At this time of year, most of us are shopping for our loved ones, decorating our homes, baking cookies and treats, and planning holiday celebrations with our loved ones. There are many women, men and children who do not have that luxury. These people live in less than ideal circumstances, some trying to leave abusive households and better their lives, some not ready to.
People often stay in abusive situations because their abusers convince them they are the ones being abused. Abusers are very convincing and know exactly how to make their victims feel as if they deserve it and/or they are the ones who need to change.
Please read and share this article sent to me by someone who has lived with abuse and survived it. If you, or someone you know, is being abused – please seek help for them or for yourself. Consider donating to a local shelter this holiday season and help someone begin to reclaim their life.
To be considered in an abusive situation, I thought that meant you were either beaten on emotionally or physically and didn’t fight back. I always fought back. Well, most of the time. The majority of the time, I simply wanted to keep the peace. I compromised, kept quiet, didn’t respond – that is until I’d reach the breaking point.
Once I reached the breaking point, I didn’t always react the way I would have liked. When we feel attacked, we rarely do. We defend, we shout, we say things to hurt the other person, trying to make them hurt as much as we are hurting. At least I did. Then the finger would be pointed at me, and I felt like I was the one in the wrong.
It’s taken me a few years to even admit my situation was what most would consider abusive. I simply viewed it as a life I lived, and then when it became physically abusive, I wished I would have the guts to end it then. But as most people do living in those situations, you go numb, not believing this has happened to you. It wasn’t until something small happened a few months later that I let go, not wishing to live that life anymore.
I was scared. Having given up my job to become a full-time parent, I was afraid of where we’d live, where would I get money, how the kids and I would survive. The fact is we did. And here’s how:
1. Make a plan to get out. If you were like me, barely anyone knows of your situation. Tell someone. A trusted friend, family member, pastor, counsellor, a worker at a local shelter. Someone you trust which can be difficult since our trust levels are nil. Once you begin talking about it, you’ll see you’re not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. There is help available and all you need to do is reach out.
2. Seek legal advice. If the physical abuse is severe, contact your local authorities and have a restraining/protection order put in place. This will assist you in leaving your home, or in having the abuser removed from the property. These orders do not guarantee your safety 100%, but it’s a start. If you are afraid of the order being violated, vacate yourself and any children from the property and seek shelter where you do feel safe. Don’t be afraid to contact the police and make a statement. A good lawyer will encourage you to do so. I didn’t require a restraining/protection order, but a lot of people do.
Getting a good lawyer who can inform you of your rights is essential. People often don’t due to the expense, but I found I had more rights than I thought I did when it came to assets and alimony.
Shop around for a lawyer the way you would for a car. Find out if a friend knows of a good lawyer. Local shelters can hook you up with legal aid if necessary. If you don’t feel your lawyer is working for you, don’t hire them. They work for you. It’s your hard-earned money that is paying their salary, so choose wisely, unless one is appointed for you by legal aid.
3. Find support groups or friends. Most of us feel alone when we are leaving an abusive situation. There is help out there. Seek it out. Talk to friends who support your decision, leave naysayers behind. You are already feeling vulnerable. Avoid people who put their insecurities onto you. You’re already dealing with enough.
4. Learn to love you. One thing I hear from previously abused people all the time is: I just want to find someone to love me. You already have someone: YOURSELF. I can say this because I spent a few years working on me. I wanted to make sure I was okay, and that my children would be all right. We all went for counselling. I continue to work on my issues. I love myself enough now that I don’t need a relationship. Would I like to be in one? Yes, some day I would, and when the time is right, someone will come along who will treat me the way I deserve because I know I’m worth it.
5. Watch for Predators. I quickly learned early on, how many predators are out there who will attempt to latch onto your vulnerability and try to make you think they can be your savior. Again, I stress – YOU are enough. Watch for the signs. *Kellie has an excellent article on her site.* http://kelliekamryn.com/2013/12/how-to-spot-a-predator/
6. Take one day at a time. Leaving an abusive situation is a process. Nothing happens over night even though we wish it would. Make an exit plan for yourself. Tell a trusted confidante. Find legal or support group help. Again, I stress, you are not as alone as you think or feel. Try not to think of a future beyond the day, so you can get through it. Focus on what you need to do in the immediate moment. It’s painful, but you will get through it, and your life will be better for it. There will be a transition period where you might have to move, assets sold or divided. Plan it out and take it one day at a time. With time, you will get it all sorted it out.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. I’ve spoken to a lot of men and women who have lived a life similar to mine. You have the power to change your life. And if you don’t believe in yourself, I do.
HUGS and LOVE
At night in the dark with nary a sound
I crouch in the corner as the demons come ‘round
Curl into a ball, trying to drown out the taunts
Insidious and mean, when I’m vulnerable, they haunt
Beating me down, and making me cower
Suddenly, I feel I’ve lost all my power
The words that come floating in my brain
Forcing me to re-live long-buried pain
Tears fall, body shudders, I shatter
If I give up now, would it really matter?
I plead with my ghosts to leave me alone
They laugh, move in closer; I just want them gone
Dully, it shimmers, not fully bright
From out of nowhere, appears a dim light
I look up and the spark gives me hope
But still – can I really continue to cope?
Yet the glimmer of hope sets me aflame
My soul re-awakens, refusing to feel shame
“You’re stronger than this,” it shouts out to me
I wipe away the tears and breathe in deeply
Slowly, I stand, gathering my strength
I square off with my demons, and after some length
Chuckling, back to the shadows they retreat
Sharpening their claws, so I know they’re not beat
For the first time, I know hope is on my side
Next time they come, I’ll have no need to hide
And even though I know they’ll show up again
They’ll be weaker and perhaps I’ll banish them then.
Through my charity work with organizations like Osborne House who assist women and children escape abusive situations, I have touched on this topic.
I have been verbally attacked on occasion, received angry emails and direct messages on facebook and twitter, for refusing to speak to men who made me uncomfortable with their unwanted attentions. I’ve taken insults from men because I’ve refused their friendship or affections. Although it hurts to be labeled a bitch, I’d rather stand strong, knowing if that is how a man treated me trying to win my friendship, then I do not want nor deserve that kind of friendship.
A year ago, I learned of a predator on Facebook. I became privy to this information because of my previous work helping others to tell their stories. This person has attempted to turn others against these women, making himself sound like the victim, even threatening them to keep their mouths shut. In sharing the information below, we hope to caution every woman to be careful, and protect themselves. Look for the warning signs listed below, listen to your gut. Know that you are enough, you don’t need his brand of “help”.
Predators are not only those who stalk you in person or follow you home. Online predators are equally as dangerous because eventually they want to meet you in person. I want to share the definition of a predator and some tips to protect yourself from becoming a victim. The information presented here comes straight from the mouths of survivors of this type of situation.
HOW TO SPOT A PREDATOR
It is difficult to spot a predator. They act like the nicest man (or in some cases, women) on the face of the earth. They are funny and charming. They flatter you, tell you what a wonderful mother you are (if you are one), praise you for going it alone, and give you all sorts of compliments.
They are good at finding out what you want to hear and saying it often. And what woman getting out a bad relationship couldn’t use an ego boost like that?
Eventually, you feel safe enough to begin revealing your story. They will tell you how affectionate you are, insist you have “issues” in common, comment how women are “gifts from God” (which we are), and tell you how “abusers” are horrible.
By this time, if you’ve gotten this far, he’s made you feel like he is the only one who understands you. He’ll offer you his phone numbers, wanting to hear your voice, insisting on reassurance.
What makes a predator different from the average person you might date and have things in common with, is that predators are narcissistic and everything will eventually become about them. Because they know how to use guilt as a weapon, victims will often feel guilty when they bring up something they don’t feel is right or try to stand up for themselves.
***At this point, I will reveal that in the past I have been privy to a couple of would-be predators getting me to the phone number point. This is when I TURNED TAIL AND RAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION. My red flags went up way before this happened but feeling vulnerable and having no “proof” of what he was doing, I continued to trust, until my instinct screamed at me to end it before something bad happened.***
The next bit of information comes from women who have bravely told me their stories after they’d let it go beyond what we’ve discussed so far. They’re hoping to save others from their pain by telling the world what happened to them.
Once a predator gets you on the phone, they know how to speak to you. Their voice is charming and almost hypnotic. It’s a skill they’ve honed with years of practice. Now that they have built you up and you trust them, they insist on “training” you in some area of your life.
It begins in a very subtle way; they tell you that you’re good at something and they can help you improve on it. Before you know it, they are controlling what you’re doing and you believe you can’t do it alone without their help. If you succeed in any way without them, they are quick to remind you that you could not have done it without them.
