Monday, August 18, 2008

My Story

A few days ago, pisceshanna wrote about abuse, and got a lot of us riled up at her neighbors, who basically got angry at a woman who is an abusive relationship when she asked the police to release him (for throwing her out of a window). One of the neighbors said, “F** her then. See if I call 911the next time it happens.”

Okay, I get that the neighbor feels like her help was slighted, but honey, it isn't about you!! At least the other neighbor had a bit more understanding of what is most likely happening: "Maybe her self-esteem is so low, she thinks she just has to deal with it."

As you'll see from the comments, a lot of women who can be considered smart, independent women have found themselves in abusive relationships. And I consider myself one of them.

I wasn't beaten physically. I was just emotionally beaten down so that I basically thought that staying with my husband was my best option. I'm quite certain that every woman who has been physically beaten was emotionally beaten first.

I may not have been college-educated at the time I first met with my ex, but I don't think I was stupid, either. I was, however, pretty lost at the time.

I'd recently left my first husband (oh, yeah, did I ever mention that? Not actually a big deal - a cruise ship romance that I was young and naive enough to think could work on land), and we started off more as a summer fling kind of thing - a rebound. But he really knew how to make me feel like the most important woman in the world; the most beautiful, the smartest, the sexiest...well, you get what I mean. What woman wouldn't want to start taking a guy like that seriously?

So I did. We agreed to be exclusive and the honeymoon period was insanely wonderful. I was working a graveyard shift at the time, and he would wake me every day, on the dot at noon. Hearing his voice first thing upon waking came to be something I depended upon. Our times together - as I suppose most couples' beginnings - were like a slice of paradise in an otherwise hectic world.

He listened very intently to everything I had to say. While I was flattered at the time, what I've come to understand since was that he was storing everything up. Everything that made me smile, every weak point I had, every relationship I had and all their trouble spots. And, slowly but surely, he began to use it all against me.

He came to show me how everyone in my life that was close to me was not a true friend, put their needs first. So I pulled away from them. He exploited all the inevitable differences between me and my family. So I pulled away from them. He came to be the only person that truly understood me. Or so he led me to believe.

And he knew how they would fight that. He knew what they would say. He knew that they would accuse me of being a victim. And how I so was not. How could I, a strong, independent woman such as myself be a victim in a relationship like that? They were so wrong. (No, they weren't, but try to understand for a minute how I believed that.)

There was a blow-up. The blow-up that caused me to leave the condo all those years ago. The blow-up that I won't discuss in detail, but it was big enough for me to chuck everything and move to Denver with him.

Well, now, I was right where he wanted me. Completely cut off from everything I ever knew and ever loved. We didn't even have a phone! It was just us. And I got pregnant.
And we were going to be this very happy family, just the three of us, close to his family.

The first time I left him was when Sylvia was not quite a year and a half, and by now, we had moved to San Jose, and I was working full-time, trying to keep up with the bills in the BOOM that was Silicon Valley at the time (but not yet college-educated, and therefore, not really able to keep up). Well, actually, I didn't leave him. We got evicted and he got arrested.

Now, by this point, I knew he had a drug problem, but I still believed him when he vowed to quit. I still believed a lot of the lies he told me about what happened to the rent money or what have you.

And I was also a first-time mom. And, again, while I wasn't aware of it at the time, a single mom already. I was already the only person who thought about this child's well-being. I was already the only one who worried about making sure she had health insurance, her day care setting. It was all me. And it was completely overwhelming. And I'd never felt so inferior at anything before. And I believed that there was someone in this with me.

So, when he got out, and I'd been staying with his sister, then my colleague, I was desperate for someone else to take the helm. I needed help. (Somewhere in here, Sylvia also came down with chicken pox, just to make it all that much more fun.) I needed someone to take care of things. And he did.

This is what most people don't get. Abusers, they know when you're just about at the end of your rope. And then they swoop you up, apologize profusely, and I was so scared, so tired, that I was grateful. This is also the part where I partly blame fairy tales. These abusers know how to disguise themselves as the white knight of your dreams. But I digress.

Events like this happened more than once, I confess. But, again, I was without family, friends, and trying desperately for this mirage of a perfect family to be a reality. Yes, keeping up appearances was important, too. Because remember all those friends and family who had warned me about him? I had to prove them wrong. I was still stubborn enough to not go back with my tail between my legs to hear everyone say, "I told you so." There was no choice now. I had to make this work.

