A common question asked of abuse survivors by people who have not been abused is this: “Why did you let it happen?” or “Why didn’t you leave sooner?” or they will make statements like, “I thought you were smarter than that!” or “I would never stand for that kind of treatment!” all while looking at you like you’ve just sprouted another head.
Our stories are different, but they have some common themes, one of which I would like to address with my posts here, and that is how an otherwise strong, intelligent person can get sucked into a pattern of abuse and why we stay so much longer than we should.
My story starts with molestation at the hands of my Passive/Aggressive (PA) father. Ironically, my Mom instilled in me the belief that I could do anything I wanted to do if I just put my mind to it and worked hard. She gave me a strong work ethic and the desire to go one step farther with any project than anyone else did. I got good grades in school because it was my “job” to do as well as I could. I behaved in a socially acceptable manner because it was my “duty” to do so. I helped others because it was the right thing to do. To all outward appearances, I was a model teen.
By the time I reached High School I was so desperate to escape my home that I chose to date a boy who I thought would enable me to sever all ties with my father. Mark had issues with authority and I knew he smoked pot. He was smart and funny and obviously in control of his own destiny, or so I thought. I knew my parents would hate him, but he was the irresistible Bad Boy and I was in lust.
Up to that point I was naive about love and relationships but I read a lot of books and thought I had it all figured out – I would love with all my being and whoever the object of my affections was would be so amazed by my dedication that he would worship me like the Goddess the (romantic fiction) books all said I could be.
Yeah. The sad truth is that those romance novels are a bunch of crap, but I was young and thought I was in love and that my love could warm even the coldest heart and turn my lump of coal into a diamond. It didn’t help that he presented himself as a wounded soul, a boy who had never had the love of a good woman, one that could make him feel treasured and safe at last.
I took him on as a project. I would show him what Real Love was and his issues would magically dissolve into the ether and he would be a whole, productive genius at something that paid well and we would live Happily Ever After.
Looking back now I see that he is a Psychopath (Psycho) who only ever cared about his own want of the moment. He had no concept of Right and Wrong except that he understood what actions would be likely to land him in jail. He knew that I would make a good cover for his illegal activities and so the lying began.
He lied about everything. Constantly. Even things that didn’t matter he lied about. He wove a web of lies around everyone he came into contact with. When confronted with his lies, he lied some more until the Truth was impossible to determine. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I just couldn’t believe that anyone could be so deceitful because I was honest to a fault. I ignored my gut instinct to run and clung to the belief that if I just loved him enough we would be fine. He would become a Knight in Shining Armor.
In the beginning, he hid his drug use very well. He always seemed a bit high, but he was able to function well enough that I didn’t become suspicious until my money and checks started to disappear. If I couldn’t pay the rent, we would just move in with his mother for awhile was his reasoning – why get all hung up on money? He was a free spirit who couldn’t be bound by something so trivial as cash. The truth was that my money was going into his arm at every opportunity. I worked my ass off at two jobs to keep him in drugs while he couldn’t hold a job for more than a month and didn’t even try to find employment – a job had to land in his lap before he would take it. Took me two years to figure all that out. Yes, he was that good.
He used physical intimidation to keep me in line, but it never seemed over the top – leaning in to me, jabbing me with a finger, a hard squeeze, threatening looks – none of it rang any alarm bells because it was subtle and he would change back into a smiling, harmless guy in an instant, leaving me wondering if what I saw was even real.
He convinced me that if we were married he would learn to be a loving husband. This living together stuff just wasn’t “real” enough for him. He begged and pleaded and made promises and I still considered marriage to be a sacred institution to be respected and so I found myself puking into the bushes outside our crappy apartment the night before my wedding, knowing in my gut that this was a Very Bad Idea but not knowing how to get out of it.
Soon after our courthouse wedding, he informed me that his life would be complete if only he had a son. My protests went unheeded, he flushed my birth control pills and set to work getting me pregnant. The Grandmas-to-be were thrilled! I was sick with regret – I hadn’t wanted to have children. I wanted a career and independence, not a child and husband who needed constant care and attention. I had a very different picture of where I wanted my life to go, but here was harsh Reality staring me in the face, telling me to give up my dreams forever. I felt like my life was out of control, that I’d been tricked into someone else’s story, but I didn’t know how to change where it was going.
I demanded that Mark’s drinking and drug use stop immediately – I was pregnant, after all, and the baby and I needed him to be sober. He promised he would stop. He never did, but his tear-filled confessions and renewed promises gave me that one thing that keeps the abused from leaving – hope.
