I came from a Catholic home where talks about my immortal soul were the preferred method for discussing sex before marriage, or rather the sex I should not have before marriage. Eldest of three kids, responsibility was thrust upon me early, often, and it was I that comforted my siblings as my parents screamed and fought. It wasn’t the occasional line crossed during physical discipline, but the verbal abuse that left the deepest scars. At 18, while in college, I married a man out of desperation to escape, guilt over having had sex, and a naive belief that love could conquer all.
He punched me one day and I walked. I slept in my truck at the university parking lot. I rented a motel the next night. On the third I had to go get my things, but he showed up. He begged and I wanted to believe. He never made the mistake of outright hitting me again. He needed someone to control and blame: he needed me. If something flew in my direction, it had been an “accident”. Much like before, though, it was the slippery slope of verbal abuse which trapped me. Time went by, children were born, and I tried everything, but no matter what I did or didn’t do he pointed out my flaws. He isolated me. I lied to myself for eleven years that in time he would mature, mellow, see how much I did for the family. I lied to myself that I still loved him. After child #3 I admitted I was no longer “in love”, but rationalized that love was still there. I just needed to get him to work with me.
One day, that obstinate voice inside me that would not be silenced said, “screw him” and began talking to old friends via the internet. The more of my old self I reclaimed, the more I chose to do things for me, the less capable I became of lying to myself. I saw him begin to treat our daughter in the same dismissive, demeaning manner. I woke up, and once I did, I could not stay married to him. I hated his guts. He was cruel and incapable of real love.
He tried all the old gambits, the guilt trips of how much he’d worked and sacrificed, calling me every demeaning thing in the book, putting the children in the middle…all of it. Having been threatened over the years many times with violence, having seen him in his rages, I lived in terror. He punched holes in the wall, ripped the shed door off, threatened to kill my newly acquired dog, showed up and banged on my doors until I was forced to call the police. The switch from vitriolic rage to smiles and charm turned my stomach and ratcheted the fear and anxiety even higher. No one other than me saw that side of him. His family, “friends” (more like people he maintained acquaintanceship with, but never let them get close), and co-workers all believed his sob story that I was a gold-digging whore bent on destroying him.
The divorce was final in December of ’09, but about that time I realized he wasn’t backing off. He stalked me online. He used my son to spy on me. I’m not sure of all the things he did, but the icing on the cake was walking into my house one day b/c I’d left my cell phone at home and finding him in my bedroom going through my things. I was far too frightened to call the police. I should have. If he went to jail, he’d be fired. If he was fired, the child support I desperately needed to survive would vanish. I filed a restraining order. I attempted to subpoena GPS records (w/o a lawyer, it didn’t work.) Nevertheless, once I quit showing fear, once I decided to fight no matter the cost, he backed down.
There’s a host of other things he did later, but at the end, I won. He has shown his colors to the kids, and the older two see him for the manipulator he is. The youngest does not see. In time she will. It saddens me that it will be a truth she must one day face.
I still have to deal with him regularly, but his power over me has dwindled to nothing, at least that he can see. Every time I must face him, talk to him, challenge him in any way, inside my gut is knotted in fear.
I pity him now, b/c he will never understand love. I’ve forgiven him, because if I don’t, he retains power over me. He truly does not see the harm he caused. The traumas dealt him as a child created a sociopath with no regard for rules unless they suit him and no ability to connect emotionally to other people. Every choice he makes chooses his karma.
I learned that it isn’t always the fist which hurts the most, but rather the verbal digs that strip away a piece of you bit by bit until you aren’t sure who you are anymore. I let go of the indoctrinated ideal of knowing only one man and being married unto death. I learned that I’m stronger than I thought, braver, and worth being loved as I am and that my children needed to learn that lesson by seeing me stand up for myself. It isn’t easy to stand your ground and demand respect when all your life you’ve sacrificed your happiness for others. It takes time to realize it is okay to be angry, to relearn how to argue constructively, to erase the fear, but it can be done.
For all those out there who tell themselves, “but he doesn’t hit me”, listen to that inner voice, the one to whom you feel you must justify his actions. You are worth more. Love does not demean or degrade. Love does not lay blame. Love never requires justification.
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