What It Feels Like To Live With A Violent And Abusive Child

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What it Feels Like to Live with a Violent and Abusive Child

I was sitting on a bench inside a McDonald’s play place. I was probably staring off into space from either being overtired or totally stressed out. My boys, 18 months apart, were probably 3 and 5 years old at the time. My younger son NEVER stopped moving.

He literally never stopped going, running, or climbing onto things. He climbed on top of tables and counters. I sometimes found him inside of dresser drawers and climbing out of windows. He just never stopped. I found solace at a local McDonald’s from the constant need to follow him around and keep him safe. We could never seem to keep him safe.

All of a sudden a woman came storming up to me with a terribly angry face and shouted as loud as she could, “I don’t know what is wrong with you, because your older son is fine but the little one keeps pushing my son. What’s wrong with you?”

I stuttered because the abrasive comment stunned me. “My son is disabled,” just fell out of my mouth.

She shouted louder, “So what, he should still know human decency!”

He was only 3 and although my angry inside voice was screaming that pushing is totally normal for a 3-year-old and not a big deal, instead I was so humiliated my face grew hot and I became uncomfortable. I quickly chased my boys in the car and drove away. Shamed. Heartbroken. Angry. Isolated. The experience would not be my last.

What I really wanted to shout back was that my son was born very sick. He is missing part of his 15th Chromosome. When he was 5 weeks old he was shaken four separate times, suffered 15 broken bones, and almost died. When he was 6 weeks he went into foster care. At 8 months he moved to another foster home. My husband and I adopted him when he was 15 months old. So please give him a freaking break because he is doing his best.

And … please give ME a freaking break. I am doing my best.

My son, Dominic, is now 13 years old. He is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 115lbs. Dom is a lively and extroverted conversation starter with random strangers, a delightful cuddle bug with a wide smile and tenacious sense of humor, but he is also violent and abusive.

His behavior, or what psychiatrists call Emotional Dysregulation, dominates our household. Everyone constantly walks on eggshells. The slightest tinge of frustration could set him off. If I ask him to wait, even a minute, it could set him off. Sometimes, setting him off is just a matter of his own exhaustion. He still never sits down.

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Dominic calls me all the names you shouldn’t call your mother. Yes, he uses all of them. He gives me the finger. He pokes me, bumps into me on purpose, punches me, kicks me, pinches, spits, and pees on me. His anger can be triggered at a moment’s notice. His moods carry him up and down, sometimes all day as he is unable to cope with all the intense feelings. He breaks everything, including the things he loves the most, out of the same intense rush of feelings. He talks non-stop, craving your every last bit of attention and sanity. He doesn’t play with toys.

Now is a good time to mention our family has no support or respite.

My husband and I plan every part of our lives knowing Dominic will be tagging along. There are no vacations and nights out. There are tight squeezes, lots of hugs, and calm down techniques that work some of the time.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would soon be diagnosed with Gastroparesis, and then I started experiencing chronic debilitating pain.

Currently, I live with anxiety and pain every moment of every day. In the morning I often wake up and immediately feel a huge weight on my shoulders pushing me down and speaking directly in my ear: I am not good enough, this is all my fault, today will just be the same. I often feel hopeless. There are many days I cannot change out of my pajamas because living any life outside of Dominic is just too overwhelming. Loud noises bother me. I am too exhausted or feel too sick from caring for Dominic to work or enjoy anything else.

Like a true abuser, Dom has a cycle of abuse that starts with just name-calling and can escalate to physical violence. This escalation can last a few seconds or a few hours. When I am able to go through the routine of calming him down, he has all the regret of an abuser in a cycle of abuse.

Dom becomes super-sweet, super-nice, and super-accommodating. It always gives me time to reboot and calm down. My house can have a moment to breathe. I can answer an email without breaking down into a crying rage. It also gives me time to forget. Forget the emotional pain and agony he caused. I need to forget his violent abuse in the good moments because there is nowhere to go. He is my son and he needs me. It’s the only way I can survive.

I really was counting on being rescued. I was, after all, a victim of my son’s disability, I thought to myself. I wanted to be saved. I was trying to be saved. I was begging to be saved. I needed to be saved. But the only person who could save me was ME.

I truly wanted a savior to sweep in and take care of my son, clean my house, pay my bills, and massage my feet. That kind of salvation is just short-lived, though, because emotionally I am the same person. The pain and sadness and depression will just slowly ease back into my life. I feel lost because I let myself get lost. I let the abuser in and let him abuse me. Guilt and regret kept me from demanding what I needed in my life to save myself.

I needed to save myself.

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One job of every parent, in my opinion, is to never give up on your child. I love him unconditionally, but he has way more challenges in life than most other children. I recognize that loving him and raising him can be painful and rewarding at the same time. I can feel the heavy weight of emotions pushing me downward, but I can still always see the sky. I am broken and hurting, but that doesn’t need to define me in any way. I can still feel free.

I can heal. I want to heal. I am trying to heal. I need to heal.

For now, Dominic is in an escalation cycle throughout the day and is struggling to stay calm. He is overtired, getting over a cold, and has a low frustration point. This is never going to change, at least not in the foreseeable future. I need change faster, but I accept I have little control over how Dominic behaves or processes his emotions.

I am not going to stop feeling guilt and regret and intense stress from living with someone who is so often “out of control” and “violent.” For now, it’s day-to-day, moment to moment. That’s our life. I can work to be more present, and I am working on being more present, but my saving is largely dependent on me and what I can do to take the smallest of steps to save my own life.

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Joy Ellen Sauter is a freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington with her partner, Nathan, two teenage boys, and two cuddly pit bulls. She writes about parenting, mental health, popular culture, history, disability, trauma, the foster care system, and human rights. She is the Editor of TURNED UP, a publication about Cultural Theory. Joy’s work has appeared in Mamamia, and Scary Mommy. This article is part of a yet-to-be-published manuscript Last Out Of The Gate: A Memoir of Adoption through Foster Care.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.