Things get fuzzy at this point. He started to wake me up multiple times during the night, asking questions, demanding things, whatever. I became a walking corpse, unable to eat, barely able to stand upright because I was so sleep deprived. I soon forgot what it was like to be rested and upon returning home from work each evening all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. I had no energy to think, let alone resist whatever he wanted if he would just let me sleep. I had no idea that sleep deprivation is a time-tested torture method and is often used by abusers to keep their victims compliant. He would stay up all night, high on crank, wake me frequently, and then sleep all day while I was at work.
And then one night he came home very late and very angry. I have no idea what set him off or what combination of drugs and alcohol turned him into a monster, but he arrived (by this time we were living with his mom as we could no longer afford rent on my reduced wages) ready for a war. He was shouting accusations about bizarre things, punching the walls, kicking over the lamps and stomping from room to room with his big hiking boots. It went on for hours as I wilted with fatigue. I finally got up to go to bed and he grabbed me by the throat and started yelling that I was a bad person and didn’t deserve to have a child. He ranted about how his son would be better off if he died right now as his hands began to squeeze. I would have died that night if his mom hadn’t been there to distract him and pull him off me. Soon he passed out in a puddle of vomit and piss on the floor where we left him until morning. I was eight months pregnant.
When questioned the next day, he denied all knowledge of coming home in a rage and of trying to kill me. He swore that it had never happened and so it was never mentioned again, but I was scared now and knew that one day he would murder me.
After our son was born and as my awareness of what he was began to grow, he took a new tack with his deceptions. He started attending AA meetings, got a wonderful sponsor and started to talk the talk. He drank and smoked pot pretty much every day and if anyone noticed they didn’t say a word. He continued to make sure I was sleep deprived.
I was allowed to socialize with other AA members – he had long ago cut me off from anyone I knew before him – and I listened to their stories about how alcohol had ruined their lives. I found strength in their stories but I never shared any of mine and I never told anyone that he was still drinking and using drugs.
When my son was 2 (Mark and I had been together for 4 years at this point) a woman at work took me into her confidence and told me about her abusive ex. I broke down and told her what was going on at home and she put me in touch with a local domestic violence advocate. It was in conversations with her that I learned that sleep deprivation is abuse and just as damaging to the body as a man’s fists, that it weakens the victim’s defenses against any and all other attacks and that I was not in my right mind for most of our relationship because of it.
We made a plan with my friend from work and my Mom to take my son, my dog and myself out of Mark’s reach. We got out before it was too late, but the damage to my psyche was already done.
To this day I believe that I married Mark to “fix” him and save myself from the abuse at home. I believed that love could conquer all and that if I just tried hard enough he would see the light and understand his place in the Universe. I believed in Happy Endings. I know now that it’s all a lie we tell ourselves to deny the messes we get ourselves into and to soothe our shattered hearts when things go wrong. At the time I did not understand evil people and the things they will do to get what they want.
Mark taught me several valuable lessons:
- Always keep some cash hidden somewhere and your checks and/or credit cards in a secure location. My desk at work was perfect for both purposes and enabled me to get enough cash together to get away. Since he never had any money we did not have any joint bank accounts, making it easier for me to control my funds.
- Never believe a drug addict or alcoholic – they will “forget” promises and do anything they have to do in order to get their next fix. Anything. And they don’t care who they hurt.
- Always trust your gut – if it feels wrong, it probably is. I ignored this one several more times over the next 20 years and it ALWAYS turned out badly.
- Get enough sleep, no matter what. If a partner often robs you of your sleep for what seems like a trivial reason, take a long look at what’s going on – s/he may have a specific motive for making sure you can’t function the next day, week, year.
- Any physical touch is threatening. It would be years before I could stand next to a stranger and not lean away, before I could shake hands without trembling or hug a person close to me.
I was young and ignorant when I met Mark and I have not been too hard on myself about the mistakes I made in that relationship. Our son has turned into a wonderful man who cares about himself and those around him, proving that Nurture can win out over Nature sometimes. Harley does not know his father and I hope he never will. Mark made no child support payments nor did he ever try to contact me or see his son. He is still alive as far as I know, his 2012 mug shot on the internet for all to see. I had nightmares for many years after leaving him, but now I can say that he means nothing to me.
After some time had gone by, I felt that I was ready to love again, but this time I had a list of requirements for a potential mate and I was determined to stick to them. THAT didn’t work out so well, either.
About the Author
It’s a textbook case, with him as the abuser and me as the victim. I am angry. I refuse to be a victim any longer. I will take back control of my life. For the moment I am writing anonymously, just for myself, to help clear out the cobwebs and document events as they occur. Also to give myself some backbone to deny him the satisfaction of breaking me.