This is the print version of

Surviving Isn’t Living

 by Victoria Dillen


My eyes flickered open. The song of the meadowlark played in my ears as the warm breeze stirred the white sheers, and the late spring blue of the sky filtered through. It was a beautiful day, and I felt wonderful.

'Make it through today and it’s the weekend.' 

Flipping back the covers, I stepped onto the cool flowered linoleum. Three weeks and school would be out. The sweet smell of anticipation seemed to waft in through the open window. I quickly pulled on my dress and did my hair. I forgot myself in those seconds, almost running, and pounding down the stairs, opened the door into the kitchen.

“Melissa, what’s the matter with you, running and making all that noise?” Mom screamed, ripping me back to reality. “Your dad’s sleeping. You know better than that.”

“Sorry, Mom,” I clenched my fingers into my hands to keep from crying. My nails bit into me like her words. I felt like I had been slapped. Gone was the joy of the moment, of the day, of my life. Reality set in and I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, quiet, mousey.  Being careful not to bang any dishes, I ate some cereal, and watched as my brother and sister got their breakfast. We all welcomed the silence as Mom went back to bed.

Silently we cleaned up any crumbs and left for school. I walked beside Jamie, who was a year older than me.

“Mom’s leaving to visit Grandma on Sunday.” Jamie scuffed a pebble.

“I know. Maybe she’ll come back happier. She’s going to miss my birthday you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Guess it doesn’t really matter.”  It really didn’t matter, but it hurt a bit thinking no one thought it did.

The day flew by, and walking home in the afternoon sun, I tried to recapture the happy feelings of the morning. But, they eluded me. They were gone.

Mom seemed to be in better spirits when I got home, and everything was normal. Of course, being yelled at was normal. I went to my bedroom, under the guise of studying for tests, and sank down on my pillow with my book.  Soon I was riding the wind on a stallion, free, with the warm air racing across my face. Books were my refuge, my escape from the abuse of our angry and unforgiving home.

Sunday arrived and mom was packed, and getting ready to leave on the bus. It was a two-day ride, if she didn’t do any layovers, and she was planning to be gone two weeks. Dad worked a lot, which meant….freedom.  Two glorious weeks of it, or so I thought. 

Five days later…

The stairs creaked. I clutched the covers, submerging my whole being into them, until I was buried with my face barely showing. My racing heart pounded loudly.

Can he hear it?

The creaking grew louder, as every inch of my being strained to hear, dreading the steps I heard.

If I scream, will he go away? Why is he doing…?

Lying in bed, my back to the door, I heard it open.  I hoped it appeared I was asleep, hoped he would leave. He moved around the bed so he could see my face.

“You stayed home from school,” he said quietly as he lay across the double bed, his face unbearably close.

I could hardly breathe as I opened my eyes, and managed, “Yeah, I wasn’t feeling well.” Not because I was physically sick, but emotionally I was almost destroyed by confusion and fear of what had been happening.

“Well, you get some rest,” he said as he leaned closer and gave what was not a normal father/daughter kiss. I lay frozen, petrified as he left my room, went down the creaking stairs, and left for work.

I wanted to scream, run and hide, but the terror that kept me silent as he left my room engulfed my whole being. I trembled as I wiped my mouth with the sheet. I wanted to scrub it all away. The last two days were a nightmare of surreal events that left me panicked and helpless. Dad’s strange behavior, the unwanted and unfamiliar touches, all left me confused and frightened. Unanswered questions screamed in my mind. 

Why is Dad doing this? Why is mom away?

The waves of confusion and fear enveloped me, pulling me down, bottling the tears that would not pour out.

The day was excruciatingly long waiting for my older sister to come home from school. The emotions of the last two days tumbled out as I told Kelly all that happened. I felt devastated when she burst into tears, and I realized she could not help me. “Dad’s been doing those horrible things to me since I was ten. He told me not to tell. He said it was all my fault.”

She could not stop crying, and we tried to console each other. We both knew we had to get help. Her sobbing finally became the resolve I needed as I dialed the phone.

