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  • Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger

Escaping the rage: Debra's story

Updated: Aug 10


My name is Debra. Although I didn’t think of it in those terms at the time, I grew up with a father who was a rageaholic. His usual pattern would be to sit in stony silence behind a newspaper, sometimes without addressing me or my mother for days at time. Then he would inevitably explode with anger.

He never actually abused me physically, but our home was poisoned by the constant threat of an emotionally violent outburst. The tension alone would cause my head to spin. I always believed that this was my fault. I honestly thought that if I changed my behavior, if I was somehow able to become “better,” then his behavior might change. This was compounded by the fact that no one outside our home knew about any of this. To others, we came across as a model family. Privately, I felt deeply and inescapably unloved. When I turned 18, I met a man who was a bit older, and I fell for him almost immediately. Looking back now, I realize that I was hoping he would save me. I believed I needed someone to come into my life and take care of me, and lived in absolute terror of going back to feeling unloved. Shortly after, we were married, and in very little time, my husband’s rage issues began to seep into our everyday life. He would scream in anger. He would punch through the drywall. I reacted to his irrational and abusive behavior in much the same way as I had responded to my father’s rage. I became convinced that I was somehow failing him as a wife, and that I was the cause of his problems. After a decade of this dysfunction, we had our first child. And it was around this time that my husband confessed to me that he had wiped out our life savings. As it turned out, he had been gambling in secret the entire time. In retrospect, this explained all the times he had come home at all hours of the night, sometimes in visibly rough shape. He would claim that he had been mugged, or that someone had sucker-punched him in a bar, but these incidents were the consequences of unpaid gambling debts. Nearing my wits' end, I reached out to a friend and shared what I had learned. After searching for gambling addiction treatment options online, we came across Chabad Lifeline’s website, where we learned that they offered a program geared toward family members of addicts. I met with Lifeline’s Clinical Director and Family Counsellor Karen Bresinger shortly thereafter, who recommended that I join a weekly Family Dynamic group session. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen right away, but gradually I came to understand how this pattern of dysfunction wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the cause of it, I couldn’t change it, and I couldn’t control it. I saw how whenever I tried to create healthy boundaries, my husband’s rage would worsen in response. Ultimately, I had to ask him to leave the house for my sake and for the sake of our daughter. That was a few years ago. I am now living a fulfilling, independent life. With my husband out of the house, I feel safer. My daughter has also gone to Chabad Lifeline for support. She tells me she is learning precisely why she is in no way to blame for her father’s unacceptable behavior. I truly hope she will be able to recognize the signs of this kind of abusive behavior in others as an adult, and avoid repeating the cycle in future relationships. --- The details of this story have been changed to protect the individual’s anonymity. Additionally, we would note that the reason we were able to attend to Debra and her daughter immediately is because we are regularly expanding our staff in order to meet the growing demand for our services. As Chabad Lifeline is sustained through private donations, this entails significant fundraising efforts. We need people like you to help by purchasing tickets for our Annual Raffle. Buying even a single ticket can help ensure that we can continue to provide timely care that may ultimately save a life or set a family on a better course, creating a positive ripple effect on future generations.

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