Trigger Warning
This story may contain descriptions of physical and sexual violence that may be upsetting. Please consider your triggers and well-being before reading. Seek help if needed.

My story is a reverse Pandora’s Box

This Next Door Solutions client agreed to share her story with us for our 50th-anniversary Survivor Story series.

In the Greek myth, once Pandora opened the container and unleashed a variety of evils into the world. Panicked, she closed the box, trapping inside its remaining content, hope for humankind. For me, it was the opposite; after a series of relationships rife with verbal, physical, and emotional pain, I sought to understand why this was a constant in my life. What I found shocked me and revealed the fierce grip abuse can have on victims, even when those memories are buried in the deepest corners of our mind.

When I was eight years old , my father suddenly disappeared from my life. Each of my siblings was separated, whisked away to homes of family members who merely told us “dad was ill and receiving care at the hospital.” Only later did we learn he was imprisoned, as the Danish authorities had discovered a history of abuse. 

In my twenties I moved to the United States. My first serious relationship, which led to my first marriage, turned sour when my husband became emotionally abusive. I was startled and could not understand what had happened; where was the man I knew? A broken engagement followed, once my fiancé unleashed a stream of verbal abuse. Was that a coincidence?

Sadly, I learned it was not when my second husband , abusive as well, prompted my voyage of self-discovery. It was like Dr. Jekyll and My. Hyde; yet again, after marriage, behaviors changed and the true selves appeared. By now, I wondered if this was “normal.” At the very least, I thought it must be common since lightning had struck me not once, not twice, but three times. I felt like two people: a successful person with a career and one whose personal life was in shambles.

Through therapy I was able to better understand the hold abuse had on my life. Memories of my father, repressed for many years, suddenly broke out of their cell. I could recall him as a mean person, belligerent and demeaning to women and children alike. My siblings, except one, can recall the same behavior, which was sadly not uncommon back in 1950s Denmark. We were petrified of him and unable to depend on our mother, who had tragically died when I was young. 

To suddenly recall such awful episodes may seem detrimental. However, I felt relieved; empowered; even vindicated. While these images had hid in my brain, their invisible hold on my subconscious was strong. Remembering them was painful, but it led to healing. Ignorance, in this case, was not bliss.

A nearby institute provided a safe place for fellow victims to share our experiences, enabling a bond in our collective path to healing. Later, Next Door Solutions was invaluable in continuing the atmosphere of recovery. Years later, I would volunteer with the organization, seeking to give back to those who had helped me. In my case, many people helped even though I did not know exactly what I needed-a common situation with abuse victims.

I saw my father some years later during a school trip. We met at a park under Social Services supervision; the government had rightly concluded  he could not be allowed near me unsupervised. I am glad to say he never hurt me again, but his mean streak continued. One of my sisters-unhappy her whole life-has sadly continued the pattern. While she has not physically abused her children (perhaps due to knowing it was done to her), she has not been kind during their formative years. That is perhaps the creepiest trait of abuse; it can only inflict pain but also spread a virus that affects subsequent generations, a mistaken belief that dehumanizing others is somehow acceptable.

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  • Survivor Quote

Survivor Story 8: Toxic Love

She hesitantly returned to him and the abuse stopped for a short while… but it began again. It grew significantly worse over the years due to issues that stemmed from jealousy, insecurity, and control. Nonetheless, she remained with him trying to fix their relationship because of love.

When Bonds Become Chains

Sometimes it’s fear of deportation or revenge against family; other times it’s the economic dependency, especially if the abuser provided the income. Often, it’s the sheer paralysis of finding a safe place to live, particularly in the Bay Area with its high cost of living. Ana Castillo, who works for the Next Door Solutions (NDS) advocacy housing program, recounts a recent case about a client we will name “Angela”.

Survivor Story 8: My son altered the future

My toddler’s instinct to protect his mother enabled me to escape from the darkness. I asked myself: what am I doing? My abuser was removed from our shared home and I changed the locks. A police officer referred me to Next Door Solutions.