Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany
For as long as I lived with my parents, they abused me physically and mentally. They decided where l went, what l did, and with whom l spoke to. Depending on their whims, they would either lavish me with generosity or violently beat me in the name of discipline. Any achievements l gained were accredited to them. My failures and weaknesses were scorned.
l learned at an early age to fear my parents. l felt helpless and unprotected at their harsh treatment of me, painfully aware that l didn’t have another adult or a sibling to turn to for comfort.
Even the neighbors, who must have been privy to the fighting and acts of violence, refused to intervene. I remember my father hitting me on one occasion, when l was about nine years old. I fled the house in panic and bolted across the road to the neighbor’s house, screaming all the while. As I desperately thumped on the neighbor’s front door, l saw the front curtain twitch, but no one opened the door.
It was another reminder that l was alone. Trapped in a mental and physical prison of despair, fear, and depression, I mentally retreated into myself for years, as a means of survival.
Despite their volatile inclinations, l still sought affection from my parents, hoping that deep inside they loved me. Sometimes I attempted to hug my mother, but she kept her arms to her side and held herself stiffly.
And when I made cards for my father on birthdays or Father’s Day, he would throw them away without even glancing at them. My heart plummeting to my feet, l would turn away from my father, vowing to myself that l wouldn’t allow him to disappoint me again.
I dated my first serious boyfriend when I was 17. We dated in secret, as my mother was against our relationship. With my friends’ help, Nathan and I went to the annual school dance together.
But my mother suspected something. She found me at the school dance and dragged me home. After that, she went to the homes of each of my friends and gave them a severe scolding. My parents even called up Nathan’s family—whom they had never met—and yelled at them with curses and profanities.
After this, school authorities requested to meet my parents, since Nathan’s family had contacted them out of concern for me. Although my parents refused to seek counseling, at least my father acknowledged that they had mistreated me.
Needless to say, Nathan and I broke up within a few months. My heart was broken. My friends forgave me, but there remained a division between us, and we ended up drifting apart.
l finished my final university exams just after turning 22, and informed my parents that l was leaving home. I wanted to start fresh in a place that was far away from my parents and the painful memories of my childhood. Since I spoke German fluently and was familiar with the country and its culture, l decided to move to Cologne, Germany.
My mother was offended by my decision to leave, so much so that she walked out of the house without bidding me farewell on my last evening in Australia. My father blamed himself and let me go. Since leaving Australia 19 years ago, l have not seen them in person again.
Though we were on opposite ends of the globe, tensions between my parents and me continued. I tried to phone them regularly. However, their resentment, anger, and open hostility left me emotionally depleted, and l dreaded having to contact them. After a particularly heated discussion, which concluded with my mother cursing me, the depths of my gaping emotional wounds were too evident to ignore any longer. l resolved to seek professional help with a psychotherapist.
With the help of therapy, l realized that l suffered from severe depression as a result of childhood trauma. Despite making progress in therapy, the situation with my parents escalated to such an extreme, that l broke off all contact with them for 10 years. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but l just couldn’t cope with them anymore.
I continued with my life: I became a teacher, moved into my first flat and acquired two cats, whom l loved dearly. However, l was constantly depressed and developed an eating disorder in a desperate attempt to exert some control over my life. l started taking anti-depressants, yet l remained unhappy: l was either too fat or too thin, too overworked and too poor. I formed unhealthy friendships out of an inferiority complex and an innate fear of rejection. I hated myself.
I am deeply grateful for the day that Jesus pulled me out of the darkness and gave me new life. I was born again as a new creation, where l discovered the mercy and loving kindness of God, as well as His grace and peace which transcends all understanding. l began to believe that l was worthy, because God said l was. The aching wounds in my mind and my spirit began to heal.
When l became engaged to my husband four years ago, l knew l had to try and reconcile with my parents. Colossians 3:13 spoke to me: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” l wanted to enter my marriage in right standing with God by forgiving my parents for their transgressions, as God had forgiven me for mine. It wasn’t easy talking to my parents after many years of silence, but l knew l had made the right decision in calling them.
I would like to say that since resuming communications, my parents and l have sorted out our differences. The truth is, things are just as bad as ever.
The last time we spoke was in September last year. My parents, who are not believers, had sought the advice of a psychic to predict my future, and had shared their misinformation with my husband and l during a Skype call. Since the Bible warns against seeking the advice of mediums (such as in Leviticus 19:31), my husband and l conveyed our discomfort to my parents.
My father reacted aggressively, and suddenly announced that he didn’t want to talk to me ever again: l should leave him and my mother alone. Then he hung up the phone.
I have not known how to move forward since then. There are times when l am sorely tempted to just let the entire matter with my parents rest. And yet, l find myself in a dichotomy between the woman who strives to honor God, by forgiving and putting the past behind her, and the daughter who struggles to lay aside the grievances she has towards her childhood abusers.
My love for my Savior wins. As a result, I try to practice forgiveness and acceptance. I pray for peace in my family and hope that one day, my parents will come to a knowledge of Christ.
Despite my efforts, l arrive all too soon at the boundary of my capabilities. My inability to let go of memories of my parents’ abuse leaves my emotional equilibrium imbalanced. Instead of putting up with their weaknesses, I condemn myself for my impatience at my parent’s pride. Rather than being peaceful, l speak to my mother and father in anger.
I can’t forgive my parents with my own strength.
Maybe confronting this impasse is exactly what l need to do. For it is only when l experience the outer limits of myself, that l can best encounter God.
When my strength wanes, His power surges me forward.
When l lose my patience, His peace revives me.
When my heart is afflicted, His Truth sets me free.
Whereas in the past, l believed that I was unable to make peace in my family, now l have come to realize that when l am weak, God is strong. l confess my limitations to God and give the situation over into His hands.
Hebrews 4:15-16 has provided me with great comfort in the knowledge that we have a High Priest in Jesus, who empathizes with our frailties and understands our temptations. It reassures me that l have the right to confidently approach the throne and receive Jesus’ mercy and grace during this family crisis.
Though I have never experienced unconditional love and delight from my parents, that’s okay. I have a great Dad, who adopted me as His own when my parents rejected me (Psalm 27:10). My husband is my greatest supporter and his family have embraced me with open arms into their fold. I have loyal friends and a counsellor with whom l can talk to about the gritty stuff. I am truly blessed.
Still, my hope is that my parents and l will one day heal, and that our relationship will evolve at least into one of mutual understanding and respect. I know for my part, that l will keep on trying to make that a reality by continuing to trust God.
And when, during my journey towards forgiveness, l reach the brink of my own abilities, l know that my Father will be there at the edge, ready to catch me.