Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Marissa: Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Today I’m thrilled to be talking to Todd Boczkowski. He’s a child survivor of domestic violence and homicide. His father murdered his mother, got away with it, and then four years later murdered his stepmother. He would be convicted of killing both of them. He was on death row until his death sentence was converted to another life sentence. In 2018, he was paroled for his mother’s murder, but is still serving another life sentence. Todd has been featured on a handful of crime shows such as Forensic Files, and some media outlets believe his father is a serial killer. He served in the military for over 14 years, including two combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the military, he’s been a best-selling author, speaker and entrepreneur. Now, Todd’s goal is to help domestic violence survivors turn their pain into an online business. Oh my gosh, Todd, welcome on the show. And dang! You had a crazy childhood, huh?
Todd: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. And yes, it’s, it’s definitely something you:
- Don’t exactly hear about too often. And
- You kind of wish that your childhood was dramatically different, right?
Marissa: I can imagine. Oh, my goodness. Okay. Well, please share your story with us. I’m so intrigued.
Todd: Sure. So, you know, as you kind of alluded to, in the introduction. So I was only a child when all of this happened. I do have two older siblings. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I believe I was about one or two. And my father had his own entrepreneurial kind of endeavors. And he decided that he wanted to move my family and I to North Carolina to start an ice cream business. So that’s where he moved us from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. He was busy building up his business. And in the meantime, you know, underneath it all my mom and my dad’s marriage, I guess for lack of a better term, it started to fade. It started to kind of unravel. We were far from any kind of family support. My mom was the disciplinarian. So they’re starting to have some issues within their marriage. And of course, you know, being a little kid, that was unbeknownst to me and my siblings. And then it was around fall of 1990. My parents set me and my siblings down, and they said that they were going to be separating and headed towards a divorce. I was five years old at this point. Yeah, I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea, you know, what a divorce meant. And for all intents and purposes, everything else was still the same in the house. But my parents lived two separate lives at that point. My father was working at a job, like a night shift as like a telesales company. And my mom was doing stuff with us during the day. So, you know, nothing really kind of changed, except they flip flop schedules. But then in the winter of 1990, it was early morning in November, I, you know, thought I heard screams, or I thought that I was having a nightmare. And I realized that the screaming was actually coming from inside the house. And so the next thing that I really remember is being outside of our house, pretty much directing the paramedics, to our place, and my dad rushed me and my siblings to a neighbor’s house. My mother was taken to the hospital; she would later be pronounced dead. And then, of course, you know, the next day I, as a little kid, I mean, you don’t know what’s going on. There’s all kinds of confusion. I’m trying to figure out what happens. You know, my dad sat me and my siblings down. He explained to us that, you know, my mom had passed away. And of course, again, being that young, I had no idea what that meant. But I just thought it was a terrible accident. You know, up to this point, there was no abuse signs, anything like that going on in the household, that I can really recall. And unknown to me that the authorities were suspicious of, you know, the events that happened that night, but they didn’t have anything to really go on. After a few months after, you know, my mom passed away, my father decided to move me and my siblings back up to Pittsburgh. My father was, you know, trying to get things back on track with his life. And, you know, soon he started dating someone else. And that woman, her name is Marianne. And she looked very, very similar to my mom. And for me, that was actually a comfort. So it was almost as if, you know, my mom had passed, and in a way, like reincarnated into this woman that, you know, came into our lives. So she became part of, kind of like our group. They started dating: my dad and this woman, Marianne. They ended up getting engaged. They ended up getting married. This woman, Marianne, she adopted me, my brother and sister. From the outside looking in, you would not have believed that she was a step parent. I think that step parents can sometimes have kind of like a negative connotation to it. It was nothing like that, you know. We took her in just as well, and just as fast as she took us in. And then, again, things were kind of back to normal. We were living in a nice, new house, in a newer development in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I was