Life is interesting. It comes with no directions, there are few road signs to help you along your way and we all muddle along the best we can, hoping for the best. There are points along that journey that make us stop and look around wondering just how the hell we got there, and more importantly, how the hell do you find the exit.
You learn to laugh at some of the places you’ve found yourself, happily willing to share your disasters with friends, as you recount your tales of stupidity. But for other tales, no amount of laughter can save you, and these are the stories no one wants to share with anyone. These are the alone places, the dark places where anything can hide, and like an ostrich you hope like hell that you can put your head in the sand and it will pass you by. This is, where it got bad.
I cannot laugh about this part of my life, nor can I make light of these events. I did not know when I started this book if I would add this part of my life. There are no funny stories here and I don’t know that I would want to try, even if I could. But here’s the thing, this is the nexus point of my entire life, where every event prior to this constricted down like a funnel, and I came out the other side as the person I am now.
And I cannot even say that now, so many years past this moment, that I would go back and change anything if I was offered the chance. Because without it, I would not be the person that I am, and I like this person. So for a little while, just a few chapters I promise, I’ll ask you to walk with me in the dark. There is a light at the end of this, and it’s not the oncoming train, even if it feels like it at times. So, take my hand and we’ll finish this part of the journey together…
Many years ago, I was once described as a Ming vase held together with Elmer’s glue. As apt a description as any for what I had become.
You have to understand, abuse is a slow process. It does not happen overnight, it is gradual and methodical, building upon itself layer after layer. With a bizarre combination of restraint mixed with ever increasing violence, they will eventually, given enough time, achieve complete and utter dominance. Often with very little resistance. Violence is not the goal of the abuser. It is the reward they give themselves for a job well done. The goal is the complete submission of will. All of this training takes time and dedication. It is a focusing of effort on another person, to bend and mold them into what the abuser considers their ideal. Like water falling onto a rock, it only takes time and persistence to cause a rock to split in half and break, people are the same.
All abusers seem to have an uncanny sense of who they can achieve their personal goal of complete subservience with, and my entire life had conditioned me to be the perfect candidate. I had learned passive resistant in times of stress, to be still in times of trouble, to accept the will of others when it was imposed on me. It had been of necessity, a survival skill that made me extremely vulnerable to the predatory.
I had almost no knowledge of what a healthy relationship looked like. I had what I had experienced with my parents, and a vague understanding from media of what marriage was, and neither were ideal. In the beginning, there was no basis to resist what was being done. I believed that this was part of a normal relationship, or at the very least, acceptable behavior from a spouse.
All you had to do was look around to see what kind of misinformation was out there, “Married with Children” was one of the most popular TV shows at the time. This was not a functional family, it was anything but. Daytime soaps and nighttime dramas all warp what is reasonable and rational within a relationship. Using them as a comparison, my relationship was not outside of the culturally accepted norm. Cheating, lying, and manipulation were all acceptable, even a bit of hitting and smacking in context was to be expected.
I had come from a broken home, all of my friends had as well. I had no idea what normal was supposed to be, and even the advice on marriage can be warped as a justification for abuse. Marriage is about compromise. It is about putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own. It is a fine line between a healthy relationship and an abusive one. That line, without context, can be easily crossed without knowing it.
And, the mind itself is capable of amazing justifications, making the bizarre commonplace, in an attempt to save itself. As the abuse escalates, it is capable of stripping itself down, destroying the ego in the process. The mind, in a last ditch effort to survive even one more day, turns the abuser into the giver of salvation.
Every line that is crossed is camouflaged afterward with sweet words and actions, pushing that line ever further back. Once the new baseline of behavior is set, the abuser is then able to push again and again, in a series of cycles of abuse, violence followed by regret coupled with contrition, and then granting absolution for their behavior. This all allows the abuser to continue on in slow steps forward without question.
In this way, you become an accomplice in your own demise. It causes you to remain silent instead of reaching out for help. Partly because you know this is all your fault, you’ve been told so, many times, that all of this is a result of your own inadequacies, and to make it stop all you have to do is be good. You hide the other person’s actions to hide your own failures. It is, after all, not their fault, but your own.
