I was recently asked to be part of a collection of stories that talk about leaving a secret life of abuse/control. I am honored to be asked, and to be able to share what life on the other side looks like. It may be cliché to say, but if I can help one person make the life-changing choice to leave, I would be happy.
So, how did I get to this place from the everyday quiet hell? It started by making the decision. I had thought about it many times before, but the logistics paralyzed me. It is a decision that has to have commitment behind it. If you go into it halfheartedly, he will be able to tell. If there is one thought that needs to stay in the front of your mind, it is “it’s going to get worse before it gets better (much better)”. I will not be able to tell my story in bullet points, but I will include the short list (as it was for me, a general guideline). The last thing I would like to say before I begin my story, it is not over. I still have to interact with him, but I would go through the entire process of leaving, to get where I am now.
I can’t really remember a period of time where I was happy in my relationship. Yes, I have some happy memories, but they are mere slivers in half on my lifetime. Things really became unbearable when my youngest was born. My ex was very comfortable in the roles that we were playing. I stayed home with the kids, home schooling and starting a new business. This business was supposed to be a way for me to support the family in case something happened to him, as a result of his bad decisions. However, it turned into a new source of stress…I was in charge, unless he didn’t like something, which was often. We got to a comfortable place where we would go for a few days without speaking. He would have his anger episodes, but I could tell something was changing, because I didn’t care anymore. Once you have been told you can’t do anything right for so long, you get to the point where you think ‘why even try?’. He used to be able to manipulate me into whatever he wanted…if he wanted me to do a better job helping him with his business (I tried to help manage his paperwork, bills, phone calls, etc.), he would tell me he would have so and so’s girlfriend or wife help him. I’m type A…always trying to do everything, and trying to do my best. The thought of being told I wasn’t doing something well enough didn’t work for me. I tried harder to do better. He figured out this tactic when I was still a teenager. I knew I was being manipulated/guilt-tripped/intimidated, but at the same time I was trying so hard to keep it all together…the moments of clarity came and went before I had a chance to focus on them. I also got to the point where I didn’t care when he didn’t come home, in fact, I looked forward to it. This is when I knew I had no more to give.
I was given an opportunity that most women do not get. He told me that I needed to move the kids, and myself, out of the house. I started packing to move in with my sister and her kids. This was about 4 years ago…I don’t remember the details. I know he had a plan, he was making the decisions…it was an act, but it was an opportunity. The prior year, due to his bad decisions, we had sold off most of our joint assets. I didn’t ask for a dime, even though there were gifts of cash and land from my family that he had used/sold, I just wanted my name off of anything and everything. He took the opportunity to live his life, I’m assuming with less guilt, knowing we were somewhere else. There are situations that occurred during this time that I cannot mention, ever. He didn’t do anything directly to me or the kids, but he showed his true character. He showed what I now recognize as narcissistic behavior. Almost a year after moving out, we sold my business. At any other time, I would have been heart-broken…like I was losing a part of me, but I knew this is how it had to be. At this point, he had moved in with us again. After being away from him for so long, this was a new level of hell. He came back in thinking he would pick up where he left off, but I now knew I could not go on like this. I was slowly dying. The stress was wearing me down, physically, mentally, emotionally. One day, I saw the front of the local newspaper, it had a small list of the daily obituaries. I recognized a name. We weren’t friends, more like ironic acquaintances, thanks to my ex. She was his age…3 years older than me. I knew enough about her that she was not happy when she died. Over the next few days, the thought of her misery and sadness prompted me to tell my husband that I wasn’t happy. I have written the details in other stories, so in short, things got ugly. The next few months were kind of a blur. There were days he would call the house 20+ times to beg for another chance, blame me, insult me, call me names, apologize, etc. There was no rhyme or reason, but there were patterns I had noticed while we were together…a few calm days and then a few crazy days. The first time I made a police report against him was empowering. I was terrified to press charges, but I went to the police station so they could take pictures of my driver side mirror that he shattered with his fist. If I could go back, I would make a report each time he did something that was against the law. I wish I kept better records of the harassing phone calls, the harassing statements, all of the crazy things that didn’t really surprise me, but would have been helpful to show what kind of person he is.