missing something. And then I was getting that back. Another November night, this was now in 1994, something happened. And I didn’t really realize it until the next day. The next day, I went to school, and you know, me and my sister, we were in elementary school. We left later than my brother. And every morning, we would kiss our mom, goodbye. And she always wanted to make sure that we were dressed appropriately for school. And of course, you know, being a kid, you know, you try to pick out your own clothes. That’s the kind of parent that she was. She wanted us to look presentable. And, you know, we were such in a hurry that morning, we forgot to give her a kiss goodbye. And later on that day, a relative picked us up from school. And that was a little odd, a little peculiar. We went out to dinner. And then later on that night, we were supposed to go home. And, you know, we weren’t even allowed to get out of the car. My grandmother was at our house; she told us to go to her house. I saw a news van across the street. So at this point, you know, things started popping up in my mind, like, what is going on? Like something’s not right. We get to my grandparents’ place. My dad is there. Everybody is there, except my stepmom. So, kind of questions start to loom. Like what is really going on here? My dad sits me and my siblings down. Pretty much tells us that they were in the hot tub, our family hot tub. And, you know, there’s an accident. And our stepmom was in heaven with our mom. Now I’m older. I’m four years older now. So I’m nine. And I just couldn’t believe it. It’s really just indescribable as to what I was feeling. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. Later on that night, I would see my father up on the news. You know, I started wondering and thinking like why? I’m nine years old. I don’t understand what’s going on around me. But my family’s story is on the news. And then on my 10th birthday, which was a week later, my father was arrested for murdering my stepmother. Yeah, I again, I didn’t know what that meant either. I didn’t know what charged and arrested. You know, there’s so many adult type-of-words being used and I have no idea what’s going on. But yes, he was arrested on my 10th birthday. He was taken to prison, and he would be charged with murder of my stepmom. Two weeks later, they reopened the investigation of my mom’s death and they decided to charge him with murder for her death. A couple years later, his first murder trial was actually in North Carolina was actually my mom’s murder. He was convicted and he was sentenced to life in prison. A couple of years later in ‘99 he faced his second murder trial here in Pittsburgh. He was found guilty of that. He was convicted and then sentenced to death by lethal injection. And he was on death row up until 2004. So, something about one of his appeals, they were able to kind of get that through and they converted his death sentence to another life sentence. And then during the two trials, you know, I bounced around from relatives to, you know, foster care. So some of my relatives were no longer able to take care of me and my siblings. My siblings and I were bounced around from foster home to foster home until the courts were like, “Hey, look, these kids are bouncing around, we need to find, you know, kind of like a more permanent kind of solution.” And the one thing that my siblings and I were absolutely adamant on, was, you know, we didn’t want to get split up. At this point, I’m the youngest, I believe I was like, 11 or 12 years old at the time. You know, we started to realize the permanence and the absolute atrocities that are just ripping through our entire family. And the simple fact that we have to stick together now. Like, it’s just us. So that was the one thing that we are adamant on. And so it was difficult finding a foster home. It’s one thing to take in one foster child as it is, but pretty much asking someone to expand their family by three teenagers, overnight, is a really tall order. So, you know, they were having trouble finding a family who is willing to do that. They asked us if we wanted to go a little bit more public with it. We kind of knew at that point, like, look: they’re having trouble finding a place for all three of us. So it’s either go more public with this, or we face the possibility of getting split up. So that’s what we did. We were on the news here in Pittsburgh, they did a story on us for the paper. Then the story kind of caught wildfire. It generated a lot of interest. And from there, my siblings and I, we were able to kind of visit families. And we were able to make the selection, which is actually not very typical. We selected a family that we’re comfortable with. All three of us moved in, and all three of us stayed there until we aged out at 18. And, so yeah, that’s pretty much my story in terms of me growing up. I joined the military straight out of high school. So at 18, actually, literally three weeks after I graduated high school, I was in boot camp. I was in the Air Force for 10 years active duty, and then another four years in the Air National Guard.
Marissa: Wow, that’s an incredibly traumatic childhood. I’m so sorry that you went through all of that. But how are you doing as an adult?
