Trigger Warning: This blog post talks about domestic violence. With the social media outcry of “me too” opening up a lot of wounds for myself and many others, I chose to leave some aspects of my story out.
I heard it all during the initial stages of my divorce proceedings. No one believed that I, such a sassy and intelligent woman, could possibly have stayed in an abusive relationship long enough to get married and have kids. No one believed that I could have stayed for over seven years without saying something.
They were wrong.
He told his family that I was unstable. He passed on messages that I was just a bitter bitch trying to take his kids from him.
People believed him and I did not care. I was out, I’d pick up the pieces when things calmed down.
It is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I am finally ready to share my story. It took over two years to end the relationship from hell and I’m breaking the silence.
Maybe it will help you. Maybe it will help someone you know. All I know is: sharing is helping promote awareness and continues the healing process.
What is Domestic Violence?
According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”
It does not always have to mean physical violence, but also a number of other behaviors including:
- Financial/Economic Abuse
- Sexual Violence – including assault
- Emotional Abuse (like gaslighting or threatening to hurt you or your children)
- and more…
Domestic Violence is all about exerting control and power over someone else. No one deserves to be on the receiving end and it’s time that we raise more awareness on this issue.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in a relationship. Two in three children will be exposed to domestic violence.
In the beginning, he was nice. He said all the right things. We were going to experience life to the fullest. I’d never been camping, so he promised to take me camping. I wanted to experience life outside of Wisconsin, so he said he was looking in to moving to California. Just the two of us.
When my ex-husband was around family and friends, he stayed quiet. He was not rude, he was charismatic when he did speak. The salesman personality came out. He could do no wrong. He was a saint for “taming” such a free-spirited woman.
Then came the sarcastic remarks. You know, the ones that made people giggle about how we argued like an old married couple. We were cute and our sarcastic banter was even cuter.
What people did not see were the tears that followed. I’d privately stand up for myself. I’d pull him aside and say, “Hey, that wasn’t cool,” and where you’d usually expect a respectful conversation to follow, all I’d hear was how I was a “typical sensitive woman” or a moron for not seeing things his way.
Benign, right? That’s what I thought. Relationships had issues, they weren’t perfect. These were our issues.
Then came the humiliation. The first time we hung out with his friends together, I was not allowed in said friend’s house. Supposedly, there was a roommate that did not tolerate people of color in the house. My ex’s words. And we were to spend the day there.
I wasn’t even allowed to use the restroom in that house. When I had to pee, I was forced to go outside, off the end of a pier and hope no one was watching. My ex said nothing. I said nothing. I did not value myself enough then to protest.
Then came the isolation. If I wanted to hang out with him, I had to go visit. He had made the 25- minute drive to my apartment once and decided that it was too much for him. I had to make the drive in the rain, storms, or whatever. It was my “problem”.
My friends weren’t good enough for him. They were nerds and he just plain couldn’t be around them. I started to see my friends and family less and less. I was embarrassed at having to defend him not wanting to come along when they got together.
Almost daily visits to my parents’ house became a thing of the past. I had to “grow up” and “cut the apron strings”.
Then things became physical. The first time I was dragged down the stairs, I went to the emergency room to treat my back injury. The doctors knew my story didn’t add up, but the treated me and sent me on my way. Me and my “clumsy butt”.
There were hardly ever any bruises. I’d get cornered in an argument, and I’d have to push him to get away. Then I’d get tackled or pushed to the ground. He’d stand over me and watch as I cried from the pain. He used the fact that I pushed him as justification. I needed to be put in my place. I believed it.
After I’d had my oldest son, I had damage to my back and neck from the length of my labor and he knew that even sudden body checks would leave me immobile for hours. Sometimes he even left me laying on the nasty basement floor, telling me I was being melodramatic and that he didn’t do anything.
Now, mind you, there were some mental health issues that both of us were dealing with during all of this, I had crippling anxiety, a PTSD diagnosis, a history of depression and even post-partum depression. I always knew when I put myself for an in-patient stay, usually to escape him, to have a break and not have the personal pride hit of staying with my parents.
Then came the manipulation and the threats. Following one major incident, he had injured me badly enough to call 911. When the police arrived, my ex reported I’d beaten him with a crowbar. All he had to show for it was scratch marks on his wrists from me trying to pry his hands from around my neck. I was put in handcuffs and escorted to a police van. I was not arrested. I was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and treatment for my injuries.
