Saturday, September 17, 2011

Invisible Abuse

I left my marriage because he was abusive to me and to my children. Ok... Honestly, I finally left because he was hitting one of the children. The abuse towards me I had lived with for years, thinking he didn't hit me so it couldn't be an abusive relationship. We started marriage counseling within 4 years of being married and all the therapist had to say was "you are both resentful towards each other". I was hurting, I was frustrated but I was not resentful. I felt unheard and invalidated. My ex felt vindicated and justified. We didn't continue with that therapist very long, yet for years I heard (and continue to hear) about how resentful I am towards him.

To me it seems that emotional abuse is invisible, ignorable. The public consensus seems to be everyone gets angry and says things they don't mean sometimes. The reality is that an abusive person doesn't wait until they are angry to say things about the other party. It isn't anger that triggers them to be jealous, insulting, critical. They don't use anger as an excuse to prevent you from seeing friends or demanding a detailed account of what you did that day. It isn't anger that inspires them to demand to know every single thought that passes through your head.

An abusive person leaves you no room to be yourself, no room to think through an issue before talking about it, to demand to know EVERY detail about your life and thought processes. A person like that doesn't want you to be you, they want you to be who they want you to be. I have gone against my ex's wishes and remained friends with people he didn't like, but I suffered for it. If he didn't like them I heard no end of litanies about why. We couldn't do things as couples, he demanded to know "why I wanted to go out" or if I encouraged him to go out "why I was so eager to have him out of the house". He would return early, he would call home constantly. After we had our first son, there were days he called home 12 times from work. He never had anything to say, he was just checking up on me. When he was unemployed he spent his days & nights playing games on the computer and looking at porn. When I invited him to join me in bed he would take over an hour to finish his game, tell me he was just shutting down the computer and  be mad at me for falling asleep while I waited. If I didn't tell him in very specific words what I wanted, he claimed to not understand. I would tell him 3 times something was coming up in our schedule, yet when it happened he would be angry that I never told him. I took to emailing him about them and he still would claim I never told him. He would blame me for every little thing that went wrong, whether or not I was there. If I made a suggestion, he took it as an order and got mad that I was ordering him around, to the point that I didn't make suggestions. If I asked him to do something and then asked him again the next day I was nagging, so I stopped asking him to do things. If there was a decision to be made and I presented it to him, he would leave off making the decision until it absolutely HAD to be made, then tell me to do whatever I wanted and be angry at the "wrong" choice I made. If he wanted something, then he went and got it, no matter the financial hardship it caused to the family, yet I was accused of getting everything I wanted.

Our marriage became a place where I raised the children, I cleaned the house (with a small amount of assistance from him), where I didn't ask him for help, where I didn't ask him for anything, where I stayed out of his life, but he demanded a regular accounting from me. He would complain constantly about how awful all women were. There was always a lady in his life somewhere (usually work) who hated him or was hitting on him. He would tell me how wonderful he was and how lucky I was that he remained true to me despite the temptation and opportunity to do otherwise. He was jealous of my friends, wondered who it was I was saying "I love you" to, no matter if it was my mom, my sister, cousin or a close friend. Always wanted to know who was on the phone. Got jealous of those I talked to on the phone, claiming that I never told him half the stuff I told them. Reality was that was the only time he listened to what I had to say because he was trying to catch me doing something wrong. He hated that I breastfed in public. He hated when I wore "sexy" clothes... unless I was wearing them at home where no one else could see me. He would make comments about my clothes until I was too uncomfortable to wear them anywhere. He would make comments if I gained weight, not insulting per se, but making it clear that it was obvious. Any shortfall or imperfect look was pointed out.

Did I wear bruises under my clothes? No. Did he force himself on me? No. Did he destroy me with his words and actions? Every day. Does he still find ways to insinuate his abuse and destructive words on me? Every opportunity he gets.

He has destroyed my self-confidence, he has taken away my assertiveness, he has worn away my trust in my instincts, he has caused me to wonder about my sanity, he has taken away my friends and so much more.

I can get those things back. I am working hard to restore my mental health, my healthy self-image. He has caused me to look deeper at those things that remained unhealed, allowing myself to be trapped in a farce of a relationship as ours turned out to be. Some things are easy to see. I am not a criminal, I am not a liar, I am not deceitful. Others are not so easy to see. I am not exaggerating, I am not making things up to suit my purposes, I am not being vindictive or resentful or acting out of hate. If you believe what he is saying, it will look like I am. The reality is always somewhere in between the two stories. But if you know me... you know who I am.

Marriage is supposed to be forever. It is supposed to be a place where two people can come away from the world and be renewed to face the battle head on again another day, together. When it becomes a battle ground that is worse than the world's, perchance it's time to walk away from it. When the battle becomes less about fighting a common enemy to fighting the enemy who is the one person who swore before God, family and friends to love and cherish you forever, it's time to revisit whether it is a marriage of God.

My role in life is not to be abused until death. My role is to serve God. How can I serve God when I am being destroyed? How can I protect my children when I choose to live with the one person who is hurting them the most? There is enough opportunities to learn of the real world when they are older, when they are out and about in activities and socializing. Home should be a place where we learn how we should act, how we should believe. It should be a place where we are given a safe haven to recover, regroup and leave again strengthened to fight the daily spiritual battles that rage. It should not be the most unsafe place in our world.

My home when I was growing up was the most unsafe place for me to be. I thrived on getting out and doing activities at church and at school because I didn't have to be home. I was the child who pretended to be healthy so I could go to school, I was the child who hated to go home because home was where I was being destroyed. I do not want that for my children. I want them to find home as a safe haven. A place of rejuvenation and rest. A place where they can be who they are without fearing that someone is going to stop loving them or start hurting them. Home is a place where accidents happen, disobedience happens, but love continues through it all. Where the purpose of discipline is not to hurt or destroy, but to teach and build up.

I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes. I continue to make mistakes. But I vow that my children will have a safe home to grow up in. I vow that I will do everything in my power to protect them from those that would hurt them, no matter who they might be.

We're going to dance together. We're going to make memories and learn new ways to do things. We're going to make mis-steps and probably step on each others toes in the process, but it's not going to stop us from dancing.

1 comment:

  1. I sooo understand so much of what you share. I was there, too, on most aspects - some a little different, but the emotions and feelings very similar. I'm sorry you had to go through this.