As some of you may know, I am a huge advocate for victims and survivors of domestic violence. I talked about it in my last blog post and now I have started a new Facebook group for victims and survivors of any kind and the people that care about them. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I thought this would be the perfect time to start. This is a private group, and as such, members are directed to keep everything confidential. My goal is for victims, survivors, and their advocates to share their experiences and knowledge to help each other. Anyone in these categories is welcome: women, men, counselors and crisis counselors, family members, friends, medical and mental health professionals, spiritual advisors, educators, law enforcement, or anyone else that might help or is seeking help. NO ABUSERS. No one will know in which category you fall unless you choose to tell them. If you are in an unhealthy situation, please consider joining us. There is hope! https://www.facebook.com/groups/568280924383401
Some of you may have read the article I wrote last year prior to the release of my book, “The Prettiest House on the Block: A Revealing Story of Domestic Partner Abuse”. (The Prettiest Home on the Block, title changed.) If not, October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is the perfect time to reintroduce it, as well as the ages old, pervasive problem of intimate partner violence (IPV), aka domestic violence (DV). The term has been adjusted to reflect abuse not only associated with domestic partners, but with intimate relationships of any kind. It’s difficult to provide exact statistics on this scourge because there are several categories: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression, with several subpopulations: married, unmarried, same sex, degree of injury, etc. that are tallied. The broadest statistic, as reported by the CDC in October 2020, says that “about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime”. These figures may be even higher due to underreporting, especially among men and same sex partners.
This problem is not disappearing from reality, but it’s not generally in the foremost part of anyone’s memory banks, either, unless they are directly involved in some way. Being distasteful to any compassionate human being, it’s not a topic that is comfortably discussed, especially by victims, which is why providing constant awareness is a necessary piece to finishing this alarming puzzle. Regardless of what might be a lack of exact accounting, one thing is glaringly clear, the COVID 19 pandemic has spawned a concerning increase in the incidences of IPV on a global scale. A study conducted at Georgia State University found that that there was a six to eightfold increase in intimate partner abuse incidences across the United States since the onset of the pandemic, fueled by stress and shelter-in-place restrictions. Clearly the problem is worsening, not improving, so constant education and awareness remain crucial.
My book journals the real life of a survivor of domestic abuse, but it is more than just her story. It’s an educational voyage into the cause and effects of domestic violence. I explore the nature (genetic) and nurture (environmental) factors that contribute to our personalities, particularly in relation to abusers and victims. More specifically, I attach these factors to scenarios in my characters’ lives from childhood through their story’s conclusion. I explain the medical conditions suffered by both husband and wife, all of which were paramount to the progression and outcome of their story. I provide avenues for help and suggestions for developing an escape plan, I repeatedly proclaim support and hope for victims, and much more.
Victims, survivors, friends, family members, counselors, healthcare providers, spiritual advisors, educators, even abusers, themselves, or anyone else interested in this topic will benefit from reading this book. If any of you happen to be in a position in your relationship that threatens your emotional or physical health, please remember there is help and there is hope. You don’t need to be a statistic, because you are strong and “you got this!”
The purpose of writing this book was less about making money as it was about being a victim advocate and an agent for change. In addition to promoting sales of my book, I am available to present a Power Point program on Domestic Violence, either in person or virtually, as indicated, for any group interested in learning more. I have done both, so regardless of where in any English-speaking country you may reside, I can help. I am providing this service free of charge at this time. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or requests.
Here is one of the 5 star reviews of my book.
Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2020
“As a survivor of domestic violence, I can only say how much I wish this book was available sooner. It is profound and raw and real. Whether you are in a terrible situation or someone you love is .. please read this book. And if you are like many.. why doesn’t she just leave? This is for you!”
Another said it should be required reading for all high school students. “Excellent, valuable, a must read, pertinent, fascinating, highly recommended, well-written, and informative” are all adjectives used in Amazon reviews. Another person said: “I just couldn’t put this book down!” But you can see for yourself. It is available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, walmart.com, and other online merchants.
