Warning:

This blog could potentially contain triggers. Please make sure you are emotionally safe before continuing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Staying

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.

Survival Strategies

When a person lives in an abusive situation, there are a few classic ways to deal with it.

There are those few people who recognize it and find their way out.  Maybe there are more than a few, but from the amount of women I talk to who took years to find their way free it doesn't seem like it.  Yes, I know there are men struggling in abusive situations, too.  I have honestly not met many of them.  A few.

But for the most part the abuse stories I hear about are from women.  Who are victims of the men in their lives (or sometimes their mothers).  It always seems to come from someone who claims to love you or who is thought to love you.

As a child, I became a pleaser.  Anything I could do to make the abusers in my life happy I did.  I tried to be perfect, as defined by them.  Never arguing.  Never challenging.  After years of anger and yelling and punishing, I learned to read it and pre-empt it whenever I could.  Anything I said or did was done slowly.  That way, if I sensed anger or rejection anywhere along the way, I could back peddle.  I could find my way back to safety.  I didn't have an opinion unless it was given to me.  I was of the go-along-to-get-along club.  Make no waves.  This was not done because I thought it was proper behavior or to be polite.  This was done to stay out of trouble.  This was done to be safe.

Things got a little better in high school because I could be gone more.  I found some freedom that I hadn't known before.  I started to find myself.

I graduated, started college, and met a guy.

Our romance was a whirlwind.  Four months to the day after our first date we were married.  I would later learn that this is a big red flag.  A definite sign that the pursuer is a controller with instant gratification issues.  Someone who wants to win, to capture you before you find out who they really are.

Things were great for a while.  There were little things, little signs that showed it bothered him when I didn't do things his way.

When did it change?  Where along the way did he go from being my savior to my captor?  I wish I knew.

He pursued me.  It was nice.  It was so nice to feel wanted.  He said he loved me on our second or third date.  No one (almost no one) in my life told me they loved me.  My mom once or twice, maybe.  My grandma said she loved me.  Never my dad.  No one else that I can think of.

He loved me.  He told me he loved me.  I had no idea what that meant.  I wasn't sure what love felt like.  I knew I liked it when I was with him.  I knew I felt important to him.  Did I love him?

After a while I started to say it, too.  I said it because it seemed like I should.  It seemed like time.  I thought that maybe I meant it.  Before I knew it, we were married.  I was giddy, caught up in the event.  By the time we married I did love him.

We married in the temple, for time and all eternity.  I had finally found the dream that I had worked so hard for.

Plus, he took me away from my home.  I didn't belong to my dad anymore -- now I belonged to him.  A man who loved me.

And somewhere along the line things started to get ugly.  I don't know when it started.  It was such a gradual thing.  I didn't realize for a long time that he saw me as property.  When you feel something it's easy to believe that the other person feels like you do.

I adored him.  I did love him.  I wanted to be the best little wife anyone could have.

That meant that I did everything I could to fit into his mold.  Whatever he wanted me to be, I tried to be.

In other words I lost myself.  I surrendered myself.  Which isn't surprising considering my upbringing.  Being what the man in my life wanted was all I had ever known.  It's just that this time I felt I was doing it out of love instead of fear.

So subtle, so gradual.  And at first it was rare.  On those occasions I cried and cried, thinking I had done something wrong.  You see, my dad taught me that as well.  If something is wrong then it is my fault.  And my husband felt the same way.

Well, that's not totally true.  Sometimes he didn't blame it on me, he blamed it on other things.  Lack of sleep.  Stress.  Allergies.  Whatever.  But whatever it was, it wasn't his fault.  It was never his fault.  He didn't take responsibility.  Even after the blow up, when he had calmed down and was apologizing, he was sorry that he was so tired that it had happened.  He was sorry that he was so stressed that it happened.

And even in the apology there was justification.  A common theme throughout our marriage has been that if he doesn't feel well he can treat others any way he wants.  If people hurt his feelings or plans don't go his way he can be as angry and mean as he wants.  It's perfectly justified.

