In Which Our Lass is Liberated

Yesterday was the day. I got all my forms filled out with the help of volunteers in the Law Library, showed up for the Uncontested Court Docket and had my divorce waved on through.

If anything, the judge seemed pleased that I was able to read my testimony quickly and clearly, so that she didn’t have to wait very long.

Every time I went there (six total), I felt a little sick. Usually, my hands would start shaking. Almost every time, the enormity of what I was doing hit me and I had to fight back tears.

I had the love of my life. My soulmate. I thought I was born for him. We were going to build a home and a family together. He said things like how he would find me in every life after this one.

And I was wrong, and it didn’t last, and now it’s all gone.

There’s a lyric from a Blue October song that knocks the wind out of me every time I hear it. It’s the song “Been Down” from Approaching Normal.

Why can’t we work when we both try?
We try, we try, we try, we try
And why can’t this work, when we both try?

It’s difficult for a chronic overachiever like myself to really accept this. There is a very, very limited list of things I really tried for and still fell short. Especially when you factor in six years of work and compromise.

I’m strong and smart and tough and successful. I’m a finisher; I’m a winner. If it doesn’t come out right in the end, that means it’s not the end. All those adages. Yadda yadda.

I don’t know how to reconcile being a failure on such an epic scale, after working as hard as I did.

I had a man who loved me more than anyone, who had a job, who was healthy, who treated me well, who made me laugh, who got along with my friends, who liked my family, who wanted everything I wanted, and was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

Then he quit the first job, and lost the second job, and quit the third job, and lost the fourth job, and lost the fifth job, and quit the sixth job, and lost the seventh & eighth jobs, and by the ninth job (in six years), my patience was wearing thin. (He kept that ninth job almost two years, but was fired during our separation and blamed it on the stress I caused him by leaving.)

He got sick during the first year. I handled it better some days than others, but I also prioritized his health above my own. I bought food for the diet he needed. I bought medications. I budgeted for the weed he needed for pain management. I bought e-cigs and vapes, then would be enraged to find packs of cigarettes in his coat. I put medical procedures on credit. I took him to clinics, I took him to specialists, I took him to ERs. I don’t want to tell you how many endoscopies and root canals we (I) paid for.

His opinion of me fluctuated based on many factors, but let’s just say after chronic pain and poverty led to violent outbursts, I wasn’t really laughing or feeling loved anymore. When he became physical with me, some part of me snapped. I began pushing back instead of apologizing, and suddenly he didn’t laugh or feel loved anymore, either.

My friends slowly fell away, unless they already had a close bond with him. The friends who objected to his behavior or choices were first to go. My family, once the joy in the marriage cooled, was being phased out as well.

He still wanted what I wanted, a house and kids and a steady, easy, loving life. But he self-sabotaged to a degree I couldn’t keep up with, and carrying the weight, I grew bitter. I grew angry. I built resentments, and I started voicing them.

We fought daily. We fought multiple times a day. In his own words, he forgave me, because he loved me so much, but I needed to stop doing the things that triggered him. Then everything would be fine.

We saw three different therapists across five of the six years of our relationship. They all said essentially the same things.

So I had a man who rarely had a job, chronically ill, who lectured and criticized & manhandled me, who made me cry & scream like a banshee, who disliked my friends, who avoided my family, and who wanted a home and kids with me, as long as he wasn’t expected to take the necessary steps to earn it.

He still loved me most. He always said that. That was the redeeming factor. I lived over a year like that, with everything stripped away, holding on to the fact that he loved me most.

Then he met her.

There had been lovers and girlfriends. We tried being open, we even tried being poly for one very confusing, jealousy-laden year. It was quite complicated. But nothing else compared to when he met her. She was in an open marriage too, and her husband and I agreed that their bond scared the living daylights out of us.

Within a month, I reached a limit and said “No more. I’m shutting this down. Here is my Wife card; I’m playing it. Her, or me.”

I packed my bags, and I went to stay with a friend. (The friend later told me her guest room had been reserved for me for over a year.)

He was furious. Within a week he informed me that I had no right to dictate who he spoke to or was friends with. Crushed, I wept for hours, and told him he was an idiot, and he would regret this decision. He came back the next day claiming he had thought it over and would stop speaking to her “for a time” to give us a chance to fix what was so patently broken.

