dad came home later that evening to get a bag my mother had packed for him. My heart sank to the floor when I saw it in the basement. I couldn’t even imagine how this would affect my dad. Truth is, I didn’t resent him for abusing my mother. I felt sad and conflicted, mostly because I knew his anger was coming from a place of pain ― he was struggling with the loss of his 24-year-old brother, and felt he had failed to protect him. My mother would constantly attack his worth with sharp words, leaving deep wounds. This enraged me more than anything. I couldn’t help but understand my father, not hate him.
Dad stayed away from the house until my mom found a new place to stay. Scared for her life, she vowed it would be the last time she had a bloody fight with her husband. After years of verbal and physical abuse, they divorced.
Now, over 20 years later, I remember the dramatic episode like it was yesterday. Memories come flooding back, especially when I drink and miss my parents, who are now deceased. In many ways, their destructive patterns have followed me throughout my life like a shadow; for one, I always had a hard time maintaining healthy relationships. I’d lash out like my mother and become violent like my father, which ultimately played a role in the breakup of my own marriage.
“In a way, I’ve accepted their passing, because I know they’re both at peace.”
All of the pain that had accumulated since childhood eventually became too burdensome, and I tried to follow in my father’s footsteps by attempting suicide. My plan failed after a force within me changed my perspective; the thought of leaving my kids broke my heart, but I also realized I had to live for myself as well. I knew this force was connected to my parents and their divine intervention. That’s when I decided to break the negative pattern I’d grown accustomed to and start over.
Unlike my parents, I sought professional help through therapy and spiritual coaching. I discovered that I deserve love without punishment. As a child, it seemed they both went hand in hand, so I never learned to accept love in its purest form. Finding self-worth was by far the hardest task I ever had to take on, but the most rewarding. I had to let go of my pain, which was also my parents’ pain. Letting go didn’t mean I had to let them go. I had to release the negativity and clear the air. The fog that came over us so many years ago had finally lifted.
Today, I put my glass down before it makes ring stain, before I feel too much pain, before I feel the impulse to f*ck everything up, which has always been most natural to me. Pouring that last drink won’t set you free; even though the glass is full, it’s really empty.
I often wonder what life would be like if mom and dad were still here. If they had worked through their issues, maybe they’d be together today. On the other hand, they could’ve easily been miserable. In a way, I’ve accepted their passing because I know they’re both at peace.
At the end of the day, I’ll always be my parents’ daughter both spiritually and physically. Our DNA, the subtle traces in my hands, my dark thoughts and emotional turbulence aren’t just mine; they’re part of them as well. But as I lead a healthier life, I know I’m healing their past as well.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline .