A Journey from Victim to Survivor…to Living Freely

How? Who? Why?

on November 23, 2012

How does an educated, intelligent, kind, compassionate person end up in an abusive marriage and stay?  What could they be thinking?  Who would stay and take such abuse?  Why?

I’m certain everyone who has lived this has different answers.  However, since it’s something I have judged myself endlessly and then have forgiven myself for, I thought I’d share my thoughts.  My hope is that maybe it is helpful for someone else who is in the world of self-blame or can provide insight for others to support friends and family members who are in this situation–especially for those who have had the courage to leave…because, apparently, it is in leaving and gaining clarity–when someone else isn’t doing the berating–that my own mind started working overtime.

My answer is simple to the above questions…and it’s the same answer for each question…I didn’t know I deserved more.

I’d learned from a very early age that I didn’t matter.  That my thoughts, feelings and responses were wrong.  That speaking my mind meant ridicule, that disagreeing meant getting hit, that crying meant ridicule and getting hit.  Asking for something meant I was ungrateful for all that I had, not going above and beyond in every aspect of everything meant there was more I could’ve done, making the ‘wrong’ choice was not acceptable…and most choices were wrong.  As I have traveled through the abuse as an adult (I’d repressed much of it…the rape “unlocked” a barrage of memories, flashbacks, flashes…which were then confirmed by my brother-who was surprised that I’d been able to ‘forget’–he understands that it was just too painful for my brain to keep in the forefront), I’ve been told that it was bad…that it was really bad…that the worst parts were the lack of consistency.  There wasn’t predictability.  The rage wasn’t about me and could be brought on by anything.  There was no rhyme or reason.  If I fell and got hurt, I might be consoled…except if my tears enraged my mom….and then, I’d be hit…because “It hurts me when you get hurt and I get so angry!!!!!!!”.   If I’d swept the floor, to the best of a 9-year old’s ability, she might thank me–or she might rage and grab me, squeezing my arms and threatening to kill me, because there was a small piece of dirt I missed.  My dad was more consistent.  I was a bitch, just like my mother.  I was an ungrateful piece of shit.  At least I always knew where I stood with him.

When I met my (ex) husband, he wasn’t physical with me.  He wasn’t exceptionally kind, but he wasn’t hitting me.  He didn’t scream.  It was better than what I was used to.  He liked me.  That seemed huge in the mind of a 21 year old who was finishing college (while living at home…at that point, my parents had just divorced).  I knew enough at that time that continuing to live with my mom was ill advised. so, after dating for four months, I moved into the apartment.  That month I had appendicitis and needed to have surgery.  My ex had a conference to go to and I encouraged him to go–I didn’t want my health to interfere with what he needed to do.  And that is how I spent the majority of our relationship.  Not by any fault of his, but because I knew that role well–don’t make a fuss, don’t cause problems, go above and beyond and keep the peace.  And, I did.  He would get angry and throw things…but they weren’t thrown at me…the anger wasn’t directed at me…I see now that it didn’t need to be.  Just knowing what was under the surface kept me ‘walking on eggshells’…I knew how to do that really well.  Less than a year after dating, we moved out of state.  I lost more of me.  He didn’t like jewelry or ‘dressing up’ or lotion or long showers or church, so I stopped doing those things.  He never told me I HAD to stop…but, it hurt his feelings or bothered him when I did…and, I didn’t want to hurt or bother him.   We had two beautiful children over the next few years…I delight in them…these amazing, incredible beings who are the only two people who know what my heart sounds like from the inside <3.  I understand now that our relationship was a co-dependent one….that he has many narcissistic characteristics.  I ‘happily’ fell into working full time, being a mom-doing all of the parenting, bathing, feeding, attention, doing the housework…while he worked 6 days a week until past bedtime many nights.  When I would question him as to “I’d love to have you home for dinner…the kids and I miss you!”, it was met with contempt…he was trying to provide for the family…how could I ask that–and make him feel badly???  So, I’d take the kids to his work for dinner….making a picnic or buying food on the way so we could see him.

My psychologist has explained that abusive relationships are like this: When cooking lobsters, if you put them in cool water and then turn on the heat slowly, you can cook them…calmly.  If you place them into boiling water, they scream and flail and try to escape.  Clarity allows me to see the ways the cool water was slowly being heated.  Had I entered into the relationship as it looked at the end, I never would’ve accepted it.  It started so slowly, so small, so innocuous.