When I wrote my two children’s books, I was pretty much on my own to market them, which I did not do extrememly well. An indie publishing house picked up “The Prettiest House on the Block: A Revealing Story of Domestic Partner Abuse”, and what a difference! So far I have had two newspaper interviews, a radio interview, and an online event to benefit Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania pending. I also have a vendor fair coming up and a virtual talk for a local Rotary club. Energized, I scheduled several more events for while I am in Pa. next week because it’s my home town, and my publisher is in the neighboring town of Allentown. (Fun fact: Billy Joel’s song wasn’t actually about Allentown; it was about Bethlehem, but he didn’t like the way that sounded, so he made it ‘Allentown”, from what I heard. Allentown, in reality, had no steel mills at all. They were in Bethlehem.)
I would like to share some more things with you about my new book because October is Domestic Violence awareness month and I’m encouraging everyone to purchase this book because it is an important resource for people in this kind of pain. I’m not counting on making a lot of money because, frankly, after the publisher’s royalties and amazon’s cuts, my take home is peanuts. It really IS more of a public service than a cash cow, unless of course, Oprah picks it up! LOL! The narrative below is a copy of what will be appearing in the Book Buzz section of the North Carolina Writer’s Network website. The links below that are to the radio interview I had with an NPR station, WDIY in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, and to my book on Amazon. And then you will know “The rest of the story”! (RIP Paul Harvey.) Stay safe and healthy!
This is a fascinating story of one woman’s struggle with domestic abuse, but it is much more than that. I have taken the story of Donna Miflin and her husband, Max, and dissected it, interspersing education on the subject itself; on the medical conditions of both, which were paramount to their stories; and on the psychological aspects of this intricate web of abuse. I explored nature vs nurture, discussing how dysfunctional childhoods can work in tandem with genetic factors to create adult abusers and victims. I included ways to get help, and also how to formulate an escape plan, considering safety first. I talked about the demographics of victims, and included much encouragement for victims all throughout the book. My hope is that whenever victims start losing their hope, they will remember my words: “You got this!”
Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, spousal abuse, narcissism, blended families, promiscuity, infidelity, unplanned pregnancies, loss, grief, and white collar crime are all part of Donna’s life and her identity as a person and combine to make this a book that is difficult to put down. If you are a victim, a survivor, a concerned friend or family member, an educator, a domestic violence advocate, a counselor, or a spiritual advisor, you will find this book “immensely valuable” as one reviewer put it. Another said that the only problem with amazon reviews is that “she couldn’t give it 10 stars.” (Martie R)
Domestic violence is a perpetual, intractable societal problem which has been made worse by COVID 19. When I began writing this book, I had no idea of the impact it was destined to make being published in the middle of a pandemic. DV hotlines and shelters are overwhelmed right now with no signs of easing up at this point. My goal for writing this memoir/novel is two-fold: to provide Donna Miflin (not her real name) with catharsis and a sense of closure, and to provide increased awareness of this menace of society.
Patricia Schoch is a native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania but has lived in several cities in North Carolina since 1990. She is a retired Registered Nurse with a strong clinical background, including serving as a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE), a.k.a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), which is what led to her advocacy for sexual assault, domestic abuse, and child abuse victims.
Pat has written two children’s books, “The Giggle Box”, and “the Town of Alpaca”, the latter of which won third place at the CIPA EVVY awards in the Children’s Storybook Fiction category in 2019. “The Prettiest House on the Block” was her first foray into adult books. She has written for the Agora Cosmopolitan, a Canadian newspaper, and has done several Freelance projects. Prior to the pandemic, Pat was writing kindergarten curriculum for an Irish educator and author living in China and working at a school that teaches Chinese children the English language. Unfortunately, this project is still on hold. Currently, along with promoting her books, Pat writes a health column for her local newspaper, The Wake Weekly.
Pat has been happily married for 46 years, has four adult children, one very smart, talented and beautiful granddaughter, and four very smart, talented, and handsome grandsons. She currently resides in Wake Forest, NC with her husband and large, fluffy, sweet, gorgeous Native American Shepherd dog.
“Immensely valuable. One woman exposes the darkest time of her life and learns the difference between judgement and responsibility.” Sherrill A Masi – Sales Associate
“Prettiest House on the Block is a compelling and at the same time chilling narrative about the scourge of spousal abuse. A study of loss, grief, shame, emotional and physical abuse, the book provides an insightful view into a delicate topic which is all too common, too frequently unrecognized, and so often underreported. The author provides important advice and a measure of hope for those so affected.” Robert Hill, MD, FACEP, Emergency Physician.