For a long time, I took it.  I didn't know what else to do.  I had seen it in my home so I didn't think it was that out of the ordinary.  I knew my parents wouldn't take my side; they wouldn't see anything wrong with it.  I doubted his family would do anything either if I told them, he was theirs.  I was an outsider.  Where would I go?  I couldn't go back to my parents.

And I was humiliated.  I was embarrassed.  My marriage was failing.  I was a failure.  I didn't want anyone to know.

One of the things that frequently happens in situations that are abusive is that the victim wants to strike back.  Not in any dangerous way, but they need to feel some sense of power.  Being abused or controlled is so demeaning.  I felt completely powerless so much of the time.  My life was not in my control. 

When someone works to control a person, the other person sometimes tries to counter-control.  I have done this many times.  Find anything and everything that I can control and use it against him.  Turn his tactics on him.

One of these things was the yelling.  It seemed to be the only way to get him to hear me, so I began yelling.  There was a time in our lives marked by screaming fights almost every night.  Each of us pushing for control over the situation.  The problem with this tactic is that he is more practiced at it than I am.  I almost always crumbled first.

To this day, angry yelling still makes me want to give in.  It makes me feel like a little girl in trouble who needs to be good and do what she's told.

Once I decided that I didn't want to be yelling all the time I tried to find another tactic.  I chose avoidance.  I would do everything I could to not be around when he was.  The kids and I would just happen to not be home when he got home from work, especially if there was something that I knew would upset him.  If the house wasn't clean or if dinner wasn't made, I would just be gone.  And I'd try to be gone until he went to bed in order to avoid the fight.  Otherwise I'd get in trouble.  And be punished.

I'd try so hard to go to bed long enough before him that I could pretend to be asleep when he came to bed.  Or stay up late doing something until he went to sleep.  Otherwise there would be confrontation when I was trapped in bed with him.

Being gone or pretending to be asleep were my best protective measures.  Were they noble?  No.  But they were what I could come up with at the time.  I felt avoidance was the better alternative because then the kids didn't hear us screaming at each other, or him yelling at me.

So my strategies over the years were basically yelling, avoidance, and giving him what he wanted.

I had no idea what I wanted.  I had no idea who I was.  Except that I was his.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not Talking

I'm not ready to write again yet, but want to keep telling my story.  This is another portion of  a story I started a while back, a fictional version of my story (Waiting to be Heard).  I'm afraid it jumps ahead to something I haven't written about yet.  But while telling my story it's tough not to jump around a bit.  I hope it will make sense when I finally get it all out.

**********

Can you believe that? She feels accountable. How is that possible? Someone else violated her like that and she feels accountable. It seems crazy. But it’s not. It happens over and over again.


You see, she had free will. She had the ability to act. She had the ability to not participate. Or did she?

This is something that is difficult for people to understand. If they have never lived with abuse and been controlled, they don’t get this. Do you get it?

There are people like her all around you, you know? You walk by them. You even talk to them. And you think they talk to you. Guess what. They aren’t really talking to you.

They are filling the air with words as a distraction. They use those words to keep you from finding out that anything is wrong. But they aren’t really talking to you.

How can I say this? Because I do this. Talking means something. What they offer you is just chatter. Those are not the same things.

Do you know why they won’t talk to you? I do. They do not trust you. You are not safe.

And besides, you don’t really want to know. You only want to know until you find out. You want the satisfaction of having won the challenge to get them to talk but you don’t want the responsibility that comes from knowing what they have to say.

How do I know? Because I have done this, too. I have sensed that someone had a story to tell and tried so hard to get them to tell me. Once they’d trusted me and opened their soul to me, my hunger was satiated. I’d gotten what I needed. And I left.

I’m ashamed of that. Are you? Since we are all connected I believe you’ve done this, too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mental Illness Isn't Funny

Hollywood has made a lot of money portaying the quirky side of mental illness, making it funny.  In fact, What About Bob? is one of my favorite comedies.  Bob is silly and strange and quirky, which makes him kind of cute and cuddly.

