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Overcoming the Guilt of Cutting Ties With An Abuser

I had a lot of guilt pent up after cutting ties with the man who abused me, but I’m moving past it.

Years ago I decided to start a blog. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, so I scoured the internet for all the ways to be successful at it. I wanted to focus on mental health, as well as maintaining a happy home while living with chronic physical and mental health illnesses, with the occasional project or recipe thrown in.

The first couple of posts I wrote were about mental health; something I am very passionate about. I am also passionate about transparency and sharing experiences with the world so that maybe just one person out there is touched by the words I write in some way shape or form. I wanted my blog to be a beacon of hope.

But then, he texted me. By he, I mean the man who abused me for a lot of my childhood and teenage years. I’d moved to the other side of the country in hopes of escaping him and the control it still felt he had. When he texted me, I’d already tried to pull back. I was trying to figure out a way for me to live my life, be happy, but also still have a place in it for him. After all, he’s my dad. 

For years, I kept up appearances with him and everyone else; even after moving away. I suppose I always felt like I owed it to him in some way. Like I didn’t have a choice. Any time I tried to “take a break” from him, he never let it last for long. Reconnection was always on his terms, not mine, and always met with something like “I knew you would realize you were wrong…”

But then I had kids. The first time he met my oldest daughter, Gracelynn, I nearly died inside when he picked her up. I was terrified of him hurting her. Granted, she was 4mo old, and as mean as he was, I knew he wouldn’t hurt her at that moment, but knowing that didn’t stop the panic from bubbling up in my chest. 

You don’t tell your emotions, your emotions tell you.

Lindsey Staples, PhD

We saw him again when Gracie was 9mo old. This time, he took the family to Disneyland, and while it was fun, it felt like he was trying to keep up a facade of being this amazing person. Whatever he had to do to impress those that may be watching. Maybe it’s the truth, or maybe he really did it selflessly. I don’t know, and I stopped wondering a long time ago.

He texted me after I started my blog to tell me he was proud of what I was doing and that he has a voice in his head too, it felt like he was laying claim on what I had to offer. But when he began talking about the hurt he had inside, I got angry. Like really angry. It was as if he’d tainted my writing in some way and it made me feel sick. He took my words and applied them to himself. 

Now, I want to be clear, when I started writing about mental health, I wanted that. I wanted anyone who read what I wrote to be able to take that, apply it to themselves or their situation and grow from it. I don’t know why I never expected him not to; maybe the thought never really crossed my mind. But he did. And then I lost my direction. 

I became so wrapped up in being afraid of what his reaction would be to anything I posted that I retreated back into myself. The desire to share my truth, to share my story, was quickly suffocated by the fear that he would get so angry at me for sharing how dangerous he is that he’d show up at my door and try to kill me. I’d like to think that common sense would prevail if that ever was his initial reaction, but still, I wrote about everything except mental health; avoiding the topic entirely.

After he met my youngest, Arianna, those feelings of terror and panic quickly resurfaced and were present any time he was near my children. I knew then, that I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t wouldn’t put on a brave face, mask everything inside of myself and let him keep controlling me. Yes, that’s what it felt like. Miles away and years apart, it still felt like he was still controlling me. Every day, my mind automatically goes through possible escapes and I verify the location of things that I could use in self-defense. “I didn’t fight back before, but I will this time, if the time ever comes.” is a thought that is never far from my mind.

Insert the guilt.

I’d started writing an email to him; before Arianna was born actually. I think I initially intended for us to finally just have it out. Like I said before, he’s my dad and I wanted to have him in my life, but then I didn’t. I finally realized that I would never feel safe around him, ever. After I was adopted, I knew I would do anything to not have this new dad hate me. He would always emphasize the fact that “no one wanted” me or my biological siblings. So often I recall him saying “Get the f*** out of my house!” It would take groveling to get back into his good graces.

Maybe he loved me, in his own way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep him from physically and emotionally abusing me for years. I suppose I just didn’t want to not have a dad again. At the end of the day, the email that I started writing in an attempt to figure things out, make amends or do whatever it was that my heart was searching for to heal itself and release the guilt turned into a good-effin-bye letter.