“Ms. Schoch tells the story of “Donna, a woman experiencing Intimate Partner Violence at the hands of her husband, “Max”. Her story serves as both a warning and a strategy for anyone looking to navigate either existing and/or potentially abusive relationships.” Kim Rosen, LICSM, psychotherapist
Link to Radio Interview:
Link to Book:
“Husband for Sale”. We have all seen funny memes on Facebook during the quarantines of COVID 19 and thank goodness most of us have been able to see some semblance of humor in the darkness of this period in our lives. When can our kids go back to school? When can I go back to work? Will I even have a job to go back to when all this is over? Cohabitating with another person, or more if there are children or aging in-laws in the house, is hard enough as it is, but when you add quarantine and 24/7 isolation with each other, it adds another whole layer to the foundation. When people retire, I have heard jokes about how they will be able to tolerate the other person when he or she is home all the time, but many a truth is said in jest, and this is a real concern for some people. Routines are disrupted and things one may have disliked about another that used to be like a pebble in the ocean may now look like a boulder in a dry creek. Most household members can ultimately learn to cope and live with each other with minimal damage until the existential crisis is over, but not all.
The crisis we have been facing since Feb 2020 has given birth to even more concerning crises for some couples. Not every couple lives in bliss. According to a February 2018 article sponsored by eHarmony, 64 % of couples reported they were happy. That leaves approximately 36% that are not. A certain percentage of these unhappy couples may have an even darker side: they may be either perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse. One in four women and one in seven men have been injured at the hands of an intimate partner. Every three seconds someone is assaulted by someone with whom they should be sharing love. Since the COVID 19 pandemic, calls to crisis centers and demands for emergency shelter have been overwhelming. These are the unseen tragedies directly related to COVID 19 that you may not see in the news every day. All of the stressors that everyone feels are exponentially worse for those with anger and control issues.
The term Domestic Violence has been all but replaced by the term Intimate Partner Violence, since not all violence occurs within the confines of a domestic situation. It can occur with dating couples, even in high school. It’s not always women who are victims, either. Although usually in less violent ways, women do abuse men. These cases often go unreported because men may be embarrassed about being assaulted by a woman. She might also threaten to take the children away from him, or if she controls the checkbook, she can withhold financial information from him. She might also threaten him with slander to family, friends, and even employers. In addition, there are no shelters for men at this point due to the supply and demand factor. Since there are generally more women than men who are abused, and because the danger to women is greater because men are usually more violent than women, the demand is not there for men. There is help for men, though, in the way of counseling resources and the legal process, if necessary.
There is another group that is also underrepresented in the statistics, and that is same-sex couples. There is a dearth of information on this group because few studies have been done on them, but, despite what may be the perception people have, it seems that the incidence of IPV may even be higher than that of heterosexual couples because of stressors that are unique to them, mostly from a societal standpoint. They need more specialized help than others, from professionals experienced in dealing with those with this unique set of issues. There is little doubt that more studies need to be done on same-sex couples and Intimate Partner Violence.
When I wrote my book, ”The Prettiest House on the Block: A Revealing Story of Domestic Partner Abuse”, I had absolutely no idea of the significance it would carry when it was released. My subject and I wanted to increase awareness of this persistent and devastating piece of our world, but we were oblivious to the impending pandemic that would change our lives forever. I go into great detail on many aspects of this problem in my book, which is available on amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Prettiest-House-Block-Revealing-Domestic/dp/0999146092/ref=sr_1_1?crid=21MX4G0A71RLC&dchild=1&keywords=the+prettiest+house+on+the+block&qid=1600750507&sprefix=the+prettiest+house%2Cfinancial%2C162&sr=8-1, and at
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know may be in trouble, please call The Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or if you cannot speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474. Love shouldn’t hurt.
It’s Finally Here! Get It While It’s Hot and don’t forget that October is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH. The Prettiest House On The Block: A Revealing Story Of Domestic Partner Abuse is now on the market! Please share this post even if you don’t want to buy this book, yourself. Crisis shelters are overflowing and the number of phone calls to crisis centers is overwhelming, another sad result of COVID 19. Victims need help now more than ever. I’m not opposed to making money but I would much rather make a DIFFERENCE.