Now that they have built you up, they will begin tearing you down, letting you know when you have disappointed them, and how you can make amends. However, you’ll never make amends to their satisfaction. It now requires some sort of punishment, whether verbal or physical, and by this point you believe you deserve it.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM A PREDATOR
NOTE: A predator also knows how to use intuition – they prey on women desperate for affection, in need of strength of another and love. They know how to use this against a person. They also know how to use guilt to their advantage. Women often know when things aren’t right, even if it’s not at the beginning, but a predator will attempt to convince them they are wrong, using guilt as a weapon.
***I’ve asked women who were hurt by a predator such as described above if they saw the warning signs. Most of them said yes, but not until it was too late. In some cases, they were hoping it would improve, and in others, women were lured to a private location for a rendez-vous and promised love and affection.***
3. Predators study their victims. You can protect yourself by learning to use your intuition better, by studying your interactions with people, reading their body language. This will help protect you in the future. At any time, if a person makes you feel uncomfortable, GET AWAY, whether online or in person.
4. Never hesitate to call authorities if you feel verbally or physically threatened, if you are able to do so.
Should a predator get you alone in a physical location, they will ensure you are unable to get to an exit. Try to remain calm and figure out your escape as soon as possible. Below is a link to information to protect yourself when you’re out in public.
Many people don’t contact authorities because they’re afraid to tell someone. Predators make victims believe they wanted these awful things to happen. Victims feel ashamed and do not want to go public.
Tell a trusted friend. Call the police. Contact a local shelter. There is power in numbers. You do not have to suffer in silence.
IF WE LEARN HOW TO TRUST OURSELVES, OUR INSTINCTS, WE CAN THEN LEARN TO TRUST OTHERS.
And above all – learn to LOVE YOURSELF. If you love yourself, and find your own worth, you will be less likely to fall prey to a predator of this nature as they go after those who are vulnerable.
Build yourself up, love yourself. Be safe my friends.
Below is a link with some tips to protect yourself while you’re out in public.
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog. Please share this information, and if you have fallen victim to a predator, end contact with the person and seek help immediately. Don’t berate yourself. This kind of thing happens to even the smartest person because these predators are good. They didn’t become this way without practice. Don’t give them the chance to practice on you.
Check out my Youtube video on Lost In Her Mind to hear my reason for writing the book, and how you can help victims of abuse.
HOW INDIVIDUALS LEFT ABUSIVE SITUATIONS AND STARTED OVER
Welcome to the new segment on my blog where brave individuals share their stories of how they left, or in some cases, escaped abusive situations. Each story is different, but the main thing is that these people are fighters. Even though they were faced with difficult times, each one of them chose to believe they had the power to change their situation. We hope to inspire others to realize how much power they have over their lives, and that they too can make a change. If you wish to leave a comment, please remember that these stories are to remain anonymous. If you think this sounds like someone you know, please don’t use names. We wish to protect the innocent.
Women are Abusers Too
Forty years later, I again have a bully in my life; my ex-wife.
When I was eleven I had a bully in my life. I was afraid to go to school because I would be teased or put down or threatened day after day. Everybody else thought this person was normal and that I should get over it. I didn’t understand. I tried to be nice. I tried to ignore the bully. I tried to get along. And yet, the bully kept bullying. One day, my mom told me to punch the bully in the nose. It took a long time for me to get the courage to do so and when I did, the bullying stopped.
Forty years later, I again have a bully in my life. I have been threatened. I have been yelled at. I have been stalked. I have been put down sometimes multiple times a day for weeks and months on end. By phone, by email, and in person. I have spent thousands on therapy dealing with post traumatic stress. I’ve been afraid to go to the grocery store, or walk the dog, go to my kids’ school performances, or pursue my own interests because I’m afraid that being active in public exposes me to being cornered, and talked down to, and insulted, and threatened.
I don’t understand. I tried being generous. I tried being cooperative. I tried shouldering blame; so much so, in fact, that nobody knows the entire story because I wouldn’t tell my side for fear of the harm it would do to others. I was willing to take on the burden of looking like the bad guy to keep the peace. I tried staying out of the bully’s way to the point where I lost contact with a lot of friends. I tried asking the bully to keep their distance only to have them tell me that I didn’t have the right to set such boundaries. I have asked repeatedly, politely, and with respect, until I had to call the police, and even then, my right to be left in peace is not only ignored, but is used as another reason to insult me and turn people against me.
Recently I decided to start standing up for myself and expressing more of my frustration publicly. As a result, I’ve been shunned by people who I thought were friends. I’ve been told to keep quiet because I’m making life difficult. I’ve been told to get over it.
The message I’m getting is that I should be okay with being bullied. I’m not. I’m hurting and I just want to be left alone to live my life in peace and be free from ongoing harassment. Without having to always be looking over my shoulder for the next assault. Is that really too much to ask?
