The Journey Out Of The Storm: Jen's Story

I had just finished telling my story, for the first time in front of a group of strangers. Holding my husband’s hand I walked back to our table and a woman came up to me. She said “ You know you should be in jail.” I said “Excuse me?” She said “I work at the Shakopee Correctional Institution and I see women like you in there every day. Women that grew up in abusive homes, that didn’t deal with what happened to them or couldn’t handle what happened to them so their anger and rage turned to violence. You are one strong woman.” Still recovering from my initial shock I said to her “Yes I am, but it’s only by God’s grace that I am not one of those women.”

There’s a saying these days that everything looks good on Facebook. But Facebook didn’t start that idea. That idea was born into the American family where everything looks good on the outside. But do we know what is really going on behind closed doors?

I grew up in a “normal” looking family. Two parents, a sister, and me. My dad owned his own business, my mom stayed home with us until I was nine, then she started her own business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. It’s one of the few gifts I took with me when I walked away from my family in October of 2015.

Yes everything looked good on the outside growing up, but behind closed doors I was living in hell. In a nightmare that no child should have to suffer. As a mother now it’s still something I can’t comprehend and still struggle to deal with.

You see for as long as I can remember I was abused in some way. Either physically or verbally at the hands of my parents. Or sexually at the hands of my grandfather. From as long as I can remember someone was taking something out on me.

As the oldest child and my sister’s fiercest protector I always tried to jump in to make sure all the attacks happened on me. Most of the time I was lucky, they did. The few times he (dad) would take it out on her, I blamed myself. Blamed myself for not being home, or not realizing he was doing it, or not sitting in his direct line of fire when he got home from work.

When we stayed at my grandparents we were separated at night to sleep. I don’t know if he ever went into her room and did the things to her that he did to me. I honestly don’t know if I could live with myself if he did. I was her fiercest protector you see. I didn’t want her to experience the shame, the guilt, the confusion, and the rage I felt after staying at their house.

Again, luck as I am calling it, she (mom) never laid a hand on my sister. She saved her anger and her rage for me. Always screaming at me, always hitting me, until I got old enough to start fighting back. But at least my sister was safe.

Little did I know then that saving my sister was setting myself up to save my own kids when I got older. I just did it because I loved her so much and she was so timid from all the abuse and screaming and I wanted to protect her.

My mother will tell you that I should let all this go because “it wasn’t that bad” or “it didn’t happen every day.” I suppose I would tell myself those same things had I ever done that to my children. Had I ever let people harm my kids the way she let her husband and her father harm us. Because how could you live with yourself?

Life went on, eventually as we got older the physical and sexual abuse stopped, the latter stopping much sooner thank the Lord. The physical abuse stopping before I hit that magic age of 18, but not before one final beating where he was sitting on top of me, punching me in the face, and threatening to kill me. And her telling me I deserved it because I was so out of control and such a bad kid.  

You see it wasn’t just the physical or the sexual abuse that hurt. It was also the emotional abuse. She loved to tell me how horrible I was, what a bad kid I was. I was just like “so and so and that person is so terrible.” Whoever she hated at the moment, I was just like them. Never good enough, and always terrible. My accomplishments were never celebrated unless it was a public event like a graduation or a wedding. Always have to appear to be the perfect parents and the perfect family right?

I left home like everyone else, went to college, moved away, got married, and had three beautiful babies of my own. It was shortly after my first child was born that the flashbacks started. Flashbacks of the sexual abuse that I had never told anyone about and remained silent about until I had my nervous breakdown six years later. Then two more babies came close together and life was chaos. We were surviving and not thriving.

Inside of me a personal storm was brewing. I was always angry, rarely happy, and in a very weird way still trying to gain my parents approval. I started to look for their love and approval through my kids. If they loved my kids, that meant they loved me. That I was finally good enough to be loved.

As my oldest daughter kept growing, so did my rage and my depression. Not at her, just at life. I had no idea what was going on. My husband had no idea what was going on. We fought constantly. Bad, ugly fights. I would disassociate when things were bad, but then a weird thing happened. I would start to dissociate when things were good. I remember my middle daughter at age 3, looking at me with all the love for me in her eyes, telling me she loved me, and I shut down. I could not handle it. I couldn’t handle her sweet, perfect, and innocent love for me.