I am not fond of getting my picture or video taken and even less fond of having to do one, myself, but apparently this is the way to go for marketing. After much nailbiting and cajoling myself, I finally did it. My husband shot it after about, um, I have no idea how many times, and this is best I have to offer! I do hope you will take at look at my book, The Prettiest House on the Block, on September 1st. You never know who you might help.
I. Am. Pumped! The pre-sales of “The Prettiest House on the Block” have started! It is on Kindle at the link below. Paperback comes out Sept 1st. If you purchase this, please leave a review on Amazon and/or barnesandnoble.com. Let the games begin!!https://www.amazon.com/Prettiest-House-Block-Revealing-Domestic-ebook/dp/B08DQZ4N9K/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+prettiest+house+on+the+block&qid=1595961087&sr=8-1
For today’s blog, I will offer the introduction to my upcoming book, The Prettiest Home on the Block, being published by Blue Heron Book Works in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We are planning on a September release date, which couldn’t be more perfect, since Domestic Violence Awareness Month is October. If you wish to be placed on my notification list for when it comes out, send me a PM. I will take pre-orders, but you won’t be obligated to buy if you change your mind until then. I hope you will find this enticing.
Despite our age of enlightenment and the empowerment of women it showcases, domestic violence (DV), or intimate partner violence (IPV), as it is known today, remains a tenacious problem in our country and in the world at large. In the United States, one in 4 women and one in ten men will experience IPV in a lifetime, and these are just the cases that have been reported. We never hear from the silent sufferers. Whether overtly expressed or not, prevailing attitudes still seem to dictate that men are stronger and should be in control of women. The idea that women are supposed to be the weaker sex and subservient to men dates to biblical times and somehow has persisted through the ages. Although I believe that men of this generation are more sensitive to the place of women in society and in the home than past generations, some of these patterns of behavior refuse to die, and until they do, we must be vigilant in our communication and education to both men and women.
For the purposes of this book only, women will be referred to as victims and men as abusers because this is true in more cases than not and because my subject is a woman. I do not mean to minimize men as victims because they can be, and are. In fact, there are likely more cases than we know about because men do not always report their abuse. It is also written in this way for simplicity and ease of expression. Make no mistake, though, men are at risk for abuse, also.
We can know the statistics and shake our heads in pity, and we can give someone all the resources at our fingertips to help them, but unless a victim understands why she enters into these relationships, it may be difficult for her to change and she may find herself repeatedly being drawn to abusive men. In reading over my work, Donna mentioned to me that she wishes she would have had the insights I talk about a long time ago. It was hard for her to see her life typed out on a Dell. The questions are, then, how does a woman become a victim of abuse, and how does an abuser become who he is? More importantly, how could Donna have shed the mindset of abuse that plagued her? Men are not born abusers and women are not born victims. We are all born with our own unique palette of DNA, but nature alone does not create a person. Nurture picks up where nature leaves off. From the day we are born, we are exposed to a multitude of influences collectively called nurture. Nature and nurture work together to form the kind of people we become as adults; they are not exclusive. This book will wade into the nature vs nurture debate, and, hopefully, give you some tools to work with to overcome negative influences that may be subconsciously sabatoging your life.
For full disclosure, I am not a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or mental health worker; I am a Registered Nurse. None of the information in this book should be construed as professional advice. It is provided only as information relative to one person’s story and to suggest ways for you to find help should you need it.
I have had a keen interest in mental health since my nursing school days, although I never worked in the field itself. I retired from full time nursing in 2015 after having spent 46 years practicing in several different disciplines in several cities. While working at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, NC, my head nurse approached me one day and said “How would you like to learn how to put away bad guys?” This intrigued me, and I certainly did want to put away bad guys, so I readily agreed, without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, but the intense course I was about to take spawned my interest in Forensic Nursing. Our class was the first of its kind in NC and we initially called ourselves FNE’s or Forensic Nurse Examiners, but we were also known as SANEs, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. We learned how to collect evidence from victims for the police in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, the latter of which made my heart ache and my stomach turn. In the unlikely event a case would go to trial, we would serve as expert witnesses in the courtroom.