And then I got pregnant. Again. And that was pretty much it. I knew he was lying to me sometimes, I knew he was doing drugs, I knew he was using money I'd earned for things that had nothing to do with me or the girls. But this was it. This was the best I could do. No one would want a single mom with two children (and 2 failed marriages). I'd had a few tastes of single parenthood, and no thanks. I did not want to be there again. I could not do this alone. Completely and utterly alone. (And I still don't think anyone can, btw.)

And he continued to know when to prop me up, when to swoop me off my feet. When to listen, and when to flatter. And when to say, "you're a great mom."

You know how, as a parent, just when you're ready to lose all control in front of your child, they give you that hug or say that sweet thing and you swell with love? Yeah, he knew how to do that.

And so we moved to Pittsburgh. For another fresh start. And this time, he was going to be the breadwinner. And I was going to be a stay-at-home and get a much-needed break from the working world. Except now...I was more cut off than ever before. My family and friends were now on the other side of the country. And the only people we knew were his friends. And the people he worked with. We didn't even have a car. When I say I was a stay at home, I mean, days would go by without my even leaving the house!

I tried to go to school, but the day care situation fell apart. And I fell into a deeper depression than I've ever known. To the point where suicide was on the table. It was never the only option, but it was considered.

And then the internet saved me. I sound like Al Gore or something, right? But no, it really did. I started connecting with people again. People that were my own, that had nothing to do with him. And I started regaining some self-confidence. Not a lot. But enough to make a difference.

We moved to Rochester because I found us both jobs there. And while they may not have been the best jobs, it was what I needed at the time. It got me out of the house. It got me connecting with others IRL. And eventually, it was enough for the last bit of love to be knocked out of my heart.

And I was proud enough to put my tail between my legs and come home.

So what could you do for a victim of any sort of abuse? Start to make her feel like her again. Don't chastise her, don't berate her, and don't - whatever you do - call her a victim. Treat her like a person that deserves respect. Sooner or later, she'll start to believe it, too.


Jen said...

April, what a brave post! I've said it before, I'll say it again:

You are one of my heroes.

You kept saying you weren't college-educated. That has NOTHING to do with it.

I was in an abusive relationship in graduate school with a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature. And da*n it, I knew better! But as you well know, that just doesn't come into it. Because, among other things, as smart, talented, strong women, we couldn't possibly have fallen into an abusive relationship, right?

The behavior on his part was textbook as was the behavior on the part of my abuser.

And bravo to you, strong woman, for making choices that were right for you and right for your family.

And for sharing your story.

Mama Smurf said...

You've changed my perspective forever.

I have always had a difficult time being sympathetic to women who chose to remain in abusive relationships.

I just didn't get it.

And now I kinda do.

Thank you.

Suzie said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It was very brave of you

Kori said...

Thank you-you said this so much better than I ever could have, because every time I started to write my own post about it, I either got really angry or started crying. And now I don't have to try! I love you, failed marriages and all! :)

Natalie said...

I'm so glad you shared this, April. When people tell their stories, it educates others on what to recognize and what to run farrrr away from.

My first was never quite at that abusive point, but he demonstrated a lot of the charactaristics you just described, especially the part about witholding affection until it was almost too late. I definitely took a blow to my self-esteem with him, but I hesitate calling it full fledged abuse.

I found out from his next girlfriend (after me) that he was worse with her and he appears on THREE times (by three different women he was with after me) and the last one claims he was abusive. I don't doubt it.

Anonymous said...

April -- I'm sitting here, mouth agape with tears in my eyes. I could have written large large portions of this as my own story. You have done an amazing job desribing the emotional abuse cycle I suffered in for years and years. The isolation. The degredation. Then the building up.

Thank you for sharing your story.

You are an amazing woman.
You are an amazing mom.
You are an amazing friend.

I'm so glad to have found you out there in blogland.


FreedomFirst said...

Wow. This is so intense in so many ways. I'm glad you were able to be so strong, even if it didn't happen right away.

