This time of year always reminds me of when I first gained independence as a teenager. At the age of 18 I was still living with my Dad and stepmother. It was a bad situation. Though I didn’t fully realize it until I was away, my stepmother was an alcoholic. She had issues that for whatever reason were taken out on me and I was abused by her frequently. One of her main drives was a strange need to control what I ate, and I was so nervous around her that I could not eat much of anything. After meals I often had to run to the bathroom, convulsively throwing up anything I had eaten in her presence as she glared at me across the table. She herself was very thin, and during this time I unintentionally lost a good deal of weight because of the constant stress that living with her was causing me. Apparently this set her against me even more as I was turning from a child into a young woman. In her mind I was her enemy, even though I loved her and wanted her approval so much. Acceptance and approval that would never come.
Mealtimes were a nightmare. I would sit and repeat to myself one scripture I had learned somewhere along the way…”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It was like a calming mantra to help myself as I sat trembling at the table. The situation with my stepmother was just insane. One memorable evening she literally tried to stuff a dessert cake in my mouth, saying “eat the whole f…ing thing.” In that moment my anger overcame my fear of her. I grabbed her wrist and said “NO.” As I think back on this now I think that was the beginning of the end. She could not handle her whipping boy (girl)actually getting a spine.
But even then I truly saw no way out. My last year of living in my parents’ house I was in college. College had always been a huge deal to my family, especially my Dad. The thought of telling him I wanted to quit seemed more than impossible to me. I was so afraid all the time and felt I could not go against their plan for me. And I had nowhere to go, though I daydreamed often of calling a taxi and disappearing.
I love Jesus so much now, I have for years, but at that time I had no idea who He was. In those days I saw Jesus as a block between me and God….I guess this was because of the people who were a block between me and my dad. My stepmother most of all. But I cried out to God often without words. One night in particular I remember lying in bed sobbing, and all I could do was reach up through the dark of my room, reach up to heaven and asked, “Please help me, please help me.”
He heard and He answered. Within a couple of days, miracles occurred. A friend I’d known from my first year at school called me to tell me she was going to be renting a place for the 2nd year, and would I like to live with her? I was amazed!
Second miracle…my dad came to my room one night to talk with me. This was a rare event. He sat beside me on my bed, put his arm around me and told me, “If you want to leave school so you can get that apartment I understand. It’s okay.” Looking back I know my stepmother wanted me out of the house. So this was an out for them too….a graceful way to get me out without literally kicking me out. Kicking me out was one thing Dad would Not do, though he didn’t stand up to her otherwise. The few times he tried he had paid for it. I have learned this is the way narcissists and abusers work. They keep everyone around them under their thumb and you suffer the consequences if you try to resist their control.
I. Was. AMAZED by both of these events, these doors that were suddenly opening to my freedom. I called my friend the next day and told her YES I would live with her in that wonderful apartment. One additional miracle was that when I asked my employer if they could use me full time they told me yes they could!! Immediately!! This was a job I had applied for repeatedly…working at a veterinary clinic that I had always loved when I was growing up. I did quit school which was a relief. Because of my stress at home I was not sleeping and was often in a fog through my classes. Though I liked my courses I was not in a place where I could take full advantage of them and I was failing several.
Moving day came and I never had to lift a finger. My parents were so eager to get rid of me that they moved me during the day while I was at work. They gave me bunches of household items, furniture, dishes, etc. that had been sitting in the basement since being replaced after my family had moved to a brand new house. That day stays in my memory. I always felt like the Israelites who had escaped Egypt. In the biblical narrative, the Egyptians had literally thrown jewels and valuables at the Jews as they began their great Exodus. Watching The Ten Commandments on tv every year had ingrained that scene in my mind and now I was living it. To be fair I am sure my Dad was glad to be able to set me up with what I needed for my first apartment. And my being gone would restore some measure of peace to his house, which had been a war zone through no fault of his own.
She’s Leaving Home by the Beatles was a running soundtrack in my mind during my last pain filled months in my parents’ house. It was my secret wish though I didn’t dare let anyone know. Looking out the window this morning at the November weather, grey morning skies, some sun peeking through the autumn leaves, the song came back to me. It always does this time of year.
Not long ago two of my children moved away, to live with their oldest sister across the country. I wonder if they would relate to this song. Their time growing up here was not without struggles and sadly there was often a lot of upheaval and upset. One of them especially suffered. I won’t share that here because it’s his story to tell.
She’s Leaving Home is a sad and melancholy song. But it brings back memories of true deliverance for me and reminds me of God’s watching over me. It helps me honor the child I was and the young adult I was becoming…helps me to be more gentle on my weaknesses and fears, and helps me process the losses and grief of those years. It even helps me to forgive more deeply. I hope this post might help anyone who is enduring any form of abuse. It does not last forever. If you have no way out that you can see, call an abuse hotline. They can point you towards resources in your area. I pray you will reach out.