Apparently for some people it is.
I’m not interested in the impossible task of figuring out who’s right or who’s wrong.
I’m not interested in asking people to choose sides.
I just want the bully to leave me alone. Period. That simple.
I have the right to be safe from harassment when I am out in public. Especially in circumstances where I can’t simply walk out without letting down other people who have put their trust in me. The message I am getting is that I should quit. Quit my life so that the bully can’t get to me. So that other folks’ comfort zone isn’t compromised.
I have the right to tell my story whether that is in person or online. Bullying is not okay. If you see me rant online because I’m sick to death of being bullied, and you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Don’t tell me to be quiet; if you have to support the bully, that’s your choice. But if you decide to take your discomfort out on me, that’s aiding and abetting. And I’ll have nothing to do with it.
I am not asking you to pick sides. While I may ask you to keep my boundaries safe, I don’t expect you to fight the bully. It isn’t your fight and you don’t see the person that way. I can respect that. Know that when you shun me, however, when you talk down to me, when you tell me to be quiet, when you tell me to just “suck it up”, you are telling me that I should accept being bullied.
I don’t. That’s not okay with me.
Unfortunately, unlike when I was eleven, I can’t punch my bully. I would be the one who would end up in jail. I have no easy way out. Well, not one that I really want to contemplate anyway. So, please, if you have to sit on the fence, show a little respect for the hard work I have to do to keep myself and my family safe and at peace.
At the end of the day, all I want is peace. With my friends, my family, my community. And with the bully; and that means zero contact for the good of everyone involved.
Three Years Ago…
It’s been three years since it finally ended. We were together for five years, and it’s taken me more than half of that time to feel like I might be ready to enter into the dating world again. Wow! Now, don’t get me wrong, I have not pined and moped for him. I knew at the end of our relationship it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. During the last year of the relationship, I felt as if I was dying inside. You know that internal light you have? Well, mine was burning out. It was as if I could see a single lit candle and the flame was fluttering and flickering in an invisible wind. I distinctly remember standing in the shower one morning while preparing for work, and all of a sudden I just started crying. We weren’t arguing at the time, nothing “bad” was going on, I wasn’t upset with anything, but this heartbreaking feeling just came over me. That single candle and flame clearly showed themselves in my mind, and I knew I was in serious danger of losing my true self. I will always feel as if that message was sent to me from above.I think it took me a good six months to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t a failure. That this relationship was doomed from the beginning, I just didn’t know how to read the signs, or wasn’t able to accept them. I thought “I” could make him happy. A good six months, to realize no matter what I did or said or no matter how I acted, was ever going to be “good enough” for him. I knew I’d never go back, regardless of what he said. I was finally free, but I didn’t understand that yet. In that time, I came to realize I had lost myself completely and became this person who was constantly walking on egg shells trying to please someone that was not going to be pleased with anything that I did, or that anyone else did. I became a person who could no longer make a simple decision without weighing or stressing about the outcome. Which BBQ sauce should I get? If I get this one, is he going to like it or will he complain and throw the food away just because HE didn’t like it. Let’s just say grocery shopping became a very stressful event for me, but he wouldn’t do it because he was too busy and tired after working all day. Yes, I had a full time job too, but mine wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t a “civil engineer” like him and because I didn’t go to college like he did. So, since I didn’t go to college, I was “stupid” and “worthless”. He may have only said, “You’re worthless” to me one time, but he would insinuate it, and that one time was all he needed to plant the seed. If I did something “this” way, and he didn’t like it, I’d try to do it “that” way next time. When he didn’t like “that” way, I’d try splitting it down the middle. Nope, that wasn’t good enough either. I could never get it just right. It wasn’t all bad all the time, but I could pretty much chart every two months or so when he was going to start the downhill slide into anger, depression and aggression again. We’d have a few weeks of good times, then as the days went by he’d get moodier, and for lack of a better word, crueler. I knew it was coming before he even got there. He’d both rage and scream at me about something so insignificant like spending less than $2.00 on a cannoli at the grocery store, or say things to me like, “I’ve never loved you”, or “You’re worthless, and stupid. You didn’t even go to college.” Once it was over, the next day would be just as clear and sunny as if that Category 4 hurricane had never come through. I heard about what a waste of money that cannoli was for at least of year of arguments. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.These last few years have been about finding me again, and learning and growing from what I went through. I think back on those years, and I am astonished, dumbfounded and honestly, dismayed about why I allowed it to happen and continue to happen. I am not the sort of person to just lie down and let someone walk all over me, I never have been, but for some reason I gave up standing up for myself somewhere along the way. I know it was so much easier to just let him have his way, but when did I stop defending or even caring about ME? One day it hit me, I’m FREE! I can do what I want, when I want. I don’t have to try and justify anything to anyone. I am FREE! I can buy whatever BBQ sauce I want from now on! With that sense of freedom came the reality that I AM smart, that I am NOT worthless, that I CAN make my own decisions. I have not wanted to give up that freedom for a very long time. At first, I wasn’t sure I could be in a relationship, and not be bitter and not be suspicious of every word spoken or every look given. I wasn’t sure I would even be able to be in a relationship and not take my anger and frustration out on that new person. Does that make sense? I didn’t want to turn in to “him”. But now three years later, I am confident that I can share my hard won freedom with someone and participate in a loving and healthy relationship! It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’m hopeful and excited about what lies ahead.
