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How to Overcome Abuse and Trauma to Find Your Voice

The following is adapted from Quiet Little Mouse by Mali Ponday.

In 1992, when I was a new college graduate living in my parents’ big, beautiful home in Virginia, I pictured myself one day homeless and living under a bridge. I was completely unable to look at my life and see any kind of secure future.

I had moved back home from my college dorm in a hurry because my beautiful, loving, complicated mother, full of pent-up rage, had done something unspeakable. She bought a gun, shot my father once in each knee, and then shot herself in the head. She died instantly, and my father survived and went on to recover completely.

I had been in my fourth year of college when I got the news, just before the holidays and final exams. On that clear, bright Saturday afternoon in November, my older sister called my dorm room.

“Hi, Mali…how are you? I bet you must be studying. I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m calling with bad news. Please put one of your roommates on the phone. Please, just do it.”

“Why? What? Just tell me what happened. Are you okay?”

“Just do it. Please. Please just do it now.”

So I put Denise, one of my four housemates, on the phone and I watched her face turn different colors and her eyes become huge as she listened to what my sister was saying. Denise would be the one who would deliver this news to me. My sister wanted me to have immediate support with this news, which was kind and thoughtful of her, especially given what emotional state she must have been in already.

Within the hour, my housemates hopped in a car and drove me seventy miles to my hometown, to the hospital where my father was undergoing surgery. We blasted music, rolled down the windows, and smoked a pack of cigarettes the whole way. I wasn’t even a smoker. I cried and cried, but we also laughed together, in that moment of insanity.

It struck me how awesome my roomies were. Why had I kept my distance from people who were so kind? I knew the answer — because I felt deeply unworthy and insecure. I regretted not making closer bonds in college. But now, that college experience was over.

My parents’ home was a crime scene until the detectives finished their investigation. They had to rule out foul play, which they did pretty quickly. It was all over the news, and I remember wondering, “Am I living in some sort of a movie? How could this be real?”

Those first few months, we grieved the deep, complicated grief of the tremendous loss due to suicide. My mother’s funeral was attended by so many people, they were overflowing into the reception area.

Neighbors and friends would come over in shifts and bring us food and help us clean out the pantry and fridge. My mom’s delicious food was still in the fridge. I remember one of my mom’s friends had to gently but firmly pry the Tupperware out of my hands and throw the food out. It was moldy but I couldn’t let it go. Throwing it away meant I would never taste my mom’s cooking again. Why didn’t I learn to cook with her? Why hadn’t I paid better attention? Why couldn’t I have helped her more? Why did she have to give up? Why was she so angry?

The Back Story

Both of my parents grew up in India, so I only met my grandparents a few times. I have fond, fleeting memories of my maternal grandfather. He was tall and extremely handsome, funny, smart, and charming. I also heard whispers that behind closed doors, he was domineering, a perfectionist, controlling, and physically abusive towards my grandmother and possibly towards his five children as well. My mother was the eldest daughter, and I had heard that she was her father’s favorite, the “golden child.”

Years before she shot herself and ended her life too soon, my mother had been diagnosed as narcissistic by the head of psychiatry at a major university in Richmond — years before this diagnosis became the popular catch phrase it is today. My mother was also depressed, critical, and very difficult to live with. She was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever her fault. Her mantra was “never apologize.” If you’re perfect, you won’t make mistakes. Her reaction to life’s inevitable ups and downs was to say, “I will just die. Then you can do whatever you want.”

She could be a Jekyll and Hyde.

I tried so hard not to be like my mother. Instead, I tried to be a quiet little mouse.

To learn more about Mali’s experience overcoming narcissistic abuse and finding her own voice, Quiet Little Mouse is available on Amazon.

Mali Ponday was a wife and stay-at-home mother in a peaceful, suburban neighborhood for eighteen years, dutifully silencing her own inner voice. Today, she has a job she loves and a home of her own where she lives with her sons, guiding them to trust themselves and to honor the peaceful warrior that dwells within us all.

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Zach Obront

Zach Obront

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Co-Founder of Scribe, Bestselling Author of The Scribe Method