But what you usually don't see is how difficult mental illness is to live with.  I've experienced it from both sides of the coin.

My husband has more than moderate OCD.  Sorry to keep using that descriptor (more than moderate), but it's tough to place it on a scale.  People with severe OCD usually can't function in society or hold down a job.  And he has not been 100% on those fronts; he has lost employment because of his obsessions.

But for the most part he seems pretty normal, maybe a little quirky.  Unless you live with him.

We see the side that has to throw his dinner away, his favorite dinner, because someone breathed on it.  We see the side that won't eat the birthday cake at a party because the child blowing out the candles didn't seem clean.  We see the side that scalded his hand, scoured away more than a single layer of skin, and wouldn't touch anything or anyone for days because he'd accidentally touched a dead mouse.  He wanted to cut his finger off.  He really did.  It took a lot to keep him from doing it, including a call to a therapist.  He wore a glove for a few days so that it wouldn't touch anything.  To this day he says it still feels dirty.  It happened a few years ago.

His OCD also led to something that I just learned about, although it happened many years ago.

I was in the kitchen rinsing dishes in the sink.  My daughter reached toward the water as if to rinse her hand.  I warned her that it was very hot water.  In fact, it was steaming.  She told me that she had a very high tolerance for hot water since her dad had taught her to wash her hands.

I don't know how old she was when it happened.  She was in the bathroom washing her hands.  He came by and checked the water.  It was warm.  He told her that she would never get her hands clean that way.  Then he turned the knob almost all the way to the hot side, grabbed her hands, and proceeded to help her wash them.  She told him it was too hot.  She told him it hurt.  He told her that's how she knew they were getting clean.  She laughed as she told me this story.  She'd spent years thinking that if her hands were bright red after washing them it meant they were clean.  I did not laugh when I heard this story.  I did not know that it had happened.  All those years I thought I was protecting my kids and he hurt them in ways I couldn't imagine.  It turns out she was not the only child whose hands had first degree burns after their dad helped them wash.  It makes me so sad to even type this. 

OCD is only funny when it's not part of your life.  It takes over.  It controls.

The way I understand it, from observation and converations with my husband, the anxiety is intense.  There is intense fear that may not make sense.  Imagine a fear you have, not something small but something you're really afraid of, something that makes your heart beat faster just thinking of it.  Now imagine purposely experiencing this thing over and over.  You are afraid of snakes so you stand in a snake pit.  Will it cure you?  Maybe.  Does knowing this make you want to climb into that pit?  Not likely.  It depends on how crippling this fear has been for you and what the payoff will be.

OCD is like that.  Refusing to act out the compulsion is like facing your greatest fear over and over again.  All day.  Every day.  The anxiety climbs and climbs.  The only thing that brings it down is acting on the compulsion.  But as soon as you do the obsessions start again and the desire begins again.  Acting on it feeds it, makes it stronger, gives it power.

That's what I've watched from the outside.

From the inside I've had different experiences.  I've struggled with depression, as I've discussed on my other blog.  I've struggled with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, severe PMS), also discussed on my other blog.

But the one that I haven't written about is the PTSD -- post traumatic stress disorder.  The abuses that I've talked about so far each have their own PTSD.  I also have PTSD from things I will discuss in the future.

PTSD as I understand it and experience it is when something happens that reminds me in some way of a traumatic experience from my past.  It's as if I am living it all over again.  All the emotion comes flooding back, my body tenses, and usually I shut down and withdraw from life.  There is so much fear.  Sometimes I can work through this quickly, sometimes it takes several days or weeks.  Especially if it brings back one of those memories that has been hidden.

A certain smell and I am back at that place in the canyon.  A certain phrase and I am cowering from my dad.  A touch on the shoulder and I am  . . . sorry, I can't finish that one yet.