When I say a good-effin-bye letter, I mean an angry one. I poured out everything I’d been feeling and bottling up for years. It was angry, and in some spots, very hateful, but it’s what my heart. It’s what I needed. I told him I was grateful for him changing the course of my life when he adopted me, but not for anything else. It seems impossible to be grateful for all the ‘good’ stuff when it came at such a high cost.

The guilt I felt about everything didn’t go away though. Cutting ties made the guilt grow more. It’s been several years since I wrote that goodbye letter and I still have a lot of it bottled up. So much that my therapist (yep! I see one and she has helped me so much over the time we’ve known each other) said “You talk about this guilt all the time. So much that I think we need to dive into it a little more.”

So we did. Despite all the good that was there growing up, the bad seemed to outweigh it more. My therapist helped me realize that I can feel more than one feel for any situation, despite how contradictory they are. Trying to say otherwise is invalidating myself. It’s completely normal to feel guilty about cutting someone out of your life. Especially if that person is someone you love. Because yes, I do love him. Crazy right? But it’s true. He’s my dad. 

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. You can miss a person every day and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.

Tara Westover

My therapist asked me what rights grandparents have when it comes to their grandkids. I wasn’t ready for that question, but after taking a minute, I said none. Because factually, it’s the truth. My children are just that; mine (well, my husband’s too of course ?). I get to decide who is in their lives and who isn’t. It is my responsibility to keep them safe, no matter the cost. My response came with a half-hearted chuckle. The question seemed silly and I had no idea where she was going with it.

She followed up by asking me what a grandparent needs to do in order to earn the right to be present in their grandchildren’s lives. I started to pick up on the direction she was going with it. So, my response was, it’s not about ‘earning’ that privilege (and yes, I do mean privilege because my kids are pretty cool and they each bring so much joy to everyone they meet. Not that I’m biased or anything??), but what makes someone a good parent is also part of what makes them a good grandparent. 

I told her my dad did the best he could with what he had, but his demons were too strong. She gave her own half-hearted chuckle and said she knew I would say that. I was, even still, always defending him in some way, shape, or form. But it’s true. He was the guy that taught me how to fish, to shoot a gun, and to always remember to spack a sweatshirt and tennis shoes. Those are the stories I share with my kids when they ask about him. I don’t wish ill will towards him, I actually pray for him; his healing and happiness every day. But he’s also the man that took away every good thing I felt about myself.

My therapist asked me if I’d planned on never telling my children about what I went through growing up and I gave her a ‘wtf?’ Kind of look. I said no because it’s such a huge part of who I am and how I got to where I am. It’s why I struggle so much even still when it comes to my mental health. I still wake up with nightmares, screaming or crying. Sometimes my husband wakes up with random bruises sometimes because of my kicking and trying to fight the demon in my head. How can I hide that from my children forever? More importantly, why would I want to?

She then asked how I thought my children would respond if they found out the extent of the abuse I endured growing up but had grown up with him present in their lives. I obviously can’t speak specifically for my kids and how they would feel, but I said that if I had learned my Grandfather had done to my mother what my dad did to me, I would be angry. At him, yes, but also with her.


That’s how it would feel. How could I trust my mother if she had let me think he was this amazing man when, in all actuality, he was dangerous? The relationship and trust I have with my children is not something I am or will ever be willing to sacrifice in order to make him feel good about himself. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still battle with the guilt every day, but the guilt I have now is for the number of years I’ve missed out on with my younger siblings still living at home. They were too young to understand what was going on and sometimes I feel like they will hate me or not want anything to do with me when we are able to reconnect. So each day, I remind myself of what’s most important to me, take a minute to say a prayer, wish him well, and ask that someday they will understand why I had to cut ties.

If you cut ties and are battling with the guilt that comes along with it, then break it down as small as you can and figure out exactly where that guilt is coming from. You don’t have to sit in it or feel it forever, but understanding it will help with those days that trigger you and it becomes too overwhelming to handle.

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