When I started writing this, I found myself going into detail regarding situations and events that hurt me and my boys over long periods of time. But there were so many situations that kept coming into my memory, that I became frozen with the pain of remembering it all. I could not write about it. I took a few days to consider how I was going to get through this story, and I realized that there is no need to get into every detail. The only way I can write about it without becoming physically ill is in generalities, but they are not actually generalities at all. The women who have been through this will attach their own memories to my story, because the pattern and behavior of these men are the same. And how their behavior breaks us down is the same. Ultimately though, this is a story of hope, not of sadness.
I met my Joe in 1997. He seemed perfect, generous, compassionate and responsible. He was focused on me and on being in my life. It was nice and he seemed different than the other relationships I had been in, which had all been abusive in one way or another.
After a few months, I saw his temper. I was victim to his physical abuse and was injured. He said it was an accident and that he was sorry. I believed him because he was kind at all other times. I can look back now and recognize this as trauma bonding. It is a powerful thing. We married, and I began to see more of his jealousy and a short temper. There was another incident of violence and the police were called. He went to jail, but I went back to him. He told me later that if I tried to call the police again, he would kill me. I believed him. I am a passive person, always trying to avoid confrontation. I was raised in a Christian home and taught to be selfless, forgiving, and to put others’ needs before my own. I continued to change my behavior for him not to feel insecure, but his suspicions continued. I believed that if I worked harder at it, I could make him feel more secure and improve our marriage. I read books, and he supported that effort. I was just not submissive enough, in his view.
We had two sons and he would discipline them using intimidation and fear. He struck them on rare occasions, but his main discipline tactic was fear and swatting with the belt. It killed me inside to watch and it felt so very wrong. I wept for my poor boys. But he would tell me “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” At the time, I was not aware that this phrase does NOT come from the bible. It is nowhere in the bible. He said I needed to stop undermining his authority and back him up. It killed me, but I prayed that I could be better at supporting him.
He criticized us and everything we did. He would come home from work, ranting about the boys playing video games, or the lights being on, or complaining about what I was cooking for dinner. He did not like my cooking the last few years of our marriage. I guess it got worse over time or he just needed another thing to use against me. He did not like the way I cut vegetables, vacuumed, drove, disciplined the kids, paid bills, did laundry or shopped. He did not like the look on my face, the tone of my voice, my clothes, my make up or my skin. He did not like me reading or talking on the phone. He did not like me doing fun things with the kids because he felt left out. He did not like me leaving the kids home with him while I got groceries. He would text constantly asking what was taking so long and what was I buying. He did not like that it took me twenty minutes to respond to his text or if I missed his call. He would ask me to switch cable companies or insurance companies, and after I would invest my time to research and make the decision, he would tell me he had a better idea. He would yell at me if I had any type of suggestion for him to improve his tactics with the kids or me. He would throw things, slam doors, and stare me down like I was the enemy. He would drive fast and erratically while I screamed in fear of my life and the children’s lives. Eventually, I felt worthless and broken because his behaviors were a result of something I did or that the children did. No matter how much I tried to change myself, it still was not good enough for his approval. I was unacceptable and so were the children. He used these same behaviors on the boys.
These behaviors did not happen daily. There were many days when things were fine and there was no drama in the home. But we all walked on eggshells, knowing that it could happen at any moment. The anxiety and tension were always high.
I felt worthless. I became depressed and left the house less and less. I was tired of pretending my life was perfect. Everyone believed I had the perfect life. This is because he was a completely different person in public than he was in private. A covert narcissist. He was calm, mild mannered, considerate, generous and charming in public. He is extremely intelligent. Probably genius level and could impress people with his knowledge and compassion. The truth was, he had no compassion or empathy. He learned how to act the way he was expected to act in public. So, when I left him, no one believed my story. Not even my own family.
I had lost every part of me because he had told me to change everything about myself. It happened slowly, over time. So slowly that I didn’t realize exactly what had happened to myself until I left and started therapy. I had never heard the term “emotional abuse”. But, as I learned more, I discovered this is exactly what was going on. I had been abused for twenty years and didn’t realize it. I was a mess.
But there is HOPE. I had good and bad experiences coming out of my marriage. The bad included no one believing me, my Pastor telling me to go back, my husband stalking me and putting a tracking device on my car, stealing my journals and showing his friends and him convincing my brother and sister in law that I was the crazy one, not him. The good included me finding a great Christian therapist who showed me that God did not want me and my children living in chaos and abuse. I leaned on Jesus more than I ever had to in my life and He led me out-one step at a time. It was only because of Jesus and the support of a small group of friends who believed me (because they had lived through their own emotional abuse), that I was able to continue moving forward. My children wanted the divorce and were so glad dad was out of the house. They supported me 100%.
I started focusing on my health, mentally and physically. I had gained a lot of weight the last five years of our marriage. I lost it, I changed my eating and I got back into the gym. This was me before I met him. Strong, independent and healthy. I had become a fearful, weak, fat, emotional mess during the years I lived in abuse. I did not even see the point in going on with my life.
I spent two years fighting for my divorce. I had people tell me I was overreacting, that I was going to Hell and that God would chasten me for the rest of my life. They said I was destroying my kids’ lives and that their dad may have a few issues, but I was not perfect either. These things really bothered me. I went through times of doubting myself and my decision to leave. I would fervently pray during these times of doubt. Each time this happened, God would show me something that would put my doubt to rest 100%. HE heard me, and HE showed me. I did not care anymore if no one believed me. I was the only one who could protect my kids. No one else would.
There are many things I left out of this story. Things like hiding money from me during the marriage, other women, inappropriate internet use, and sexual issues. But me and my kids are OUT now. We have a civil relationship with their dad. Things are ok, most of the time, with him. I am now divorced, back in college, and healthier than I have been since I was 25. I am excited everyday about my life and about learning and growing and helping others. I have learned about boundaries and why God wants me to use them. I am putting myself and my needs first. It makes me a better mom and a better human. I am so thrilled about my future and have come to a place where I really like myself and I like being by myself. I go out and do things alone and these are some of my favorite times. I had a friend tell me over and over that I need to find myself. I thought it was crazy. But, now, I know what he meant. I found myself again. The person I had slowly broken apart and shoved away one piece at a time is now whole again and I like her. A LOT.