From the outside looking in, we were a normal blended family. We shared two sons together, and we had my youngest daughter full-time while my oldest two daughters and his daughter and son would visit on occasion.
I was a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, he was a car salesman. Over the years we lived in various houses, for many reasons. Most of all, because- the one thing that I longed for, could never be given to me: stability. No matter how hard I worked for providing a stable household, some catastrophic event would occur causing another move. It was one trauma after another, and this would go on for nearly seven years.
For the most part, I did an excellent job at projecting my life as near perfect. We (at times) lived in nice houses, drove decent cars, and had the means to take small mountain and/or beach vacations. Our children were well kept, and I did my best to keep our house orderly.
What it looked like, was far from what it was. Although my childhood was based upon secrets, so- this to me, was just another secret that had to be kept. Not only for the sake of my career, but my kids, and to hold onto the one person that I cared for the most.
I loved him unconditionally. I looked over his prior arrests and lengthy criminal history. I dismissed the red flags. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. To me, he was handsome, protecting, and very intelligent. Sure, he had made mistakes, but haven’t we all? And well, yeah- maybe his mistakes were a bit more severe than the rest of us, but you know… he had a poor upbringing. I mean, that needed to be taken into consideration, right?
I found every excuse I could to stay with him. I was in denial. We were opposites, and opposites attract, right? Well, not always.
As I go into my first solid year away from my abuser, many emotions begin to arise. Especially now. I’m trying to find solitude this spring. This is an exceptionally hard season for me, especially because of the extensive and reoccurring abuse that I had to endure during this time.
As I climb into the shower located next to my bedroom, I breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time in months, I take a warm shower in my own place. With it just being me there, I’ve been able to get by. It’s just something I’m used to. I’m used to being selfless and self-sacrificing.
The warm water splashes against my soft skin and I close my eyes for a minute. To the average person, this is nothing special. But for me, it unexpectedly triggers that evening in Athens. It was April of 2016.
I had been released from Peachford Behavioral Health hospital in Dunwoody, Georgia, the first time.
I came home thinking that things would change. I recall my abuser being so charming, as if we had just met. He was gentle with his words, and said, he had “my best interest at heart”. I was repeatedly told that I was sick, and for a while, I believed it. I was not sick in the way that he portrayed. However, if you stay in a toxic relationship or marriage long enough, especially with a narcissistic sociopath, your physical and mental health could deteriorate quickly, as mine had, causing sickness.
The first thing I wanted to do was see my children. I hugged and loved on them for as long as I could. It had been a week, and I had been overwhelmingly worried for their well-being and safety. Perhaps, this was the reason I came home and pretended as if nothing was wrong? I sat in the hospital countless days wondering, what is she doing to them? My boys were already terrified of her as it was, as she was prone to screaming, cursing them- and hitting them with objects such as hair brushes, and belts. They were only two and three-years old and could not fend for themselves.
How did I let my guard down, how did I end up here- and my children with them? I was so disappointed in myself because I had put my own children in danger. I had not thoroughly thought through my decision and plan of escape.
Next time, however, would be different, and as most know- my escape would be successful with safety in mind.
Was this a plot of theirs all along? Well, they did come and see me every second they got. My abuser even used a fake Pastoral badge to get in visits with me that other patients there could not have. They would travel from Athens, Georgia to Atlanta, Georgia several times to ensure that I was still under their control.
A part of me wanted to believe in him. I wanted to believe that things would change at home. I wanted his girlfriend to be gone, and I wanted a normal life. Not that we ever had one to begin with, but with my abuser, the kids and I, it was less violent when she wasn’t around.
I don’t know what it was that sparked the internal rage that would cause him to explode. I had not seen this before. Several of his old friends and family members would also testify that they had never seen him become aggressive in nature either. I believed them. It was something “she” did, or “they” did that brought out the worst in my abuser.
I’m not saying my abuser would not have eventually become violent if it weren’t for his live-in girlfriend, but what I will say, is that instead of dealing with one abuser, I was dealing with two. And with that said, I barely survived it.
It amazes me at all the simple things that trigger flashbacks. The shower, for example. I remember after coming home, that’s all I wanted. I recall asking permission from my abuser and his girlfriend for a shower. To most, this sounds absurd. And to me now, it sounds absurd. But you would really have to understand the dynamics of our household to be able to comprehend the “why’s”. My abuser and his girlfriend had made sure that the house was tidy. I was impressed. Candles were lit all throughout the house, laundry done, and the smell of spaghetti cooking in the kitchen. I was, in a way, relieved to be at home. It was the first time that I recall feeling any type of comfort and peace.
He did a wonderful job at performing the role of a loving husband and father, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what it was- just a role.
At least I could be with my children, and for the most part- it appeared my abuser was trying.
This, however, was short lived.
It wouldn’t take long before my abuser would use my latest hospitalization to control me further. “I’ll send you back there, and you will never see the boys again”, he would threaten.
He often used scare tactics and severe punishments to encourage my compliant behavior.
