My eldest son, Mike, might have had a chance to develop an understanding of rules, boundaries, consequences, and appropriate behaviors even though his father was an abusive man. Given the fact that he was raised in an abusive family environment, he was doomed from conception. No amount of love, expectations, good intentions, or pleading would alter his course.
Victor, Mike’s father, demonstrated how to be an effective abuser and remain under the legal radar by practicing utter dominance over every member of my family (including my mother and father) using carefully chosen words and subsequent actions. Mike learned, early on, from his father’s example, how to convincingly blame other people for his own actions, and he continues this, to this day.
When my youngest son, Bob, was born, Mike had already settled into a set pattern of bad behaviors; Acting out in school, refusing to cooperate with me, and following the darker side of human behaviors, even at that early age. He was enamored of gang activities and their apparent “power,” as organized groups. He was diagnosed ADHD and prescribed Ritalin – a choice that I regret, to this day. Nobody clearly understood the long-term effects of prescribed medications on the physiology of children over long terms, and how a drug like Ritalin could actually have detrimental effects. And, this isn’t an explanation or excuse for Mike’s choices – it’s just an added component.
Mike began to take actions that were criminal and alarming. He actually self-branded himself with a wire coat hanger that he had formed into the symbol of a well-known gang, heated the wire, and imprinted it on his forearm at age 12. I have no idea when he did this – Victor worked second-shift and slept all day until he got up and got ready for work. His days off were in the middle of the week, so he wasn’t “present” during weekends and it was my “job” to try to keep the boys quiet while Victor was sleeping. Essentially, Victor was the “fun” parent in the eyes of our sons because he had little-to-nothing to do with actually interacting with our children except on his days off. I had my own dynamics during this time – I was utterly depressed, physically ill, and chronically exhausted because I experienced nothing outside of the walls of our home. I was isolated, abused by Victor, and abused by Mike on a surreptitious level.
As Bob entered into toddlerhood, Victor began focusing his abusive behaviors on Mike on a more consistent level. He would accuse Mike of “teaching” Bob how to lie, cheat, steal, act-out, and other unforgivable transgressions that I, apparently, hadn’t attended to. Victor would sit in front of Mike for hours upon hours (literally) belittling him and lecturing to him. If I defended Mike, in any capacity, I would be punished in one way or another – this would occur when Bob learned that he could accuse Mike of any action, factual or fictional, and I would speak up to tell Victor that Bob was not being truthful and had invented a scenario to see Mike suffer punishment. When I would defend Mike, his father would scream these words in my face in front of both children, “WHY do you undermine my authority?!” This, in turn, allowed for Mike to wreak vengeance upon Bob, physically and emotionally, in the form of abuse and torture.
I finally accepted the fact that I had been married to an abuser for nearly 15 years and that both of our children were suffering – Mike had begun engaging in self-mutilation (self-branding), criminal activities (shoplifting and breaking / entering), and violent rages in school. I made the difficult decision to leave the marriage and, at the suggestion of a Social Worker, allowed Victor to maintain physical custody of our sons with the assurance that he would soon tire of managing the children.
Fast-forward. I had divorced Victor and had relinquished physical custody of both of my sons – I didn’t have the resources to sustain a legal custody war and my second husband lived in another State. The Social Worker insisted that both sons would eventually find their ways back to me when Victor became tired of having his life governed by caring for them. This was true. Victor was very busy using online means to secure a conga-line of new targets and Mike was too much for him to manage, so he deposited Mike in a group home for disturbed children. Since I wasn’t there, I have no idea what really happened, but Victor accused Mike of molesting his brother, had him removed from the home, placed into a mental care facility, and then went on a whirlwind sexual romp with someone that he had “met,” online, leaving Bob in the care of a “friend” for a week. I did not know about this until after the fact as Victor refused to cooperate with me as per the Court Order – this is very common with abusive and sociopathic individuals.
Even though it was clear that Victor was unable to manage Mike, he refused to agree that Mike and Bob would be better off with me – this is also a typical and predicable tactic of an abusive sociopath to maintain control and harm (or, “pay back”) any target that manages to escape.
Finally, Mike made a choice to enter into the attic space of the apartment that his father rented and crawl to an adjacent apartment where a young girl was living with her parent, fell through the ceiling, and the apartment manager threatened to evict Victor and his ill-behaved brood. That was the point where I gained custody of Mike.
From that point on, I worked very hard to reach Mike. Through counseling, boundaries, consequences, rewards, and accountability, I spent tremendous energy trying to affect change in him. Victor’s early traiining still had a tremendous impact on Mike’s behaviors and choices – Mike insisted that he wanted to join the military and, at 17, begged me to sign his military contract. I had offered Mike every option to attend college or a trade school, and he was beyond adamant, so I signed. A month after I signed his contract to enter a branch of the military the U.S. declared war in the Middle East. When Mike learned the news of this, he became furious with me and accused me of sending him off to be killed in battle because I told him that he didn’t have any options to break the contract that we both has signed and that he had insisted, throughout all of the time that he had planned on entering the military, that he wanted to “shoot people and blow things up.” This, as I explained, was a consequence of signing a legal contract and entering any branch of the military: there is no way to predict how or what will occur and that the military wasn’t always a “safe” alternative to Real Life.
Despite my efforts to reach him, Mike continued to act-out, defy, commit crimes, and I eventually expelled him from my home after a series of bad choices after he had turned 18. At that time, all Mike needed to do was to apologize for his behaviors, engage in intensive counseling, and demonstrate that he understood the consequences of his actions to return home. Instead, he opted to live on the street in an attempt to punish me – to make me feel as badly as possible for his plight. During this time, his grandmother passed away and there was not acknowledgement of this event – she had been a staunch supporter of Mike’s through thick and thin, and he didn’t even attend her funeral.
