Immigrant Families: Forever Scarred by Forced Separation

Note: Some of the following comes from book three in my Appalachian Families series, which I’m in the process of finishing.

Never mind that President Trump signed an executive order today to stop families from being separated at the border—because, at this moment, they still are. For these families, the damage is already done. I know this only too well.

That’s because the day my children were torn from my arms, I cried so much it’s a wonder I didn’t turn into dust and blow away.

It was 21 years ago, and yet the pain was so great it sometimes still haunts me like it happened yesterday. Then my heart feels so full that I am afraid to cry, to shed my tears, worried they will sweep me all the way down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico, where I will end up floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Except once there, I will still be crying, unable to ever stop, becoming one with the water.

I heard the judge that day, the day my world changed forever. But his words didn’t make it all the way to my cerebral cortex. They sizzled inside my ears, bouncing back and forth while my brain tried to grasp their meaning.

How can you take my children?

Before my thoughts could even become words, the judge spoke. “You can appeal the decision.” Then, a few words from my attorney. I didn’t even hear what she said. All the energy I had been holding tightly inside dissipated as quickly as if I was a balloon animal that someone stuck a pin in. My knees gave out and I crumpled to the floor.

I’m sure this decades-old pain haunts my four children, as well. The scars are hidden beneath our skin, and riddled with shrapnel that no one sees. But we know they’re there.

Our scars remain today, and while we tried to overcome the damage done, it was impossible. Too many things happened during our three months apart, words spoken, actions taken, that were irreversible. But the most crucial element, I believe, to hinder our healing, was the individual thoughts we carried with us from that day forward. Why did you leave me? How could you do this to me? When will you come get me?

And then, when I couldn’t go get them—because the law forbid it—this: What did I do wrong? Why don’t you want me anymore? Why don’t you love me?

What I’ve personally heard about the current family separation, which is amoral and inhumane, hit me so hard it took me a good long week to even write about it. My first thought, upon learning that parents were told their children were being taken for a bath—only to not be returned—was of the Holocaust. Similar lies were told then, too. Jews, Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, many of their families were torn apart, never to be reunited. My first public comment, on a friend’s Facebook page, was “Can anyone say Gestapo?”


Make no mistake, following a forced separation, these immigrant families will never be the same again. It is unnatural for children to be separated from their parents in this way. The child, the mother, the father—all three will carry these scars for the rest of their lives. Such a separation creates a hole in a child’s heart. A hole that will be filled with sadness, self-doubt, and anger. Anger that may later turn into rage.

While these feelings may diminish over time, they will never completely disappear. At best, they will rise to the surface during stressful situations, boiling over like a pan of hot milk left unattended on the kitchen stove. At worst, they will be buried deeper than our cemetery dead, so far down in the dark earth that you cannot see or feel them.

Being plagued with a gnawing sense of hopelessness condemns you to a life lived looking over your shoulder, forever trapped in the past. This failure to process your feelings will impede your ability to grow, to move forward. Even after you are reunited—if you are. But make no mistake, you won’t be the same person ever again.

Neither will your children.

The best you can hope for is to tap into your own well of resilience, to keep going. To try and thrive. Counseling can help. But even a trained therapist cannot always dispel the fear, or reverse the damage done to these children. Or their parents.

The Department of Homeland Security says that since May, 2,342 children were placed in what the world views as cages. (The practice of U.S. officials keeping children locked up is not new; nor does this number include thousands of other detained children, who entered the U.S. without their parents.)

Aside from the trauma these families must endure, what else has such a “zero-tolerance” policy wrought? Have we returned to a Dickensian era, a land fit only for the orphaned Oliver Twist? I thought internment ended with the Japanese. Have we learned nothing?

Apparently not. Even though we’ve known for more than 100 years that keeping children away from their families is traumatic. President Theodore Roosevelt convened the first White House Conference on Children in 1909. There they determined that “children should not be deprived of (home life)” by being placed in an institution. Instead, they should be placed with foster families.