When my PTSD is triggered my anxiety climbs.  I am flooded with adrenaline and fear.  I have an intense desire to run and hide.  It's not unusual for me to pace or rock.  It feels like all my nerves are on fire.  If someone touches me, even lightly, I am in physical pain.  I am in such a severe state of aggitation that it's tough for me to function at all.  I can't feed my family.  I can't go to my appointment.  And I can't explain it.

All I can do is stay in my room in my bed, hoping to be alone.  If someone comes into my room I may yell at them or snap at them that they need to stay at the threshold.  If they cross the threshold I am likely to back into my headboard like an animal trying to skitter away.  I beg and plead that they back off.

My family has learned to work around this.  My children don't get it.  They know I'm having a tough time and need to be alone and they try to respect that.  It has taken a long time but my husband has learned to recognize it sometimes.  Unless things are really bad he is very respectful of my need to be left alone.  He doesn't understand it.  Unless you feel it there's only so much you can understand.  But he tries and that means a lot.

Enough for now.  My anxiety is high just from writing this.  It's going to take me a while to calm down and feel safe enough to sleep.  But it needed to be written.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Little More Info

Sorry for the delay in continuing my story.  This was harder than I thought.  I needed a little recovery time.

Please forgive me for my little moment of insecurity.  I have been called stupid and told I was wrong so many times, sometimes it's tough for me to trust my own judgment.  It's pretty hard not to buy into it when multiple people have told me this.

But I have grown.  I have had lots of therapy.  I have had validation.

And let me just say, unless you have been in a situation where the other person in your life tries to convince you that what you experienced is not what really happened, you have no idea how important validation can be.  A reality check.  Someone on the outside who can look at it and call it what it is.  I have been very blessed to find this.

I know I left a lot of unanswered questions.  There is so much more to this story.  There is so much more to my story.  It will take time.

I need to add a little info.  Please forgive me when I tell you that I probably won't give you all of it.  There are some things that happened that I just can't talk about yet.  Suffice it to say, when someone tells you a story like this you probably aren't getting all of it.  Such is the case with me.  I will be as honest as possible in what I tell you, but for now I must keep some things to myself.

A little more info on my husband.  Yes, he knows I'm writing this.  Yes, he claims to be okay with it.  I believe that he is right now.  When things get bad again he may not be.  We'll see.

I have to say when things get bad again.  It's not entirely over.  It is so much better.  He is not the person he used to be.  He's worked so hard to change.  But there are still ugly times.

He has more than moderate OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  While all of those things you've seen in movies and on tv are true for some people, everyone with OCD has unique issues.

I suspected he had this when we got married, although I didn't really understand it.  Society was just beginning to talk about it.  I knew things bothered him, that he needed to have things a certain way.  And I tried to make them that way, thinking that's what a loving wife would do.  If you love someone don't you do what you can to make their life better?  When I did what he wanted he calmed down, he felt better.

I mention this because I believe the OCD is part of the story.  If something is lost he becomes obsessed with finding it.  Not in the way you're thinking.  Obsessed.  And the anger that results because he can't satiate this need is strong.

I had no idea how to respond.  I didn't know what to do.

A story to illustrate.

He sits down to watch a movie after the kids are in bed.  But he can't find the remotes.  He starts to look.  The longer he looks, the more his anxiety climbs.  He throws stuff around the room as he looks.  He wakes me up to ask if I know where they are.  I can tell he's angry so I get out of bed to look.  His voice gets louder and louder.  He asks who was watching the tv last.  I say I don't know, hoping to direct his anger away from one of the children.  While I am looking he goes to their rooms and wakes them up.  He yells at them to get in there and find the *#%&! remotes.  They are probably all under twelve-years old.  They are scared.  It's late, probably after eleven.  He makes them look for at least an hour.  I am looking.  They are looking.  He is yelling.  Eventually we find one that has slipped behind something.  He decides this will have to do for now, tells us that both remotes had better be there when he gets home from work the next day.  He sits down to watch his movie.  I try to get the kids back to sleep.  And then I go lie in bed crying, hoping I can get it all out before he comes to bed so that I don't get in trouble for crying.  He thinks I cry to manipulate him.  When he comes to bed and I am crying he ridicules me.  I go into the bathroom, crumple to the floor, and cry silently.  Again.  My heart is breaking.  Again.