The Year That I Will Be Seen
When I first started being involved with men, most of the men I dealt with were only after one thing….sex. And having such low self esteem and always wanting to be loved by a man, I gave in to temptation and eventually, I let myself be used by them. Trying to gain acceptance and try to get them to love me for me, but of course that never happened and I found myself sleeping around with men to try and find love. It took me years to realize that just because you get with a man in a sexual way, doesn’t mean its for love. Finally I realized, I have to love myself more before I can let another man truly love me.
Whenever the New Year comes around, people make a certain resolution to themselves in one way or another. Honestly at one time in my life, I had stopped making them because I knew deep down that once I made one, I never followed through it. But that was when I was young and naïve and honestly didn’t really think things through. Those thoughts of resolutions for the New Year didn’t come to light for me until this year.
But I didn’t make a resolution to find love because honestly I’ve stopped looking for it. I hope that eventually it will find me some day.
This year, I didn’t make a resolution to lose weight. I’m happy in the skin I am in right now in my life. I want to change it, and I will eventually in my due time. The one resolution that I have completely decided upon keeping this year is basically this one……TO BE SEEN!
Now I know what you might be thinking…..TO BE SEEN….what is she talking about?
Well let’s begin at the beginning and hopefully we’ll get to where we are at right now in this story.
A year after I had my daughter, I ended up going through a bunch of health issues, mainly me having Rheumatoid Arthritis, something that was so painful in the early stages that my mother and grandmother at the time, thought I was being “lazy” and a “irresponsible mother”, which soon became not the case because I was soon diagnosed with RA and put on proper medication for it, which ended up helping me go on with my daily life.
Then a family tragedy happened to me a couple of years later. My grandma, who was my heart, had passed away. She was probably one of the only women I knew that I could talk with and not be made fun of, which was hard for me to do with my mother and honestly even though I am in my late 30’s, is equally harder for me to talk with on a personal level. After her funeral, my mom ended up getting into some trouble and was taken away from me for a while as well. So it was just me and my younger brother and my kid. My daughter and I decided to move back to my grandmother’s house, a place that she never really wanted me to live in much less have as my own, while my brother stayed with his girlfriend back where we lived. The transition was hard for me because even though I had my family there, they ended up being my enemies in the end, making my life in my grandmother’s home a living nightmare.
I had soon gotten myself a job. During the time I was working and things were going well for me, I soon started to have problems with my face. It started with a pimple and eventually it opened up into a small lesion on my face. At first I just covered it up with makeup but soon after this started, I lost my job and that’s when it seemed to get worse.
After dealing with another year of ridicule from my family and friends, my mother finally was able to get herself out of the problem she was in and wanted us back home with her, which we were very much happy to get back home to. By this time the lesions started to spread all over my face on my cheeks, my scalp line and forehead. None of the doctors there could find out what was wrong. Either that or they just weren’t finding the right symptom for it. Eight years after I moved back, I finally found out what was wrong.
The problem was called Pyoderma Gangrenosum or PG, which is an inflammatory skin disorder characterized by small, red bumps or blisters (papules or nodules) that eventually erode to form swollen open sores (ulcerations). It mainly was due to my RA from what the dermatologist told me. I was completely shocked that the other doctors acted like they never knew about this and couldn’t pin point it sooner but eventually, they got me on the right medication, even though I still have to go to have blood work because the medication I am on is very much a high level medication that warrants me to have my blood checked every 2 weeks or so to make sure everything is functioning right. Which I am happy to say that everything has been going just fine with me.
