The story starts the same as any other love story, I suppose. Two adults meet. They share some interests. Romance and love follow. One person might sweep the other off their feet. Love stories seem to be pretty similar. Then it happens.
An argument starts. Words are said in the heat of the moment. Somehow one person does something that doesn’t feel like love. Perhaps it feels more like hate. Says something. Does something. Causing the person they’re supposed to love a very real pain. It’s a deep cut. This is the point that is critical. This is the point where someone with self confidence would walk away. Somehow you find yourself having less than enough confidence. Then the other person apologizes. Says it will never happen again. Maybe buys you roses or chocolates. You can see the regret. You can feel the regret. Besides, we’re supposed to forgive, right? And if anybody in the world deserves your forgiveness, it’s the person you love the most, right? Maybe you did something that caused it. Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have. Maybe you should try harder next time to make sure the person you love doesn’t get angry.
So amends are made. Forgiveness happens. Life moves on and everybody is happy again. The romance seems to stay in tact. The love story continues. Then it happens, again.
This is a pretty typical scenario for an abusive relationship. I feel the need to explain this, because I think that for someone who hasn’t lived it, or seen it happen, it might seem a bit abstract. I was at lunch with a friend today when this came up and they hadn’t personally witnessed or experienced it. The reason it came up was there was a question for how I stayed in my marriage so long as I did (nearly 11 years!). And while I can’t say this is word for word what happened every time in my relationship, I can tell you that there was definitely an abusive cycle. And while I had no problem fighting back, it doesn’t mean the words didn’t affect me.
I hesitate to write this. My blog is public because I think there is deep healing when you share your story and open up. I also hope to share my story so people living in this cycle know they are not alone. However, because my blog is public, I know it’s very likely my former in-laws will read this. Also it’s possible one day my children will stumble across this blog and read it themselves.
Knowing this, however, I still think it’s good to be open about what has happened to me. If for no other reason than to show that I am no longer afraid.
My story was not one of physical abuse. Some people may wonder why I would even write about abuse if I wasn’t ever hit. Other people may think I’m exaggerating my situation, especially since I am known to exaggerate a bit. This blog is about opening myself up to whatever criticism comes my way in an effort to live my truth and not be ashamed of who I am and what I’ve gone through.
I can recall one particularly bad night. It was Friday, February 12th, 2010. Yes, I remember the exact day, and I will forever. I left work and picked up my daughter, who was about 8 months old at the time. Her daycare was going to have a Valentine’s party the following week. Every parent was going to bring treats, and because it was a home daycare, it was OK for the parents to bake/make treats instead of having to get “store bought packaged” treats. I decided I’d like to make rice crispy treats. So I bring my daughter to the store to pick up the necessary ingredients. I got marshmallow puff in a jar and rice crispies, as well as a few other groceries. I’m feeling particularly romantic with Valentine’s day just a couple days away, so I decided to stop and get a heart shaped pizza from Papa Murphey’s. Then my daughter and I continue on our way and go home.
My then-husband unpacks the groceries. It was the marshmallow puff. I had never personally made rice crispy treats with marshmallow puff before. Apparently my then-husband had an incredibly strong opinion against marshmallow puff. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so strongly about something like marshmallow puff. This was not the first time I’d witnessed his strong opinion, though. I’d learned to completely avoid any topic related to politics at this point as I had learned my lesson on that, although there were still times where I had a hard time biting my tongue when these opinions spilled over out of his mouth and landed in my ear. I realized over time that the topics of things he has strong opinions on are topics I’m best to avoid. (Is that a warning to anybody else? To me it was just life. I was married. Good times and bad, right?)
The marshmallow puff turned into what felt like hours of arguing. It was at least 30 minutes; long enough to burn a Papa Murphey’s pizza in the oven. The pizza I bought for Valentine’s day. The one he insisted on making right away on the 12th, because he was hungry. The same pizza that he tried to eat directly off the cardboard without cutting it up to share it. Words were said. My reaction to him was not my proudest moment. I didn’t simply take the yelling. I told myself I’d never be an abused wife, as if it was something I had any control over. If he was going to give me a verbal lashing, I’d give it right back. He left. He drove. He had been drinking prior to my coming home, and when we were arguing, I had no idea. When I realized he had been drinking, I begged him not to leave in fear he’d get arrested.
He did. It was bigger than that, but I’ll spare you that part of the story.
I felt like I was the reason for it. I blamed myself. I thought I should have somehow been more agreeable.
Hindsight is 20/20. Or at LEAST 20/40. I still have many regrets about that night. What I refused to admit to myself, even months after that night, was that what was happening was a part of an emotionally abusive cycle.
Strong women don’t get abused, RIGHT? A feminist would never be in a situation where a man would get the better of her, RIGHT? An intelligent woman… A kind woman… A Christian woman… None of these woman would get abused… For so many reasons I had convinced myself I wasn’t in an abusive relationship. Partially out of pride. Partially because I didn’t have the physical bruises to show for it.
There were times the arguing got so bad, I dared him to hit me. Perhaps I was looking for physical evidence that the relationship was abusive. I denied it. I’m pretty sure several people had to tell me it was abusive, for me to deny it, and years later realize they were right. I kept holding on to hope.
I believe in God. God can do anything, right? I mean, I have a CHILD with this man. I said vows. God will certainly make him change; make him a good man. If not for me, at LEAST for our child. I was holding on to hope in our honeymoon phases between the abuse that this phase would last. I began to think if I changed, if I somehow loved him more, gave him more satisfaction, maybe then he would love me enough to change. Maybe then he would love our daughter enough to change.