While still practicing nursing, I began writing again. I published two children’s books and I started doing freelance writing. Writing has been a dream for me for many years. I wrote for an online newspaper in Canada, the Agora Cosmopolitan, for awhile. It’s an edgy newspaper and they liked contraversial and salacious topics. Since I was writing health articles for them, I decided to write on subjects for which I was passionate, sexual assaults and domestic violence being among those topics. One article turned into four and I had a series, which I then published on WordPress and Facebook. After I wrote the series and saw the responses it garnered, I decided to write a book, an anthology of personal stories about abused women and men. I wasn’t getting any takers – secrecy and shame are hallmarks of abuse -but one day I got a message from “Donna” asking “Will you tell my story?” I recognized her name right away from a nursing case I had more than a decade earlier, but not an abuse case. She didn’t immediately recognize my name until I told her who I was. You will learn what the relationship was later on in the book. We knew immediately that this partnership was meant to be. Obviously, I agreed, and after meeting with her the first time, I decided to use her story as the basis for a book to help her and others who may feel trapped in an unhealthy or dangerous relationship.
The information on “Donna” and her experiences has been gleaned from personal interviews with her, sometimes at a trendy little coffee shop, where we enjoyed our cold mocha lattes, and sometimes at her home; from entries from her journal; and from entries in “Max’s” journal. She has given me access to these resources and permission to use any or all the intimate information it contains, providing the names would be changed, which they were.
I used my wealth of experience in the medical field and much research to write this book. A physician and friend, Robert Hill, MD, reviewed my book for medical accuracy, and my daughter-in-law, Kelly Schoch, a genetic counselor at Duke University in Durham, NC, reviewed my material on the genetic aspects for accuracy. Thank you so much, Rob and Kelly. I also feel honored and grateful to “Donna” for opening up her life to me, thus giving me the opportunity to combine my love of nursing, my love of writing, and my desire to help people to provide awareness and education for this ongoing blight on society.
Not every victim will live to tell their tale, but fortunately, “Donna Miflin” did, and she wants to tell hers. No matter how many stories there are about abused women, they are like snowflakes, none are exactly alike. There are commonalities, though, and these are the things I want to emphasize in this book. I aim to offer solice to those who are in dangerous situations and encouragement to those who are trying to escape but find it difficult, which it is. I want to offer hope to my readers that there are ways out for some women. I’m hoping that the information in this book gives you the knowledge and the courage to make the changes that you need to gain the happiness you deserve.
Donna’s story is different in a way that can’t be divulged here, or the resolution will be ruined for you, but this book highlights the events of her life and a look into the whys and wherefores of the behaviors that led to her situations, because she is not alone in them. If you see yourself, then this book is about you, too. It’s a woman’s personal story; it’s about creating awareness of a troubling problem in society; it teaches about the factors that contribute to unhealthy patterns of behavior; and it contains information about medical issues that some of the characters in the book have suffered, which are part of the total portrait.
As you might expect, Donna Miflin is not her real name, nor are any of the other names in the book the same as the real people in her life. The story takes place in cities in New Jersey and North Carolina between the years 1953 and 2007. All the situations in the book are real, but dialogue has been added and details embellished for literary purposes. Embellishment aside, each of these things did happen to “Donna” and scenarios have been created around events as they were told to me.
Hopefully, you will be reading this book cover to cover, but if you don’t get past the introduction, please know that there is help for you, whether you are a victim or an abuser. You can change your life to find happiness, but you cannot do it alone; no one can. To be truthful, not all women are able to break free of these chains, but my hope is that you will find a way, and that this book will help you in your quest for freedom.
Usually, situations such as Donna’s start out well and deteriorate over time, but if you or someone you love has had a sudden change in behavior, becoming aggressive when he or she was not before, please schedule a medical evaluation to rule out a physical reason for the change. It may just be due to a change in a person’s feelings or to other life stressors, but please rule out illness first, for everyone’s sake.
