This is the fifth in a six-part series on domestic abuse and domestic violence. The new Netflix show, Maid, has brought attention to the domestic violence secret many women and families experience. The show helped inspire this series, as Austin Moms seeks to bring further awareness to the issue of domestic violence through the personal stories of some of our team. If you need help, call 512-472-HELP(4357).
They say that it’s when you hit rock bottom, that you will often find the strength to get up.
What they don’t tell you is how long you might stay at rock bottom before you are able to stand. How being at rock bottom can become so normal that you aren’t even aware you’re there. That your rock bottom may have actually been hit years prior – but you were too entrenched in the sadness, powerlessness, and fear to pick yourself up, much less leave.
I still don’t really know who or what to credit for what I call my awakening. I know through therapy that in times of trauma in our lives, we often dissociate, or block out entire chapters of our story.
Maybe I just don’t remember the specifics because I have blocked it out – or maybe it was really just this simple.
I remember waking up with the sun shining through the three perfectly square windows in our bedroom. My then-husband was at work, presumably. My two- and four-year-olds were in bed with me. One snuggled up to me and one sleeping angelically on the pillow next to mine.
I opened my eyes and immediately cried.
That wasn’t abnormal. It could have been because he hadn’t come home the night before. It could have been that we had fought the night before, the way we always did. It could have been the unbearable stress of lying to myself and everyone I knew about the reality of our marriage, our family, our lives.
I cried in the mornings, in the showers, in the car (the kids were both still in rear-facing car seats so it was an excellent way to sneak in a good silent cry, without being seen) and often I quietly cried at night while he slept next to me.
But on this sun-filled morning, I stopped crying shortly after I started. I slipped out from under my youngest baby’s snuggles, careful not to wake them. I went to the bathroom, blew my nose, and looked in the mirror. I stood in the shower and I knew I was going to leave.
Stepping into the shower, I reached my hand out to the hot water knob. I turned it slowly to the right, calling on the hot water and on my own strength.
I knew I was in for a hell of a ride.
Years after I left the father of my children, the social media hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou went viral. A quiver of anger shot up my back every time I saw a post. How good for the women who realized that their partner didn’t have to actually hit to abuse them. I, on the other hand, still held on to shame for believing him when he told me “It’s not like I hit you… you’re crazy.”
Our divorce was rough. It was not amicable. It was not what he wanted. It was financially out of reach for both of us, and we lost money we didn’t have. He made every step difficult. He tried to drag it out as long as possible. He made vile remarks to our young innocent children. My then-five-year-old once asked me why I was being so mean to daddy.
“….Mommy?…. Daddy said that he told you he’s sorry, but that you won’t let him come home. Please don’t be mean to my daddy…”
That phrase stung so deeply in my heart that I could feel it in my throat. It rose up like an ice-cold fire. How do you even begin to put out such a flame?
How do you even begin to explain to your five-year-old that the thing I feared most in life was raising my children to believe that the way their father treated me was acceptable? That they should ever treat their own partner that way. That they should ever accept that kind of treatment from a partner. That they should excuse abuse on any level.
That they deserve anything less than real, committed, uplifting, supporting, encouraging love.
While he chose to openly talk about how much he wanted to be back at home, I had to swallow the fact that I had lied for years about why daddy wasn’t home some nights. That I blamed the dog on the window blinds he broke when he threw a frozen steak at me across the living room. I still don’t understand how it didn’t break the window, but I often thought about what it would have done to me.
I couldn’t tell my children that while we applied for government assistance for food, their father took money under the table at work and spent thousands on eating and drinking with friends. One of whom would later become a mistress.
I couldn’t tell them that when I was pregnant with my first child, he would hold me up against a stove and choke me. I would wrestle him off me, then wrestle with the idea of whether I should call the police or not.
I was terrified of him at that moment, but I was more terrified of what this meant for our future family.
He never forgave me and often reminded me of the night that I “lost it and called the cops.”
For me, the red flags were not invisible. I saw some, certainly not close to all of them, well before we were married. I told myself though, that I also saw his potential while others did not.
I was strong, I was smart, I was loyal and in love and I was going to change him.
Love would change him, is what I wanted so desperately to believe. Maybe because I hadn’t seen love change a whole lot in my own childhood – and I needed to know it was possible.
It wasn’t. I quickly realized that no matter how much I chose love, no matter how much I loved – I couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t change someone who was committed to (or only capable of) showing love in a twisted, manipulative, selfish, and hurtful way. But by then it was too late to walk away simply.
The first time I saved the Petition for Divorce .pdf to my desktop, I had a one-year-old. I remember our printer at home not working, and being worried about printing it at work.
Before I figured out where and when I wanted to print the document, I had taken a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant with baby number 2. I still haven’t unpacked the guilt I carry for being so, so sad to receive that news – but I was. This complicated things further. This would cause me to stay longer.
The thought of “ruining my children’s lives,” and causing them the pain of living with a “broken family” was paralyzing to me. I cried for months, it seemed, when I made the decision to file for divorce.
When I made the decision to stop accepting abuse instead of love.
The process was long and painful. The divorce, navigating how much I could let him be a part of my children’s lives knowing what I know about his nature, dealing with co-parenting with a narcissistic abuser, learning how to be myself, by myself, while taking care of two children. All of it was so slow and painful and hard. I will never agree with someone who says that divorce is the easy way out – it can be so, so hard.
And today, a decade later, I cannot imagine my life had I stayed.
I am so proud that I have shown my children that even the hardest of choices, when they are the right ones, are worth it in the end.
That I would make a million similar difficult decisions again, and relive the pain again, for them. That we can love people from afar, and that not only do we have the ability to, but the responsibility to show people how they can and cannot treat you.
I know my children will realize that I loved them, and myself, more than the idea of a marriage that never really was. That I was not afraid to admit that I made a mistake, and that no family/religious/societal guilt would stop me from creating the best possible life for them, and for me, that I could.