I am no stranger to “Daddy issues.” Almost all the memories I have of my biological Father are of being sexually abused by him. My Step-Father, Jack (whom I consider my Daddy in every way), was an alcoholic with anger issues. As a young girl, I witnessed many acts of domestic violence between he and my Mother. Both of these Men damaged me irreversibly. However, one Man changed, one did not. When my Mother put her foot down and told Jack that she would leave him if he hit her again, he began to learn to manage his anger. The idea of losing the family he loved was the catalyst he needed to make better choices. I believe in the ability of Men to change for the better because of my Daddy. Because he tried to do right and corrected his mistakes, I had the Father I so needed growing up. He was not perfect. I know that I have given abusive Men more chances that I should, because of my hope and belief in the goodness of Men. Yet, even with his mistakes, his love changed me for the better. He taught me to value myself and to forgive.
I am no stranger of forgiveness. I had to forgive the unforgivable in my biological Father, a very sick, drug-addicted Man. Sadly, I had to forgive the unforgivable in my ex-husband, as well. In 2012, my Daughter, Bethany, came forward with allegations that he molested her for a period of approximately 2 years. I had to forgive the unforgivable in myself, that I didn’t see history repeating itself. I had to forgive myself for pushing her to spend time with him. I saw my ex-husband change, though I didn’t understand the depth of his problems. I had to forgive myself for breaking my vow and not seeing him through his “sickness” when he saw me through mine. He helped me accept my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis at 19. This was a Man I spent 11 years of my life with. He healed old wounds in me that needed healing. He was my best friend for over a decade. He never hit me or physically abused me. I loved him very much. He is brilliant, misunderstood and extremely talented. Although he has no rights to Bethany, he has maintained a relationship with our Son. I know that personal therapy, coming back to Spokane and being around family and friends who love and accept him have helped him return to the Man and Father I had hoped he would be. Without my forgiveness and ability to hold onto the good in him, my Son would not have the beautiful relationship with his Father that he has today. Forgiveness was not easy. I am still trying to forgive myself for being so naïve when I let Bryan melt my heart with a Beatles song in October of 2009. He was on the brink of homelessness and a single Dad with two Daughters from a previous marriage that stole my heart. With easy trust, I let him into my life and into my home. He lived off of me and my meager disability check, despite my pleas that he get a job, for over 2 years. Our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage due to stress, yet another thing I had to forgive myself for.
I am no stranger to Men with anger issues. Daddy had his share, so my life began loving a Man with anger issues. I will tell you what I have learned. Almost all of the abusive Men I have known suffered some kind of abuse in their childhood. Bryan was no different. It was easy to find love and compassion for him because of my own past with child abuse. He had severe mood swings and claimed to have PTSD. I understood, and tried to love him through it, as he worked through the abuse and abandonment he suffered as a little boy. He was emotionally abusive, but he always seemed so sorry. I forgave him. The first case of founded abuse occurred in May of 2011, Harmony was 4 months old. He was in a rage and pushed me into the wall while I had infant Harmony in my arms. Her head banged against the wall twice and violently grabbed her from my arms. He pushed me down to the ground when I reached out to him, asking for her back. I kicked him out after he had calmed down, requiring him to get help for his aggression. He agreed. I reported the incident to child services. I participated in therapy with him and drove him to his private sessions. When he was deemed safe to come home, I gave him another chance. He was the Father of my baby girl, and I believed in him. Not long after he came back into our home, he stopped going to therapy.
I am no stranger to silence. When Bethany told her therapist what she had been through at the hands of her Father, I was told by child services to be quiet about it, or it could negatively impact the case. It never occurred to me, at the time, that it might be because of bad media due to the Steve Derlacki case (a teacher from the school my ex-husband taught for). He was accused and eventually convicted of having child pornography on his computer. When they told me that Roseburg was a small town and it would be better for my Daughter if we moved to Eugene, I made it happen. When Bethany was so brave and fighting for her voice to be heard, I stayed silent. I was instructed not to talk to her or question her about it. Do you know what silence does? It keeps a Mother from being able to freely say to her little girl, “I am so sorry this happened to you. You did not deserve to be hurt like that.” It keeps a family from asking for help when they need it most. My silence has hurt my children. My silence has allowed the shame of sexual abuse follow my Daughter around like a shadow as she fights to become a healthy young adult, in the same town as her abuser. My silence isolated me from family and friends and made it easy for a wolf in sheep’s clothing to exert his power and abuse myself and my children. Leonardo Da Vinci was right when he said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” My silence cannot go on forever. It is unrealistic to believe that these issues will not come to light. Someday, my Son will know what his Father did to his Sister. We all have to live with that, in the silence or in the open. Silence is unhealthy. It keeps people from growing. Silence causes more pain than the truth could ever cause.
