A boy and his (step)-Dad! Growing up with fear and anxiety

Hard facts and research data often cannot replace a true account of what someone has been through personally. We have asked those who have experienced abuse situations to come forward, anonymously, and share their story with us. Through the weeks, we have been focusing on a series of these personal accounts. Our fourth story is about a boy who was emotionally abused by his alcoholic stepfather while mom was out of the house.

“I don’t actually remember when I first met my stepdad, but the first memory that I have of him is pretty clear in my mind. I was 8 years old and my mom had been dating him for a while already. This one evening, my mom had something she needed to do and had asked Stewart to babysit me. The idea was that he would basically just be in the house while I slept. This would be the first time he and I would be alone without my mom present, though he would not need to interact with me at all. I went to bed as usual but I noticed that there was a giant spider in my room. At 8 years old, I was terrified of spiders, so naturally I went out to the living room to where the adult was and voiced my concerns and fear. Until this point, I believed Stewart was this cool guy. He was always fun and friendly, a man’s man… knew what to do and had a take-charge attitude, always making jokes, very charming with my mom…treated her like a real gentleman. I felt comfortable enough asking for his help with this scary creature, so I did. I went into the living room and said to him, “Hey, there is a spider in my room, he’s really creepy and I’m scared. Can you kill him?”. His reaction really shocked me as he glared at me, obviously pissed off that I had “disturbed” him while he was watching his TV. He started cursing at me and putting me down for being a wimp. Up until that point in my life I had never been around people who cursed or showed anger in that way so this was a rude awakening. I went back into my room, with the spider, and left him and the television alone in the living room. I tried to fall asleep again, but not only was I scared of where this spider may have gone off to, I was also feeling as though I had done something really wrong by bothering him to help me. That was my first real memory of Stewart.

My actual father was not involved much in my childhood, is not good with children, and I never found a good reason to idolize him or look up to him as most kids do their father, while Stewart was always there for my mom and seemed like the kind of guy my friends might like. He didn’t really seem to want to be my “dad” and play with me, but he would interact and be cordial and I saw that he treated mom well, from what I knew…I thought he was generally an okay guy. I had no idea what I was in for.

About a year later my mom and Stewart were engaged and they married shortly after. I remember my mom coming up to me and telling me that she didn’t love me any less and that she loved us both equally. Equally? It was just me and my mom for years, I was her child… she knew this guy about a year and she loved us both EQUALLY? I have to admit, that stung. There was a bit of jealousy towards him at this point from my end, naturally, but I didn’t act it out. Instead, I held it all inside for her sake. I definitely wasn’t happy about them getting married. Initially he had asked me to be his best man but I refused. It felt as though no one really cared how I felt about what was happening and I had no say whatsoever about the new person that was about to become a huge part of my everyday life.

Ever since the first night he had watched me and attacked me about the spider incident, I had a sense that things were not the way they were supposed to be with him. Even though those moments did not happen all the time, they happened often enough (always when my mom wasn’t around) that I felt uneasy in his company at all times. I never really knew when he was going to snap at me about something. One day a particular thing would upset him, then the next day that thing was fine to do and it was something else that upset him. It was random and chaotic. I never knew what was going to happen or why. I went through the house feeling like I was walking on eggshells.

Over the next 10 years, things got worse and worse with his behavior. Stewart always had a drink in his hand and sometimes did other drugs as well, though I believe my mother was not aware of the drugs. Early on, he had a job as a security guard but this did not last long. He complained nonstop about the job being too stressful for him even though he mainly just sat around, and eventually he got fired for breaking the rules. He was supposed to be guarding a quarry from entry, yet instead he took us motorcycle riding in the quarry. He was not the most responsible person in that way. Stewart then went on to be a delivery truck driver but was fired once again for drinking on the job. He ended up in a bad accident where he totaled his car due to driving drunk, which he did often. One time, he was driving drunk with me in the car and I am certain I would have died had I not yelled, “Watch out!” which allowed him to swerve out of the way at the last second, barely missing the truck in front of us that had a flat bed with metal rods sticking out from the rear.

Once my brothers were born, my mom and Stewart decided that he would be the one to stay home with the kids, as working was just too stressful for him, and that my mom would be the breadwinner. He drank all day, watched TV, and lazed about in the back yard instead of actually watching the kids. This meant that whenever I wasn’t at school I was the one that had to take care of my brothers. During summer, I couldn’t really go anywhere. I would play outside with my friends on occasion, but I was the one primarily in charge of raising my brothers at this point so I often just stayed inside looking after them.