But ever since I came on Facebook, I’ve met a lot of my old high school friends and some new ones as well. For years, I’ve always thought about meeting some of them BUT the one thing that has held me back has been how I’ve felt about myself as far as my face. Even though I do wear makeup, it doesn’t hide the scars which are prominent on the left side of my face now. I’ve always thought to myself, “What would they say when they saw me?” or “How will they treat me after all these years of not seeing me?” These were things that for years constantly would bring me to thoughts of how folks who are my friends would react to me; this has caused me much emotional strife within myself for those 8 long years.
There was another problem I had with meeting people, especially men.
A lot of times, I had wanted companionship with a man, someone I could go out with and have fun and such. That was not the case with me however, I was always a shy person but when I had the issues with my face, trying to meet with men was something that when it did happen, the outcome would be heartbreaking.
They say that sometimes it’s what’s on the inside that matters the most – well honestly, I have to say from my point of view that it’s a bold face lie!
Men will look at your face FIRST AND FOREMOST because of course that’s the one thing they will see about you before you even talk, with me when men saw me, they seemed to not to want to know the true me and not the “outside me”. Even men I would meet online, I would always be upfront with a guy about my condition and of course they would say, “Well I would never treat you bad, I don’t care what you look like.” But when it came to actually meeting, it would be a different story of momentary pauses in conversation, looking at the watches, etc. Eventually I would never hear from the guy again, which was always heartbreaking. This is part of the main reason why I have eventually given up on finding anyone, saying to myself that if a man wants me or if love wants me, they can find me eventually.
This year I plan on being seen, no matter how much it might make me nervous or scared, there are so many folks that I haven’t seen since my school days and many new ones that I so would love to meet and have fun and a few drinks and just be able to chat with them face to face without having to worry about what people might think of me. I’m going to control my fear of people’s judgments, and I know I can overcome this anxiety of dealing with people. This year will be a different one for me. 2012 – the year I will be seen!
Never Thought It Would Happen To Me
I never thought I’d be in an abusive relationship. I grew up in a normal family, with parents who were not only still married but who treated each other with respect. When I met my husband I was nearly thirty, had a good career, and had lived abroad on my own for a while. I was an independent and organised woman, surrounded by close friends and family.
I didn’t see it happening at first. His outbursts were infrequent, and the other 98% of the time we spent together was wonderful. The increase in those outbursts was so gradual I never even noticed it. I’d always wondered why women stayed in abusive relationship and now I know: it happens so slowly, that you don’t even see it coming, until it’s too late and you’ve been sucked in.
It started with angry outbursts, lots of shouting and verbal abuse. Then during a rage one day, he punched a door. We weren’t even married then, but I rationalised that it only happened the one time, so I went ahead and married him.
Then the outbursts grew more frequent. Another door kicked, a slight shove during an argument, then a harder shove the next time. And afterwards, when I’d argue that he was being abusive, he’d tell me that I was exaggerating. That’s where the constant, subtle emotional abuse kicked in. I doubted myself. My self esteem devalued to the point where I didn’t even think of leaving.
At work I was still a strong, confident and capable woman. But at my front door I became a different person, one who constantly walked on egg shells and tried to keep my mouth closed, because I was never sure what mood he’d be in, or what would provoke his anger. I’d drifted away from most of my friends and lived in almost complete isolation, not wanting my work colleagues to know what my home life was like. Still I didn’t leave.
The moment when enough was enough came at last because of two reasons: the first was because I had daughters, and the second was because I’d started writing.
When I started writing seriously, I discovered I was good at something and it boosted my self esteem. Then I made friends with other writers, and their belief in me fuelled that self esteem. Having faith in yourself, a concrete dream for your future, and friends to support you are the greatest strengths any woman can have. Suddenly, I wasn’t prepared to settle for second best any more, and I wasn’t prepared to stick with a marriage that was less than 10% good and more than 90% bad.
But my biggest reason for leaving was my daughters. I’d put up with a lot for myself, but the day my girls watched as my husband hit me was the day I decided to leave. I didn’t want my daughters believing this was normal, and one day settling down with men who treated them as their father treated me. I might not have valued myself enough to leave the marriage, but I valued them enough that I would brave anything.
After I moved out, we finally went into marriage counselling. We discovered that my husband suffered from clinical depression and he began receiving treatment. Our relationship improved, but by that time too much water had passed under the bridge. My love for him had died, and I was now a different person. There was no going back for me, and marriage counselling turned into divorce counselling.
