You know that family–the one that appears so happy

You know that family--the one that appears so happy

by Sonja Dawn
Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors? That was my family.

We appeared to be a happy family, with loving parents and three happy, healthy daughters. I am the middle child and I appeared to be a typical middle child who felt ignored and left out, but really I just wanted to be left alone. The attention I received from my family was frightening no matter how hard I tried to change it.

I did want what any person wants, a loving family, but that is not what I got. I remember one particular day very clearly. It was 1982 and I was seven years old, I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. A quiet place filled with families not unlike my own. I had come home from school and was playing quietly by myself, hoping to be left alone, like I did everyday. At around 5pm my father arrived home from work, like he did everyday.

What happened next was all too normal and routine. He would always enter the house through the back door and as soon as he walked in, my Mum would jump on him and would immediately announce ‘the girls aren’t doing as they’re told’ and without any hesitation, or question as to who did what, he would make a beeline for me.

One moment I was quietly playing by myself, the next my father hits me in the head, knocks me to the ground and starts kicking me and screaming at me. I would curl up in the fetal position and wrap my arms around my head to protect myself.

I would never cry or scream, I thought if I did I would be showing weakness, so I did what I always did and began to ask my Dad what was happening? Why are you doing this? Are you okay? I was frightened, but I was also concerned for my Dad. I already knew he had grown up in an abusive home and that had a lot to do with why he was like he was. Even at the age of seven, I understood happy people don’t hurt people and that he was a very angry person.

I also remember my Mum and my older sister standing there watching this happen, my little sister was there at the beginning, but had run away. After, my Mum and Dad walked away and continued their day as though nothing had happened, I remained lying on the floor still curled up, too terrified to move.

Then something different happened, my older sister came over to me. I thought she was going to ask me if I were okay. My heart started lifting because finally someone was going to help me. Instead, she stood over me and said “you need to learn to shut your mouth, you’re just making it worse” she then walked away and continued on with her day as though nothing had happened.

I lay there for a little longer, then eventually started to feel afraid that if I didn’t move, I would receive another beating, so I jumped up and ran out of the house and down the street to the park and hid in the bushes where I often went after a beating. I sat there with my arms wrapped around my knees, rocking. My mind was racing at such a rate I thought it was going to explode and then it just went silent and the next thought I had was ‘this is going to keep happening to me and I have no control over it and nobody is going to help me.’

My next thought was ‘why was I born? I don’t want to be here anymore.’ I then had my first thoughts of suicide and set off to learn about how to do so. I wanted to know, just in case I lost control of myself and did it by accident, because I could feel for the first time a rage growing in myself I had never felt before. The road I ended up taking was to internalise everything, because I thought it made me strong.

I did try to tell people what was happening at home, but was dismissed as overreacting or being too sensitive, which is how my family views me to this day. It’s frightening what people can dismiss. I’m also told ‘it’s just the way it was back then’ as though that makes it okay. Yes, child abuse was far too common back then, but beating a child was never acceptable, not back then, any more than it is today, the only difference is, today people speak up and other people listen.

It has made me resilient and I’m happy to say, I have managed to evade becoming angry and bitter. I refuse to become so because I’ve seen what that looks like and it ain’t pretty. I’m going to stick to open and vulnerable and maintain this inner strength I have worked so hard to build.

I believe what has helped throughout my life is, my motivation to always to make everything okay, not great, but okay. I have always believed the best in myself and in others, sometimes to my own detriment. Even though I have had plenty of experience to show me, not everybody wants to be okay or work through their problems, somehow or another my motivation to do so have never wavered and I believe that is why I’m still here.

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Sonja Dawn

I am a Public Speaker for mental health with NAMI-NYC. I have lived experience with abuse, bullying, anxiety, depression and PTSD. I am currently writing a book ‘Funny Mental Life’ about my recovery which I embarked upon in 2013 after a severe PTSD episode. I did it without prescriptions, nor professionals. I changed my perspective about myself and my past trauma only slightly, in order to shine a new light of understanding and I did it one small change at a time. My hope is to share my story in order to change the stigma on mental health by showing that sharing our stories is just a conversation.

8 thoughts on “You know that family–the one that appears so happy”

  1. Sonja, I see the thread of the ‘divine’ in your story. Your strength and resolve are such gifts to yourself. It saddens my heart to know you were not treated with the love and respect you deserve. Keep your light shining and your heart open to illuminate the way for others. You are loved.

    1. Thank you so much Maureen. Talking about it has been the best healer and hearing responses from people such as yourself, makes it even better.

  2. Holy Moses
    I had tears running down my face. How strong you had to be to survive that and grow beautifully in spite of that. God bless you. How many others have been so abused. There are so many facades to hide behind.

  3. Sonja, your story is heartbreaking but all too common. I’m sorry you had your childhood taken away by violence. Thank you for sharing your life and hope with us. I know you will help many by your willingness to be transparent.

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