It seemed as though Stewart felt emasculated by the fact that my mom worked while he was home with the kids and I believe this added to him taking out his inner tension on me. He constantly tried to control me, over anything and everything. Without reason he would ask me to help him with things that he obviously did not need help with, just to keep an eye on me. There was an undertone of control in every interaction we had. He would randomly yell at me for no good reason. I wouldn’t mind being in trouble if I actually did something wrong, but most of the time I hadn’t. And then there were the times I actually had done something wrong and he didn’t even seem to care. It was completely random and I never knew how he was going to react. I never knew how to behave in my own home. I basically became a hermit. I was quiet as a mouse, so as not to disturb him, and locked myself away in my room. I remember peeking through my cracked bedroom door to make sure he wasn’t around before I dared venture out of it…unless my mom was home. I knew that there was a good chance that I would incur his wrath if I happened to come across him, so I simply stayed away from him as much as I could. My mom was only home in the evenings after work for a couple hours before bed and focused a lot on Stewart and my young brothers, so I mainly just felt alone.

I never felt comfortable there, nor like it was my home. I felt trapped, scared, unsafe, and unable to be myself. I honestly didn’t even know who I was or how to be myself anymore. I just tried to stay out of Stewart’s way.

No matter where I would go, I always had to think of him. I remember constantly worrying about whether he would remember to pick me up, if he would be an hour early, or an hour late. Either way I had to be ready to go when he got there and make sure to downplay any issues, so that I did not inconvenience him, or he would get quite angry. He never much cared what the time was; he just came to get me whenever he felt like it.

He didn’t really abuse me physically, or not in any obvious sort of way. We use to wrestle together for “fun” sometimes, but occasionally he took it too far. He would wrestle me as though I was a full grown adult when I was only a child. He was quite a lot bigger than me physically and definitely stronger. It seemed that he often just wanted to show that he was the “big strong man” and get his inner anger out somehow, and he used the wrestling as a guise to be able to feel powerful manipulating someone who was essentially helpless. Sometimes he would hold my nose closed and cover my mouth until I just about passed out. To this day I still feel panic when there is something over my mouth or something is restricting my breath. I was never sure if he was playing or not, but I convinced myself he was, because at that young age I could not comprehend the alternative. Other than that, he did spank me hard once over something silly, but my mother may have seen that and probably put a stop to it. He never hit my youngest brother much either, however the middle son got quite a lot of abuse from him. I was not aware of this until I was much older as he would be sure to do these things only when other people weren’t around. If I had known, I would have done something about it. Yet, my Mom kept that information from me, because she was trying to keep the peace and not upset the delicate balance. In one way, it was easier for my brothers with Stewart as he was kinder with them and more playful than he was with me. However, if ever they did something to upset him, he felt more comfortable to be as angry as he wanted to be, since they were his own kids, and entirely his to control. There was a lot of intimidation going on in a subdued sort of way most of the time. Stewart even carried a gun on him most of the time, and though I never thought he would actually shoot anyone with it, there was the factor that if I had pushed him too far maybe he just might.

I remember trying to talk to my mom about the things that were happening with Stewart around the house, but she was rather old-fashioned and held traditional beliefs that the young should respect their elders and that the man of the house decides what goes. She didn’t care that his rules had no logic or reason behind them or that he was unnecessarily mean and abusive to me. To her, he was the man of the house and I had to do what he said “because he said so”. She was the only person that I had felt close to in my life until that point, and the only real care-giver I had. There was no one but her that I could go to, but she basically just quoted the bible and then said there wasn’t anything she or I could do as he was the man. She knew how difficult the situation was for me but she wouldn’t do anything about it due to her traditional upbringing, and her own issues growing up with an alcoholic Father. We once tried counseling for a couple of days but it was him alone with my mom and then me alone with the therapist, it felt like them versus me. He said he was giving me a chance to air my grievances once, about how I was feeling, and I thought here is my chance to finally say something, yet as soon as I opened my mouth, I got a lecture from him. This happened often, these “lectures”. He would just go on and on about this or that, acting as though it is so terrible for him but not letting me say a word or else it would only be more lectures and more emotional manipulation. I learned to clam up and just wait them out. I knew that if I simply said and did nothing, the lecture would end faster, as I knew I couldn’t actually change anything. There was nothing I could do but wait to grow up. I spent a year not talking to him before they moved far away and my real Father was forced to move in from out of state, because I was informed they would not be bringing me along.

Even after I left the house, I never really stopped locking myself away in my room. I have trouble connecting with people and feel like I am always trying to please others or behave “appropriately” when around people, to the extent that it drains me to be around other people. I feel comfortable only when I am alone. I cannot handle when people talk to me in any way that might come across as “lecturing”. Any kind of emotional whining or anything that sounds similar to what he would say, often results in my shutting down entirely. This has had a large impact on my personal relationships and my friendships as well. I feel incredibly anxious whenever I interact with anyone and I know that this was due to Stewart’s influence during my developmental years.”

Child abuse often happens right under the eyes of the other parent. Abusers are great at hiding what they are doing when their partner is out working or otherwise. Many people believe that it isn’t abuse unless there are bruises. How wrong they are. Physical bruises can heal, but the emotional ones linger a lifetime.

 

When overcoming an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.

Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!

 

Author Bio - Anna Czarska is a writer and actor who has 15+ years of experience dealing with various situations of abuse. She has pursued business ventures and creative pursuits as well as spending time to study psychology in both formal and personal education. For more information, you may find her Linkedin profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kasiakraut/

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