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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I don't know if I've been able to capture well what it was like.  I don't know if anyone who hasn't experienced it can even see why it was abusive.  I'm sure that people who have been there know exactly what I'm talking about.

He was controlling and domineering in every area of our relationship.  And punishing when things didn't go his way.  That's really all I can say about that right now.

Trying to understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship is like being dropped in a country where you don't speak the language and trying to communicate.  Unless you've lived there, it is all foreign to you.  The customs don't make sense.  You don't understand why a person does something.  And each abusive relationship is like a separate tribe with its own unique qualities.  What works in one doesn't in another.

All I can tell you is my story.  Why I stayed.

I went into marriage believing that divorce was not an option.  I had my mind set on this.  Unless there was an affair or a crime I couldn't see myself divorcing.  Divorce was failure.  Divorce meant that I didn't try hard enough.

And failure is shame.  Failure is weakness.  Failure is unacceptable.  These are beliefs I have carried with me for as long as I can remember.  I am still working to change these beliefs.

Early on, before I believed divorce was an option, it was about love.  I loved him.  He wasn't always angry.  During those times that he wasn't angry things were good.  He loved me.  He loved the kids.

And as much as I've tried not to in my life, I need love.  I was relieved to learn in therapy that all people need love.  Needing love and acceptance does not make you weak, does not make me weak.  It is a part of who we are as human beings.  I needed love and he was the first person that I truly felt loved by that didn't have to.  If a parent or grandparent loved me it didn't carry the same weight.  They are kind of required to (which is funny because I didn't feel my dad did and didn't see the conflict in this statement).  But when someone outside of my family chose to love me, to value me, he won.

To this day I struggle with this issue.  If someone is kind to me and expresses value for me I am instantly their friend.  I trust them and forgive almost anything.  I will try to do whatever they want in order to keep them in my life. This is something I have learned about myself and have to be mindful of.  It has put me in dangerous situations before.

He loved me.  I'd waited so long to belong to someone who loved me.  Someone I could talk to about my feelings.  He was that person.

Until things got ugly.  When he raged, because that's what he did, he wasn't the same person.  He even had a name for the person he became.  When he was angry and vile and hateful the other person did those things.  Maurice did those things.  I guess Maurice had been with him for years.  His temper had gotten him into trouble before, such as getting into fights at school.

And he really was a different person.  I think that made it easier to stay.  It wasn't him, the real him.  The real him loves me and is kind.  If I can just figure out what it takes to keep Maurice at bay, we'll be fine.  I still felt it was my fault and mine to fix.

I don't know if he knew how much I craved his love, how desperate I was to have it, how badly it hurt to have him angry with me.  It seemed like he did because it became a tool.

When he was angry he withdrew his love.  From me and the kids, who also need to be loved.  He treated us with disdain.  It was like starvation.  Sometimes he would just not acknowledge our existence.  Other times he would push us away.  He wouldn't let the kids near him, even if he was only angry with me.

That was the other really tough part.  When he was angry at me he frequently took it out on the kids.  They had done nothing but they were being punished.  He broke promises to them.  He refused to hug them.  He yelled at them.  Because I had misbehaved in some way. 

And it was tough to abide by his guidelines because the rules were constantly changing.  That way, he kept the power.  It was about his whims at the moment regardless of what had been acceptable in the past.  I was frequently punished for not living up to what he expected without having any idea he'd expected it in the first place.

So, I did what most mothers do, I tried to protect my children.  I had no idea how, I just did what I could.  I tried many things until I found something that worked.  Usually that meant apologizing for not being or doing what he wanted and promising to do better.  Then performing whatever penance he required.

This was another reason I stayed.  If I left, if we separated or divorced, he would have opportunity to be alone with the kids.  He is their father.  I knew he would have visitation rights.  He would have his weekends when they would stay with him.  And I wouldn't be there to protect them.  No one would be.  They would be at his mercy.  That thought frightened me.  And knowing how he used them to punish me, I fear he might hurt them or turn them against me.