Here’s the thing about trauma. The body doesn’t want to keep it in. It will always come out one way or another, and it will come out sideways if you don’t deal with it. That’s what happened to me in October of 2015.

We took our kids back to my hometown to stay with my parents for the weekend while we went to a wedding about an hour away. My parents divorced when I was in college, but got back together shortly after the divorce was final. (That’s another story for another post.) My mom was living in the house she grew up in, the same house I stayed in when I was being sexually abused by her father. I was anxious to visit them, to leave the kids with them, and to be in that house. But I told no one this. I kept it inside. I started one of the worst fights with my husband that we have ever had and proceeded to scream at him the entire three hour trip from our house to hers.

My grandfather was in the hospital that weekend, I do not remember for what. We left for the wedding and I left strict instructions for my mother, not to take the girls to see him. It was under the guise of “I don’t want the girls to be in a hospital or see him attached to machines.” The real story for me was that I never, ever left my girls alone with him. Not ever.

She took them anyway.

She took them anyway.

I was a drunken, out of control mess on the way home from the wedding that night. All the worst case scenarios playing through my head. My daughters being hurt. Me failing them, like my mother failed me. Them being changed forever and scared forever. I couldn’t deal with it so I drank myself into a stupor scared to face reality the next day.

The next day I woke up to find them perfect as always, loud as always. My girls and my baby boy. After my nervous breakdown and confessing all of this to my husband, he asked our oldest daughter had anyone ever touched them inappropriately. She said no. Praise the Lord!

But the storm was only beginning. That next day my kids were being kids. I have extra loud kids, not “perfect quiet kids” like my sister, according to my father. My middle daughter already struggles with anxiety. When one of her parents is off kilter, she feels it, and she acts out, understandably. Well she was in the middle of a fit, sitting next to my dad, and he went to hit her. I grabbed her out of there as fast as I could and we left shortly after that.

But again, this was only the beginning of the storm. Of my nervous breakdown. Of it all coming out sideways. A couple days later, still reeling with all of this spinning in my head. My husband and I got into a huge fight. I have no idea to this day what he said to me, but all I could hear is my mother saying to me “You’re a terrible mother. You do not deserve to have your kids.” You see she had told me that exact thing the year before and that’s all I could hear him saying. Even though those words did not come out of his mouth (and never have) that is what I heard. Her voice. Her voice telling me that I was a terrible mother, my sister agreeing with her, and both of them telling me I didn’t deserve my kids, and they they deserved a better mother than me.

I couldn’t take the noise in my head. I couldn’t take hearing her voice in my head. I kissed my kids goodbye and I left. In my mind I left for good. They were better off without me. I was far too messed up to be a mother. God made a huge mistake giving me kids in the first place. They deserved a mother that would love them completely and not one that was so angry and so broken.

I went to a hotel, turned my phone off, disconnected from all social media, and emails. I contemplated dying my hair, getting on a plane, and getting so far gone they couldn’t find me. I contemplated the unthinkable, ending it all. And I sat like that for almost a week.

People were coming out of the woodwork trying to find me. I still feel guilt for scaring my husband and my friends that way. But you see, I wasn’t me. Remember how I said trauma will come out sideways if you don’t deal with it? It did. After years of abuse, 36 years to be exact, I couldn’t take it anymore. My brain couldn’t take it, my heart couldn’t take it, my body couldn’t take it. I had a nervous breakdown.

Somehow in all that pain, all that brokenness, I never felt 100% alone. It was in those moments that I started to see Jesus. Not see Him physically, but feel His presence. Scripture says that God is close to the broken hearted. He was right next to me, holding my right hand that week. He fought the devil for my soul and kept me alive. Truly, there is no other way to explain why I am here to tell my story.

He also gave me the hand I needed. The little piece of string to pull me out. It sounds weird, but I didn’t have a toothbrush that whole week. Forgot to take one with me, didn’t have the energy to go to the store to get one. I texted a friend and said “If you run away from home, don’t forget to pack your toothbrush.” She responded immediately “tell me where you are and I will bring you one.” A lifeline.

What happened after that, happened pretty fast. My friend came, then my husband came. He enveloped me with his love, not the anger I was expecting. During that last day I did turn my phone on. My mother was in my city trying to find me, begging me to come home. I let loose. I let all the years of anger and rage from all that I suffered at her hands, at their hands, flow onto her through text messages. Mean, angry, vial text messages.