Six weeks into the separation, I learned that they were communicating in secret, and she had come to our house that day to see him. So I let him know we were getting divorced, and he was free to pursue whatever life he wanted, but I wouldn’t be in it.

Because all I had left was He loves me most. And there it went: poof.

It has been a long, hard road, of denial and rage and numbness and nightmares and loneliness. I tried so hard, gave until I was hollow, and I still lost everything. It had never happened to me before.

Once he learned he had no chance to get me back, he vanished off the face of the earth. His own mother didn’t have his address. I served his divorce papers by something called Public Posting, reserved for missing persons cases.

A year passed. I healed somewhat.

And yesterday I went from Separated to actually Divorced.

It doesn’t feel real yet, and I made strange animal noises (half laugh, half whimper) from the courthouse to my car. I don’t know what to do with myself, because half my life is still ripped away, and it’s growing back at the rate of cave formations.

The best I can do is keep moving, keep functioning, until my lungs catch up to my paperwork. At least the “try” has a new direction.

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In Which I Declare Independence

Most people I know were all about flags and lighting gunpowder toys and swimming and cooking outside yesterday; for me, yesterday marked a year and a half since I left my abuser.

I spent my day alone, for the most part. I helped a friend move a carload of things (well, I intended to help, and showed up after most work was done). I came home and sat in my apartment with my dog and watched Netflix.

A friend thought perhaps I was lonely, and called me, and we talked for over an hour (I think perhaps he was lonely). But I was content. I mused on how powerful it is, to choose being alone, rather than scrambling to be around people.

So yesterday, on Independence Day, I mentally celebrated 18 months of independence from:

-Fighting to the point of exhaustion

-Embarrassing screaming matches where we pretend the neighbors don’t hear us

-Never knowing where the remote, scissors, lighters, or car keys are.

-Being late to work because I’m crying in my car.

-Putting on more makeup to hide the fact that I’ve been crying in my car.

-Cigarette butts

-Flinching when someone gestures broadly

-“Phasing out” (i.e. being so emotionally overwhelmed that my brain literally goes into a fog to prevent a breakdown)

-Panic attacks

-Apologizing for my feelings

-Apologizing for behavior which no one else noticed or objected to

-Pot smell, pot ash, pipes, bongs, rolling papers, all over everything I own

-Looking for a place at a party where we can step away and have an argument without anyone noticing

-Lying in response to the question “How are you doing?”

-Lying about nearly everything my partner does

-Lying to myself

-Coming home from a 16-hour motherfucker of a day and needing to soothe someone else’s emotional state

-Finding behavioral similarities between the children I teach and the man I’m with

-Changing the passcode on my phone and tablet frequently

-Filtering my conversations just in case he finds a way to read it later

-Being afraid to speak my mind, and mentally planning rebuttals for how my argument might be twisted

-Shifting my vocal tone softer and higher to avoid giving offense, until I feel like a cartoon character

-Being afraid of a shift in his vocal tone

-Being afraid to wake him up

-Being afraid, period

-Accounting for how long it took me to get home

-Sitting in a Dennys or Starbucks or Target before I go home, just to catch my breath

-Sinking dread/anxiety the instant I pull into my driveway

-Making plans and having no confidence that I will be able to keep them, if he’s in a “mood” that day.

-Creating convoluted cover stories for what I was doing when I want to spend time with someone he doesn’t approve of

-Defending my friends and family from criticism

-Questioning. Everything.

-Feeling crazy

-Feeling like a terrible person

-Feeling wrong for how I feel

 

…I could go on. I’m about to start going in circles. But it took me some time to recognize all of these, and now every goddamn day without him feels like a long stretch after a good night’s sleep.

Every day feels like the breath you take after surfacing from a high dive.

Every day feels like the sunny meadow in a motherfucking allergy pill commercial. I’m not joking. Even the rough ones are better than what I had two years ago. I can’t for the life of me understand why I stayed so long.

The only thing I can truly be grateful for is how much more I appreciate a quiet day watching TV on my own couch.

In Which Everything Requires Sacrifice

Every time you want something, the first question that should be asked is, “What are you willing to give up to get it?”