Later, numerous studies found that children raised in orphanages suffered from “the inability to bond, inability to effectively problem solve, inability to turn to others for help, poor peer relations, disciplinary problems, disruptive behavior.” And the current detention camps make those orphanages look like a playground. Given that these children range in age from babies to teenager, how many of the younger ones have already been molested by an older child? Or a caretaker? Judging from the disturbing video and audio clips, the sounds and sights of sobbing, traumatized children, these places are obviously worse than orphanages, which lost favor with the American public in the 1960s. No wonder the world, including the Pope and the United Nations, has condemned the U.S. for its actions. At least orphans had trained caretakers who comforted them when they cried.

But this basic human right is being denied these children. Children who should soon be reunited with their parents—but aren’t yet.

The very notion that no one is allowed to comfort these distraught children makes me furious! How is that even possible in this day and age, when we know that such cold and callous behavior is abuse? When we know that human touch is critical to good mental and physical health? That such a pattern can lead to severe emotional problems?

As proof, consider the famous artificial mother experiment conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow. He showed how crucial comfort is to humans, when, given a choice between a cloth mother and a wire one, isolated baby rhesus monkeys preferred spending 18 hours a day with the cloth mother, as opposed to spending only one hour a day with the wire one. This, even though the wire mother held the bottle the babies nursed from!

In an op-ed to The Washington Post, former First Lady Laura Bush spoke up about this lack of compassion and empathy. There, she told how Barbara Bush once held and cuddled a crying child who was dying of AIDS, apparently when no one else would.

Let’s learn from her, and do better. We can. We must!

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

My Flight From Honolulu to Oakland—Just Call Me Amelia

We had a great time at the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market.
I left Oakland, California, on Sunday, March 10, for Honolulu, Hawai’i. Not piloting a plane—I wish!—but as a passenger aboard a Boeing 737. When I returned Wednesday night, flying from HNL to OAK, I realized we were following the same route Amelia Earhart had in 1935. That’s when she became the first pilot to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland.

In March 1937 Earhart crashed her Lockheed Electra on takeoff from Ford Island, in the heart of Pearl Harbor. In June, she attempted to set a record for a transcontinental flight around the world. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, never made it. Many people believe her own miscalculations (or those of Noonan) did her in. When I boarded an Alaska Airlines jet Wednesday night, I didn’t think about the possibility of Earhart’s disappearance having been brought on by her own error in judgment—until the next day.

When I almost didn’t make it home. Because of my miscalculations. I mean really, who in their right mind would think it wise to schedule four flights in a 24-hour period, crossing six time zones in the process? Especially a pilot and a former member of Earhart’s club, the Ninety-Nines? Quite honestly, I don’t think I even realized I had done so, when I made reservations months ago after being invited to be a guest speaker at a conference. I just saw it as smart planning to drop in on family and friends in California, en route to and from Hawai’i.

The first leg of my trip home began at HNL at 8 p.m. Wednesday. I changed planes in Seattle, Washington, at 7 a.m. Thursday, boarded another flight and arrived at OAK about 8 a.m. After a quick visit with loved ones there, I boarded my third flight at 3 p.m. and headed to my final destination in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a brief layover in Denver, Colorado. That’s where I received some first-class medical attention, all because by then I was exhausted. And dehydrated.

The USS Arizona submerged beneath Pearl Harbor.
I began feeling ill about 11 a.m. while still in Oakland. My friends made sure I rested for the next two hours. I still felt a little out of sorts when I boarded the plane. So I slept most of the way to Denver. When I did wake up, the two deadheading Southwest employees next to me were still engrossed in the same tête-à-tête they had been when I boarded the plane. So much so I hated to ask them to let me to use the restroom, stretch my legs or get a drink. And when I finally did force myself to interrupt, their demeanor was definitely not friendly—mahalo very much.
All of which meant I didn’t drink enough water. As soon as I deplaned, it hit me. I was dizzy and felt like I might pass out. So I asked an airline employee if someone could take my blood pressure. I figured my blood sugar or blood pressure was low.

And that’s how I found myself on my back on the floor, my legs propped up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that give waiting passengers a nice view of the planes as they come and go. Did I tell you I was wearing a dress? Yep, I was. A little Hawaiian sundress I thought I’d impress my husband with when he came to fetch me from the airport. Which means the airline workers on the tarmac below probably got a nice view, too—if a fellow passenger and a Southwest employee, both women, didn’t wrap that shawl around my legs in time. (Then, I felt too bad to even care at the time. Now, hindsight being what it is and with the Steubenville trial behind us, I realize it’s possible my nether regions are now fodder for someone’s Twitter or Facebook feed. So if anyone has that particular photo of me, I’ll pay you good money just to make it go away.)