Even though I can say he didn't hit me or the kids, I can also say there were times I believe he would have if I hadn't stepped in the way.  There were many times that I physically interevened because I thought they were in physical danger.  There were many times I put my body on the line, in one way or another, to protect them.

Also, I was a stay at home mom.  I had no training.  I could not provide for me and my children.  I was at his mercy for the food and clothing that my children needed.  The only financial option I thought I had was to go back home to my parents and let my dad support us.  No way did I want to do that.  And I wasn't even sure my dad would agree to it if he didn't think my reason was good enough.  Knowing that he didn't believe in emotional abuse, I doubted he would relent.

All of these reasons are typical.  I believe many abused spouses would give similar reasons.  But there are other reasons.

I stayed out of commitment to my temple covenants.  I had promised God that I would give my marriage my all.  At that time I didn't fully understand what that meant.  I do now.  I know now that God would not want me to be treated that way.  That forgiveness does not mean staying in an abusive situation.  But I did not know this then.

I also stayed because I believed his anger was part of his OCD.  I believed it was an illness.  Having struggled with severe PMS since I was fourteen, I knew what it was like to have something chemical take over my mind and body, diminishing my ability to control my emotions.  I wouldn't leave him if he had cancer, why should I leave him because of his mental illness?  Again, this was twisted thinking.  If you are in danger it is your job to protect yourself, even if that means getting out when the other person is sick.  Yes, it is my job to protect and take care of him where I can but only after making sure I am safe, and that means emotionally safe as well.  I am my number one responsibility.  That has taken me years of therapy to understand; I am still working to convert myself to it.  It's still easy to get lost in my life and lose track of that responsibility.  It's too easy to serve and care for others at my own expense.

Learning that physical safety is not the only safety was also huge for me.  I could say he didn't hit me.  I couldn't tell anyone that he slammed my soul up against the wall with his words and his rage.  I couldn't tell anyone that he felt he had the right to punish me when he didn't get what he wanted or what that did to my psyche.

It's nearly impossible to descibe the wounds that develop as a result of this experience.  There are so many mind games.  I came to doubt myself.  Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing.  Maybe he is right.  Maybe I'm not good enough.  Maybe I don't remember it correctly.

Memory.  I do not remember most fights.  I do not remember a lot of things.  I don't know if others experience this or if it has to do with my childhood.  But I have a tendancy to forget these experiences once they are in the past.  If I don't write about it or tell someone about it, it leaves my memory.  This is a coping mechanism I learned as a child to survive the things I experienced.

This is how I see it.  There are only so many wounds a person can take.  You can be nibbled to death.  If it was a small wound, I ignored it.  If I didn't learn to ignore all the arrows shot in non-life-threatening places then I would die.  And I had to survive for my children.  So I let them go.  I pretended that they were in the past and so they didn't matter anymore.  And I ignored all the scars.  The many, many scars.

My marriage was a war.  My soul is a warrior and it carries the wounds of battle.

1 comment:

Maria Juanita said...

This blog really spoke to me, particularly the following passage:
"Memory. I do not remember most fights. I do not remember a lot of things. I don't know if others experience this or if it has to do with my childhood. But I have a tendency to forget these experiences once they are in the past. If I don't write about it or tell someone about it, it leaves my memory. This is a coping mechanism I learned as a child to survive the things I experienced."

I often struggle in therapy to relate tales of my past... because when I look back on my life, it is like a series of old snapshots in an album; a single image in my mind of an event, but no real memory of the situation, the conditions that led up to it, or the emotions that were involved.

I have enjoyed reading a few of your recent posts, and look forward to catching up on some of the older ones! Sometimes I worry that it is unhealthy to spend so much time reading about other people's lives when I can't even handle my own, but it really helps to know that there are other people out there who struggle with mental illness and I am not alone. And while many of the stories are sad, it is the positive ones that make it past my memory block and leave an impression! I am glad that you were able to get over this particular hurdle in your life... take pride in that accomplishment!