He came to visit me before I was taken in for an MRI of my neck. He brought our son and essentially told me I’d never see him again if I told anyone what had really happened. He was not going to let me ruin his life. That’s really all I can remember of that day, because however violently he threatened me, I had to be sedated.
Arguments following that day always focused around the fact that he had told the police that I had beat him with a crowbar and I was “arrested” and no judge would give an unstable woman custody of the kids if I ever left him. He said that I was lucky that he decided not to press charges. It’s why I stayed for so long.
Funny thing is, his story didn’t add up. I later heard from my mother, who had arrived at our house just after the police did, that my ex-husband admitted to doing “something wrong” and that the police decided on their own not to arrest me. Classic gaslighting behavior to keep me in the relationship.
The Turning Point
In spite of all those horrific things, I only reported him once. That was in 2012. I begged the ER doctors not to do anything because my ex had our son and I needed to make sure he was safe first.
Things calmed down for a while, I had our second child and got sick. Very sick. Not expected to survive sick. I was told to prepare myself and have a discussion with my husband about final plans. So, I started the conversation.
“That sounds like something you and your mother need to handle,” and that was the end of it.
“They” always tell you that the end goal of the abuser is to kill you. I took his nonchalance to mean one thing only: he did not have to bother with killing me himself, my body was going to do it for him. With my newfound heart condition, I was in hell and God Himself had my heart in His hands as a final sign to smack me back to reality.
I am worth so much more and my sons need to see that.
I made one final attempt to speak with him before I was scheduled to be induced for our son’s birth and he told me that we’d talk after the birth. I closed my eyes and I said to myself, “If I survive this birth, I’m getting healthy, and I’m leaving this motherfucker.”
I have counseled many women in domestic violence situations when I worked in health care and I always could tell them to leave. I always said that no one ever deserves this. Maybe, over the years, those words really were for me.
Standing Up and Walking Out
Financial abuse was a real thing in our relationship. During the last parts of our relationship it took the form of him refusing to work for nearly 18 months. He blamed me. He told me that I was not allowing him to work because I would not get a baby sitter for him.
We needed the money, I had to work, and he spent every single dollar. If I came into extra money, it couldn’t go into savings, he already had plans for it.
I had to hide money. I had to lie about how much my business was really making. I had to actively make sure my business didn’t make over a certain amount of money each month, because he’d find a way to sabotage my hard work.
As I adjusted to my new normal and my physical health improved, I began giving myself daily pep talks. I had to believe in myself more than I did.
I found myself with two kids, scraping together my hard-earned pennies from my yarn shop to buy diapers for our new baby. I went back to work a little over a week after giving birth, because my ex pushed me to open my shop for Bay View Gallery Night so that he could showcase himself (of course) as the “artist”. I was exhausted all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.
I got a foreclosure notice for the condo and began to look at apartments. He would join me with some extravagant idea of where we should live.
The manipulation and disregard for my limited mobility continued. I put our budget at $800 a month. He’d show me places twice or three times that a month. I was adamant that we couldn’t have any stairs so that I could take care of the kids and not pass out from climbing the stairs. None of the places he found were all one level.
I stood up for myself. I was not going to live somewhere where we weren’t safe, and that included me being able to get in and out of our home. The last place he showed me is where he eventually moved to post-separation. The apartment itself had holes in the walls, was on the second floor of a dilapidated building, and the laundry room was in the dimly basement that pretty much would remind you of a serial killer’s lair.
Then I found a place. It was perfect. Everything I wanted and within my budget (I could run the shop and pay for the apartment, woohoo). It was in a suburb with good schools for the kids, had a garage, and a public pool. Because I’d found it, it was not good enough.
Even when we looked at the model apartment, he shrugged, “It might be doable.” I snapped. “You’re a loser. You’re not supporting your family, I’m doing EVERYTHING and it’s still not good enough. Me and the boys are moving here, you’re not welcome to come with.” I stormed out and spent the rest of the evening with my friends.
He got a job and moved out within two weeks of that conversation when I told him he was not moving with us.