Paramedic Ben, who said my symptoms required an EKG to rule out any heart issues, had a great sense of humor. “I don’t have my appendix,” I said as he felt my lower right abdomen.

“No problem, neither do I,” Ben replied, clearly skilled at defusing tension in patients—like me—who are on public display in an airport terminal while hundreds of people walk by. After as thorough an exam one can have in a public airport, Ben ruled out everything but dehydration. I signed a waiver saying if I died in the air it was my own fault, then I boarded the plane and safely made my way home. By the time I retrieved my checked bags, it was 12:30 a.m. Friday. Even if I hadn’t missed my husband so much, I would have kissed him anyway—because he knew I’d be exhausted and decided in advance (all on his own) to book a room in a nearby hotel. Where I slept for hours and hours.

It’s taken me until today just to feel human again, and well enough to write about my journey. Speaking of which, did you know Hawai’i is both a state and an island? The state of Hawai’i is comprised of eight islands, one of which is also called Hawai’i. I went there because that’s where a violence and abuse conference was being held. It was in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Known as “the gathering place”, Oahu is the third-largest and probably the most popular island. It certainly has the most people, given that 75-percent of the state’s 1.2 million people live there.

I’d never been to Hawai’i before, so I was eager to experience it. Swim in the ocean, go snorkeling, attend a luau. Turns out, there was much more to do. For instance, for aviation aficionados and history buffs like me, there’s Pearl Harbor. I went twice. The first time to check it out, the second to take a tour and see the Pacific Aviation Museum. (I’ve been even more curious about the place since I saw Ben Affleck in the movie. Locals who grew up there tell me Pearl Harbor was remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. And I wanted to see the USS Arizona Memorial.)

The golf ball sits in Pearl Harbor, so I could see it up close and personal. A 28-story-tall defense radar system, it cost $900 million and helps protect the United States from rogue missiles. I saw it every day from LeAnne’s house and was mesmerized by it. It’s gigantic in itself, but it sits on an even bigger Norwegian oil platform. Yet when it isn’t at dock, it floats.

Early morning sunrise at Diamond Head

While on Oahu, I went on a dinner cruise and got some spectacular sunset pictures in return. I was dining solo, so I could just soak everything in. Since my fellow passengers were from all over the world, it turned into a cool people-watching evening for me. (The young college couple next to me was from Connecticut, and want to come hear my TEDx talk next month at Connecticut College. That was a cool coincidence, as was meeting a Virginia couple the following morning. They live in the same town as Ken Lanning—the retired FBI special agent who wrote the foreword for my book. That and their son is in law enforcement.) Oh and I didn’t just watch a hula dance—I was in one. The best food on the cruise? A taro (or poi) roll, made from the purple taro root. It wasn’t just pretty, it was yummy.

Back on dry land, my new friend LeAnne took me to the Haleiwa Farmers’ Market on the North Shore. We met some of the nicest people and sampled some of the best local food there. Musubi, the thing I turned up my nose to, turned out to be the most delicious. With just four ingredients—a block of rice, a slice of grilled Spam, nori (dried seaweed), and some sesame seasoning—it’s cheap and simple to make. This small but mighty market was next to the Waialua Estate, where we sampled coffee from the homegrown beans, and saw cacao (chocolate!) growing in the pods on a tour. (I can’t believe I originally balked at LeAnne’s suggestion we visit a farmer’s market, thinking if I’d seen one, I’d seen them all. Nothing could be further from the truth.) And now that I’ve tasted the chocolate-covered Waialue coffee beans, I’m hooked. I swear they’re the best ever!

Another new friend, Candy, treated me to a delicious Thai lunch and took me around the island. We went to Nu’uanu Pali State Park, where during the 1700’s Chief Kamehameha fought a decisive battle. He became Hawaii’s first king after driving more than 400 opposing troops over the edge of a cliff. Myra, yet another new friend, took me out on the town Saturday night. We went to a street fair, where we saw some unusual street performers and a fashion show; drank delicious vetiver tea; met Joy, a local artist who sells cool jewelry on Facebook; and listened to some lovely native Hawaiian music. The first group, Olamana, was very popular in the 1970’s, Myra insisted. The second, Kapena, continues to gain popularity.