The skills and coping mechanisms I developed as a child serve me well.

After he has had time to calm down, maybe the next day or maybe a few, he apologizes.  As he laughs about how stupid it was.  I had better accept immediately or he will be angry again.  Or he doesn't apologize and stays angry.  If he stays angry long enough I apologize.  I hate doing this.  Not because I don't like to be wrong but because I don't think I was wrong and I hate lying.  But if I apologize he thanks me for it and all is forgiven.  Things calm down and the kids and I feel safe again.

That is, until next time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

As I Write These Things

As I write these things I wonder if I am being silly.  Do I sound like a whiner?  Am I oversensitive and making a big deal out of everyday things?  Is this more of my over-analyzing, my over-thinking?

Part of me believes it is.  To me, these things really don't seem so terrible.  They actually seem kind of mundane.  I think that's because the things that happen in my own life seem to be less important.  My pain seems to be secondary to the pain of those around me.  I'm tough.  I can take it.  It's easier for me to experience the pain myself than to see others in pain.

No one has commented at all on these posts yet.  I understand if you need to think about them.  Sit with them.  Process these things you've learned.

But if someone could just comment to say that you've read them and you don't think I'm an idiot, that would help right now.  Because when I write these things I become that scared, insecure little girl again.

My Childhood Home

I grew up in a house with plenty of yelling.  Was it more than average?  I have no way to know.  I do know that when I spent time at the houses of friends I watched their families.  There were a few like mine, a couple that were worse, but most of them were nothing like mine.

Sure, the kids fought.  The parents got frustrated and snapped sometimes.  But overall they seemed to like each other.  They seemed to be a unit.  A family.

I didn't really understand.  I saw and heard my parents fight a great deal.  I got yelled at a lot.  It kind of seemed like I was either punished or ignored.

Now let me be honest here.  This is very difficult to write.  I have a pretty good relationship with my parents now and I do believe that they did the best they could.  I believe they both had abuse in their pasts as well.  I believe they both had their own demons that they were dealing with at the time.  It's very hard to know how to raise your children differently than you were raised.  I know because I've spent the last twenty years trying and I still slip up way too often.  Also, I have a lot of holes in my memory.  I'll talk more about that on a future topic.  It's also very scary to write this.  I feel like I am breaking the famly code.  Maybe you have one, maybe you don't.  Often it's unspoken.  I actually remember having it openly stated to me.  We don't air our dirty laundry in public.  It's tough to rebel against the family code.  It's frightening to say that you want to develop your own code.  But that code just doesn't work for me anymore. 

Please try not to judge my family too harshly.  This is my perspective, and I'm the first to admit I'm a little screwed up.  This is my adult brain trying to make sense of things that happened to me as a child.

But in my mind, the way I remember it, my home was not a place of love and value.  It was not a place where I felt wanted.  I felt like I was in the way.  I felt like I was too much trouble.  Like I caused problems.  I wasn't good enough.  I know this is not an uncommon occurance.  I know that many children grow up having this experience.  But no matter how many others experienced it, that does not take away from what it did to me.  How it changed me.  The programming that went into my mind at a young age.

I think it's fair to say that my dad was a domineering parent.  He had very high standards and expected them followed.  He has a very strong personality.  Always in charge everywhere he goes.  Not very tolerant of childish mistakes, stupid mistakes.  Not good at dealing with emotion.  Not good at talking about how he feels unless he's angry.

My mom was more passive.  She wanted things done but felt he was too heavy handed.  I honestly don't know how my brothers saw it -- we don't talk about things like this in my family.  The way I saw it my dad was mean to me.  And my mom tried to intervene.