You want that item in the store? Well, it’s pretty obvious. Give up some cash (or buy on credit and give up some future peace of mind).

You want that new skill or hobby? Give up your time, and possibly yet more cash.

You want freedom from the black-hole relationship that has been draining you for years? You will have to decide what you are willing to sacrifice. Money? Friends? Family? Time?

What is it going to be? Because sure as you are breathing, you know something’s gotta go. No relationship ends that neatly, and a marriage even less so.

The first time around, I sacrificed as much as I needed to. I resigned myself to being The Villain because, arrogant 26-year-old that I was, I had never felt true loss, and just started cutting. Our friends, his family, MY family, my dignity, my money, my new lover who couldn’t stomach the drama. Cut, cut, cut. Off it all came, in record time.

And when I stopped and looked around, it stung. I resolved never to be so cavalier again. I worked my ass off rebuilding, and it took years to earn some people’s trust again.

This second time around, I didn’t want to cut so deeply, but I knew I needed to escape. First I sacrificed my home: I moved out, conceding the battlefield and sleeping diagonally on a full-size bed in a friend’s guest room.

Next, I decided I could stand to sacrifice my time, and think things over. I sat on the issue, let it cool, waiting for a day when I would have the funds to start filing. In the next eight months, I gained my composure, and lost Evil Ex’s whereabouts, so that the process became much harder.

After that time, I knew what I could bear to sacrifice, and what I could not. I would never sacrifice friends or family unless absolutely necessary. I maintained relationships to the best of my ability, and rallied my troops around me. My family slowly came to understand the reality of the situation, as his hold over me faded and my truths started spilling out. I lost my fear of the shame of abuse and debt and divorce, and just became really, really honest.

The reality? Shame is an illusion. Sure, my life was collapsing in on itself (again), but I was still me at my core. Nothing and no one would knock me to my knees like that again. Anyone who didn’t like my choices could walk away; the ones with sense came back around later.

I had no lover to consider, so that part was easy. I struck out alone. The only one who could save me was me.

And finally, when it was all but done, I sacrificed money. Not big money, but the kind of money you have to draw from your fucking veins. I had no savings, so it was necessities that were pared down. Vet-bill money. Gas money. Work shoes money. Sanity money. My phone is ancient and on a bare-minimum plan. My underwear is graying and falling apart. The soles fall off my shoes. My hair hasn’t seen a pair of scissors in over a year. My car is old enough to drive its own car. So I pick up gigs everywhere I can, and pawn stuff when there are no gigs, because sometimes it’s a week til pay day and I run out of dog food.

I sacrificed money. And money… is money. I’ll make more. I know myself well enough for that, after 11-12 years without a missed paycheck. I may curse myself right now, overdrawn in the bank, $20 available on my last credit card. But I’ve handled worse, and I have to trust that like every other hard time, this one will pass too, and I’ll make it out alive.

I don’t know how other people do it. I just know that if I want something, I’m going to need a prioritized list of what might have to die to make it a reality. Money, time, sleep, comfort, security, friends, love, family.

Put them in order. Take a deep breath. Start cutting.

Or be prepared to watch that wish sail away.

In Which Perception is Master & Slave

Pre-blog writing from a year ago today (i.e. many things change but not enough of them)…

It’s like this: the more people I tell [about the separation], the more real it gets. But then I have to deal with everyone else’s perception of reality.

Today, my grandmother (who is 90), hugged me and said, “Give our love to your husband. Tell him we miss him, and we’d like to see him out here some time.”

He hasn’t come to a family gathering in a year or more, with the exception of my brother-in-law’s memorial. I hugged her back, smiled, and only said, “He’s a little hard to pin down these days.”

Because I can’t put this into her reality. I can’t say it’s like the part of Mockingjay where Peeta has been hijacked by the Capitol to be Katniss’s worst enemy. I can’t explain how my best friend and life partner has become this sickening shadow of the man I knew. How the one human being who knows me inside and out, from my fondest hopes and wildest dreams to deepest fears, is now exploiting that knowledge to craft the few sentences that will haunt me for hours and days and weeks. I will question my own reality just because he blankets it with his.

