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A letter from a little boy, living in a battered women’s shelter, to Santa Claus, really touched my heart but it also brought up emotions and made me realize that I need to share the only thing that I am ashamed of in life.
Most who know me would never know that I allowed myself to be trapped in an abusive unhealthy marriage for years. I can’t really say why I stayed as long as I did. I, of all people, know better.
I had been in a marriage before that had zero signs of abuse and one day the monster came out and I made my plan and escaped. This time was different and the signs were there from the beginning but I wrongfully assumed I could change him. I had this belief that everyone deserved love and maybe I could replace his pain with love and make him the man I thought he was capable of being.
I failed terribly
Abuse comes in all shapes and forms. It’s not just broken ribs and black eyes. Abuse is mental, physical and emotional. It never starts out as a toxic relationship, for most they will charm you. They will promise you they will be your everything.
They will make you feel loved as no one has ever loved you before. You will fall for it and believe it, not to say that everyone who makes you feel loved is an abuser but this is how an abuser gets close to you. They will behave this way for a long time until they build your trust. One day all that will change but it will be subtle.
Abuse doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone from any age, sex, religion, political belief, sexual orientation, race or other demographic. There is no textbook you can read or warning signs that you will see that will give you a safety net. Abuse happens because the person causing the abuse is insecure and unable to truly love someone. They see the abuse as control, like training.
Some abusers aren’t even aware that what they are doing is abuse, it’s second nature to them, learned behavior, something inside them they cannot control unless they seek help. Yet most don’t think they need help or understand what their behavior does to the people they love.
People with a tendency to be abusive seek out a certain type of people, people with love and compassion for others. Some of us have experienced abuse from an early age, we have been conditioned to accept it and almost seek it out. We see the good in everyone which makes us more vulnerable to those who may harm us.
Looking back I was conditioned to tolerate abuse from an early age, my brother being my abuser. He beat me regularly with no remorse. My parents did everything they could to protect me and eventually, it wasn’t enough. They had no choice but to remove him from the home, something he would never forgive me for but also a reason that for many years I wanted his acceptance more than anything.
Over the years I had encountered various types of abuse, things I really didn’t realize where abuse. I simply got to a point that I ignored these signs. However, I promised myself early on that I would never be in an abusive relationship, that I would not tolerate it.
My first marriage didn’t start out that way. We were kids and we had more fun than anything. We both had good jobs and no real responsibilities at first, so we blew our money on stupid things. When I got pregnant I changed, he didn’t. He had a drug problem, that I assumed he would grow out of but never did.
This but a divide between us, but he wasn’t abusive until after we got married and I was pregnant with our youngest. He got messed up and hit me, that was the first time and sadly wouldn’t be the last. The abuse escalated from there, despite him feeling bad about it initially. I knew that I had to find a way out, things would never get better.
I worked on my escape during my entire pregnancy, he had told me at one point if I ever left him he would kill me and them than kill himself. The way he looked at me made me believe he meant it. I didn’t tell anyone. The one time the police came he called them on me for flushing his drugs. They could clearly see the abuse but they told me in that state I would have to go to jail with him for 12 hours and our son would be put in protective care for a minimum of 12 hours while things calmed down.
I knew then I would have no help. So I planned my escape.
During the next few months, I became a regular at a hotel that would hide my car and protect me. Eventually, I did get out, and he left on his own. There were times over the years I feared for my safety and even lived off the grid so he couldn’t find me and other times I tried hard to be a fair parent and keep him in the kid’s lives. It was an unhealthy roller coaster until he died, but the first 6 years I never saw one thing that would prepare me for what would come.
I had a hard time after that allowing men to treat me well. I would push good men away, lash out in fear. I had a lot of insecurities for a long time. Even when I did get in another serious relationship I didn’t trust him, not to the degree he deserved and eventually our relationship wouldn’t last because we both had put our past between our present.
That brings me to the present day.
Most have no idea I have been in a very abusive toxic marriage for 8 years. It didn’t start that way, he was my friend and he was there for me when I was in a very dark place. He wanted to take me and my kids on. I knew early on that there were warning signs but I felt like he deserved a chance. He wanted so badly to be there for us, and he was a hard worker and provider but his temper and past issues where major.