If you have been following me, you may know that I am writing a true memoir for a survivor of Domestic Abuse. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of February. This is one chapter of my book. It is more than just a story. It is unique in it’s ending, and it is also much more than the words of someone’s life. It’s a deep dive into victims and abusers and the “whys and wherefores” of their respective roles in this convoluted plague on society. You may think it’s a worn-out topic, but as long as this problem continues, there will continue to be a need for awareness and help for victims, and for abusers. Names have been changed and some true situations embellished for effect, but the story did take place in New Jersey, in the Wake Forest, NC area , and at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC. Stay tuned. More to come. Please feel free to share this post!
“Max needed a heart transplant to live. The reality was being absorbed slowly, one scene at a time. Donna and Max had lived in New Jersey all their lives, and now they faced the possibility they would have to pick up and transplant themselves, too, but they wanted to give Max a shot at living. She tried to look at the situation from a positive stance. Maybe this is what they needed. They would be moving away from all the friends and negative influences that Max had in his life. Maybe they really could start over. New home, new heart, new social circle. For the first time in a long time, Donna could see some hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. It would be good for everyone. They decided together that this was the right move for them. They went through all the red tape that was required of potential organ recipients at Duke University Hospital and put their home in New Jersey on the market. Max was sternly warned that there would be no second chances. Only one strike, not three, and he was out. He had to stay clean. They sold their home and found a beautiful new home in Wake Forest, NC, a nice community that was away from the busy streets and neighborhoods of Durham but close enough to Duke that Max could get there quickly if a call would come in that a donor was available. Donna enrolled Alex in school, set up the house, located the shopping areas, and waited for the bittersweet phone call from the transplant team that a donor was available. She knew what that meant: that another family, somewhere, had just lost a loved one to tragedy, and she prayed that Max would appreciate their sacrifice and protect the gift he would be receiving.
Max tried. He knew his actions were wrong, and he knew his anger was fueled by his substance abuse, but like most addicts, he found it difficult to change.
“I’m Max, and I am an addict. I’m addicted to alcohol and drugs, and I’m here because I’m on the heart transplant list and it’s a requirement”.
“Hello, Max”, came the collective reply from the room.
The leader let his qualifying statement pass, for the time being. There would be time enough for exploration into those feelings later. One by one, the members of the group introduced themselves. Max looked around and felt he didn’t belong there with these people, he was better than them, but he knew he had to stay. They said a prayer and did a reading from the Big Book, the basic textbook of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Big Book is one of the best-selling books of all time, which is a sober testament to the gravity of the addiction problem. Many AA groups also allow those addicted to other substances or behaviors as well as alcohol. Its renowned Twelve Step Program has helped innumerable people achieve and maintain sobriety since 1936, but it is not an easy process, and not everyone makes it. One basic tenet of the program is a belief in a higher power and the faith that you are not alone. Prayer is a large part of recovery from addiction and one in which Max freely took part. AA participants are also required to keep a journal to record notes from meetings, write down thoughts and feelings, and experience catharsis. Having access to Max’s AA journal has provided an insight into who he was. His sober self was unlike his impaired self in many ways. Max was like a Harlequin mask: smiling one minute, crying the next, or maybe angry. He appeared to be a tortured soul inside, knowing what he had to do but powerless to defeat the demons causing his torment. I want to believe that is true for many abusers. I like to think that they don’t want to be who they are but lack the fortitude to resist their violent urges. Good or bad, they are people, too, and, just as you and I, are a combination of both. Without wishing to be repetitive, I will call up the memory of Donna’s account of Max’s childhood from earlier in the book as a prerequisite to my next words: affluent, alcoholic and absentee parents, being left alone to his own devices, tossed out like an old dishrag as a teenager by his mother when his father left her for his secretary, etc. Common among abusers, Max had a narcissistic personality. Some of the hallmarks of narcissism are lack of empathy, a need for admiration, arrogance, self-centeredness, manipulation, and being demanding of others. Although the exact cause of these traits is not well-understood, it is felt that a combination of nature and nurture, as we have seen is true for every aspect of our beings, mix it up to form these traits. Unfortunately, the actual personality disorder of narcissism is difficult to treat because these people don’t think there is anything wrong with them; they feel everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault, not their own. It’s a well-accepted belief that you can’t help someone who doesn’t feel they need help, and that pretty much describes a narcissist. Although she was able to see the good in Max, Donna’s accounts of him spelled narcissism, and her accounts of life with him are largely disturbing. They are also, however, backed up by Max, himself. In his journal, he admits to treating his family poorly, to possessing all these characteristics, either directly or indirectly, and he even uses the word narcissistic to describe himself at one point. When he was sober, he had an incredible self-awareness of who he wanted to be, and of the person he turned into while he was impaired, like a Dr. Jekkyl and a diluted Mr. Hyde.