My dad offered to help me with the divorce by paying for my retaining fee. I felt like I was smuggling drugs or hiding a concealed weapon when I went to the lawyer’s office, or the police station to file a report or pick up more ‘Incident Report’ forms. At the time, he drove a diesel truck and each time I would hear an engine rev, I looked over my shoulder and walked a little faster. I was even afraid to go to the grocery store once I started the divorce papers. One day he would say he would sign, if we just changed a few things, then he would go ballistic and refuse to sign them. He proved that he would not behave any better if I had the kids with me. After one meeting at our ‘drop-off’ point (a local convenience store/restaurant), he threw me up against my truck (with my kids and my sister’s kids inside), then told me to call the police on him, then he called the police on himself…the local policemen talked him down and had him leave, then advised me to get a ex parte. Another place I did not want to be seen, by him or any of his friends…the county courthouse. Throughout this entire ordeal, he went to all of his friends and family, and some of my family, to tell them the entire spectrum…from how the separation was all my fault to how much he loved me. He told his side of the story to anyone who would listen; the kids, people at the bank or front desk at a hotel, police that had been called on him. Back to the courthouse, I met with the court advocate who also works at the local women’s shelter. Another thing that did not surprise me, how many people who knew him. One of the downsides of a small town. The court advocate was friends with one of his relatives, she had met him and had a conversation with him. She told me she had been doing this for along time, but his thought process concerned her, this concerned me. As I sat in her office, writing down as many of the crazy things I could think of, my hands shaking thinking of each incident, I tried not to think of his reaction when he found out what I was doing. This was still my mindset…what I was doing, or had done, to him. Inside her office, I felt safe. The county jail was next door, county cops and city police could be seen inside the building, throughout the day. She had to enter a code to go down the hall to her room. Inside her room, in black and white, a 12″x 18″ poster on the wall told the 12 signs of an abusive relationship. I sat there and read through each ‘sign’ while my brain spun in circles. He did 9 of the 12, on a regular basis…I had no idea until now that there were similar characteristics that were common enough to have them on a poster! I was so deeply in the craziness, which was synonymous with ‘normal’, that I did not even realize how wrong this whole relationship was, and had been, for years.
I filed the ex parte, and the courthouse failed to notify me when he was going to be served the papers, so I would have a ‘heads up’ in case he freaked out. Instead, I get a phone call from his little brother (whom he was working with, at the time) and his brother told me that I should drop it because that could hurt his (my ex) chances of becoming a law enforcement agent…which he claimed he was thinking of doing. Ironic. A little later in the day I get a phone call from his mother saying, ‘Why are you doing this? The things in these papers are horrible, just horrible things to say’. I wish I had the voice then that I do now. I would have told her ‘Yes! That’s exactly right, they are horrible things…but they are 100% true! That was my life with your son when he ‘just gets mad’. Yes, he was enabled by his parents and most of his family…’Oh, he just gets mad sometimes, he doesn’t mean it’, or ‘Oh, he really shouldn’t ___________(fill in the blank)’. No accountability. He was never the one who flat out made a bad choice. Yes, I knew where he found his justification for being such a jerk. If anyone called him out, he cut ties or kept a safe distance from them. This was my first attempt at an ex parte. I was in a desperate place since he would still not sign the divorce papers. He asked me to drop the ex parte, I told him I would if he signed the papers. Done. Five months later, he had given me more reason to file them. I showed up at the courthouse, not knowing if I would have to see him face to face in the courtroom. If he were there, would he be calm and apologetic? Would he have his crazy, checked-out eyes? Should I have brought someone with me? What was the judge going to say? As it turned out, he didn’t even bother to show up to defend himself. I had to go in front of the judge, and everyone else in the courtroom and talk about why I should be granted an ex parte. This being the small town it is, I had to do this in front of one of his family members who was in court for his own reasons. I was granted an ex parte and walked out of the courthouse with a new sense of safety. I carried the papers with me in my truck, safely tucked in the visor. My own small victory in standing up for myself and minimizing his affect on my life. A deep sigh…
Our divorce was final in spring, ex parte granted in the early summer, he violated the ex parte twice (enough for me to call the police), he had to go to court for those violations in the fall. I was afraid to go to the courthouse because I knew he would be there. He called me repeatedly the week before his court date to ask me to drop the charges against him because of how much that would cost him and what it would take away from the kids. Again, if I had my voice then, I would have said ‘It might make a difference if you paid child support, but since you don’t…it doesn’t really make a difference to me!’. I didn’t say anything except, ‘I didn’t do this to you. You made the choices you made. All I want is for you to leave me alone.’ He went to court and was given anger management classes, fines and two years probation. I am afraid to try to get child support from him. He has told me about men who have their ex’s killed so they don’t have to pay child support. I feel a little more independent without relying on him, but I know it’s not right. They are his kids and he has said he just wants to make it hard on me so maybe I’ll come back to him. I am afraid to fight for full custody, because he has told me it would be a ‘bad idea’ for someone to try to take his kids away from him. Some people say ‘he wouldn’t really do anything…he would go to prison’. He has said he wouldn’t be the one who did it so he wouldn’t go to jail. Besides, if I was gone…it doesn’t matter to me if he did it or not, my kids would be without me.