I kept lying to myself thinking things would get better, thinking eventually I would be able to replace his unhappy memories with happy ones and somehow take this man with potential and make him great. That’s not what happens.
Eventually the verbal, mental and yes physical abuse took its toll. I slowly stopped being the person he met. I didn’t want the conflict or drama. I slowly cut friends and family out of my life because he would blame them for our problems. I isolated myself and stopped doing the things I loved and enjoyed because he had put himself so far in my head and made me so afraid of the consequences. I worked to avoid my home life but my kids paid the price and things at home would only be worse when I got there.
Over the years he took his anger out on the kids, told them horrible things especially about me. He made us all feel trapped and dependant on him because he would make it hard for me to keep a job, either he would make a scene or he would blow up at me when I got home for work.
Things got scary violent many times,
I even stabbed him in self-defense once. The night that happened I was mortified at my actions but he seemed so in love at that moment. I knew then how sick and toxic we had become. Over the next couple of years, he did everything he could to make me feel trapped and I shut down more and more to the point I barely left our home. The kids started acting out and that’s when it really hit me what a toll this marriage had taken.
We sought out help. Tried books and doctors but nothing worked and the damage had been done. As I felt more lost and depressed he felt angrier that I wasn’t the person he married. I had become so embarrassed by what I had allowed, that I wasn’t the strong woman I used to be because I was too afraid to leave the life we created and start over again with no help.
I justified staying because his job took him away for long periods and I would only have to suck it up and take on for the team a few weeks a year. Over time he stopped hiding the abuse. He started abusing me verbally in front of others. Not only strangers but our dear friends started to see how dark things had become. His justification for the abuse was my neglect because I had shut down so far I could no longer fake it, I could no longer put on my game face and try.
When I speak of abuse that is a lot of things.
Of course, the physical happened, I dropped family violence charges on him twice. The mental and verbal however where far worse. He would call me names daily, tell my kids I was a whore, make me feel like I couldn’t do anything right. I stopped cooking because he would spit it out or throw plates against the walls.
Even sex became a weapon. We went from a loving sex life to him using it to control me, it became like a treat of sorts that he would hold over my head. I eventually stopped having any sex drive and it became a chore, not something we used to enjoy and bond with.
The last time, it was so aggressive and demeaning I really didn’t even know who I was having sex with. It wasn’t the man that wanted so badly to marry me years earlier. The animals were terrified of him when he was home. We would live in complete fear of not knowing what would happen until he went back to work. When he would go back to work he would be a completely different person, loving and caring and that made me feel like things would work out.
He never really apologized, he would for the wrong things if he wanted something from me and if we argued he would pretend to realize how his behavior had taken a toll on the entire family but I learned that he never truly believed it. He would stay mad for days after a fight, not because of the fight but because of his own shame and refusal to get help.
His way of making up for his abuse was always buying us nice things, things that we really didn’t need or couldn’t afford. I know in his heart he loved me as much as he could love anyone but when you are damaged it’s hard to show love, especially if you never really experienced it.
I am now leaving that marriage after a long hard battle. We are leaving on good terms, we finally accepted that no matter if our intentions were well met our relationship was highly toxic. We held on as long as we could and tried everything we could to make it work.
Now I have to work on me, and I have to make sure that I won’t allow this baggage to bury me or keep me from being happy in the future.
I have to remind myself daily that not everyone is out to hurt me, that someday I will find that person who truly loves me and when I do I will know, but I cannot use my previous experiences to push him away. When I find a man that loves me truly and treats me kindly
I will not let go, instead, embrace the difference.
Those of you reading, I share what is the most embarrassing thing I can think of for you. If you are in an abusive relationship please leave as soon as you see the signs, especially if kids are involved. It won’t get any better while you are together, if they want to get better for you they can’t be with you. Just because one couple is toxic together doesn’t always mean that there is no hope. If people want to be better they will find a way. Don’t stay in a toxic relationship, it’s not good for either one of you but even worse for the children.
Abuse is learned behavior, if you feel yourself showing signs of abusive, controlling and destructive behavior seek help. You don’t have to live that way, you can change but if you don’t you will leave a trail of unhappiness behind you.