So dad would come home and get angry with me for a chore I hadn't done.  He'd yell; I'd cry.  I'd get the chore done as fast as I could and then go hide in my room until he left.  I don't remember ever having to be sent to my room.  I hid in there often.  Then after he left my mom would find me crying and ask what was wrong.  I would tell her that he'd yelled at me.  And when he came home I'd hear her lay into him, yelling at him for the way he'd treated me.  She'd yell and cry.  He'd yell.  Eventually she would leave.  Not too much time would pass before he was slamming my door open and yelling at me for upsetting my mom.  For getting him in trouble (it didn't take me too long to learn that it's better to keep my mouth shut about it, to not tell her anything, because then it would only get worse -- I'd get punished for telling).  And then he'd tell me that if I was going to cry he'd give me a reason to cry (I learned to hide my tears, to cry silently or into a pillow in my room, so I wouldn't be punished for crying and she wouldn't know it had happened again).

And this is where one of the holes comes in.  I don't remember how he punished me.  I remember getting the belt once, although my brothers got it a fair amount.  And I remember him pounding his finger in my chest.  But that's it.  Something tells me his punishment of choice was spanking, but I have almost no memory of it.

What I do remember is the fear.  I was afraid of my dad for as long as I can remember.  I didn't tell my dad no until I was an adult, until after I was married.  I learned to do what I was told whether I wanted to or not.

He's not like this now.  He has mellowed a lot.  I can't remember the last time I saw him angry.  He still shows disdain and disappointment.  He still has that way of looking at me that says, "You can't possibly be that stupid."  That was a phrase I heard several times growing up.

He seems to like me now, to want to be my friend.  And I am trying.  But it's hard.  I have chosen to be an emotional person again, to feel and to express those feelings.  I still can't do that with him.  I'm still afraid of being rejected.  He's just not emotionally safe for me.

Why do I tell you all this?  What does it have to do with my relationship with my husband?  So very, very much.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Husband is Mean to Me and the Kids

Five years ago, when I started talking about it for the first time, that was all I could say.  I couldn't call it what it was.  I couldn't say he was abusive.  I could call us dysfuntional, for sure.  But I couldn't say that my husband was abusive.

Why?

Because when you make an accusation like that you'd better be able to prove it.  You'd better have bruises and medical reports.  And I didn't. 

Verbal and emotional abuse doesn't leave physical evidence.

No one had seen what he did.  No one else knew what went on in our home.  In public, around friends and neighbors, he was laughing and playful.  Many times people told me that he must be so much fun to live with.  What a great sense of humor.  You must laugh all the time.

No.  Not really.  I dread picking up the phone because I know I'm in trouble for something.  I hate the weekends and holidays because it means very long days with him at home, never knowing if he will be in a good mood or if we will all be walking on eggshells.  Never knowing if the thing that made him laugh yesterday will have him screaming at me today.  Never knowing if my latest penance was enough, if I'm forgiven yet.  If he loves me again.  What's going to bother him today?  What did I do wrong?  What want should I have anticipated?  Will his anger be directed only at me or will he take it out on the kids?

Let me be clear.  He did not hit me.  He did not hit the kids in any way that could not be written off as discipline.  I would have known how to handle that.

He pushed me once, knocked me to the floor, when I was pregnant with our first child.  I remember telling him then and there that if anything like that ever happened again we were through; I would divorce him.  There were times when I regretted that threat.  I believe if I hadn't made it he would have hit me.  And I could have left.  I could have escaped.  And people would understand.

There were many times when I would have given anything just to have him hit me.  Then the decision would be clear.

But verbal and emotional abuse is tricky.  It's a sly thing that hides from the world.  It can even hide from the victim; you just can't put your finger on it.  Especially if you grew up with it.  Which we both did, to some extent.  And it comes on a little at a time so you don't notice it growing.  When you've lived it you believe it is normal.  You believe that everyone gets to that point at one time or another, behind closed doors.  Because it's all you've ever known.