He still gets obsessive. He will call and start the conversation that we’ve been having for years…the one where he is a clueless idiot as to ‘where did it go wrong’, or ‘why can’t you find it in your heart to give me another chance?’ etc., etc. I hang up now. Before I thought there might be something I could say that would hit him like a 2×4 to the head and he would say ‘Oh, it was me! I did this. I’m sorry, I’ll leave you in peace’. I woke up from that daydream to face the reality – I am stuck dealing with him until one of us die. I pray I outlive him so I can help educate my kids as far as boundaries, self-respect, accountability, and so many other things I have learned over the last few years. The older kids are starting to see things he does or says and they ask me why he does it. I explain that he doesn’t really know any better, but that doesn’t make it right. I know somewhere in his demented brain he knows right from wrong, because he was always careful how he talked to me in front of certain people, but behind closed doors, he was someone else. I have no love for him, and only as much caring as I would a stranger on the street…actually less than that. I often told him he was the only person in my life to treat me disrespectfully, as he did. I would feel bad for my kids, but if I never had to see him or speak to him again…I would actually know what peace feels like. I had to call the police on him, just a few months ago. He hasn’t had his court date, but he’s already asking me to drop the charges and how he won’t be able to help with the kids…this time I said ‘Considering you don’t pay child support anyway, it doesn’t really matter’.
My life is not perfect, but I am only striving for better than yesterday. I left my marriage so my kids would not see that as a model relationship. I tell them that they are free to make whatever choices they want, as long as they are not hurting anyone, including themselves, in the process. I tell them it’s okay to get angry, but there is a positive and negative way to handle it. I tell my kids they can talk to me about anything, anytime and I will do my best to help them work through it. I want to be everything for them I couldn’t be in my previous life.
Like I said, here are my short answers to what I did right and what I wish I did differently.
– Start planning ahead. Don’t write things out or make to-do lists…privacy is usually not an option. Confide in someone you KNOW you can trust, figure out a place to go.
– Be honest with your kids, but don’t give them too much information. He is still their dad and they don’t want to feel like they have to choose sides. I tell my kids stories in relation to the bully on the playground. Do not talk bad about him to your kids. Try not to talk bad about him to anyone other than the facts, when necessary. Bullies like to keep their behavior hidden and get angry when they are brought out into the open.
– Once you are out of the house, keep a notebook with everything he says or does that is threatening/illegal. Call the police when he breaks the law. Let the police know you are not going to get back with him…it makes you easy to dismiss. Get an ex parte and keep it with you.
– Utilize available resources to help you during transition, but do not become reliant…this will just take away from your sense of independence. Except help when you have to, be willing to offer help when you are on your own feet.
– Set your boundaries. He will not like it, he’s always been the one calling the shots and now you will be telling him what you will no longer allow. Be consistent. DO NOT fall for ‘I’ve changed’. Unfortunately, most people do not change very much, but it’s easy to say it to get what you want. If it helps, write down all of the horrible things he has said/done and refer to it if you are ever thinking of giving him another chance.
– Never meet him alone or in a secluded area. Always choose a very public location to pick up/drop off kids. Follow any divorce papers or court papers, or else you are breaking the law and that can come back to cause you problems.
– If he is harassing you with phone calls/texts, keep records in your notes, but it is very important to keep it brief and basic if you have to respond regarding the kids. Otherwise, do not text back, do not call back and if the conversation turns from the kids to anything else, say ‘Is there anything else we need to talk about, concerning the kids?’ if not, say goodbye and hang up. He won’t believe you or get the hint if you talk for a long time sometimes and then not other. Be consistent.
– Be honest with a select few people who are in a ‘need to know’ position. I have talked briefly with my kids’ teachers, office secretaries, principal and a few others so they can look for signs with the kids and they have a better understanding of the personal situation your family is going through.
– Learn about abusive relationships and the path back to a life that you control. Be aware of what your children my think is ‘normal’. Talk to a counselor or therapist if you feel like you need help getting out of the victim mindset. It took me 2 years to get his voice out of my head…each time I made a mistake or didn’t make the best choice, I could hear him saying everything he said to me when we were together.
– Celebrate your steps! It is not easy to get out, recognize the strength you have to make a better choice for yourself and your children (if you have kids).
– Know that you have value and you do not, nor did you ever, deserve to be treated with anything other than respect and care. He was the one who had problems, even if it is the way his brain is wired, there is no excuse to treat someone in a way that causes fear and pain.
– Do not get caught up in the thoughts/feelings/opinions of others. If you have people giving you advice that does not fall in place with what you know is best for you and your family, do not take it on as what you should do. Chances are, they do not know what it’s like to be in your situation, and even if they do, this is your choice and your life. You do what you need to do.
Follow Juliet’s story here: Falling Into Place 9
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