I was living in a phase of constant denial and hope. I held onto those times where things were good. I held onto those times where everyone was happy. That was all I had at the time. I didn’t make enough financially to support myself and a child. During one of our honeymoon phases, we got pregnant with our second child. Still in denial, but knowing I needed to better myself, I decided to go back to school. All along thinking perhaps, if it needed to be, school would be my way out. It would give me the education I needed so that I wouldn’t have to depend on my then-husband financially.
The lines of communication eventually broke down completely. I stopped telling him about my day. I barely had any friends left. All I had was my family. Thank God for my family. Thank God I had the strength to keep my relationship with my family in tact during it all. Looking back, I can see there were definitely times that under the right (or wrong) circumstances I could have even become isolated from my family.
My family watched me leave him. Watched me take him back after 1 session of marriage counseling. And watched my misery for another couple years while the marriage counseling somehow magically stopped after maybe half a dozen sessions. My family watched me hold onto the hope that some day he would be a better man. And when I finally accepted my reality, when I finally gave up hope, my family was there for me, unconditionally, without judgement. I like to think if I had left and gone back 10 times, they still would have been there for me and shown me the love and support I needed to get the strength to go through the hardest thing in my life; divorce. My family was there when he showed up to the funeral of my grandfather, and my family was there even when they thought we were trying to work things out, even though we weren’t. My family housed me. Fed me. They listened to me. They were my shoulders to cry on. They helped me hold onto hope that “tomorrow” would be a better day. They saw me through in my very darkest hours. They carried me, really.
I hate to think what would have happened had I been isolated from my family. I still had some friends, but at that moment in my life they felt very distant. Perhaps it was because I was embarrassed. How do you tell your friends, the people you’re supposed to share your honest feelings with, that you had been covering up your misery for years? How were any of my friends supposed to understand?
Granted some of my friends knew. I had a couple of close friends who knew. But what were they supposed to do? How, as a friend, do you encourage someone to end their marriage? How, as a friend, do you tell someone that they’re being emotionally abused? How, as a married woman with children, are you supposed to hear them when they DO try to tell you these things? I had at least 3 friends who knew; who tried. These friends knew how miserable I was on the inside. How hard it was for me in my marriage. They tried. They pushed me. They may have even given me the emotional confidence I needed to realize and accept that the name for the type of relationship I was in was emotionally abusive. My closest friends were there for me too. But I still hid it all from most of my friends.
For many victims of abuse, this is not possible. Many victims of emotional and physical abuse are extremely isolated from their friends and family. One problem is this whole “in love” phase. People get used to not seeing their friends or family as much when someone is in a new relationship. When people are in love, there is a tendency to isolate yourself and focus on building the new relationship. It may be sudden, or gradual, but there are plenty of times where victims of abuse are literally isolated from anybody other than their abuser. I thank God every day this was not the case for me. I had the support I needed and I had the network of love to support me through the lowest point in my life.
Why am I writing this?
I am not sure.
Perhaps I want to extend an olive branch for someone who feels isolated. Perhaps I want to encourage my own friends and family to extend this olive branch. I may still have more healing to do, and sharing helps me heal. Then again, maybe it’s just because I want people to know they’re not alone. Maybe there is someone on your mind when you read this you lost touch with. Maybe that somebody is you. I can tell you this, whether there was emotional abuse or not, the only way to survive the emotional turmoil of divorce is to surround yourself with people who care about you and love you.
I also want to be clear that while I was never physically abused, I lived in fear for that moment every day near the end of my marriage. I walked on egg shells every day hoping that I wouldn’t set off the cycle somehow. I was unable to feel happy. I would get physically ill every day when it was time to go home from work. Work and school were my paradise, where I could escape from the harsh reality of my life of misery. I could no longer stand the idea of my then-husband touching me. I didn’t even want to hear his voice.
The scars may not be visible, but they are lasting. They live on my heart and my mind. It could be anything someone says that brings me back there, to the place where my ex-husband would explode over marshmallow puff. My self doubt will stay with me forever. I question my judgement every day because I think, how could I have ever allowed that to happen? I STILL pray and hope that my ex will change. Not because I want him back. Some things only God can forgive. Instead I hope that my ex will get help so my kids don’t see this same cycle happen with him and his soon-to-be wife. My kids deserve better. Everybody deserves better. He still has an influence on a very important part of my life, and it will always affect me. In that way, he will always have an influence on my emotions.
I’ve talked to other women who have experienced both physical and emotional abuse about their situations. It wasn’t because they weren’t smart enough to leave. It wasn’t because they weren’t nice enough. It wasn’t because they were gullible or naive. It wasn’t because they were fat. It wasn’t because they were ugly. It wasn’t because they didn’t know how to cook. It wasn’t because they can’t figure out how to find a nice guy. It wasn’t because they didn’t know how to avoid conflict – in fact they may be the BEST at avoiding conflict. I promise you, that while none of these things caused these women to be in abusive relationships, every single one of them questions WHAT THEY DID to deserve it. Every single time. Every. Single. Time.
I am not an expert on abuse. I cannot tell you the best way to get out of an abusive situation. I can tell you, though, that the only reason I am where I am today is because I confided in other people and they supported me.
I will always have scars on my heart. The scars that remain are not all I will remember from my experience, though. I will also remember my friends and family spending the time to stitch me up so I could heal. I will remember that most. It is because of those stitches that I can smile today. I can be happy. I can love.