My parents agreed to see me, but they would only do it in front of my therapist. One last attempt to control me. So that Friday an emergency session was called and my parents drove 3 hours to be there. Both of them which was quite shocking because my father doesn’t miss work and he does not do emotion. I was a mess. I didn’t even look like myself. I wasn’t myself. We sat down, I started to share my feelings, started to share what happened to me, and waited for their response.

Their response?

They said I was lying. That it never happened. That they were sorry that I perceived things to be that bad growing up, but it was simply untrue.

I panicked, I had an anxiety attack, I stood up to run as fast as I could from that room. But my husband was in there with me, in front of the door. He was crying and he was scared and he held me and begged my therapist for help. She, after her shock wore off, asked them to leave her office. She kicked them out.

The three of us sat down after that and I was a mess. Shaking, rocking, panicking. No one would believe me now. They would think I made it all up. It was over for me.

But then I could feel two people touching me. My therapist was rubbing my leg, my husband my arm. He was shushing me and she was saying over and over “I believe you, I believe you.”

We then sat down to make a plan of what to do next. I was too fragile to take care of the kids alone so we worked on some plans, and then there was a knock on the door. It was my parents.

They said they had called my sister to ask her if what I said was true. Had he beaten me that badly that one day? My sister said yes it was true. She remembered that day where he threatened to kill me vividly. They told me they were sorry and they left. It was the last time I ever laid eyes on my parents.

Shortly after that we left for my sister’s to pick up our kids. My precious babies. When my husband picked them up, my sister said to him, “you know it’s weird. I hadn’t thought about that day in years. Then after I laid the kids down for a nap, the story came to my mind as I was coming down the stairs. I saw I had a missed call from my parents so I called them. They asked me about that day and if it had happened and I said yes.”

It wasn’t weird. It was God Himself showing up for me, taking care of me. It was God who put that on my sister’s mind. My sister, the self-avowed atheist.

That was also the last day we spoke to my sister, something that still breaks my heart every day. I miss her terribly and I always will. I pray for her everyday that she is okay and that she is happy. But she has gone her own path and I have to go mine. I can’t protect her anymore. My number one job is to be the fiercest protector of my three babies that God has blessed me with.

With my nervous breakdown came a severing of ties with my family. I chose to walk away from them. I chose to keep my children safe. I chose to keep me safe. Above all I chose to be happy and to get healthy.

God has shown me His purpose for my life. He has flat out told me that I am here to break the generations of abuse that have existed on both sides of my family. That I am strong enough to break this cycle. That He who begins a good work in me, will finish it. (Philippians 1:6) So when that woman from the beginning of this said to me that I should be in jail right now? It is by God’s grace, God’s love, and yes my strength that I am not.

You see what happened to me is not what defines me. It doesn’t own me, it’s not who I am. Have I made mistakes? Sure. Have I been terribly mean and awful to my family of origin and my own family? Yes I have. I will own those mistakes.

But through God’s forgiveness and the promise of Jesus I am a new woman. One that can love and be loved. One that can experience true peace and joy like she has never, ever experienced before.

God shielded me through the times I couldn’t protect myself, He carried me when I couldn’t walk, and He held my right hand when I was scared to be alone. (Isaiah 41:13) It is by the grace of God that I am here to tell this story and I am so thankful to do so. I am so thankful for Jesus, for my husband, for my children, and for my friends. I am thankful to be alive!

We all have a story, we all have a past. Some more difficult than others. But God will use this for His good. He always does. He has for me. Every time one of my kids says “I love you” or my husband wraps me in a hug or I get to laugh with my friends or  one of my ladies says I have helped them, I see God’s love for me.

I can choose to be bitter and angry about what happened to me, or I can choose to use it for good. I chose to get better with the help of not one, but three therapists, to address my official diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression. I chose to break the cycle of abuse. I choose to love my husband and my kids with my whole heart. I choose peace, love, and joy. I choose Jesus.

{About This Story}

Jen Snyder is a lover of Jesus, her husband, her 3 amazing children, and her friends. She believes that we all have a story to share that will help others and heal ourselves in the process. Jen is a blogger at Women Winning Online and leads the popular Facebook group also called Women Winning Online.