Making Sense of an Abusive Relationship.

4 years ago

After three years of counseling, I'm calling myself graduated.

Maybe I'm slow. If there was a  Remedial Divorce Recovery class down at the community college, I would have been first to reenroll every semester. It was a long, slow, painful process, but after three years, I'm well enough.

Not unscarred, mind you, but as healed as I can be.

I know why the Bible says God hates divorce... it's because it rips every part of your life and your soul in half. It doesn't cut it cleanly; it rips it... a jagged, uneven rip that can't ever be stitched up no matter how much counseling you sit through.

The most difficult part for me was recovering from the emotional abuse. If the marriage had been even a little bit loving and sweet with some happy memories mixed in, maybe I could have gotten past it better. If it had ended in a normal way, with an affair or whatever, you know, the NORMAL ways people end their marriages, maybe I could wrap my head around it. I could grasp that mistakes were made, it didn't work out, but at least there were those happy memories and now I'm better for being out of it.

But when there's been twelve years of horrendous emotional abuse, it's hard to know who you are after it's over.

I remember hearing how after the slaves were freed post-Civil-war, some of them lingered around, wanting to stay, choosing to remain in captivity rather than risk freedom. Finally, I understand this, because even though the reality of your situation is slavery, it's familiar. You can cope with the familiar, even with the beatings and the being treated like garbage, because you know what to expect.

It's when the chains are loosed and you're free that you don't know what to do with yourself, after the slavery years are over. It was that reason, among others, that counseling was my lifesaver for the past three years. I left a marriage not even knowing what kind of music I liked, much less how to survive when I'd been told for so many years that I was stupid and crazy. I mean, how do you get a job and provide for yourself and your kids and choose an apartment and keep everybody fed and well when you're stupid and crazy and a miserable failure and NOBODY LIKES YOU? After twelve years of hearing it, you can't help but believe it.

Perhaps it's wrong to compare myself to a slave; I wasn't literally beaten, though sometimes I believe it would have felt better. I had a beautiful home and a fancy car and my life looked ok from the outside. I didn't sleep in a slave shack. I wasn't separated from my babies. I didn't work in the fields until my fingers bled. But after twelve years of emotional abuse, I was just as ill-prepared for life in the free world as a slave who'd been set free.

When I was married before, I read at least twelve books about marriage. Twelve that I could list off the top of my head, anyway. The first one was Men are From Mars; then every time I heard about a new book I'd buy it and read it. The Five Love Languages. Love and Respect. So many others. I was desperate to make it better.

I tried.

And after the books didn't work I went to counseling; he wouldn't go. I wrote letters to authors of these books wondering what I was doing wrong; I received one response telling me to submit more. I submitted more; he got meaner.

I tried.

And I think that's what left me so confused by it all: the harder I tried, the worse everything got.

Literally. I would spend all day cleaning the house; he would come in and yell that one of the kids had left their shoes in the kitchen. I would work at my little home-based business until 4am; he would give me dirty looks and call me lazy. He would tell me I needed to get a job; I would go interview and be offered a job, then he would demand that I turn it down because I needed to be home with the kids and pretend to be good mom for once, and then yell at me for not helping out financially.

I could not win.

It was this that kept me going to counseling, because I couldn't make myself understand how to be. If I'm nice, I get yelled at. If I'm nicer, I get yelled at more. The more I cooked meals he liked, the meaner he was. The more I submitted, the worse he treated me. On a good day, he'd pretend I wasn't in the room.  On a good day I was totally ignored. At least it was peaceful on those days, though excruciatingly,miserably lonely. 

But then there were the bad days.

And after twelve years, I didn't believe I deserved to be loved. I didn't believe I'd ever have anyone. I believed I was destined to be lonely. I believed I was a 'fat ass' because he called me that for twelve years. I believed I wasn't 'much to look at' because he said so and I believed it. I believed nobody liked me because he told me daily that I didn't have any friends and even my family couldn't stand me.

And then one day I chose to be lonely, if I had to be lonely, without being yelled at and without having my kids yelled at every day of their lives.

For a while, I went to counseling weekly. Then there came a point where I wasn't crying every day, and I went once a month. And session after session I'd ask why my husband was so mean to me? What is it about ME? Why did I deserve that?

And I don't remember when it clicked, but it did. Honestly I don't remember a thing about our sessions or what we talked about or how we possibly filled so many hours with talking the past three years. It's all a blur. All I know it, after each session, I'd feel so much lighter like an enormous burden was lifted. I could leave there with so much baggage off my shoulders because I left it in that office, until the next month when the load accumulated again and I'd need help dealing with it.

But at some point inthat three years, it did click: it was never about me.

He needed to treat me like garbage to justify what he was doing. He NEEDED to make me out to be a wicked witch, at least in his own mind, to feel like he DESERVED to do the extracurricular things he was doing that I didn't know about. He needed to believe that because I didn't keep the house clean enough, I didn't make any money, and I wasn't worth looking at or spending time with, it was ok to do what he was doing (which was substantial, by the way...)

Suddenly I understood. The nicer I was, the meaner he was.... it all made sense. When I was nice he had to be faced with what a jerk and a loser HE was. He HAD to be mean. Interestingly, when I responded the wrong way, with wrath and hate and anger, he backed down because that's what bullies do.

And when I grasped this -- that it was him and not me -- I could move on.

It wasn't my fault.

For a long time after the marriage was over I felt only two emotions; numb, or rage, if those are emotions. I couldn't make myself care or feel anything else. And then I got it... it wasn't my fault.  I did everything I could, and it wasn't my fault.

It wasn't my fault.

And if you're married to an abuser, I can save you three years of therapy (you're welcome)...  it's not your fault either. 

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