In order not to hurt, you begin to shut down your own emotional responses. If you feel nothing, nothing can hurt you. You begin to identify only with the abuser’s emotional reactions while having none of your own. Survival requires you to have empathy for their emotional state while completely suppressing your own. In the end, how you feel means nothing. Everything is built upon the abuser’s state of being. Your life, literally, depends upon it.
As time goes on, you become less and less, while the abuser begins to loom larger than life. They are your lifeline, your only source of comfort, drying the tears they themselves caused, soothing the hurts, all the while promising salvation in compliance.
The abuser begins stripping you of your will and your soul, creating a hollow shell where a person once stood, leaving nothing but the desire to please the other person.
Isolation and dependence further distances you from reality, or from what is normal.
You push away friends and family to avoid having to admit your personal failure or to make excuses for the inexcusable.
What the abuser began, you now help maintain. Slowly you withdraw from anything, or from anyone, that does not please your other self, because you are no longer a separate individual. You are only an extension of your abuser.
The longer this goes on, the harder it is to break away. You have literally given everything to this person. Shame keeps you silent. Compliance makes you complicit in your own demise. Fear of the unknown keeps you still, because there may be worse demons out there that you know nothing about, and this one you, at least, know how to, sometimes, please and placate.
Starting slowly, like an avalanche at the top of the mountain, my marriage began its downward descent. It began with small, petty things, things that seemed stupid to fight over. Small decisions he began to make for me that I conceded to him because it didn’t seem worth an argument.
He took over the bills with the justification that since he earned the money, he should be responsible for disbursing it.
He’d leave me with very little money at my disposal at any one time. Without money, independent movement or action becomes almost impossible and requires the other person’s permission and agreement for the simplest of things: a soda, diapers for a baby, or gas to see a friend. All those small decisions can be controlled by the abuser when the abuser controls the money.
Our mailbox was in a bank of many, kept locked at the main entrance. He “lost” his key so he took mine, promising to have another made to replace the missing one, but never did. By doing this he could control what mail I saw. I later found out he had kept many letters from me, using it as a means to begin cutting me off from family, friends and even financial obligations, made unknowingly, in my name. A key seems like such a small thing. Too small to fight over and something eventually even forgotten, as patterns of behavior are set. So small, and yet, when taken with all the other actions, it is yet another way to gain control.
I have always been an avid reader, but one night during a fight he became enraged that I had been reading a book while waiting for him to return home. Instead of jumping immediately up to greet him as he walked through the door, I had wanted to finish the paragraph before getting up. He snatched the book up out of my hands, then gathering the rest of my collection up, threw them all in a box and locked them in our storage unit that the apartment complex had, for which he had the only key. Telling me I could get them back after I learned to prioritize better.
An action he justified by calling me selfish, informing me that I had negligently put my personal pleasures ahead of my responsibilities. I had been completely self-centered by continuing to read when I should have been making dinner as a good wife would have.
Imprinting on me that I was both self-serving and a bad wife. The books were taken, he said, not to punish me, but to teach me a lesson about responsibility and how to care for my family selflessly.
He slowly began to center my world on him, shifting my attention solely to his needs and wants, while I disregarded mine in an effort to keep the peace. Each time he pushed too hard, hurt me too much, causing me to consider leaving, he would cry, beg for my forgiveness, making promises that he would never do anything like that again. During those times, there would be flowers, small gifts, nice dinners out and his undivided attention to making me happy, and I would relent. Forgiving him for all he had done.
He gradually began shifting the responsibility for his bad behavior onto me, with phrases like “If you didn’t do
these things I wouldn’t have to lose my temper” or “I don’t want to do these things to you, but you’re making me do it” creating the belief that it was me, not him, who caused these terrible things to happen. That if only I could be a better wife, a better person, then everything would be okay and he would never do these things again.