Grandma has never read the books. And there is no Capitol, no evil plot. This is just who he is. This is just who he has always been, somewhere deep inside, and I avoided recognizing it because I was smiling and trying so hard to make it okay. And now he can look at me with those beautiful eyes and say how much he will always love me and wish for the life we planned, but how I need treatment for my mental illness and I’m making him the bad guy to deflect the humiliation of walking away from yet another marriage. That I need to fix my severe problems, because I will drive away the next man and never get the loving family I want if I don’t change.

…Some part of me is trying to reconcile his words into my reality. I spent so much time believing him, it’s a reflex now that what he says makes me question my own perception, and my own sanity.

I wish he was brainwashed. I wish this wasn’t the monster that lived under his skin all along. To call it a nightmare is a vast understatement.

This year has seen me through many changes, the most important of which was contrasting the way every other person spoke to me and treated me.

I went through a searching, anxious period of “crowd-sourcing” my opinion of myself, because I had no confidence in my own knowledge as a resource. I asked my family, even my blunt-as-hell sister, whether they saw me as histrionic & unbalanced. I asked my friends, even the tough-love enthusiasts, what I should think of myself. They said many things I wasn’t prepared to hear, they gave a great deal of advice that I did my damnedest to cram together into a Spam-loaf of a Plan.

A year later, I value and trust their opinions, but also have finally begun to look within, as well. I never realized how important that was. I mean, our school counselors told us it was, when we were teenagers. For me, it would take an extra twenty years to click to an earth shattering truth:

Nobody knows you like you know you. Nobody else (except perhaps a conjoined twin) has been there, witnessing everything that has ever been said or done in your life. Hearing others’ viewpoints is great, if you trust their judgment on most other things. But when it comes to that moment of saying, “I don’t care what other people think”, you better fucking mean it.

Because people around you, even those you love and trust, will still get it wrong sometimes. They will come to you for advice and confirmation. Their viewpoints are valuable, but they are only viewpoints. Life is shot from a lot of cameras. When you have to go to Steadicam mode and rogue off down your own path, looking over your shoulder can be fatal. And if you spend all your time comparing angles from different lenses first, you may miss your chance.

So this people-pleaser, while still enjoying the chance to make someone else smile, is truly throwing up her hands and saying “I don’t care what they think. I know me. I trust me.”

I will, however, be collecting bets on how long this resolve lasts before I crumble and need external validation. Thirty years of habits is hard to beat.

In Which a Complicated Situation is Abbreviated

2009:

Girl: Hi, new friends. [wow. cute.]

Guy: Nice to meet you. [wow. cute.] I think you’ve met my girlfriend?

Girl: [shit]

 

2010:

Guy: Hey, how you been? [still wow.cute. maybe…?]

Girl: Great! This is my new boyfriend.

Guy: [shit]

 

2011:

Guy: I’m engaged!

Girl: I’m engaged!

Both: [welp]

 

2012:

Girl: I’m so glad we’re friends.

Guy: Me, too.

Guy’s fiancee: This is the best. We can double date.

Girl’s fiance: Totally. Friends are great.

 

2013:

Guy: [gets married]

Girl: [welp. shit. Glad we’re friends.] … [gets married]

Guy: [guess that’s that. Glad we’re still friends.]

 

2014:

Guy: I’m gonna be a dad.

Girl: Congrats. Lotta shit’s going south for me.

Guy: I’m here for you.

Girl:  Thanks. I’m here for you too.

Guy: [drunk] [snuggle]

Girl: [drunk] [snuggle] [torn/worried]

Guy’s wife: Gonna flip out.

Girl’s husband: Yeah, you two shouldn’t be friends.

Girl & Guy: Probably right. OK.

 

2015:

[no contact]

 

2016:

Guy: You okay?

Girl: My husband is abusive & cheating and I’m leaving him.

Guy: Shit. I’m sorry. Need a friend?

Girl: Yeah, thanks.

Guy’s wife: [flips out]

Girl: Nvm. Later.

 

2017:

Guy: Can’t do this. I’m leaving her.

Girl: Things you’re telling me trigger memories of my own abusive marriage. You OK?

Guy: No.

Girl: Need a friend?

Guy: Yep.

Girl: I’m gonna give you the support I needed to get out of my own bad situation.

Guy: Oh. I should mention. I have super real feelings for you.

Girl: Shit. Me too. Let’s not do this now.

Guy: Agreed. Just had to say it.

