Breaking The Cycle: Sue’s Story

The following story, by Sue is a deeply moving and courageous account of her journey through violence. As you will read, she continues to work towards non-violent relationships and has found various ways to achieve her goals. We thank her very much for her generosity and commitment.

I have two daughters. Susan, my older daughter is 13 and my younger one, Tilly is 10. My husband, Alan, and I have been struggling to find ways to deal with Susan’s problems for a very long time. She’d been hyperactive since she was two. My father said I deserved her, that she was a payback for me being such an awful child. It wasn’t until much later that I stopped and thought about all the things that had been said and realised that I came from an abusive household. My father was violent and my mother used to set me up with him. I finally realised that I was doing the same thing to my children. I set them up too and then I’d get angry and smack them. What I was doing was reliving my parents’ patterns and it didn’t help, but when I became aware of that I realised that I could do things differently with my children. I don’t blame my parents, although I did for many years, because my parents did what their parents did, and then I did what my parents did. You only do what you know. I had to realise for myself what I was doing and change it.

For years I’ve tried to work out what was wrong with Susan. She’s gone to doctors and others because we kept asking ‘Why does she do all these things?’ All that did was put all the blame on her. We were told she had Tourette’s syndrome. I’d actually channelled all of the blame onto her, so now I’m taking that blame off, throwing it out the door and working on her as a person instead of focussing on all her problems because that only isolates her even more. I’ve done a lot of work to change myself and so has my husband. We don’t fight as much anymore because we sit down and talk about things. Because we’re not fighting anymore the children are much more at ease.

With Susan it is still really hard. If she is riled I can’t calm her down, as I can’t communicate with her. When you’re in an aggressive situation, you can’t just say, ‘let’s stop’. It doesn’t work. I can’t just mellow her out and talk to her sensibly for a few minutes. If I walked away she would just chase me and kick and punch me. I try to keep myself calm but it is so difficult, really hard. I talk to my husband about what is happening and we stay calm and keep communicating and eventually, maybe after a couple of days Susan will be able to talk about it without screaming.

Susan has been very violent. She has just had a stage where it has got worse because she has been coming off some medication. Luckily it has been directed at the wall, punching it and putting holes in it. That’s better than it being a person. I was the last person she’s kicked and punched. She is very strong. She’s picked me up and thrown me even though she isn’t as tall as me. I was scared she would push me down the stairs. She also threatened her sister and held a pair of scissors over her head.

I’ve tried to get help when that happened. I wanted her out of the house. I rang every doctor who had worked with her. I couldn’t get her to a hospital. So even though it was a safety issue there was actually nowhere for her to go. The police can’t help because she was too young, so apart from pushing her out on the street, there was nothing there for her.

We’ve all got to take time out. Alan is on time out at the moment. Not getting a break is the hardest thing. So every now and then my husband or I or Tilly might leave home for a couple of days for a break when we feel we desperately need it, but it’s never possible together.

I feel that Susan has got some control over what she does, even though she says she doesn’t know what she is doing. If she wants to she can sit and talk quietly to someone but then walk out the door and abuse all of us, so she’s got to be able to control it when she wants. It’s probably harder thinking she knows what she’s doing. It’s easier to blame the Tourette’s or the other problems she’s got. What I’m trying to do is to have more compassion for her, rather than just blaming her but I think it is easier to blame her. You know when she is really at her worst and you just want to pick her up and shake her – you lose the compassion. You have to find it again because it’s through compassion that you find the way back in to try a different way. I have put signs all over the house to remind me about vicious cycles and compassion. Even though I’ve called her a monster I do think she is just a little girl and I have to remember that.

It is difficult and you don’t always achieve the result you want because when I lower my voice she keeps pushing and I start yelling again, or she keeps niggling at me until I lose it. It’s very rare for me to come in with compassion at the beginning because I’m so used to yelling and screaming which is what she is used to and quite comfortable with. So I have to keep trying to realise what I’m doing. When Susan and I are in a one on one confrontation there’s no calming her. I try. I really try to stay calm myself but then you think, ‘okay, I’ve had enough’ and then it is so difficult, really hard. I think it’s just a matter of persevering and hanging onto hope.

Meeting with other women at the group was a relief because I wasn’t the only one. It’s not easy to talk about this because you are breaking a family secret, but it felt safe and comfortable. People didn’t judge me so it was easy to talk. I didn’t expect a lot of stuff to come out in a group like this because you still want to keep the family secret so I was surprised that I could feel so comfortable and people could talk or not as they chose. I liked being able to sit down and talk quietly and listen. It was easier than family counselling where you were always worrying about Susan’s behaviour.

Just getting to the group was difficult. Susan didn’t want me to go, there were hassles getting out of the house sometimes. Every time I went out she would say ‘you’re going to talk about me isn’t you?’ and of course that’s exactly what I was going to do. I didn’t want to tell her exactly what the group was for. She is violent but I didn’t want her to be told that. I didn’t want her described in that way because I hope this is a stage and I don’t want her to think that that’s just her and that’s the way she’s going to be forever.

Sometimes the group would trigger off things in me that were upsetting. I went into a lot of turmoil with the group. As well as getting things out of it I also felt a bit dazed and really bad about things. I think some days it actually triggered things off for me, like my own patterns and that upset me. The way I see the violence in the child is that they weren’t born that way so they have learned it. Now the mother and the father are the two people that are around, for our child anyway, so most of it has come from us. When my child was upset and going through stuff, it was like holding a mirror to my face and I didn’t like it. I’ve lived through it once and I don’t need to live through it again. I had mixed feelings in the group and sometimes I felt angry. The anger made me achieve a lot. I’d come home and wake Alan up and I’d tell him about it and we could get it sorted out so it didn’t sit there for days. I didn’t want to take my anger back to the group because that wouldn’t have helped. I’ve realised that I’m the only person responsible for me. I can’t blame anyone anymore.

I also got a lot of help from an intensive one week course I went to. That was good because you need time to become aware of what you were doing. I realise you need time to sort things out.

After the group was finished I sat down and looked over my paperwork and went back over the things I’d actually learnt out of the group. On the last night everyone got to pick stickers marked with different emotional qualities like brave and caring and I was really surprised what people chose for me. I remember thinking ‘well I don’t feel that’ but now I look back at them and think ‘wow, yes I am O.K.’ One of the stickers was ‘courageous’ and that gave me a really nice feeling. To work with these children is extremely long term and my husband and I have to do our own work. It is going to take years to change what we pass down to our children. What I’ve realised now is that I have to let go of the past and I’ve got to get Susan to let go of her past. I’m nearly 40 and I’ve had to work really hard so I’m hoping that as Susan’s only 13 that she will have less to deal with.

It is different now. I used to think I’ve got a rat of a kid and then I realised my kid’s got a rat of a parent. So I’m working on the bits I can and I keep picking myself up and remembering that I’m the only person responsible for myself. I can’t blame anyone anymore. What I realise now is that what I can work on is me. It’s no good blaming the kids or anyone else. I’ve always thought Susan was responsible for her behaviour and now the challenge for me is to see her as a 13 year old rather than a monster. Now I want to give a positive message. I think it is beginning to change. We certainly have better days. Susan still doesn’t talk to me but she does talk to other people, to family members and she says life is a lot happier at home which is a very positive message is.

* Name and photo have been changed to protect client privacy.

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