My one-mile hike up Diamond Head crater ranks near the top of my favorites list. I experienced an absolutely stunning 360-degree view of the famous Waikiki coastline, as well as great views of the Pacific Ocean. This area (which was where parts of the hit show Lost was filmed) was formed from a single volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago. Diamond Head once served as both a lookout station and a lighthouse, and bonfires burned at the edge of the volcano. During World Wars I and II, Diamond Head served as a military observation point.

David, our Diamond Head tour guide, said the vast majority of plants aren’t native to Hawai’i, and the palm trees and coconuts were brought there during the ancient Polynesian migration. I checked and he’s right about the coconuts. But the rest? Not so much. One type of palm tree is quite native to the islands, and his claim that Oahu owes its beautiful beaches to Australia isn’t true, either. But the sand was shipped from California during the 1920’s and 30’s. (Any sand shipped from Australia was for construction purposes.)

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor
It’s hard to name my top Oahu memory. There were so many! But I think it was making new friends, like Candy, Myra and LeAnne. And being treated to such lovely hospitality while there. From the aromatic leis LeAnne placed around my neck at the airport, to the delicious feast she prepared that night to welcome me. From taking me to wading in the lagoon on Pupukea Beach to showing me some of the best parts of Oahu, including the painted trees (Rainbow Eucalyptus), I’ve learned a lot. Namely, that I want to be this kind of hostess, when friends visit my home. I want to show such genuine love and warmth that my visitors never want to leave. Like I didn’t, when it was time to go.

Nothing about my trip to Hawai’i or my flight home was planned, other than the speech I gave. But isn’t that when you get the greatest gifts in return? Life is about dealing with the unplanned, uncharted and often turbulent waters swirling around us. So plan for the unexpected, and live a little. Or live a lot and go out kicking and screaming. Either way, you’ll be glad you did. Aloha!

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. She invites you to join her when she gives her first TEDx talk in April 2013. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout”.

Steubenville Trial: Teaching Today’s Youth to Be Responsible Social Media Users

As the Steubenville Trial taking place less than two hours from my home winds up today or tomorrow, I’m in Hawai’i preparing for my upcoming speech. At this conference, held by the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, I’ll talk about the factors that led me to become a rape victim—-and the survival skills I learned along the way.

Such skills are something the unnamed Steubenville rape victim must continue to learn, as she tries to get through each day of the rest of her life. Especially today and the next few days, as Judge Thomas Lipps issues his ruling in the Jefferson County Juvenile Court case.

What makes this rape case different from many others is the use of cell phones and social media. If you haven’t heard by now—and I’m not sure how you could have missed it—the two teen football heroes took pictures of the girl as they digitally raped her. So did student onlookers. Then they posted them to the Web, so the world could watch what these two confused young men have apparently come to view as a group sport.

And apparently not a single student who snapped photos and then forwarded them to other friends or posted them on social media sites had enough moral fortitude to pause before hitting the send button. Or maybe just to stop and think: “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t a game. It’s a crime. I should send this photo to the police, so they can come and rescue this poor girl.” (Because it’s obvious none of the partiers in that crowd tried to rescue her.) Or if the students did think that, they sure didn’t act on it.

It would seem they were more worried about peer pressure and how such a responsible action might affect their own popularity, than trying to be good citizens.

I first heard about sexting in 2007, while working at the Cumberland Times-News in Maryland. One day at the McDonald’s in Frostburg I was having coffee with a young mother who was distraught because her daughter, an inexperienced girl in her early teens, had received a pornographic text message. It showed a fellow male student’s genitals. That was my introduction to sexting, and I didn’t even know it. I did know it was a story—I just didn’t know how big a story it would have been, had this woman not been a personal friend. A year later, I learned more about this growing problem when I went to a press conference about teen dating abuse at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The two things—sexting and abuse—have since been linked in my mind.

I daresay the explosion in cell phone usage—especially in Appalachia (in which Steubenville is located), where technology has been slower to reach our teens, due to both poverty and access—means not many parents have taken the time to discuss cell phone protocol with their children. Or maybe they just expect their teens to know it’s morally wrong to take photos of a girl too drunk to consent to two boys putting their fingers in her vagina.