I am no stranger to pain. The first time I had sex was when my biological Father raped me in the motel room when he took my Brother and I to Disneyland. I believe I was 9 years old. I have had rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 19. When Bryan and I moved to Eugene, OR. things began to take a very scary turn. Around October of 2012, his mood swings became more severe than I had ever seen them. Nothing I did was right and he would keep me up for days on end, fighting with me. Then he would sleep so hard that no one could wake him. He was working graveyards and having an extremely hard time with it. I tried to be understanding. He started hitting me behind closed doors and I didn’t report it because I was terrified that my children would be taken from me. After all, I married a Man accused of molesting my Daughter. Bryan liked to get out his aggression out though rough sex. I had a safe word, but as time went on, my safe word made no difference. I was overwhelmed, I had to drive back and forth to Roseburg, sometimes twice a week, for my Bethany’s therapy appointments and for all the children’s (his and mine) visitation schedules. I did all the cooking and all the cleaning, I drove Bryan to work because he didn’t drive and would frequently miss the bus. I was exhausted, scared, in more emotional pain than I had ever known. I knew I was not living the way I wanted to. I knew I had made a mistake.
I am no stranger to mistakes. When I was on the verge of madness, nearly devoid of all hope, I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend, Daniel McKinney. At a time when I had completely forgotten my own strength, he reminded me of my worth. He helped me remember who I was. I’m not a good liar, and it wasn’t long into our affair when Bryan discovered my betrayal. It became dangerous for me to be in contact with Daniel because when Bryan would watch my phone activity and find out, I paid for it. He beat me. He raped me. He emotionally abused me and my children. I could not continue living that life. I realized that our Daughters were watching the toxic relationship that Bryan and I had. They were learning that “love equals abuse.” I saw my Son suffer from self-esteem issues from being bullied by this Man. I could no longer ignore the way Harmony, as a toddler, would hide under the table when he would yell, or when there were loud noises, because she was scared. The only gift I could give all the children that I loved was to show them, with my actions, to value themselves enough to leave an abusive situation. When someone treats you so poorly and does not have any will or desire to change and correct his mistakes, love yourself enough to let go. My babies were watching me. Though I have made mistakes, I had the power to do the right thing. I formed a safety plan.
I am no stranger to fear. I was terrified when I told Bryan in August of 2013 that I wanted to move to Spokane and take a break from our relationship so he could get help with his aggression. When I stood firm in my decision, and he realized that nothing could change my mind, he became suicidal. I helped him get to the hospital, where he told them of his intentions to kill himself. He was admitted to the psych ward of Sacred Heart in Eugene. As much as he had hurt me, I still cared about him and wanted him to live. I wanted him to get help for his problems and be the Father our little girl needed. As much as I was afraid of him, I was afraid for him. He had told the hospital and the case worker that he had walked out to the living room in our apartment with rope, the night before. He had intended to hang himself from our balcony, but when he saw me and the children sleeping on the floor he couldn’t go through with it. This was the second case of founded abuse. He was deemed unsafe to be around the children and I was given a domestic violence grant to help me come home to Spokane. The case worker suggested that I get Bryan to sign custody papers, but I couldn’t do it. He was not in a healthy state of mind. So, after visiting him every day in the psych ward and working with his doctors to try and help him, I told him that all he needed to do was focus on was getting better. I didn’t ask him for child support. I only asked that he get himself healthy and then we would work out a visitation schedule. After I left him, the months that followed were filled with his suicide threats. Every time, filled with fear that he would end his life, I called upon his friends and family. When he begged me to call his doctors and get him readmitted to the psych ward, I called and called until I got someone to help him. This was while being a newly single Mother of 3 children. He made horrible threats, that he would kill me and hurt my children. He stalked me online and eventually began accusing me of seeing Daniel and began stalking his page. I was forced to contact Daniel to let him know that this Man was watching his online activity.
I am no stranger of courage. In the months after leaving Bryan, I threw up daily due to the anxiety I felt because of his lies and threats. He told me that he had Dissociative Identity Disorder, and that one of his personalities was going to kill my ex-husband. I reported this threat to the Roseburg Police Department and called my ex-husband to ensure his safety. Bryan admitted in an email the he had been addicted to meth, secretly, from October of 2012 until I left him in August of 2013. He told me he was going to meetings and not using. Bryan wanted to see Harmony. He signed a release for me to talk to his therapist, so that I could ask if he was in a safe mental state to visit his Daughter. His therapist told me that he did not know what was wrong with Bryan but that he did nothave DID. He said that the best predictor of my safety with this Man was his past behavior. His therapist did not recommend unsupervised visitation. So, with a courageous heart I brought Harmony to Roseburg and allowed Bryan to see her at McDonalds with a mutual friend present. He appeared to be unwell during the visitation and I was not comfortable having him see Harmony again, on that trip. After I returned home, he began threatening me again. This time he delivered. He made up a story that I had coached my Daughter to lie about being molested. Because I would not give him another chance, he went for the thing he knew would hurt me most: my sweet Bethany, who had already suffered so much. However, his mental instability was very apparent. Though he stood with my ex-husband in a case against the State of Oregon, the judge believed Bethany, and his plan to hurt her did not work.