At this point, I was viewed and treated as a child. Many people who have heard my story cannot understand how I ‘allowed’ my abuser to treat me in such a way. “How could you allow the dysfunction of another woman living in your house, sleeping in your bed, driving your car, while you slept in the children’s room, and took the backseat?”
Still to this day, I feel immense guilt and shame for things that happened to my family. However, I have learned to forgive myself. When dealing with an abuser, it’s not as easy to take a stand, as most would think. I had no say-so in anything. I was expected to earn the money to pay bills, care for our children, all the while taking care of my abuser’s physical, emotional, mental, and sexual needs.
For anyone, this would become tiring.
The more of a fight I would put up, the more violent my abuser would get. He never hit me before, I mean- he did this one time, you know- early on. But I hadn’t come up with the means to pay a bill, and well- you know… it was my fault.
That was my mentality. That was the person I used to be. I had no respect for myself, so why would anyone have any respect for me?
All my life, I have been the “fixer”, the “pleaser”, the “caretaker”. I’ve been the “doormat”, the “pushover”.
I know my abuser didn’t see my fall coming, I don’t think anyone did. I surely could have never predicted what would come of less than a year into our marriage. I was always the strong one, you know?
Forgive me if I seem a bit redundant, but- welcome to my life- life after abuse. This is how my mind works. I replay the traumas over and over. Any little thing can trigger them. They are unwanted but will not stop. I have had to learn to deal with them and use coping mechanisms to overcome them. These are flashbacks that occur as a side affect of what I would later be diagnosed with, C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), among other mental illnesses, such as MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). All in which would stem from childhood traumas that turned into another generation of severe domestic abuse, later in my adulthood.
As I scrub my skin with soap, I feel clean and refreshed. It feels good to be home. I wash my hair with real shampoo and conditioner. I get out of the shower, afraid to take too long. Once I’m out, the boys and my daughter just want to love on me even more.
I welcome as much love as I can, it’s good to be home with them again. Soon after, we have dinner, and my husband tells me that he will put the children to bed. He wants me to go to the bedroom, our bedroom and get some rest.
It was surreal. Not only was I getting help with household chores, but also with the children, and wait- what? I can sleep in my own bed again?
I climbed into my bed and looked around the room. My anxiety was still at an all time high, because I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I pulled out my crossword puzzle workbook and other therapy related papers. I sat on my bed wondering, now what? I was in a state of confliction and contradiction. I had spent many days writing in a journal during my stay at the hospital, but I could never bring it home, for risk of them finding it. I needed an outlet, and all I wanted, was to write. But I couldn’t, not now.
For a few days, things seemed normalized. Eventually, my abuser seemed increasingly stressed out because of our finances. I had walked off my well-paying teaching job that virtually paid for everything. He convinced his girlfriend to go back to stripping at the local night club.
I could tell that she was not liking this. Tension grew, between us. I could sense that I was becoming a threat to her. My abuser was “falling in love with me” all over again- and I don’t think she could handle that. He told me that he did not have any sexual encounters with her while I was in the hospital. I believed him. I was naïve. We were husband and wife, but for some reason, he had to “sneak around” to make passionate love with me. I didn’t understand this. “I’m your wife”, I would say. “Who cares what she wants- or how she feels, she shouldn’t be here in the first place!”, I would cry.
I tried to use the tools that I found helpful in the hospital at home, but because I was back in the same situation as before, nothing changed- everything only got worse.
I remember often wondering how she had all this energy to work all hours of the night. I remember thinking how “off” they both seemed.
As our finances grew desperate, my abuser reminded me more and more of a pimp. He would dress up- take her to work, and eventually encouraged me to dance as well.
Of course, I did not accept that invitation for several obvious reasons. Later, he would confess that it was not his “love” and “excitement” in an effort to rekindle our marriage that was energizing him, it was methamphetamine, which they both used together.
I remember how uncomfortable I felt when he left me alone with her. She was cold and almost, hateful. Just from sitting in the same room with her, the air was suffocating. It would be so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
Just from the way she would stare at me. The way she talked, walked, and moved around. I knew all along in my gut that nothing would work so long as I stayed in that house.
I knew in my gut that the only resolution would be to leave, but I just didn’t have it in me, not yet at least.
I was trying to buy time. I was researching, day and night. One afternoon, while left alone at the house, I decided to go through her things. I discovered that she had been inpatient several times at a mental facility. She was prescribed medications, and there it was written in black ink, included a diagnosis “with violent tendencies”.
I went back and forth in my mind about telling my abuser. At this point, I think I just really wanted to believe that she was solely responsible for our families’ crisis. I didn’t want to accept that my husband had a part in it as well. I wanted to believe that she was just that good at manipulation, that she manipulated him into acting differently. Don’t get me wrong, he never treated me the way he should have, but he also never had abused me as intensely as he had with her in our home.
About a week from being home, he would ask me, “Can’t you just go back to work?”. I responded with, “No”. I couldn’t face my co-workers, especially since I had come right back into what I was trying to leave! I felt so alone, so isolated. I eventually confessed to his girlfriend that my school knew of his abuse. I had confided into my co-workers, and I thought I was confiding in her, but of course she would tell him causing more beatings.
And by that, I don’t just mean physically, but psychologically as well.