But apparently parents don’t realize this, and teens don’t know this. Or worse yet, they simply don’t care. That’s what the research indicates, anyway. In a 2012 study conducted by the psychology department at University of Utah, researchers surveyed 606 teens ages 14–18 about sexting. Their findings? Wikipedia reported almost “20 percent of the students said they had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cell phone, and nearly twice as many said that they had received a sexually explicit picture. Of those receiving such a picture, over 25 percent indicated that they had forwarded it to others.”

Now here’s where those students’ behavior becomes alarming: Among the ones who sent a sexually explicit picture, “over a third had done so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other consequences if they got caught.” The study found they even considered it acceptable.

What did the researchers conclude? “These results argue for educational efforts such as cell phone safety assemblies, awareness days, integration into class curriculum and teacher training, designed to raise awareness about the potential consequences of sexting among young people.” (I’m guessing they focused on schools taking the lead in this area because they realized the study result showed that parents weren’t doing so.)

I’m 49 and I’ve never taken a sexually explicit picture of myself—much less sent it to someone else. Nor have I received such a photo via a text or even an email. (Not that being 49 means you aren’t apt to do stupid things like this. We have numerous high-profile cases of sports heroes and celebrities who have done just that. Some of them are even older than me.) But hopefully with age comes wisdom, and the ability to realize when a potentially stupid action might come back to haunt you. With a vengeance you never anticipated.

I’ve never sexted, and that’s probably because I grew up with rules. Those rules taught my generation that taking photos of another person’s private parts and then sharing said photo with 7 billion people was wrong. It just went without saying. Breaking the rules meant you suffered the consequences—which could have been a stern talk, a spanking or the loss of privileges.

I wonder how many Steubenville parents would have confiscated their teens’ cell phones, had the police not done it first. Because that’s the other issue here. No one’s really talking about it, but today’s youth are flirting with dangerous behavior that not just borders on the criminal—it is criminal. And their parents are either too distracted to care, or too busy to enact and then enforce the discipline that should automatically accompany a teen’s wayward actions.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

My Big, Fat Hawaiian Vacation or “How to Have Fun While Working Away From Home”

That’s me, in front of one of Hawaii’s many harbors.

The best thing I can tell you is to get to know the locals. They’re key to enjoying yourself while working away from home. This trip has been in the works for almost a year, after I was invited to speak at the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma’s annual Hawaii conference.

IVAT is an organization doing its part to help educate people about abuse, and to help survivors heal. I love being a small part of that, as well as knowing it was my memoir that led IVAT to invite me. With more and more people finally revealing their own abuse, it’s important for as many of us who have the tools and can help them, to do so. That’s what I’m doing now behind the scenes, and what I’ll be doing next week, in a more public arena.

In the meantime, though, I’m working to finish ongoing projects after dark. But during the daylight hours, I’m loving every minute of this Honolulu sunshine! The people are amazing: kind and generous, gracious and hospitable. I wouldn’t experience this as much if I just rented a car and went to see the local sights on my own. That’s why I grabbed some locals–my newest friends–and they’re giving me a tour of this lush, historical island. (To see more photos, check out my Twitter feed, my Facebook page or the “Hawaii 2013” event I created there.)

(Of course, given that a historic trial is underway about an hour from my home back in West Virginia, I’m a little distracted. I keep checking to see what’s happening in the Steubenville rape case, while wondering why one single teenager who saw what was happening didn’t text the photos to police, instead of tweeting about it. I’ll blog about this case tomorrow and then I might–just might–unplug for a day or two.)

This, my friends, is the key to frugal living. And to having a great time during a working vacation.

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. She invites you to join her when she gives her first TEDx talk in April 2013.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout”.

“I am those things because my mother . . . helped me to become them.”

NOTE: This originally appeared as “Cassandra’s statement: July 15, 2008” and was first published several years ago. –Daleen

I know some visitors to this site will be friends or even family members. Some of you will doubt the validity of my mother’s book; however, I can assure you, as one of the four innocents hurt most by the domestic violence that took place in our home on a regular basis, we lived this sad but true story.