These days we get along much better. Not enough perhaps to be friends, but we spend family time together and the divorce has been amicable.I have learned so many valuable lessons from this experience, and this is my advice to any woman who finds herself in a similar situation:
· The first time your partner loses their temper with you or even near you, and takes that temper out on an inanimate object (eg. Kicking a door, throwing an object) put your foot down. Let your partner get away with it once, and you’ve just taken your first step along the path to abuse. Don’t rationalise it away that it only happened once and the rest of the time he’s lovely. Value yourself enough to say “this stops right here.”
· Don’t ever let yourself be isolated from friends and family. They will be your strength even when you don’t feel strong. I’m not saying you should let others tell you how to live your life, but do ask for help when you need it. Even if you find yourself alone, reach out for help. You will be amazed at the support you find.
· Don’t settle. Value yourself enough to hold out for a man who will treat you as you deserve to be treated. Don’t do as I did and hurry into a relationship because you’re thirty and broody, and he’s conveniently around and interested. As long as you’re with a man who doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve, you don’t have room in your life for one who will.
· Value yourself. Acknowledge your accomplishments. Find enjoyment in life. These are the things that will keep you strong and sane through the toughest time.
· You are stronger than you think. You’re a woman, after all.
WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
I remember the day I picked up the book with that title. I read the back cover, shocked to see that many traits of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder pertained to my husband. Now I’m not diagnosing him, but in that moment I felt a little less crazy. As I read the book cover to cover, my world began to make sense. All the years of feeling like I could never do anything right, having expectations placed on me I wasn’t aware of and always fell short on, the put-downs, the apologies, turning every argument around on me so I’d question myself – in short, I knew not everything was my fault.
When I first met my now ex-husband, we were in high school. He was polite, chivalrous, and funny. His quiet mannerisms intrigued me. He could tell a joke that would make me bust a gut laughing! Sadly, I didn’t know the pain he held down on the inside. I’d only catch glimpses of it, never realizing that his workaholism was the way in which he dealt with it. The more he worked, the less he’d have to face his pain. And to this day, he hasn’t really faced much of it.
I’d love to say we had been happy once upon a time, but our relationship was rocky from the start. We had happy moments over the years, like the day we married, the days our children were born, or family outings. A lot of the time, though, we argued. We never understood each other and always seemed to be at odds. He’d never want to take responsibility for his part in a problem always shifting blame to me. For quite a few years, I took it all upon myself for how could I think ill of him? He made me feel like I was the unreasonable one, so it must be me, right? As long as I thought everything was my fault, then he could get away scot-free without having to analyze his own behaviour, or make any changes to better our relationship. In my own head, I created this fairy tale of happy ever after. People would comment on how lucky I was to have a man like him. He worked hard, after all. But he would lie about spending money, or if I think we’d compromised, he’d go behind my back and do something anyway because in his head he heard me say, “No.” I cringed inside every time someone made a comment, wishing I could tell the world how difficult it was to live with this “perfect” man.
A lot of his behaviour was childish; teasing me until I couldn’t take it anymore and I’d burst into tears, giving me the silent treatment so I’d think he was mad at me, sexually teasing me all day, making me think later we’d make love. Then he’d go to bed without saying goodnight, claiming he was too tired. His angry outbursts were unpredictable, often leaving the kids and I to wonder what would set him off. To the outside world, we were the perfect family.As the years went on, his anger would surface in increasing frequency. When he yelled, he roared. I never cowered though. If he wanted a fight, I yelled right back. When he’d take his anger out on the kids, I’d step in and protect them. It got to a point where I couldn’t live like that anymore. I grew up in a house where my parents yelled all the time, and didn’t want my kids to live that way. We went for marriage counselling for a short period, but then he wouldn’t go anymore, so I went alone. I began to face my fears one at a time. I got stronger emotionally. I became happy with myself. However, the happier I got, the unhappier he became.
I never tried to change him, but I spent a lot of time trying to figure him out. He could go from calm to rage within seconds. I wanted to know what kinds of things triggered his anger, and unfortunately, became a drill sergeant, always trying to get the kids to clean up so he wouldn’t get mad or trying desperately to do things the way he’d like them done. The kids would complain I was just like him. I lost myself in trying to keep a calm household, always changing how I behaved in order to keep the peace. It never worked because there was no rhyme or reason to his behaviour.
