Category Archives: Unwife

6 Things I Wish I Had Done Before Leaving My Abuser

Abuser. It’s still so weird to type that word out. It took me years to come to terms with what really happened. I wouldn’t say it. I struggled with thinking it. I defended him.

Abuser is the right word. It’s his identity. I never wanted the victim identity though. I wanted so badly to not be a victim that I whitewashed who he was.

Years wasted on semantics and denial. Years I could have spent saving my family. There are some things I really wish I had spent those years doing instead of trying to please someone who refused to be pleased. In no particular order, six of them are:

Kept Working

Giving up my career had a devastating effect on me. I lost my financial independence and my earning power. Becoming dependent upon him helped me become voiceless. It was a specter over me every time I kept my silence. How could I speak up if he could just send us to the streets in a snit?

Maintained Independent Relationships

When I left work, I lost contact with my peers and friends. Slowly, I found myself restricted to spending time with the friends he chose for me and select members of his family. When I attempted to nurture new friendships, he always found a way to discourage or sabotage them.

Rented a Storage Locker

THIS would have been amazing! If I had thought to acquire a safe place to stockpile essentials and protect our valuables, you can be damned sure I would have. Toilet tissue, laundry detergent, non-perishables, clothing, cash, etc. If I had a place he didn’t know about, I would have been able to protect some of what he destroyed and keep some of what he took.

Stowed Cash

This isn’t about legal advice; it’s about what I wish I would have done. Any sane lawyer will tell you not to do this. Even so, I wish I would have had access to enough money to pay a retainer or make regular payments. Or to buy groceries. Or fix the car. Or see the doctor.

Started Standing up for Myself

This is so much harder to learn when you’re leaving. Seriously. You’ve just pissed off someone who hurts you when he loves you and NOW you’re going to try to stand up for yourself? Oh yeah, he’s gonna get right on respecting you and your boundaries. Also, water is dry and unicorns are real.

Felt What Was Going On

Becoming emotionally numb is a remarkable coping mechanism. It helps you to navigate trauma and manage your survival without getting knocked off balance by pain or anger. When you spend enough time numbing yourself, you can agree with your abuser that it really wasn’t that bad. Honestly, if (s)he was that awful, you probably would have felt something. But you didn’t because you learned long ago that your feelings were wrong and had no place in your relationship.

I didn’t do any of those things. As a result, I slid deeper and deeper into his web. Like a twisted spider, he fed off of me for years. It wasn’t until I was a drained, weakened shell that I tried to escape. The fat, cruel spider fought aggressively. Even today, my very survival is an affront to his existence.

Had I managed to hold onto something – my career, my friendships, my self-worth, my feelings – things would not have gone as far as they did. And I wouldn’t still consider myself in recovery. And my children would not continue to suffer.

 

That Voice You Heard…It was Mine

In somewhat of a rush, I opened the door and immediately spotted him. Neatly dressed in neutral business attire and carrying a clipboard, he advanced rapidly, a carbon copy of so many uninvited doorbell ringers. His heart must have skipped a beat – I was outside and he was at the end of my driveway. No waiting to see if someone would answer, no door to be slammed in his face. To him, I was potential. A potential sale? Potential convert? Who knows? I was the mark he was waiting for, practically delivered up on a silver platter.

I locked the door and turned to see his first step onto my driveway. He was coming and I needed to make a decision. Whatever he was selling is out of my reach financially and that’s assuming I even wanted or needed it. Not to mention, I was already in a rush so being a wimp and allowing his pitch was not going to happen.

Before his second step onto the driveway, I looked up, smiled, and said, “Nope,” in the most assertive, yet friendly manner I could.

He smiled back, “Nope?” and nodded.

I nodded back and said, “Thank you,” as he proceeded to my neighbor’s.

Once upon a time, I would have been afraid of hurting his feelings or just too damned weak to say I wasn’t interested. That didn’t happen today. I was firm and assertive, while still nice.

I’ve spent my life eager to be kind and fair toward others. I’m drawn to being a nice person. Self-sacrifice for another’s benefit is as deeply ingrained in my psyche as my physical heart is ingrained in my body. Unfortunately, these traits played a significant role in allowing my husband (and others, sadly) to take advantage of and hurt me for so many years. I struggled with coming to terms with that. Would asserting myself or choosing my needs over someone else’s desires make me into a person who was unkind, unfair, or, gasp, not nice?