She was the only one around to talk to. And while my suspicions of her grew, I was conflicted. She made it so easy to trust her. There was something about her. Maybe it wasn’t her at all, maybe it was my husband? I was confused. Was it both? My abuser had such control over my life, in every way, that even if I was by myself without their presence- I would not dare tell any secrets that went on at that house.
What I did tell my co-workers was nothing compared to the extent of abuse. Just by what they knew, of course, they begged me to leave. They would say, “this is not normal, and definitely not healthy for you or your children.”
Now, not only am I without a job, but I am in my prison all day, every day. There is no one to notice the bruises and marks on me. There is no one I can run to for help. I had no one.
The first week home was followed by one of the most devastating weeks of my life. April of 2016, was a turning point for me that would end up costing me everything, short of my life. It also ended up being what would save my life, literally.
With our lives back in shambles, my abuser and his girlfriend became increasingly violent. I had never been more scared in my life. I didn’t know who to turn to, who to trust. I thought I could just come home and “fix” everything, but I was wrong. This was something that I was unable to fix like all the other times.
I would overhear conversations of murder, and the more desperate our situation became, the more sinister my abuser and his girlfriend would be.
This time, it would take enormous strength with the hands of God to help me out of the horror that I was facing.
I went from being a school teacher, to unknowingly being filmed in my own home. Performing sexual acts that would carry out my abuser’s fantasy, while producing income in our household from viewers online. I remember making my body feel numb and numbing my emotions and feelings at one point. I was trying to protect myself and that’s the only way I knew how.
I think I learned this trick back in childhood, and I’ve unfortunately had to use this method as an adult on numerous occasions. I remember feeling angry, hurt, and used. All of those lies he told me at the hospital. They were all lies.
He wasn’t interested in helping me in anyway. At this point, I don’t think I had fully come to grips with reality. The reality was that they were making me sick. They were bringing out my mental illness. I thought it was me, I thought I had a deficit. I was told it was all the other caretakers in my life as a child, or lack thereof.
I was angry at the wrong people. I was told what to feel, how to feel, and with whom.
People still look at me stunned when I reflect on my first trip to the grocery store after I fled my abuser. I had to relearn everything. Everything, right down to going to a grocery store to buy groceries.
Nothing was the same anymore. Nothing was like it used to be. Eventually, my youngest daughter would go to stay with her dad and step-mom so that I could recover. I had support with my girls, but no one for my boys. I was all they had, and they desperately needed me, as I needed them.
I remember begging God sometimes, just take me to my mother. My mom was deceased, I had lost her when I was 18-years-old. I felt I was headed that way as it was, and I just felt drained. “Just get this over with”, I would think to myself.
Imagine waking up in this new world, where nothing is the same as it used to be. Everything that you thought was true, was nothing but a figment of your imagination. You aren’t loved and cared for, like you once thought, by the one person you invested nearly seven-years into. You have no loyal friends, and your just stuck.
Reality starts to sink in, and you realize, that for the past twenty-nine years, you have been living a lie.
Well, that’s how it was for me, coming home from the hospital that April. The sun was bright, and the wind blew. My abuser would give me just enough of a dose of kindness to keep me reeled in. Then, he would snap the cord right back, controlling and abusing me even more viciously.
Because, at this time, he knew what he was losing. He knew he faced the possibility of me discovering what he never wanted me to discover, myself. He kept me in a state of fear for so long, that I didn’t know how to function in the real world when I finally did escape.
Everything that I had learned up to the age of twenty-nine years old, all a lie.
I recall begging and pleading for him to stop and give me peace. But the more I begged, the more he abused.
While this was a major turning point in my life, I would be caught in more storms later, before ever finding my freedom. That saying, “It gets worse before it ever gets better”, I agree with this statement, at least- this was my experience.
I would fight back, though, and when I did, I would shock not only myself, but those around me.
I would come to learn that not only was my abuser and his girlfriend cruel, life itself could be cruel. The world to me was such a dangerous place. I would go back and forth, from one extreme to another, spinning everyone’s heads, even my own.
I feel like my emotional growth as a child was stunted. I’m learning things now, that I should have known twenty-so years ago. Better now than never, right?
Along my journey, I have felt every emotion that exists. The residue still lingers and will, for awhile- if not forever. The difference between a year, is that I now have the tools I need to cope, in a healthy way.
The spring of 2016 set the stage for my great escape from abuse. I would be the first survivor of domestic violence in my family, known, that would break the cycle.
It’s nearly impossible for me to go one day without thinking about my abuser and the impact he has had on my life. It’s times like this, when the occurrences of abuse show up while I’m in the shower, driving down the road, or even in my dreams when I’m asleep.
But again, I can cope differently now, then I was able to before. I think naturally as humans, we want to understand or justify our experiences in life.
We want to answer those tough questions, not only for ourselves, but for society. We want to make meaningful connections and be able to say, “this is what happened to me, and here is why.”
I’m still on my journey of self-discovery. I do have enough self-awareness to know the times that I need to be more forgiving of myself. Those times, like now, where I’m trying to find solitude in the spring.