This may be hard to read, it has certainly been hard to write, but please bear with me through this.
I want to write this out mainly for me. I feel that recounting my experiences will help me continue to process and heal from them. I also want to get this out there because my former marriage has drastically shaped who I am today, and how I interact with the world. Knowing this should help you understand where I’m coming from and why I react the way I do to certain situations and people.
Roughly around this time last year a part of my brain decided that the only way I could escape my husband was to kill myself. By this point I was so depressed that I wasn’t eating everyday. For me, at the time, it seemed like it wasn’t worth the effort to feed myself. When my husband was away I would often end up on the floor of the shower, bawling while I tried to tear my skin off with my bare hands. It seemed easier to hurt myself that way, because if I went for any weapon, he would suspect something was up.
When he started to see the depths of my depression he would make it all about him. It hurt him to see me so messed up. Why couldn’t I just make myself better so things would be easier for him? After all, I was the love of his life, or so he kept telling me.
Earlier in the year I would have dreams about him getting into some sort of accident, or ending up in the middle of an armed robbery and getting shot. In the morning I would be so overcome by guilt that I could happily imagine my husband’s death, that I would claim I had terrible nightmares about losing him and ask to be comforted, in hopes he wouldn’t figure out that my subconscious wanted him dead. I was petrified of what he would do if he found out.
After we were engaged he had offered to support me financially so I could pursue going into business for myself, I had wanted to turn my jewelry making into an Etsy endeavor. It was a tempting offer, and the finances worked out, so I left a steady job with good benefits to forge my own path. Once I left my job I cashed out my stock and 401K and he convinced me to use it to pay off his debts in collections. I went along with it. We were getting married, and it made sense at the time to have a clean financial slate going into the marriage. Once I was home full-time however, all I had time for was keeping the house, helping him with his schooling , his VA stuff, and wedding planning. I was told that I would have plenty of time to work on my business after the wedding. I believed him.
Shortly after the wedding it quickly became apparent that there wouldn’t be any time for me to start my business. I would express regret at leaving my job with the bank, and he would retort that I was such a bitch when I’d come home from work, and that if I had stayed we wouldn’t have gotten married. He would remind me how unhappy I was working there, and that they didn’t value me as an employee, and tell me that we were really better off this way. I believed him. I didn’t know what else to do.
When we would hit times of financial duress it would become my fault, because I wasn’t working. Even though the primary source of our income was dependent on his staying in school and passing his classes. Even though he wouldn’t listen to me if I said we didn’t have room in the budget to buy that new phone/video game/fancy keyboard. If I said no to something he would bully me until I relented, or he would just go purchase it anyway. All of our credit cards were in my name.
He was a violent person, in his language, and in his habits. When he would get drunk he wanted to go out just to get into bar fights. He had a very short temper, and when he got angry I would get scared. I used to tell him when he scared me, but when I did he would get so offended that I would even dare to think he could hurt me. I used to try to counter that he was an alcoholic combat veteran with PTSD, and anything was possible. He would tell me that I didn’t love him enough, otherwise I would have faith that he would never ever do anything to hurt me. After all, I was the love of his life, at least that’s what he told me. I had no choice but to believe him.
The only car we had belonged to me, which I bought well before we were married. He would often take it for school, and then would be gone all day. I was stuck at home by myself, and if I made any plans I would have to rely on him coming home so I could use my car. If I drove my car too much, to see friends, or even run errands, he would yell at me for using too much gas. Despite that nothing would stop him from driving all over the county while he was out and about without me.
It got to the point where I couldn’t trust myself. If I listened to any of my instincts and tried to change things, he would find a way to tell me how I was wrong, and why. I believed him. He became the center of my life, and my sole reason for living. I was there only to support him, and my needs did not matter. I became more and more isolated, as every time I would try to go out without him, he would get upset and guilt me until I relented and stayed home with him. It got to the point where I stopped trying to go out on my own. I relied on him for all my social activities. I ended up alone most of the time.
On one of the few occasions I would have out of the house on my own, I remember being at a friend’s house with next to no cell signal. I freaked out about seeming like I was out of contact. If I had no signal when he would try to call me, I would get accused of all sorts of things. I remember my friend being alarmed at my distress about my signal strength. I know I said whatever I could to make things seem alright. Because they had to seem OK. If they weren’t I was a failure as a wife. At least that’s what I was told, and I believed it.
Once I hit the point where suicide looked like the reasonable answer I started to reach out for help. Eventually I found a therapist through a local clinic system that was able to offer me 10 free sessions. I also found a therapist in a nearby city that was willing to see students for $10.00 a session. I started to see them both. He was upset that I had to use money and gas for some of the appointments, but I was able to use some of his statements regarding his unhappiness with my depression against him. I continued with therapy.
I started to stand up for myself at home more. As I did that, he got more hostile. There used to be apologetic periods after fights. Once I stood my ground these stopped. We hit a point where I asked him if he even wanted to be married anymore. He refused to give me a straight answer. So I held fast, and suggested he stay with his parents for a couple of nights. The time apart would allow us both to think without constant fighting. So he left. I made sure to take my car key from him. That made him upset. I went to a LARP session with our roommate. When I came back, he had taken all of his stuff and moved out. That was a little over 10 months ago, and I haven’t seen him since.
I know I’m lucky that he never got physically violent. There are times I wish he had, simply because I feel I would have seen his manipulations and emotional abuse earlier, and would have avoided the situation I ended up in. I also know I’m lucky that he left without me needing to seek help from a women’s shelter. But that doesn’t void the pain he caused with his actions. It doesn’t void the constant spiral of self-doubt that I have to battle when trying to accomplish anything. It doesn’t void the second-guessing of everything folks say to me, because everything he would say could mean something completely different the next day.
Several months after he left I would still get panic attacks if I thought I saw him on the street. I pulled myself together enough to file for divorce, but had such a hard time trying to get help to serve him papers. I was afraid to tell anyone we were mutual friends with, in case they would tell him and he would get angry and lash out at me. I opted not to file a restraining order when I filed for divorce, again out of fear. Once he was notified I was dead sure that he would try something in retribution for the restraining order. He ended up getting served by the county, when he went to file on his own five months later. We’re about to head into the final stages of divorce, and I’m petrified of seeing him in court. I have friends willing to stand by me and be a buffer, but I have to fight every day to not just bury my head in the sand and hope this all goes away.
In the aftermath of my late marriage I had several friends approach me with guilt. They felt bad that they did not notice that I was slipping away from them. Some were even jealous that I got to be a full-time housewife. I want to emphasize that it isn’t anyone’s fault for not noticing what was happening. My soon to be ex-husband is a skilled manipulator, and I often felt that I had to present as a perfect wife, or else everything would fall apart. So I never spoke up about anything. There are times I want to beat myself up for letting this happen to me, but I know I can’t do that. Emotional abuse is an insidious force that can be incredibly hard to defend against, and it is important to remind myself that it isn’t my fault that I was abused.
With therapy, and the tools I’ve learned since, I try to see myself as a survivor of abuse more than a victim. It isn’t easy to do, and there are still some very unhealthy habits that I have yet to break left over from my marriage. I’m consistently working on learning to continue to stand up for myself, and to continue to believe that my emotional experiences are valid, and that I’m not crazy for having them.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read. I’ve been hesitant to discuss my experiences from my marriage this frankly, because I’ve found a lot of people get uncomfortable and don’t know what to say in response. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there as a friend. Be patient with me as I continue to work on becoming the strong independent Tina that I know I can be.
If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, there is a way out, and you can get through it. You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or online at http://www.thehotline.org/