I’d always believed people who loved each other were supposed to take care of each other. But if I needed him in anyway, he’d make sure he wasn’t around. When I had a tumor removed, he returned to work the next day, leaving me to care for our then one year old. Years later, hospitalized with a massive breast infection, a ten minute visit with him and the kids was all the love and attention I received. He sat across the table from me and told me “to get rid of it” when we discovered I was unexpectedly pregnant. (I refused.) When I had to have a C-section with said child, he barely visited me at the hospital. After my arrival home, I remember the emotional devastation I felt when he shouted at me to get up and get the baby myself. (Anyone who has had a C-section knows what doctors tell you—to take it easy, no lifting or chores.) He told me he had too much work to do to help me. It’s no wonder I battled anxiety and post-partum depression for two years.
I spent a lot of time in a busy household feeling alone. A few months after I’d left him, I found a journal I’d written twelve years prior. I’d had the same thoughts and feelings for that long. Why didn’t I leave earlier? I have no definitive answer for that. Perhaps it’s because emotional abuse and manipulation are insidious. They work their way into your psyche and the bruises are so deep you can’t always see them, or have time to deal with them. Eventually, I got the inner strength to walk away from his taunts or when he tried to pick a fight.
The final straw came for me the night he picked on me in front of the children. My oldest daughter heard the put down, and hugged me. I knew then I didn’t want her to grow up thinking this was how a man treated a woman he supposedly loved. That night I confronted him, asking him if it made him feel better to put me down. Of course, he blathered on about how I was too sensitive and he couldn’t measure up. When we went to bed, he tossed and turned on purpose, elbowing me like a petulant child. I asked him to leave the room, so he did. The walls felt like they were closing in on me, and I needed to get out, get away, take a breather. Muttering to myself, I stomped down the hall, and slipped on my shoes. He stormed out of the living room, rage contorting his features. That night was the first time I’ve ever been truly frightened of him. He grabbed me by the arm, and threw me out the back door where I landed on the deck. (His grip on my arm left a hand-shaped bruise that lasted for over a week.) My sobs broke into the echoing sound of the slamming door. I remember looking to the heavens asking why, after everything I’d done to make our lives good, this had happened. The answer came loud and clear: the kind of relationship I wanted would never be with him. The absolute worst part was that our oldest son heard the entire altercation and to this day feels he should’ve protected me.
If a man had done what he did to my girls, I would’ve called the police on his sorry ass. Sadly, I didn’t that night. Only two people in the entire world knew my circumstances, and I was ashamed, afraid; you name the emotion, I probably felt it. My heart broke. The sensation in my chest was akin to someone taking a pin to a balloon. I kid you not. That’s when I realized broken hearts weren’t just a metaphor—they’re real. I went numb inside. When my sobs subsided, I re-entered the house, and asked him how he could do something like that. I swore at him when my questions fell on deaf ears. Defeated, I went to bed.
It still took me months to leave but when a small issue he refused to deal with resulted in him saying he didn’t have time to work on the marriage, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, and gave myself permission to let go. I got the courage to tell him it was over. That will be a night I’ll never forget, and the weeks after were some of the more extremely difficult ones I’ll ever have to endure. He did some weird stalker-ish type things before he moved out, but once he left, the tension disappeared. The kids and I relaxed. Telling my friends and family was no picnic, but once it was out in the open, I felt like I could just be myself. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be in the first place.
There were times I felt so exhausted I didn’t know how I could keep going. I cried a lot, but it’s how I released stress. And I’ll never forget the day the piece of my broken heart was healed. I’d been talking to a man, one I’d been interested in. I wanted to tell him something, but was afraid of what he’d think. However, I’d promised myself that with any future relationship I would never hide myself again. If he thought it was stupid, then I’d know where I stood. Surprisingly, he did understand, and in return revealed something about himself. I heard the “click” as that broken piece of my heart fit back into place. I began to cry. Wonder of wonders, this new man wanted to talk about my feelings! I felt like someone finally understood me. I have no idea where the relationship will go. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy his company, I look forward to seeing him, and I’m content to take it day by day. I have issues to work on and more healing to do. But I’m smiling, and that means a lot.
I’ll never be the same, but then I don’t want to be. I don’t want sympathy either. You’ve heard 20 years of my life in one short essay, so I imagine most people would wonder how I survived all of that. My answer: I just did. All the events of my life have led up to this point, and I’m at a great place now. The kids and I go for counselling regularly. My career is growing and I have many wonderful friends. And like one of my dear friends told me, and I believe more every day — I deserve to be happy. And I am. Anxieties rear their ugly head from time to time, but I strive not to worry about the future, but enjoy each day as it comes, revelling in the small joys, and secure in knowing I’ll be able to handle whatever comes my way, even if the waters get rough.