“Mom, there’s something wrong with Dad, he’s doing things,” I started out strong and then the emotion of what I was saying overcame me, and my voice broke.

“Please, come home, we need you.” Uncontrolled tears poured from the bottled heartache that finally shattered. Mom assured me she would come, but we knew it would take two days by bus, if she could even get on one that evening.  Kelly and I waited by the phone while Mom contacted friends, hoping we could stay with them until she arrived.

My heart was in my throat, when I heard the back door. It was Jamie, who finally got home from his after school job. I tried to tell him what had happened, but the tears would not stop. He struggled to understand, but was confused, as were Kelly and I.  It was getting late, and we knew Dad would be coming home from work. Fear threatened to choke us as we all dreaded the thought of being in the house with him. The terror engulfed us when Mom finally called back, saying we could stay with friends and they were sending a taxi for us.  

We raced up the stairs to our rooms, throwing our belongings into grocery bags, and grabbing what we needed from closets. The taxi driver looked perplexed as we ran to the car, our arms overly laden with clothes. In our panic to escape, we left all the lights on in the house.

After school the next day, I forced myself to go home to pick up forgotten homework I was trembling but relieved when I saw Dad was not at home. After removing my shoes at the backdoor as always, I moved silently through the house afraid to make any noise, and gathered up my books from the dining room table.  

I froze instantly when I heard his car door shut. The back door of the house opened.

I was trapped. Barely able to breathe, terror gripping me like a vice, I forced my legs to take those last steps from the dining room into the kitchen. Dad stepped from the back porch into the kitchen, blocking my escape.  

He had been crying, and seemed surprised to see me. He cleared his throat.

“I wanted to tell you…I wanted to stop doing all those things for a long time. Somehow, I knew you wouldn’t take it. That’s why I tried those things with you. I am so sorry. I really do love you, you know.”

Tears ran down my face as I gave him a quick hug. Still terrified and confused, but not knowing what else to do in our broken lives and broken home. Words failed me, until I choked out, ‘I need to go”. 

With that I made my escape. Running by the time I hit the front sidewalk.

Three months later…

It was the best summer of my life. Even with the heartache and family separation, and living with our grandparents in their one bedroom house, it still was. They lived a block from the lake and somehow we managed to connect with the local teens. When we were all at the beach, there were eleven of us getting baked in the hot sun, and swimming everyday. It made it easy to forget what we had come from. But it couldn’t last. I guess I knew that.

Late August rolled around and it was getting difficult for my grandparents to deal with three teenagers and their crowded home. My oldest brother had left home so they were spared a bit of overcrowding. Mom worked cleaning at a motel, and when Dad phoned one evening, I dreaded what Mom was going to say. Hanging up the phone, she called us together.

“Dad wants us to come home. He says he’s going to a church now and has accepted Jesus as his Savior. He wants our forgiveness. He wants us to start over.”

There really was no choice. I could tell Mom had already said yes, and we all knew we couldn’t keep staying with Grandma and Grandpa. The three of us agreed we should go back, even though we had no idea what the church and Jesus issue were about. We had always been sent to whatever Sunday School was closest when we were growing up, so Mom and Dad could sleep in. Attendance to any church was intermittent at best when we were younger and non–existent for some time.  

We returned home, with much fear and trepidation. Inside, I knew I would make it. I was a survivor.

Two years later…

It was a spectacular day. I had turned sixteen and that day I felt older and the feelings of maturity extended spiritually. It was two years since I began my walk with Christ. Smiling, I walked happily into our kitchen.

“It’s weird, Mom. I feel older today, more mature.”

Moving from the counter where she had been peeling potatoes, Mom sat rather quickly on her kitchen chair. She seemed troubled.

“That’s really good. I need to tell you some things. I want you to know that when you were growing up, I always had to leave the kitchen when you were there. I hated you so much. I always left to keep from stabbing you with the butcher knife. I need you to know I don’t feel that anymore. I no longer want to kill you.” Mom stayed seated, her finger tapping the table, her face emotionless.