Not unlike the outwardly haughty Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, beneath the layer of anger in Max was an insecure, terrified soul, who didn’t really believe that he had the courage to overcome his adversarial self. He picked on people weaker than he was to appear fierce and to prove himself as a force with which to be reckoned. Unlike the fabled lion, however, it took more than a slap across the face to make Max see the error of his ways. It took him staring into the face of death to get him to an AA meeting, which then required him to peal all the layers of the onion off until he got to the core of who he was, and he did. Sadly, once outside the secure, comfortable walls of the AA meetings, he found it impossible to hold onto the strength that had been generated within the safety of those walls, and whatever protective mechanisms he had honed at the meetings collapsed in the face of triggers for his anger, no matter how minute.
Max was also a consummate liar, such a convincing one that even his family supported his accusations that Donna was to blame for his failing emotional health and descent into addiction, even though that journey had started long before they met. Concerning his mother, that makes sense, since she could never take responsibility for her own shortcomings either, as was previously noted. She wasn’t going to blame herself for Max’s problems. She and Donna got along in the beginning, until Donna started bringing the family’s attention to Max’s problems, then she became an instant nemesis in their lives. Others in the family suffered from addiction as well, so no one wanted to look at Max because if they did, they would have had to look in their mirrors and see themselves.
Research shows that there is a proven genetic connection to addiction, be it nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. In fact, studies have shown that even up to half of a person’s risk for addiction can be attributed to his or her genetic make-up. Tangible as genetic sequencing may be, it is essential to consider environment as a factor in the disease of addiction, and one that can be controlled, unlike your inherited DNA. Environmental influences have been proven to affect the way certain gene markers are expressed. For instance, identical twins have identical genetic make-up and most of the markers that define things such as physical features will remain prominent in both, but environmental circumstances can serve as influencers as to how a person’s character or personality unfolds. Living conditions, degree of family support, education, availability of economic and other resources, and relational influences in someone’s life are some of the things that can change genetic make-up so that that even identical twins can exhibit different characteristics when raised in different environments. In addition, it is believed that these influencers can change the DNA of a person to the extent that the altered gene can be passed on to future generations, which may explain similarities in familial traits and habits. Although eerily similar stories of twins who were separated at birth, both good and evil, have been published, environmental influences could also lend credence to the “evil twin” story lines that the cinema loves.
Could that be what happened to Max? Listening to Donna’s accounts, the question of his own mother’s mental health must be entered into the equation of additive factors that contributed to his demise. Did it start with her, or did it start back a few generations and the cycle just continued with her? By looking at all of these biological and external events that can team up to cause unhappiness, it’s clear that although we have no control over some of them, we can make conscious choices to start in motion new events that can disrupt destructive cycles, and we must.
Once you dissect the details of an abuser’s world, past and present, a picture can begin to appear that may tend to explain abhorrent behavior. There are reasons for everything we do, for who we are, all of us. We can understand, and maybe even pity, a person whose own personal black hole is tangible enough to explain away the destructive actions that are negatively impacting someone else’s life. However, we can never excuse violating the rights of others; this behavior is never, ever, acceptable. Understanding is fine and good, but never acceptance. Nothing short of self-defense should give anyone legitimate cause to intentionally hurt another person or treat them with disrespect. Conversely, no one should allow themselves to be convinced that they “bring it on themselves”, that it is somehow their “fault” that the abuser is the way he or she is, or that victims are less than who they are. Max tried that with Donna, and even if she didn’t really believe it deep inside, it was enough to knock her self-esteem down a few notches with each insult. Note to victims: The cycle of abuse must stop, and it can stop with you. I won’t lie and tell you it’s easy, but it’s worth giving it everything you have in order to win your freedom and your peace, because you deserve it. There are plenty of success stories; maybe you can be the next one.”