Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lingering Effects of Domestic Violence

Okay, now that I've introduced the topic, I might as well expand on it.

So, how did two loud, chronically unhappy and incessantly bickering alcoholic parents affect my life later on?

Did I grow up to marry a physical abuser? No in both cases, though I contend there was emotional abuse the first time around -- more on that later.

Did I become a physical abuser? No.

Am I an alcoholic? No.

So what was the aftermath?

Well, having recently taken the ACOH checklist quiz, I scored 70%, having answered yes to 14 out of 20 questions. Angry people frighten me (though I have been angry enough to scare certain people, such as my ex-husband Doug, mwhahaha...). I often view myself as the oddball surrounded by "normal" people. I tend to avoid asking for help. I have a strong streak of stoicism, in which I feel I must always "be strong and carry on." I have trouble letting go of a course of action even when it isn't working out. I take too long to hold other people responsible when they screw up.

But, realistically, and having had the opportunity to check out the living situations of many other people over the years, I have to insist that it could have been much worse and I came through it relatively unscathed -- though it still took quite a number of years to work through it all.

My marriage to Doug was clearly a reaction to my first 20 years. There was no obvious alcoholism in his family -- though his mom proved to be quite the tippler, especially after she became a widow. His parents always had a very well-stocked bar, but the atmosphere in their home was always that of genteel, middle-class drinking. None of the raucous beer-swilling that went on in my family. Things in Doug's home always seemed pleasant, serene, controlled.

But there was a hidden side to all of this. My background made it impossible to see that unhappiness could still exist even where people always smiled readily and used their best manners. That people could still wound with silence and sarcasm, even if they never cursed or shouted. It was an entirely different variety of family dysfunction. I was so grateful to be in a "normal" environment, it took years, even after the divorce, to see the truth of it.

What I came to understand was, though my parents often threatened to tear the roof off the house with their wild verbalizations, there was never, ever a doubt that they cared.

With Doug's family, you couldn't be sure. And I think that's why Doug adopted his Scarlett O'Hara-like approach to life, that "money is the only thing you can count on."

So during the 15 years I was with Doug, I continually stuffed the realization that we were not happy.

In my case, then, the domestic violence and chaos were too much of a distraction from the warning signals coming from the quieter corners. There was too much of a tendency to say "Oh, quit complaining. At least nobody's kicking doors or throwing furniture through the window!"


Dana said...

Hmmmm ... conveniently I had pushed the whole ACOH thing in the back of my mind. I needed to read this today - thank you!

Volly said...

Funny how easy it is to push that to the side -- even if you've known it by that name for over 20 years. It never totally goes away and has a way of coming back at odd times.