There are five words, if taken literally and to heart, can change a person’s life. Those five words are; “What you allow, you teach.” Think about the meaning and consider where it can be used in your own life. How you apply it could save someone other than yourself as well.
Living through something does not make a person an expert but it does make them more aware of certain aspects of things. For this article, I am not, in any way, claiming expertise regarding errant spouses; I am simply sharing an insight gained through my own personal journey through it.
One of the first things asked by people who have not experienced this type of existence is, “Why do you/they stay?” This is a very logical question, to them. To those living it however, it is never, ever, that cut and dried. By asking that one question, even if it is in retrospect, you jeopardize the victim’s sense of self worth. It also demonstrates a complete ignorance of an abuser’s ability to control.
Abuse implies a repeated offense, if control had not been established, then a physical altercation and/or assault would be the issue, not abuse. The better question to ask would be, “How can I help you?” or better still – do not ask, just help. Insert yourself into their lives; make your presence and readiness for involvement known.
It is true that often this risks the friendship being terminated, at the insistence of the abuser, but it is also a testament, which will be remembered by the friend. This memory is a source of strength to a victim. It is a “nod” to them that someone cares, places value on their existence. It can be a very powerful tool, even if it does not seem to be at the time.
I cannot begin to tell you how many acquaintances sensed that I was a victim, yet they did nothing. I even had emergency room doctors and nurses indicate that they knew the real reason for my hospital visit(s), yet they would not insist he leave the room and ask me directly.
All of these people failed me, I was trapped, even if I was the one keeping the door closed, and none of them cared enough to help me out of it. For whatever reasons, they did not want to get involved. However, I cannot judge them either because I do not know their lives and their histories.
I can honestly say though, with me, the only thing people had to go on was suspicion. I was not allowed too much direct interaction with others. The chance that someone might get close enough to sense abuse is usually the reason behind the abuser limiting the victim’s contacts with someone other than themselves. Control can only be maintained if the arena is small. This particular truth took me a very long time to realize.
My abuser would control my desires to interact with others by painting himself as a victim. He would complain that people did not like him because he was smart or they thought him odd, etc. Because I thought my loyalties should be with my spouse, I willingly cut myself off from others.
The control over me was so strong that even when presented with an opportunity to help myself, I chose silence. This should not be confused with fear – for me, I was silent out of shame! I was ashamed that I was allowing myself to be treated in this manner – it was as simple as that.
The only area that we did not keep to ourselves was when it came to “extra-marital” friendships. Early in our marriage, I had decided that I would not share that side of me with him any longer. I do not know if it was a Freudian thing regarding possible procreation with him or what, but I gave him, and myself, permission to find comfort elsewhere, and we did.
His affairs, my affairs, none of it mattered. My life was a lie from the top to the bottom and I really did not care. Drugs and alcohol became a normal, daily numbing agent and again, my life continued. With each new acquaintance, I was hoping to find someone able to see through my veil of pain and silence and rescue me.
I finally allowed myself to open up to one friend. She stepped up, helped me leave and was in the process of helping me regain my life when she was tragically killed in an automobile accident. The results of her death were devastating – she took my secret to her grave with her and I was trapped again!
Being that this was my first attempt at freedom, when she died, I allowed myself to fall, very hard, back into the pattern of victim. I used her lack of being there as an excuse, even secretly blaming myself for her death – she did, after all try to help someone like me. However, although it took me a few more years to regain the control her help gave me, what she taught me did come back.
Missing her terribly and hating him desperately, I made a decision one day that I needed to start getting back to being “me.” My first step was to move myself back into the circle of family. Within six months of getting married, we had moved four hundred miles away from them and now I felt it was time to come home. So, because he was not about to let me out of his sights, we moved together.
My second step was to acquire things of my own; I did this by buying a car. This step however backfired as he had his name listed on the title. I drove it, I paid for it, so to me – it was still a victory and it helped boost me where I needed it.
Now mind you, the abuse did not stop just because we were living amongst family. It was just more infrequently and much, much more discrete. However, I was growing, no matter how slowly. I even began to go out with a girlfriend after work and shop for clothing that I liked, not what he chose.
I realize to some, that I consider stuff like this as victories is “mind-boggling” but to me, these were major, major steps toward independence. Unbelievably, but this period in my married life was the first time I had ever gotten a job, on my own. All my others had been gotten for me, by him and only at places where he too was employed.
Okay, so I have moved home, established friends, changed careers, had my own car and I was dressing myself, so to speak. We were still turning blind eyes and deaf ears to each other’s “indiscretions” until one fateful day and a family emergency.
A family member became ill and he has my car, the call comes into me at work and I have no ride. I tried to call him on my car phone, repeatedly with no success. The light comes on midway through my crises. I realized that he was using my car, my prize, for his tryst and here I need it for an emergency! That was the deciding moment for me….that was the “hit in the head” I had needed for eleven years.
Once the crisis passed, I knew what I had to do. Since moving home, he had been suggesting we move back north. Of course, he was wanting this because he was losing his control and I had staunchly refused because I was gaining mine. Now however, I decided it was time to do just that.
We told everyone we were moving, quit our jobs and began packing up our stuff. The night before our move, I told him, “If you think that just because we are going to be away from my family that you can hit me again, know this – I am done with living like that. It will not be allowed to continue.” With that, I rolled over and went to sleep. The next day, we left for our new lives.
It did not take long for us to get an apartment and separate jobs. I never fully unpacked because I think, deep down, I knew that I would be moving out soon. I quickly made friends and amazingly enough I opened up to them. I spilled everything and they accepted me anyway. They offered support, advice and more importantly, they stepped in when I needed it.
These friends helped me find the real me and did not judge me for my lack of courage, they simply helped me to locate it and put it to use. When I asked for a divorce, a fight was sure to happen and my friends were ready to help. They kept constant, watchful eyes on me and my safety.
Not only did these people come to the apartment with me to gather up my stuff but also they also gave me shelter, threatened him with the police if he did not leave me alone and overall, became my family. This is what a victim needs. They do not need to be judged, they need to be unconditionally loved and with that comes true support.
I walked away from that suffocating relationship and with me I took back my life, oh yes, and my car. I joke and say stuff like, “I had something once but I lost it in the war.” I am of course referring to the divorce but truly, the war was internal. It was between my sense of what was right and my sense of what I thought I deserved.
Through my friend’s actions, I learned that; everyone deserves to be treated with respect, it is okay to have times of poor judgment and accepting the extended hands of friends can make a difference in your life.
My life could not be better now. One of the friends who helped me out also helped me up and became my husband. As of this month, we have shared fourteen wonderful years of marriage. Together we have two beautiful children; a home and a mutual respect for one another that is the basis for it all.
I urge you to step in if you know or suspect that someone is suffering, you can literally save his or her life. If you are living the nightmare, I plead that you not give up. Regardless of how you got there or how long you have been there, you have to keep believing that you can and will get out. Angels exist all around us and if you are like me, you sometimes get extra helpings of them.