It Did Not Stop After He Left
The rest? Well, it could be a Lifetime Original Movie in and of itself, right down to the knight in shining armor who became my happily ever after.
It is a whole long story, but here are the “highlights” (and I saved about 500 pages of pictures of damage he’d caused to our shared home and screen shots of texts he sent):
- My ex-husband found out I was dating and would constantly text me about how I was neglecting the children and being selfish.
- I was told more than once a week that I should break up with my boyfriend and give him another chance. That he still loved me and he could not believe that I found someone else. He even accused me of cheating and leaving him for my boyfriend.
- He would tell the boys things like he would not allow me to divorce him or not allow me to marry my boyfriend, whom they liked.
- He committed parental kidnapping (something that was never addressed in court…long story) and refused to allow me to see the boys for nearly 2.5 months until the courts issued a placement order and investigation by guardian ad litem. When I was granted placement, our court commissioner asked who would like the first weekend and he said he’d already made plans with the boys for the weekend and was awarded the first weekend’s placement. Twenty minutes following the court hearing, he texted my mother begging her to take the children.
- He harassed my parents to figure out my whereabouts or to gauge what my plan was in court. It got to the point where he even contacted them while I had an active temporary restraining order against him (he also had retaliated by filing a harassment order the following day and complained to my parents that I was not talking to him).
- He would sit outside my apartment until my neighbors would call the police. Eventually, I discussed the issue with my landlord and they offered to keep him off the property. One night, I even parked my vehicle in my garage rather than in my assigned outdoor spot and got a text message the next morning claiming that I’d taken one of our sons to my boyfriend’s house overnight and that he did not approve. I had not left my apartment, however, with my vehicle not in its usual spot, it appeared that I was gone.
- He charged his van at myself and my boyfriend while the boys were in the van with him. I actually made eye contact with (then) one-year-old Sharky who looked terrified that he was going to witness something bad happening to his mother. That is how close he got to us with his van.
- With all of the drama behind the divorce going on and eventually becoming pregnant with baby Ola, I moved, I abruptly closed down my yarn shop to protect my customers, and I changed my phone number. Our guardian ad litem recommended to the court that I not deal with my ex-husband face-to-face because, in spite of the mountain of evidence (all of which a judge found inadmissible), I could not get a domestic violence restraining order against him.
I could go on forever. I could write a book, but I’ve moved on from that chapter of my life and I’m happy to be living the life I am now, occasional dramatic performance by my ex-husband and all.
Our divorce was finalized on June 14, 2017, the day before my 35th birthday, and it was pure celebration. I will continue to move forward with my life, but I also know not to be complacent. I will always be aware of my surroundings should the stalking or harassing begin again.
No one should ever have to live this way. I wanted out to create a better life for my sons and myself. I was tired of pretending I had the perfect life, I wanted to actually live that perfect life.
I’m not writing this to make him look bad or for me to look good. None of that matters.
The truth is the truth, whether or not you believe it. I’m writing this in the hopes that someone could learn from this. I can only hope that my story can inspire someone to get out.
Looking back, all the warning signs were there that I was in an abusive relationship, even before the first tear was shed. I am not going to “coulda, woulda, shoulda” myself into anxiety, I can only learn and move on. I used that relationship to determine what I won’t allow myself to put up with anymore.
In the midst of talking to my ex (while I still did) after he moved out, he told me that the right man for me does not exist because my standards were too high and that I’d be disappointed. He told me to be prepared for the fact that I’d see him get married again and that I’d be lonely and miserable because he was the best I could do (emotional abuse).
Funny thing is, I was strong enough to tell him, “I’m willing to take that chance just to be away from you.”
No matter what, this will always be my personal victory: I got out. I un-paused my life. I am who I want to be. I keep OMG Yarn (Balls) because it is part of who I am. I don’t have to self-sabotage anymore. I can finally pick up and hopefully realize my true goals with my passion for the fiber arts.
If all the good things that have happened since ended right this second, I know that, even if for just a brief moment of time, I am worth so much more than I was treated in that relationship. I have someone who appreciates me for who I actually am.
The divorce and custody struggles? I got out. I got my babies. We live how we want to. We are all stronger. Nothing can ever take that from me.
If you need immediate help for a domestic violence situation, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline for more info on who to contact for help.