My neurological illness and brain surgeries turned up the heat.  I still kept a smile on my face…and since I wasn’t working full-time, it was ‘easier’ for me to do all the parenting and housework and yardwork…He was able to work more.  I arranged play dates for the kids when I had all of those doctor appointments, although there were times he had to take a couple hours off of work.  These few hours became a new place for him to exert control–“How can you ask me to help with the dishes? You don’t think I do enough around here??  I’m trying to work and am taking off all this time for you?  And then you are going to make me feel bad for not helping?”.  The heat continued to rise…Since I was unable to drive at night, I took up time creating my own happy hour after the kids went to bed–me, facebook and a bottle (and then a box) of wine on the back porch.  I’d tried to have him join me.  I was never one to drink alone, but he wouldn’t.  I knew I was self-medicating.  I was in such head pain and nothing could help it.  My heart was breaking.  Any time to dull it was appreciated.  I was on a lot of different medications that changed how I metabolized alcohol.  I could drink a bottle or two and never felt a buzz.  One night, as he began to yell, he screamed “You know you’ve gotten fat because you are drinking so much!”.  I didn’t stop with the wine, I did stop eating.  Drinking or not, each night began to escalate after the kids were in bed….”You are such a fuck up!”, “You’re such an embarrassment”, “What the fuck is the matter with you?”…and I believed him.  I’d told my friends that I was drinking too much, but I didn’t tell them about the screaming or berating.  I took the blame.  I was drinking too much that summer…I deserved to be screamed at.  I’d gotten “fat” (I understand that I hadn’t…that was also about control).  As that summer progressed, I started asking him “How can  you love me? You must hate me to treat me like this?”…this was met with “I do love you!  I am providing for you.  You are crazy to think anything else. Your brain is making you think crazy things”…and I believed him.  I tried harder.  I stopped drinking.  But still, I asked “How can you say you love me?”…this made him angry.  His words were no longer enough to keep me in my place.  Now he needed to use his hands.  He’d grab…he’d shove…he broke my nose…I stopped asking that question.

I accepted the blame…that my illness was messing things up…I scheduled and rescheduled the second brain surgery because it interfered with his work schedule.  I mowed the lawn even as I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.  When I told him a neighbor had come over to stop me because she saw how wobbly I was, he got mad at me and said I was accusing him of not helping.  I explained that wasn’t my intent.  I was told people didn’t want to know how I was doing and when they’d ask and I’d start to talk, I was later told (by him) that I was an embarrassment and was making people uncomfortable by telling them how I was healing.  He’d ask “Who is asking about me???  Doesn’t anyone want to know how I am handling you being sick?”.  And I felt bad…I told him people were asking…they wanted to help and support our family.  All of it brought more anger onto me.  My asking him to visit me in the hospital or to attend a doctor’s appoint…all of it brought more anger.  It was my fault that he chose to stay home and watch porn while I was hospitalized one night–because my being sick frustrated him and he “needed to relax some way!!!!”.  And, how dare I make him feel badly by telling him it would mean so much to come and see me in the hospital???  How dare I.

I focused on making it work…on precariously walking on eggshells….on being as perfect as I could possibly be.  And, I continued to break.  I think I would’ve continued to live that way…to just keep surviving.  Everything I believed about myself was being proven.  I didn’t matter.  My thoughts and feeling didn’t matter.  I was a fuck up.  I couldn’t do anything right.

And then in stepped my redeemer…someone who had traveled with me…who knew my ‘warts’ and all…who still felt I was a good person…who had faith in me.  Who told me that God will always love me.  Who told me that I deserved more….that I deserved kindness and compassion…that it wasn’t my fault.  He told me that I could live freely.

I asked these questions at the start of this post:  How does an educated, intelligent, kind, compassionate person end up in an abusive marriage and stay?  What could they be thinking?  Who would stay and take such abuse?  Why?

I didn’t know I deserved more.  I believe differently now.  I am enough.  I deserve kindness and compassion.  I am beautiful.  I am worthy.  I am grateful for who I was, for who I am and for who I am designed to be.

This is where living can begin to take place.


4 responses to “How? Who? Why?

  1. This makes me want to cry. I am so glad now that you know you are enough, and that you deserve love. And you don’t deserve abuse. Your story helps me remember to hope that healing is possible. Thank you.

  2. Healing is possible ❤ It really, truly is.

  3. Cassandra says:

    Beautiful… thank you for sharing your thought process about this. I often wonder how and why I’m still allowing myself to remain in an abusive relationship too and I’m still unclear on my own answers. Maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll find them and leave.

    You are precious! You are worth loving and your life has value. What you share with me and others touches our lives and we are thankful for you.

    • Thank you for the kind words! I wasn’t able to gain clarity until after leaving. It was in recognizing that I felt fear when my ex would come to pick up or drop off the kids, that I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe what he’d been telling me wasn’t true. He’d made a comment in counseling that he’d never touched me…and I hesitated, causing the counselor to look concerned. My ex then said “Well, maybe I used more force than was needed.” It was a couple months later that I thought of that…and began to think–Wait…was any ‘force’ at all needed??? The answer was a resounding no. I was so used to the ‘walking on eggshells’ feeling that I didn’t no any other way. My clarity and healing have come afterward. I don’t really know what made me decide that that was the time to end it. At the time, it was beginning to see that he was lying to me…and I made the choice I would no longer be lied to. I know now that, had I not left then…I probably would’ve stayed and stayed. My self worth was so depleted and I was so weary. Lots of love and hugs on your journey!!!!

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