As my world constricted, ever tightening around keeping him happy, I let go of everything else except for caring for my sons. Self-preservation made me an expert on his moods. Microscopic twitches became loud shouts to my awareness of him, causing me to jump to do anything to keep him from becoming violent. His initial rages that he had before taken out on inanimate objects, then, slowly shifted toward me: a light slap to stop me; a shove to push me down; a smack on the ass to get me moving in a certain direction. Not enough to hurt me, at first, but to shock and to stop me.
It is the same method used to train a dog. When a dog does something wrong, you rub their nose in it, paddle it so it knows it has done something wrong, while speaking in a firm voice to help imprint the lesson. Do this often enough, mixing it with affection and you can train a dog, or a person, to be the perfect pet.
An abuser feels no more guilt than a dog owner does during this training, telling themselves that, ‘It is necessary, good even, to do so.’
The cycle that had begun slowly began to pick up speed with the discovery of my second pregnancy. I did not realize I was pregnant until late into my fifth month. My attention, so focused on him, I had not even noticed the changes within myself. He was livid that I had done this to him yet again, and began to take it out on me in ever escalating rages, the bigger I became, the more incensed he became.
He was careful to leave no marks for casual observation, but not once during this time did any person come forth and ask me, is everything okay? There was no hiding the bruises or marks from the doctor or nurses, but none ever inquired how they had come about.
Friends came tentatively forward, but never pushed when I brushed off their concerns.
I had once been an outgoing, gregarious person, with a ready smile. But as I withdrew, I became silent, passive, an automaton who merely looked human.
As my friend’s cautious inquiries and veiled offers of help were rebuffed, they withdrew and became helpless onlookers to my destruction. They knew something was wrong, but were hesitant to intrude where they might not be welcome. They feared that if they pushed too hard, I would reject the limited contact I had left, leaving me completely alone.
After the birth of my second child, a son born too early and in need of a great amount of care, I broke completely. Whatever I had been before was gone. My world now centered on keeping Nev happy and my sons alive. They became hostages to my good behavior, everything I did was to ensure their continued survival in the increasingly hostile environment we all shared. Nev, at least, claimed to care about me, and in some way I suppose he did. He had put a great deal of effort into shaping me into his perfect woman, but he had no such similar feelings for his sons. They were an inconvenience, only useful in keeping me compliant, and kept alive only for that reason.
There was no longer any resistance left in me. Whatever he asked for, whatever he demanded, I complied with without a fight. In some ways I think this began to upset him even more than my previous passive resistance, for there no longer was any justification for his punishments. I only spoke when spoken to, would not move or take any action without his consent, I would sit for hours without a single thought, completely blank to my own sense of self.
I slept very little in my attempts to keep my sons safe and Nev happy. I was chronically tired, sleep deprivation added to my muddled thoughts and sluggish reactions. In my lethargic state, I became even more susceptible to his influence, too tired and beaten to struggle against him any longer.
My compliance escalated his abuse, seeking some fight, some small piece of resistance to feed his need to dominate and control. Tossing me around like a broken rag doll, groping for newer, more demeaning and cruel forms of torture to elicit any kind of response from me, becoming ever more infuriated at me for my lack of response.
Only my sons would bring me out of this state, their well-being the only thing that could move me to action. I modified their waking and sleeping schedules in an attempt to keep them from any interaction with their father. He still worked third shift, so I kept my sons awake all through the night, in the hopes that they would sleep during the daylight hours when he was home and awake.
I would often wake them while he slept, keeping them quietly distracted, so as not to disturb him, but also insuring that they would again be sleeping when he awoke later in the evening. During those times, I would take them outside and we would go for walks, swim in the pool or visit with the neighbors. All the while doing my best to project the image of a happily devoted wife and mother to anyone I encountered during those times.
All things reach an ultimate breaking point, all cycles have their peak. A point of no return when the rag doll is no longer fun to play with. There are no longer any boundaries to push against, no challenge to stimulate, when the object of so much attention is no longer diverting or worth the effort. A time comes, in all abusive relationships when you become completely worthless to the abuser, not because you resist, but because you comply.
At this point, there is only one of two choices: you either die at their hands, or you find the will to leave. I managed both.
You can find more on Lisa’s story at http://pandra411.wix.com/lisaorban.