RISING ABOVE ABUSE: Woman breaks the cycle of domestic violence
t goes without saying that domestic violence can be traumatic to victims and devastating to families. But what often goes overlooked is the depths to which the violence can impact victims both in the moment and for decades after.
Cat McGann smiles, laughs, makes friends easily and likes her work. She gushes about her grandchildren and about the tremendous job her daughter is doing to raise them.
McGann is also opinionated. She’s stern. She’ll tell you how it is because after living through a virtual hell on earth, she’s got no reason not to be.
At 18, McGann, like many American teens, was looking for an escape. So she packed her bags, got hitched to Joe and moved to Biloxi, Miss., with no family, no car and no clue.
Joe was just what McGann thought she wanted ” a good lookin’ Army boy who wanted to care for the girl at his side. At first she found the jealousy endearing. She says it felt flattering. But as reality set in, the honeymoon phase ended quickly and McGann realized that her planned escape was everything but.
“He became so jealous that he would sit by the bed at night with a loaded gun because he was so concerned that I was having affairs with everybody,” McGann recalls. “I couldn’t even take the garbage out because he was convinced that I was having an affair at the Dumpster.”
Joe, it ended up, was a paranoid schizophrenic, an illness McGann knew nothing about.
“I had never heard the word,” she says. “It was like that movie ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ He thought that the military had bugged the walls, so periodically he would punch them in. And we couldn’t have a phone because, of course, those were bugged too.”
McGann’s world began to spiral downward quickly. Joe was out of control and she had no one to lean on. And then baby Rachele arrived and McGann knew she had to flee.
With a pounding heart, she says she stole her husband’s credit card, took a taxi to the nearest airport 70 miles away in New Orleans and flew back to California. She arrived on the West Coast with no crib, no diapers, no money and a maxed-out credit card.
“I was married and divorced and had a kid before I could drink legally,” McGann says. “I’m working, I’m supporting her. I didn’t know how to cook, I didn’t know how to write a check. It was ridiculous.”
Eking by on $1,000 a month as a secretary, McGann was at the end of her rope. The neighbors were doing heroin. The baby wasn’t an angel and the stress level was unbearable.
And that’s when the cycle of violence came full circle. McGann says her mother had done nothing to instill strength in her, he ex-husband had run her spirit into the ground and she didn’t have a single solid shoulder to lean on.
“I hit her,” McGann says, recalling the abuse she inflicted on her daughter. “I mean I really hit her. I hit her in anger and that’s what I had to learn to control. It got so bad that she actually started having seizures.”
McGann recalls the time that she hit her daughter so hard that her bottom swelled with welts, and the time she witnessed her beautiful toddler beating her dolly with a wooden spoon on the front lawn.
“I know that people knew what was going on because a few times I would wake up in the morning and there would be state-issued food baskets on my porch,” McGann says. “But nobody did anything.”
Then, as now, no one wanted to deal with McGann’s dirty laundry. Just another young mom with too much to learn.
“It never dawned on me that there were services out there to help me,” she says. “They suggested we get counseling, but nobody told me how to pay for it. I didn’t have an extra $10 or $15, and you don’t want to ask for help because you’re afraid they’ll take your kid away.”
And so she struggled alone until Rachele’s seizures became so concerning that both mother and daughter were accepted at Stanford Children’s Hospital. McGann received counseling there and it was then that things began to turn in a brighter direction.
“I started seeing a counselor at the Children’s Hospital, even though I was 23 at the time, and that woman saved my life,” McGann says. “She started looking at my upbringing and started showing me how my relationship with my mother affected my own parenting skills.”
Change was slow and difficult, but McGann managed to pull herself and her daughter together. Five years later, at age 28, she remarried and had another child, a son, whom she says she’s never hit.
“My daughter is now an incredible mother. I don’t know how she does it. Somehow the cycle was broken,” McGann says. “She must have promised herself that she would never do that to her own child.”
After moving to Virginia City a year ago, McGann found a job writing grants for Tahoe Women’s Services. She has since moved to Texas.
“I didn’t realize how much stuff was available to the community until I got involved with TWS,” McGann says. “No one told me.”
McGann’s cycle of violence has been broken. She is in a healthy relationship and her daughter did not become an abusive mother. It’s a fate that McGann is grateful for but one she knows is not the case for many of the millions of other women who have been caught in the downward spiral of domestic violence.
Domestic violence knows no boundaries. From the affluent to those living paycheck to paycheck, victims wrestle with the physical and psychological abuse that affects far more people than just the batterer and the battered and for far longer than just the day of an incident.
“Rising above abuse” is a two-day, multi-part series running today and Friday that attempts to illustrate the complexities of an issue that should be of the utmost importance of any community.
For most people, Truckee-North Tahoe is an idyllic place. For others, however, life is anything but. Domestic violence happens here. We were exposed to it in a glaring way earlier this year in a murder-suicide in Tahoe City. With stories of people who have risen above their dangerous situations and other information, our hope is that at least one person will make a call so they too can rise above abuse.
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