A few years ago, I would have been that neighbor, angry that my attempts to help had proven useless. But then I found out what Tim was like. My perspective is much different now. I can't help but draw parallels (sp?) between him and your ex. That is exactly what he does to his wife, and what he is still trying to do to Mark, who just can't see him for what he really is. Except that in my experience, Tim is either too stupid or too narcissistic to see when that breaking point is coming, and avoid it. Mark always kept me from blowing up at him before, or I'd have blasted him long ago.

I know I said in my letter to my 18-year-old self (which actually would have been better addressed to my 21-year-old-self), that Mark WOULD choose me over Tim. But I actually wonder if he would have at that point, when the drugs were still addling his brain every day and Tim's influence was fresh. I don't think Mark was really committed to our relationship emotionally until after Andy was born. Nothing that Tim did EVER bothered him until he wasn't high every day any more.

Your ex was right about one thing. You ARE a great mom. :)

Anonymous said...

What an incredible post. My dad left my Mom about a year ago. At the time I told her it was the best thing that had ever happened to her as he was emotionally abusive and did all the things you talked about -- cut her off from friends, family, etc. A year later and she's finally starting to see the truth of my words.

You have great advice and I hope that someone reading your words gains some hope and encouragement.

Florinda said...

There were times during my first marriage that my low self-esteem made me think I had some idea what someone in an emotionally abusive relationship might feel like - even though I still don't feel that my OWN relationship really was. I just know that I have felt healthier and more myself since that relationship ended and I did a lot of work on myself.

You've clearly done a lot of reflecting on your situation and learned from it, and you're very courageous and generous to share your experience and insights here.

LunaNik said...

Bravo. You continue to amaze me.


Me. Here. Right now. said...

I connect on so many levels with this story - your story.

The Internet - or, I should say, the people I found there, I'm quite sure, not only saved my life, but gave me the opportunity to be a better parent, find out who I was and a richness I would not have been able to find without it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

It's really amazing how the basics of our stories are so similar, while who we are and where we are in the world are so different.

You are strength, you are wise, you are clearly amazing!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad my post somehow triggered you to write your story. I wish everyone would share their stories. It just makes all of us that much stronger.

goin-crazy said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I am glad you found mine and I am glad I found yours. I am leaving bits and pieces of my story on my blog but I have still have not been able to put into words exactly what I want to say. I will get it and I know it will be good for me. It's nice to find people that can relate to what I go through.

Shiona said...

I didn't even think I had a story. My ex too was emotionally abusive. My self esteem was low before I met him though and after reading your story I do want to talk aout it but it's not all about him. I will share it, but I'm not ready yet. I'm sitting here with tears flowing down my face. Poor J has no clue what's ging on. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, April. I echo everyone else when I thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad you were overcome, and I'm so happy and proud of the life you were able to build for you and your girls. You've come a long way, baby.

You know I lived near Pittsburgh for quite awhile. I wish we would've known each other then! We could've met "IRL". :)

Anonymous said...

Another sorrowful story of a life, of too many lives.

Another bit of advice: don't listen to advice from people who have never lived through what you have lived. But this certainly helps to educate people.

Anonymous said...

You are an incredibly brave person to share this story with so many...what an enormously painful period of time and look how BEAUTIFULLY you are making things turn out now...your blog is your IS all about balance and you are a fine example of how true that is...I WISH I had known you while you were in Pittsburgh...I might have been able to offer some escape!

Most importantly though...think of the amazing role model you are for your girls...they could NOT have a better role model than their mom!

Meg said...

You are an incredible role model for your daughters as Hotmamamia said.

I admire your bravery.

MarĂ­a said...

You're amazing April. I dealt with another heaping helping of verbal abuse from the ex today so this was just what I needed to read.

Tara R. said...

Thank you for sharing this. My mom put up with a lot of crap from my dad and I never understood it until I got older and had kids of my own. Constantly having your self-esteem battered leaves a woman more than hopeless and in some cases they are also ashamed to ask for help from family or friends. I read pisceshanna's post too, it broke my heart. I really hope the woman she wrote about can get help and get out of that horrible situation.

Anonymous said...


April, what an incredibly strong woman you are!

Debbie said...

I wondered what your "x-story" was...and just happened upon this part of your blog. I long to tell my story, but I have trouble expressing it in writing. But you provided a great example...maybe I will try again.