Todd: I take one day at a time. My military experience, I was actually a military police officer. So, up until I joined the military and kind of getting into 18, 19, 20 years old, I was under the assumption that my father didn’t do it. There is, like I said before, there is no real sign of abuse. From what I can recall from what I remember. And joining the military, it really kind of gave me some kind of direction. Being in the military was the first time that I was able to be completely on my own, away from any kind of outside influences. I went through a law enforcement type of training. That was, you know, my job. And I really started thinking more like a cop. And the more and more I thought about my story and what had happened, like there was just some things that, it didn’t make sense to me. At one point, and how I kind of like to describe it is, my heart was really being pulled in two different directions. On one end, you know, I thought my father could never do this. Because, let’s face it, who in their right mind wants to ever believe that their own parents, that their own father, is capable of doing something like that? That was on one end. And then the other end was, it doesn’t make sense. My first few years in the military, it was a struggle. And I even went to visit my father a few times. And I kind of started to see a different side of him. I witnessed his manipulation firsthand. He’s highly, highly manipulative. He’s also very intelligent. He’s someone that read books on how to manipulate and control people. Just a lot of incidents that kind of makes you scratch your head, literally. I have in my possession a book that he used to own. It was something about criminology. One of the chapters that are actually bookmarked, it talked about how if you slip someone a drug and mix it with alcohol, it can basically make it undetectable. You know, especially for my stepmother’s death, he was really kind of heavy on the point that, you know, she was an alcoholic, that she drank a lot. You know, she had a high blood content during her death. So just a lot of things that really make you question who this person really is. And after I started to see and started to witness some of these odd behaviors, did I really start to really, truly believe that he did it. And that played an effect. You know, as I started to grow up and mature over time as well, you know, my military experience. So, you know, I’ve been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve been exposed to other types of traumas. And the thing that they say about trauma is the more that you’re exposed to, the more susceptible you are to develop anxiety and PTSD kinds of thing. And that’s pretty much what has happened with me. I started to notice things. I guess, in a way, you could say that some of my military trauma that I’ve been exposed to, kind of opened up Pandora’s box, if you will. In terms of you know, trauma and healing. I not only am trying to heal from those things, but you know, from being as a child. I could honestly say that, as a nine year old as a 10 year old, I had PTSD, I had symptoms of it. My family wasn’t really aware of it. I wasn’t aware of it. But I definitely showed some classic PTSD type behaviors. And, you know, growing up and kind of learning some things, I realized that whenever I was five years old, I was actually physically present in the bathroom where my mother was killed. And the person that actually confirmed that to me was from the horse’s mouth. My father actually told me that I was physically present. But to this day, I have absolutely no recollection; it was almost as if I completely blocked it out. Whether if it’s because of trauma, or because I was so young, I don’t know. But in a way, I can say that probably did help me. It’s difficult to have some of those things, I guess, in a way kind of like, mess with your mind if you can’t really remember it. Even today, I am still healing from the fallout of everything. They say that, you know, going through something like this, it’s not something that you get over. It’s a lifetime of healing. And it’s so true. So, I’m at a point in my life, where I’ve actually have outlived my mother. And next year, I will outlive my stepmother. I think I’m in a place now where, you know, not only have I had life experiences, the same kinds of life experiences that are the maturity level that my parents were at that age, I feel like I can speak on that. I can understand it. And not only that, but I think that’s my story, because of how it has kind of unfolded over the years, I feel like I really want to use it for something and something good. For many years, I feel like I’ve kind of ran away from my story. I’ve been on a handful of crime shows and whatnot. And how that kind of came about was not really my doing. I was still a kid whenever my story was kind of thrusted into the media spotlight. And it kind of snowballed from there. Here we are 20, 30 years later, you know, it still gets brought up. I still get approached to do, you know, documentaries and shows. And I’m at a place in my life where I feel like, by sharing my story, it will have an impact for others. And especially because it’s been in the spotlight, I feel like I’m finally ready to actually step into that role. I feel like I’m ready to kind of step into that spotlight and fully accept, and I have fully accepted my story for what it is. I own my story, and everything that comes with it.