Mike eventually graduated from the alternative high school that he attended – he had the ability to be mainstreamed, but he continued making choices that would have resulted in him being expelled and was, instead, warehoused in an “alternative” school environment which is, by all observations, simply a space to babysit students and insure that they “complete” their educations to boost regional statistics. I spoke to Mike the night before his graduation on the phone from the Recruiter’s Office where he had been sleeping on their sofa, at night, and told him that I would take him to his graduation ceremony, the next morning. This was a very painful event for me – Mike had, through his own actions, “robbed” me of every normal event and celebration during his childhood. His graduation should have been an event to celebrate with friends and family, and his choices caused it to be the most somber of all events that I have ever attended, including funerals for friends and family.
After his graduation, Mike went off to boot camp and I grieved in a way that I had never experienced prior to this. I had lost my son – my beautiful, intelligent, and witty son. What I had hoped for him to become had not come to fruition. Instead, this extraordinarily handsome young man had become a rage-filled, abusive, manipulative, and deceitful “Thing.” He had become a more adroit reproduction of his father, and there would never be another chance to reach and recover what I had so desperately wanted and envisioned as my offspring.
Custody of Bob, in the meantime, had been legally determined by a Family Court Judge who ruled that Mike had sexually assaulted Bob while he was left alone to “care” for his younger brother while their father was at work. The only evidence that I ever was privy to was a written report by a child psychologist who believed that Mike had, indeed, had sexual contact with his younger brother and was a danger to Bob, on every level. Nobody, aside from this psychological report, would ever speak to me about what had been alleged, and I still have no idea what happened, to this day. So, Bob had remained with his father throughout this time and his father had “allowed” him to determine when (or, even IF) Bob would have visitation with me. At no time did Victor ever ask for visitation with Mike, did not acknowledge Mike’s graduation even with a greeting card, nor did he attend Mike’s subsequent graduation from boot camp or, again, even acknowledge his accomplishment with a card of congratulations.
During his time in boot camp, Mike corresponded with me via letters that he wrote twice per week. In his letters, he conveyed a sense of remorse for his actions and how much he “valued” my efforts to teach him responsibility. His words were so convincing that I believed that he had turned a corner in his life and was prepared to embark upon redefining who he was and what his goals were. I could not have been more snowed if I had been in the center of an Iowan blizzard in February.
I had rented a car and driven to Georgia to attend Mike’s graduation from boot camp. It was planned that Mike would spend the next two-weeks of leave with me. As we approached the city where Victor lived, Mike used my cell phone to contact his father to arrange a visit. From what I gleaned from Mike’s end of the phone conversation, Victor had no interest in seeing his son before he was sent off for the next three years in the military – this, after Victor had instilled in his own son that only “real men” served in the military. Over, and over, Mike calle dhis father and literally begged to see him before he went off and Victor finally agreed to meet him at a mall for 45 minutes. Although Mike had “accomplished” everything that Victor had set forth in order for him to be a “valid” man, Mike still remained an annoyance to his father and something to be dismissed once he had outlived his usefulness to cause me to suffer. It was a grievous meeting and Mike was visibly damaged by the event.
When we finally got back to Mike’s (and, my) hometown, I paid for a hotel room for him, in advance, and had arranged for a “family” celebration for Mike with his step-family in attendance and the illusion that Mike had woven of his personal changes and views quickly unraveled.
Mike had developed a relationship with a young girl that he had sent all of his military income to in anticipation of marrying her. When he settled into his motel room and contacted her, she told him that it was over and that she’d found someone new. Without my knowing any of this, Mike then paid for a prostitute to stay with him and began sliding back into his hold habits of drug use and stupid decisions.
I received a call from the motel manager, since the room was in my name, and he conveyed that Mike had been the victim of a theft – all of his identification, his military orders, plane ticket to his unit, and everything else had been “stolen.” What it turned out to be was that Mike had actually disposed of all of this in the belief that it would prevent his inevitable deployment. When I questioned Mike about these events and hinted at my interpretations, he became accusatory, again, that I wanted him to be sent to the Middle East to be killed. I ended the conversation, left him in his hotel room, and returned to my own home, in tears. Once again, my expectations were dashed.
That night, I received a call from another girl that he had once dated that he had been threatened suicide and been taken to a mental health unit. It was, I believe, an final attempt to get some help but his motives were dual: avoid military service and to hurt everyone who had used, abused, abandoned, and dismissed him.
Throughout this whole series of events, Victor was still manipulating our sons and their views of themselves, and each other. He had interfered with my efforts to help Mike from three states away. He had prevented Bob from developing any sort of relationship with me by “allowing” Bob to “choose” whether or not he “wanted visitation” with me, and he had set the Bar Of Approval (to join the military to be a “real man.”) for Mike to jump over, only to snatch the prize away with a wave of his hand in utter dismissal and apathy for his own offspring’s well-being.
This very brief history of Mike, his choices, and consequences sets the tone of his subsequent relationship with Bob and his three disastrous marriages in which he physically abused his wives. It would take volumes to convey the details of how Mike became what he is, and how Bob’s Life’s Path was determined by a cycle of domestic violence, abuse, and genetic predisposition to sociopathy.
I broke contact with Mike, and Bob eventually came to live with me and is a traumatized victim of both his father Victor and his brother Mike. Bob still loves Mike and is trauma bonded to him. I’m doing my best to assist Bob in breaking this trauma bond to his abuser, but it is a difficult road for him, and for me. Going “no contact” with Mike and Victor helped me to recover and to discover that I do not need to allow anyone to abuse me. It also allowed me to learn and grow as a human being, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, because it is difficult to grow when we are being abused.
Breaking free of abusers and offenders is painful and difficult, but it is the only road out of pain and grief.