My parents divorced in 1990 when I was 10, the oldest of four children. My mother claimed she was a victim of abuse but I was too young to understand or process that. Everything was so confusing to me. It seemed she was doing everything in her power to keep me and my siblings from seeing our dad.

Even though my father dated other women during the next nine years and eventually remarried, he always said that he would return to my mother in a heartbeat if she would take him. She wouldn’t and soon after the divorce, I grew to hate her for it.

During my teenage years, I came to realize that my father was an abusive person. Still, when my mother chose to move to California in 1997, in the midst of a bitter custody battle, my siblings and I chose to stay in West Virginia with our father.

Over the next two years, one by one, my siblings finally got fed up and moved to California to be with our mother. I stayed. It took me until 1999, shortly after my 18th birthday, to admit to myself that my father was a monster.

I remember it vividly. My sister, Courtney, 15, said something that upset my dad as we were getting ready for school. He began to swing at her wildly, hitting her repeatedly before I intervened—begging him to stop. At that point, he grabbed me and held me up by my throat; strangling me until my sister finally managed to hit him so many times that he released me.

We grabbed our things and ran to the waiting school bus downtown. There had been numerous other episodes of abuse but that was the point of no return for me. I realized he could have easily killed me. I moved out that night and finished my senior year living with a friend. Courtney was made a ward of the state, with temporary custody being granted to our grandmother.

I had refused to speak with my mother from August of 1997 until the fall of 1998. My relationship with her was almost nonexistent and severely damaged. Even so, she immediately made arrangements to return to West Virginia to care for Courtney and me. Our baby brother, Zachary, came home with her. My sister, Jocelyn, 17, refused to return to West Virginia. She had already cut off all contact with our father and was determined that her dreams of becoming an actress could only be fulfilled on the West Coast.

My mother and I began the long, slow process of repairing and rebuilding our relationship. We are two individuals with very different personalities and philosophies on life, so it was not easy. In December 2003, my husband and I had our first child, a baby boy. Only then could I understand just how strong a mother’s love for her children is. It took me that long to realize that everything my mom did for us was out of love, in an attempt to protect us.

Yes, she made mistakes along the way but no one is perfect. If she erred, it was always on the side of caution to her children’s benefit. I strive to follow her example. Though I am not in an abusive relationship, I will protect my son at all costs. It is for this reason that I refuse to allow him to visit his grandfather, my father, unless he is under the direct supervision of my husband or me, because my dad was abusive and neglected my siblings and me.

He had another daughter in November 1999. While I do not know if he physically abuses her, I witnessed physical abuse between both adults in the home that took place in front of my little sister, as well as verbal abuse to both my sister and stepmother.

Though I left my father’s abusive home early in 1999, I was still on the wrong track concerning relationships. These factors, combined with the lack of a positive father figure in my life, caused me to crave male attention. Do not misunderstand—I was not promiscuous. However, I wanted and needed someone to love me. I was dating an older man at the time. He was not physically abusive but he was not a “good” or nice guy. He would talk to me about the other women he was interested in and he was an alcoholic. I could not see that I was headed down a very dangerous path.
Fortunately, he broke up with me shortly after I moved from my father’s home.

While I was heartbroken at the time, I can look back and see it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. In May 1999, a friend of a friend accompanied me to my senior prom, with only a week’s notice, because I couldn’t bear the thought of going alone, as I had for my junior prom. Never before did a man treat me so well. He opened doors for me, helped me in and out of the vehicle and refused to let me pay for anything—the perfect gentleman.

Our friendship grew and we began dating shortly after my graduation in June. Our whirlwind romance swept me off my feet. In October 1999, Wade proposed to me and we were married in July 2000. We have been happily married for almost six years. Wade is still a perfect gentleman and treats me with nothing but tender compassion, love and respect. He has never even raised his voice to me and he always considers my opinions and suggestions before making a decision. He has been my number one supporter these last seven years.

I am a domestic violence survivor. I am a sexual abuse survivor. I am a strong woman. I am those things because my mother, Daleen Berry, helped me to become them. Thanks Mom, I love you!

* * *
I have four books and am currently in Aspen, Colorado, working on my fifth. Guilt by Matrimony, about the Nancy Pfister murder, will be published by BenBella Books sometime this fall, in 2015. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”