Marissa: That’s incredible. I mean, what you’ve overcome is insane and amazing. I want to touch on a couple points that you made, just to drive them home because I think you brought up a couple really awesome things. The first thing that you said was when you are traumatized as a child, whether it be domestic violence or sexual assault or something else, you really are almost opened up as like a target for re-victimization. So that is a really good point that you brought up and I’m happy that you did because a lot of people don’t understand. Why does this keep happening to me? I wish I could explain it better, but we just have this air about us, and abusers will smell it on us, right? And so we end up getting re-victimized over and over again until we start healing. And then you said that your trauma response was to block out those moments of when you were in the bathroom with your father and mother and things were happening. And that’s so common, because our brain goes into survival mode. So if we have to just forget or dissociate from our reality, to keep us safe, that’s what our brain does. And that’s a totally, totally normal response. And sometimes, bringing up those memories isn’t always a good thing. So I always try and urge people not to try and dig up that stuff; it’s almost not worth knowing. Because it’s, again, going to re-traumatize you.
Todd: Exactly, exactly. And actually, I had people ask me, you know, this isn’t something I’m very vocal about. I’m starting to a little bit. Maybe it’s because, you know, I have accepted and started to accept, you know, everything about my story. But there are some red flags in terms of sexual abuse, possible sexual abuse. I don’t recall anything. I don’t have any proof. I don’t have any evidence. I don’t remember. But there are some red flags; there are some suspicious types of behaviors that were going on at that point in time. So, that’s all that I can say is that I have my suspicions. And I just leave it at that. And when I sit back and think about it, if someone is capable of taking someone’s life, they’re capable of anything. So the probability of that happening is very high. And I’ve had people ask me, well, would you want to go under hypnosis? Or use hypnosis therapy or something like that? And I’m just like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. You’re messing with something.” We can sit here and debate whether or not a hypnosis is acceptable or not as a therapy treatment. But you’re absolutely right, re-victimization. If you don’t remember, there’s a reason why. I think that if you actively go and search for it, and if you want to find out, you’re kind of, in a way, playing with fire, because you don’t know how you’re going to react. So you brought up a great point night, and that’s something that I do believe in. If I know from how I am today, that if, as a child, if I was able to recall some of those things, I’m not so sure that I would even be here. And that’s how powerful some of those recollections can have on someone’s psyche. It could drive you over the edge. But yeah, you’re absolutely right. And not just having multiple traumas, but you’re more susceptible to having some kind of additional health related issues: anxiety, PTSD, things of that nature. I mean, I can sit here and say that for a long time, I didn’t have such a problem with any of that stuff. And it wasn’t until I actually started going through the VA, to get some help with some of the stuff. Actually, ironically, one of the therapists, he asked me almost incredulously. He was like, “So have you ever, given everything that you’ve been exposed to, have you ever been through some kind of trauma therapy or trauma treatment?” And I would, my response was, “Well, I’ve been in and out of therapy pretty much my whole life.” And he was like, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about specialized actual trauma therapy.” And when I sit back and think about it, and the answer to that is just no. So I never had gone through an actual specialized treatment.
Marissa: Is that something that you have an interest in doing? Moving forward, working with trauma specialists to help you move past the things that you have experienced?
Todd: Oh, that’s, that’s definitely an area of interest. You know, for me, getting out of the military, I really kind of felt alienated, if you will. I didn’t really feel like anyone could really understand me. Entrepreneurship, for me, became an outlet, kind of like a coming home. The challenges, the trials, the tribulations of entrepreneurship, in my opinion, are very, very relatable to me. Some of the challenges, some things that you have to overcome and how you approach challenges are very similar to how I’ve approached those challenges in my own life, if that makes sense.
Marissa: It absolutely does. What do you do, as far as entrepreneurship? You work with domestic violence survivors to help them create effective online businesses? Tell me about that.