Guy’s wife: [hacks phone] [flips out] Girl is a whore trying to steal my man.

Girl: FUCK. THIS.

Guy: I’m sorry. I’ll handle it.

Girl: Do that. I’ll be wayyy over here. Bye.

 

Go ahead and judge. You won’t be the first.

In Which “Maybe He Doesn’t Hit You…”

One day, I learned about the hashtag craze on Twitter, called #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, illuminating all the forms and disguises that domestic abuse can take.

I read a few, and was shocked at how heavily it resonated with me. I decided to prove myself wrong or right, and simply write out some of my own stories. I decided if I could come up with ten that were clear, true, un-embellished memories, that I would be able to make up my mind for sure about the nature of my relationship with my husband.

Maybe he doesn’t hit you, but…

He spends the drive home from parties finding fault with your behavior and chastises you until you cry, apologize, or both.

He throws a pillow at your head as hard as he can.

He shoves you against the wall while you are arguing.

He throws your keys so hard against a wall that the key-fob shatters.

He says you cry too easily and use it to get attention, or make him feel bad.

He literally won’t let you go to sleep until you’ve accepted his side of an argument. Even if it’s three in the morning and you have work the next day, he walks out and comes back in every thirty minutes until you give in.

He talks rapidly, and when you say you didn’t understand him, asks, “is it because you’re deaf or a fucking idiot?”

When you try to explain something that upset you or hurt your feelings, you wind up apologizing to him for your tone or choice of wording.

He grabs the car keys out of your hand and drives off, leaving you locked out of your home in a parking lot.

He shakes you. And puts you in restraining holds when you try to leave.

He blocks the exit when you need to walk away.

He corners you in the bathroom, the bathtub, the bedroom, regardless of whether you are ready to talk, and blocks the exit. If you lock the door, he jimmies the lock open.

He calls you stupid.

He calls you crazy.

He convinces you that you may actually be crazy.

He takes the beer out of your hand, and empties the bottle over your head.

He kicks your Tiffany lamp over, snapping it in half, and when you protest, says, “yeah, fuck your lamp.”

He reminds you that he has never actually hit you.

He tells you that what he does isn’t abuse, compared to what he went through.

He calls your male friends “surrogate husbands” and reads your conversations with them, without your consent.

He has to know where you are going, with whom, and how long you will be gone.

He convinces you to give up activities you love because he can’t/won’t take part in them.

He tells you that you are too fat to have his children.

He tells you that you are throwing away “yet another” marriage.

He pushes through your boundaries, then tells you that your boundaries are wrong.

He sexually fixates on your closest female friends, and when you ask him not to do anything with them, he says you are being jealous and controlling.
… then he messes around with them anyway.

You find his secret sexting and webcam girlfriend online, and he is furious that you looked at his messages. He says he doesn’t know how he will trust YOU again.

He screams two inches from your face, to get you to back away.

He screams until you are crying hysterically.

He screams until you just. Stop. Speaking. Or moving. Or thinking. Waiting for him to stop.

When he grabs you and shoves you onto the bed, you panic and curl into a fetal position because you’re convinced he is finally going to hit you.

When he gestures too wildly, you flinch. He is offended by this and lectures you on how hurtful that flinch was to him.

When you go on a girls’ weekend with your friends, they see you start to panic as soon as he calls you.

He wraps his hands around your throat and shakes you, screaming, “Is this what you wanted? Is this what you are asking for?”

He crouches over you during an argument, and when you ask him to move back, he refuses.
…when you push him back, he slaps you across the face.

He refers to the slap in the face as “that was only ONE TIME, and it was because you…”

He calls you melodramatic when you try to explain the situation to friends. Then insists you stop spending time with those friends, because they judge him.

He tries to convince your family you are mentally or emotionally unbalanced, so that they won’t take your side of the story seriously.

When I finished writing these, I spent the next hour shaking and crying. That was the day I realized I could never go back. It was roughly one year ago.

In Which Internet Algorithms are Flawed

Hey, you know what sucks? Taking silly online quizzes that pair you with your Facebook “soulmates” and your abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband pops up in the results.

We’re not friends on social media anymore. He was even blocked for a while. And now you’re putting his face in front of me again.

Epic fail, internet.