Some examples of the abuse in our marriage/family.  At various times he would --
* give me the silent treatment for days
* humiliate me publicly or privately
* ignore my feelings
* criticize me, call me names, yell at me
* give me a hard time about socializing with my friends or family
* ridicule my beliefs
* have unpredictable mood swings, from good to bad for no apparent reason
* twist my words to turn them against me
* tell me that I am too sensitive
* threaten to leave
* ridicule me and then tell me it's a joke and say that I have no sense of humor
* withhold approval, appreciation, or affection
* present a wonderful face to the world
* promise never to do something hurtful again
* abuse something I love, my children
* compliment me to keep me happy but criticize me to keep me insecure
* harass me about imagined affairs
* question my every move and motive
* make me feel like there is no way to win, damned if I do/damned if I don't
* say things and later deny saying them
* drive like a road-rage junkie
* threaten to hurt me or our children
* manipulate me with lies and contradictions
* blow off commitments to me or the kids because we had misbehaved in some way
(list wording taken in part from Dr. Irene's Verbal Abuse Site)

And there are so many more.  These are just a few of the things that were prevelent in my marriage for most of the fifteen years before I found the voice to talk about it with someone.

I was made to feel incredibly guilty if I chose to go out in the evening, even for a church activity.  And if I wasn't home exactly when I said I would be he would lock me out of the house.

If I woke him up when he overslept, I would get yelled at for acting like his mother -- he can take care of himself.  If I didn't wake him up when he overslept, I would get yelled at for not being considerate and helpful.

If he couldn't bully me into what he wanted then the kids became pawns.  Random punishment for the slightest offense.  Threatening violence if they didn't do what he told them to immediately.  And a complete withdrawl of his affection for them.

When I got off a phone call I would be interrogated for several minutes about who I was talking to and what we were talking about.

If we were out together with friends and I spent more time talking to the friends than to him then I was chastised and punished for ignoring him.

If I spent a night out with a friend, I was told that I was treating him like he was unimportant and that a wife should want to be with her husband.

Nothing was done right.  Nothing was good enough.  Nothing was his fault; everything was my fault.

And as loud and frequent as the yelling was, sometimes the silence was so much worse.  He radiated anger.  He would walk through the room and I could feel it coming off him like heat waves.  The kids and I just tried to be on our best behavior.  We tried to stay out of his way.

And I heard myself using lines I'd heard in all those woman-in-peril movies.  Please just try to be quiet.  Please be as good as you can.  Please don't give daddy any reason to get mad.

We would go for long stretches (sometimes several months) with everything being great.  It was wonderful.  We were happy.  We enjoyed each other.  We wanted to be together.  But even then I was on guard, always knowing that things could change in an instant, always ready to protect my kids and get them away from him.  And something would go wrong.

And I never really knew what it was, but I found excuses for it.  He's just so stressed because of money.  He's working too hard.  He didn't get enough sleep.  He isn't feeling well.

And that's when the yelling would start up again.  That's when he would kick things out of his way as he walked through the room.  That's when he would push his way past someone as they passed in the hallway.  That's when he would tell the kids that whatever he had promised them they were no longer going to get.

The screaming.  The threats.  The criticism.  The hatred.  The disdain.  The anger.  So much anger.  So much pain.  So much rejection.  So much sadness.  So much humiliation.  So much fear.

The kids and I often feeling like we were in trouble, never knowing if he loved us that day.

Why did I stay?  How did I deal with it?  What finally changed?

More to come.

If you are here because your husband is mean to you, please read A Cry in the Dark.

If you don't think you have any options, please read What are My Options When My Husband is Mean?

** I will be selectively allowing comments on this post.  It felt like people weren't honoring other people's feelings.  It felt like too many comments were becoming lectures, telling people what they should think, feel, or do.  I don't believe it's anyone's place to tell you how to live your life or what choices to make.  And I don't believe it creates a safe environment for sharing.  I would still love to hear your story if you'd like to share, as long as it is respectful.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

About The Difficult Things

This will be a place for those things people don't want to talk about.  The tough stuff.  The stuff that knocks you down and stomps on your head -- but also makes you strong.