My mouth gaping, I struggled to comprehend what she said. “I’m glad,” seemed pitiful, but the absolute shock overwhelmed, allowing nothing more. My mind moved in slow motion, numb. To avoid her stare, I glanced at the counter. It seemed a cruel irony when I noticed the butcher knife lying beside the potatoes. Feelings exploded within me, repugnant thoughts engulfing my mind, as choking bile stung my throat.

Mom has always wanted me dead. She hated me, wanted to kill me, stab me.

I needed to escape the kitchen, get away from Mom. A forced smile allowed the desperate retreat to my bedroom. No longer mature, but a child again, I was fully unnerved. The imagery and horror that overwhelmed my mind equaled my sense of revulsion and rejection, completely submerging me. I was drowning in a sea of emotion and unwanted questions.

Did she sit down because she still feels that way? Is that why she always yelled at me, and was so mean? Why did she tell me now? Why did it take her two years since accepting Christ to stop those feelings? She never loved me. Why?

Oh, Father, please help meCollapsing onto my bed, I pulled my knees to my chest and buried my face in my arms. Somehow, I would make it through this, with God’s help. I was a survivor.

Walking into the kitchen later, it was as if nothing had happened, like nothing had been said. That is how it was, always.

Twelve years later…

“I love you,” was ringing in my mind as I hung up. I had just endured a long and emotional conversation with Mom, unloading with difficulty, all the baggage I had padlocked away. At twenty-eight, I had been wrestling with memories that I thought were gone, but God knew better.

Drained, I had waited uncertainly for Mom to speak.

Please, tell me no more lies, Mom, I pleaded.

For the first time that I could remember, Mom finally said, “I love you.”

I needed those words, and hung onto them the same way I had gripped the phone. Inwardly, I struggled to believe her.

Lies, abuse, and fear had been in abundance in our unforgiving home. Even though coming to Christ a few weeks after returning home that summer of our separation, it had not been easy. We moved from a controlling home of abuse into the model Christian family on the outside, but on the inside, many things stayed the same.

Little did I know that the baggage of these things was to be swept under the rug under the guise and excuse of “dad was an alcoholic”, “he had a nervous breakdown”, and “don’t you ever bring that up or mention it.”  If things were ever brought up in times of frustration or with a need to try and deal with the lingering feelings, Dad became the victim, not us girls. We were supposed to forget it. That was the way it had always been, and becoming Christians merely added seemed to add the forgive aspect.  I am thankful Christ carried me through all of this, and it wasn’t until having my own family and children that the need to deal with the painful memories became overwhelming.  Forgiveness wasn’t difficult with Christ, and He kept me safe. But, forgetting and dealing with the consequences of those sinful things needed to be dealt with. Everything is in God’s perfect timing, and He prepares us for growth with trials.

The memories and images of my childhood flashed as if from yesterday. Dad’s abuse, Mom’s lies, her hatred of me, the ever- present anger and varied abuse, the desire to eliminate me, to kill me, to stab me, all threatened to consume me.

“Lord, please take it all from me,” I prayed, tears pouring down my burning cheeks.

Exhausted, I went into the living room and dropped onto the couch, my eyes red and swollen. Pulling our children close, I whispered, “I love you.”

Hearing, “Love you, Mommy,” from each, soothed my aching heart. As we cuddled, my husband’s soft, “I love you,” brought a contented sigh, a smile and prayer.

Thank you Father, for giving me a family where love has blossomed, and is not a lie.

It has been many years and I have learned that there is a difference between surviving and living. Surviving is not the answer. Living for Christ means being free from sin, and being free from holding onto the consequences of sin. It means being free, not necessarily from physical consequences, but spiritual consequences. Complete dependence on Him is real living. Complete trust in Him and knowing that nothing can separate us from His love, is life itself.


Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses

Matthew 18:21-35 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

John 8:36  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.

15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.


 © 2011 Victoria Dillen

Copyright . All articles are the sole property of and Vicky Dillen.

All Scripture King James Version unless otherwise stated.


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