Todd: You know, over the past six years, I’ve been a digital marketing consultant. I’ve consulted with dozens of small businesses. I’ve even consulted for a publicly traded company. It was all about, you know, helping them with their digital marketing efforts, helping them grow their business, growing their bottom line, helping them sell their products and services that they have. Especially nowadays, you know, we live in an era where being a quote unquote, social media influencer is a legit profession now. And that’s something that I know an awful lot about, you know. That’s kind of like where I kind of want to mesh the two; where I want to help domestic violence survivors, if they have the want and the need to actually build a business, have the same entrepreneurial kind of spirit. And that’s actually kind of quite often, not just in domestic violence survivors, but trauma survivors overall. And this is kind of like what I was talking about before where, you know, you kind of feel alienated, you know. You don’t really feel like you are accepted in like a typical work-like setting. So, you know, we live in a world now where you can literally work from home. Not because of a pandemic, but because of the capabilities. And one of the proponents, for me to really start to share my story was, actually, about a year and a half ago, I was approached to do another documentary story about my story that was recently aired on the ID channel. Shockingly, I was actually talking to the production and to the crew, they have the same capabilities that I do. So I think that when you look at survivors and wanting to share their story, a lot of people want to write a book, right? A lot of people don’t really know this, but when you write a book, you’re essentially starting a business. I think that there’s definitely a lot of room there for teaching and passing down some of the things that I know, the skills that I have, and that I can help people with. And pass that on to a group of people that I feel deserve it for one and two, it can make an impact with.
Marissa: That’s awesome. And you’re totally right. The second you write your book, you’re branding yourself. I mean, that’s exactly what happened to me. I wrote a book about my stories: my first book, Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault. And, I mean, people started turning to me, in the next moment, telling me about their experiences and how I can help them and how they can help others. We do, we have this spirit after we are abused, and we start healing, we just want to help others because we know where they were. We’ve dug ourselves out of the trenches, and we want to help others, too. And give a hand up. So I commend you so much for what you’re doing. Thank you very much. Because I think that that’s phenomenal, wanting to help your own and make our community thrive.
Todd: When I think about my story, and what it has kind of snowballed into over the years… Which, by the way, I was still in high school, when a relative of my stepmother decided to write a book. So there’s actually already a book out about my story. But it’s not from me. It’s not from one of my siblings. It’s from somebody else. Quite frankly, they didn’t exactly have the best intentions. And, you know, that’s kind of common. The whole quote unquote, True Crime genre. It’s a business in a sense. But what I see from that aspect is that there’s not a lot of people actually impacting; they just want to share the story. And, of course, you know, these TV shows, they do it for a reason, too. They’re not doing it for the impact, you know. They’re doing it because there’s money in it. As I sit back and think with the story that I have, I could really use that as a platform to really help people. And yes, it is a little awkward, and it’s a little weird, but that’s something that I’m learning to deal with myself. But when I sit back and think of my mom and my stepmom, that’s the kind of people that they were. They were two women who really helped others. They were heavily involved in their church. They both helped other people in their own unique ways. And so when I think about my story and how I can move forward with it, I think that that’s the best way to also honor them as well.
Marissa: Thank you so much. Last question. Do you have any advice for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault that want to build a business?
Todd: Yes. Come join my Facebook group, Domestic Violence Business Builders. We’ll get you started. And you can even take part of my free training that I have, as well. So, and any advice, I guess just for any domestic violence survivor or any trauma survivor actually, is don’t quit. That’s probably a phrase that I live and breathe by. As long as you have that, there’s hope.
Marissa: Thank you so much. That’s awesome advice. I really appreciate you being here today, and sharing your story, and giving this amazing advice and insight to other survivors. I think that it’ll be very beneficial for a lot of people.
Todd: All right, well, great. Thank you so much for having me on and looking forward to connecting with you and your group and what you do here as well.
Marissa: If you are a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, and you’re interested in writing a book about your story, or sharing your story in a book format, visit my website at http://www.marissafayecohen.com/publishing-services. I’ve made it my mission to publish the stories of survivors who want to speak their truth and get their story out and publicized. And as Todd mentioned, this would be a really good way to start your business. Once you have a book you’re branded. So feel free to reach out to me either on any of my social media outlets, my email or through my website for more information about my publishing services. But I would be beyond thrilled to work with you in jump starting your business and publishing your book.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!
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