Today, I proved to myself that it wouldn’t. I am still nice, even without giving something up.

What’s more is that the guilt pangs I keep feeling serve to remind me that I did not lose myself during the divorce and there remains a long distance to travel on my survivor’s journey.

How I Became an Unwife

So, WordPress has this really cool Daily Prompt feature and today’s prompt just happens to tie into one of the central ideas behind this blog’s name.

Once upon a time, I was a suburban wife. If you asked any of “our” friends, I had it all. Kids, husband, home ownership, middle class income, the freedom to be a stay-at-home-mom. “Our” friends would have told you this because that was the image we projected. To “our” friends, his version of my life was the only perspective they had. It was the only one that mattered.

Becoming a stay-at-home-mom was his idea when it happened. That’s not to say that I hadn’t considered it or wanted it previously, especially when I was stressed out by trying to balance family and work, it was just that I had never pursued it and never would have on my own. Then, it happened. I was staring down one of those situations that we in the sandwich generation tend to face. Work sucked. I was trying to manage parenthood, a parental emergency, a shitty job, and the expectations of a husband who was always there to tell me which ball I was dropping. When he suggested that I stay home for a while until I could get everything else into balance, I saw it as an opportunity. A chance to catch my breath and get my life back together. I left my career and my connection to the outside world.

Over time, he systemically eliminated my friends and my family from my life. His friends became “our” friends. His family was “our” family. I didn’t need the others. They weren’t really good for me. Slowly, I became an extension of him. I stopped being me and became his wife. Nothing of my own. Nothing on my own. I was his wife. Nothing more. What more could I want to be anyway? I was his wife and the mother of his children. 

As the years passed, most of me faded into oblivion. I learned to anticipate his moods – and to take corrective measures to prevent the consequences of those moods. I learned that it was my fault if we made it to the consequence stage. I learned to recognize when he was going to refuse to listen to anything I said. I learned to not stop talking anyway. There were consequences if he realized that I had stopped talking because he was ignoring me. It was my fault anyway, if I had anything to say that was worthy of his attention, he would have been paying some. And now I was making him look bad.

I lost my voice. I talked about what he wanted to talk about and said the things he wanted to hear. Sometimes, I’d forget and express my own thoughts. Sometimes, I might even get away with it. Other times, there were consequences that snapped me back into line. Words came out of my mouth, but I was just a vessel. It was not my voice you heard.

We ended up in marital counseling. It was grueling. The counselor kept trying to force me to speak unscripted, either unaware of or without regard to the consequences. He would be “supportive” when we were in the office. Please speak up. Please don’t hide your true self from me. That’s what’s wrong with our marriage. You won’t talk to me. Then we would leave and I would be alone with him. The supportive husband I had just met in the safe room disappeared and the domineering husband I had known for years returned. And he was angry.

And he stayed angry.

And the counselor wanted me to find my voice. To speak up for myself.

And he got angrier.

Unsurprisingly, we divorced. I uncoupled. I separated myself from him. I am no longer an extension of him; I am my own. For his part, well, things are a little weird. He hasn’t let me go. I mean, he hates me, he hates my fucking guts, but he still can’t let me go. And he still can’t let me be heard. He has told all of “our” friends what a monster I am. Since the divorce, he has had a series of failed relationships. Some with women the exact opposite of me. Those don’t tend to last very long. The ones that drag out seem to be with women who are like me, only “better.” Women who are silent not just out of fear, but out of fear, belief in rigid gender roles, and religious adherence to female submission. Women who are the me he wanted me to be, physically, mentally. psychically. Women who are not going to leave no matter what he does.

In the years that I’ve been on my own, my voice and I have reconnected. We’ve gotten to know each other again. It’s still not natural for me to speak up or speak out, but I make the effort now. Even when I’m afraid. I’ve spent a lot of years afraid; it’s not easy to unlearn. But I make the effort. Sometimes I stand there while the injustice of a situation eats at me and a person tries to intimidate me. And I think about what I am accepting by remaining silent. Then I choose to speak up. I make the choice to stand up for myself. It’s not easy and sometimes it feels like it takes an eternity, but I do it. And I survive each and every time.

I survived years of his abuse. I survived his vindictiveness. I survived his cruelty. I survived his hatred. I survived his love.

I survived the first time I broke the silence. And I will survive it over and over again until I can speak freely. I’m the only one stopping me right now.