I am no stranger to love. Bryan’s abuse and behavior led me back to the love of my life, Daniel. We first met in Tesera, a program for gifted children, when we were 6 years old. He was the first boy I ever held hands with. He was the first boy I kissed on the cheek. He was the first boy to give me flowers. At the darkest time of my life, his love watered the seed of my strength when it was nearly dead. When I was afraid for my life and the lives of my children, he came into our world and shone the light of his laughter and love. He taught us to play, again. In the spring of 2014, I was so afraid that I almost never opened my shades, believing that Bryan was watching me somehow. Bryan could tell me things about where I lived, how it was near a park, and I was scared. Afraid and beyond able to handle the stress of Bryan’s abuse, Daniel offered to provide 24/7 care for my sick and elderly Aunt Ruth. We would move into her home and take care of her in exchange for rent. This allowed Daniel the freedom to be with us to help us heal and learn to live again. He was the antidote to all the pain the children and I had suffered at the hands of sick and angry Men. He encouraged me to go to therapy and made my babies smile again. He is the loving Father that my Bethany so needed. His kindness has helped to heal the self-confidence issues in my Son. And it was Daniel that helped Harmony not fear Men, which is why she can even bond with Bryan, today. The love of my children, my Husband, my family and friends made me chose to heal instead of give up. Love is what pushed me to try and arrange a get together with Bryan’s family so that they could see Harmony, even though Bryan put a stop to it. Love is what pushed me to save his life every time he was suicidal. Love is what helps me hold onto the hope that even someone like Bryan can get help and someday have a healthy relationship with his Daughter, without alienating her from family. Love is remembering that Bryan is a human being who needs a great deal of love and healing.
I am no stranger to healing. Because of the trauma and abuse I suffered in my life and at Bryan’s hands, I have C-PTSD. Each day is a struggle. It has taken years to feel safe in my own home. I still struggle with that everyday. When Harmony was taken from me by the police and the Washington judge’s hands were tied, my heart was shattered. In spite of the proof of abuse, in spite of his mental instability, they gave Harmony to Bryan. It has been hard to recover from that. It nearly destroyed me. He would not let me see her from the moment he got her. He offered me supervised visits, but I cannot visit with my Daughter under the supervision of the Man who abused me. My children can barely take part in calls with Harmony because they are triggered by the sound of his voice. Aunt Ruth, with whom Harmony had bonded closely during our time with her, died without getting to see her again. With no money for an attorney, and a court that will not return my calls or allow me to appear by phone, I am working on healing my heart. I am committed to getting stronger. When your child is ripped from you, it wrecks you in a way that is tough to recover from, to put it mildly. The loss has caused so much pain and heartbreak for all of us. We are still standing, though. Our imperfect little family will heal. Atimetoputkidsfirst.org has offered to pay for mediation between Bryan and I. It is my solemn prayer that we are able to find common ground and stop hurting Harmony. If not, when the time and resources present themselves, I will fight for my Daughter and be strong enough to defend her in the way I wish I could have from the start.
I am no stranger to gratitude. Even now, with all my sins and secrets in the public eye, I am grateful. I am grateful that my Daughter is alive. I am grateful for every skype call I get with her. I am grateful for the opportunity to try and mediate with Bryan. I am grateful that the children in my custody are healthy, happy, well-educated and thriving. I am grateful that I am married to a Man that is dedicated to this family. I am grateful that when he made a mistake and let his anger get the best of him that he got himself into individual therapy (and doesn’t require me to drive him). He did this in addition to the couples therapy he participates in with me, to guide us to a healthy marriage, as we are both survivors of childhood abuse. I am grateful that I have the experience to know that we all make mistakes, but it is how we live and atone for those faults that shows our true character. I have been very inspired by Lundy Bancroft’s work with angry and controlling Men. He said, “There are sharks out there. But the world is also full of so many thoughtful, caring, honest individuals. Most peopledon’t use other people, or trick them, or threaten them. In fact, most people are doing their best to live ethical lives and to be decent and responsible for other people. So don’t let your partner (or ex-partner) distort your outlook on your species. Look for the good in people, and notice their efforts to make human connection. Be smart, yes, but don’t harden your heart. You will find many gems in the human race.” I can’t help but believe that my Daddy is watching our little family, proud of how we are owning our mistakes and still fighting to do the right thing. I am grateful for his example. I am grateful he gave me faith in Men. I am grateful he made me believe in forgiveness and love. I am grateful that, after all these years, I am finally breaking silence.
You can read more of Kashana’s Story Here