I have mentioned my ex-husband (not to be confused with my current estranged husband, Walkaway Bob) a time or two, and I’ve gotten some emails asking that I share my experiences in that relationship.
It’s not a story I tell very often. Mostly because it’s behind me, and I really don’t think about it very much. Normally I tell my stories on this Blog in an effort to pay it forward and be of some help to others, but to tell you the truth, it’s cathartic for me as well.
Since I’ve had requests, perhaps it’s time.
When I met him (I’ll call him “GP” so as not to confuse him with Walkaway Bob), it was one of those “wild horses” kind of things. Wild horses could not have kept us apart. To this day, I have never felt about any other man the way I felt about him.
If not for his chronic alcoholism and abuse, I would never have divorced him. We were together for a total of 15 years but only married for six. Since he had been through outpatient rehab and was sober, I thought our troubles were behind us and it was safe to marry him. Well, that’s one of the two times in my life I’ve been wrong. 🙂
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we met, we had so much in common. We laughed, partied, hung out in the pits at Nascar races, and, had a blast traveling all over the place. When sober, GP is a lot of fun – a very engaging man with a quick wit. People tend to like him immediately, and usually do like him until they run up against the asshole he can be.
Of course, I had heard some stories about GP’s previous marriage and some instances of abuse but as I know now, when I’m infatuated with someone, it’s easy to justify those Red Flags away. We all do it. It’s some kind of built-in Human Stupid Button that gets pushed whenever we’re falling in love. Falling is right! Falling right off a cliff!
The verbal abuse in our relationship didn’t start until we’d been living together for three years. His job changed and he was transferred out of sales management into logistics. It was a very stressful time, and it set him off.
I remember clearly the first time he lit into me. I had never been spoken to the way he yelled at me that night. No one had ever called me names like that. I was gobsmacked and, quite frankly, didn’t know how to deal with it.
Given the supernatural option of going back to that night and having a do-over, I would have walked away and never gone back. But of course, the next day when he sobered up, he apologized and I ate it up long enough to forgive him.
What follows is a story that is all too common in abusive relationships. Over the next several years, the verbal abuse escalated to pushing and shoving. GP was very controlling, and I felt isolated & ashamed.
If you talk with anyone who has been in an abusive relationship, they’ll tell you a very similar story about how things progress.
The month by month details aren’t important. We split up and got back together so many times even my best friend got fed up with hearing about it. My family & friends started writing my address in their Address Books in pencil so they could erase it and put the latest one in. I’m not kidding.
The night he slammed the back door so hard that it knocked the framing out of the wall was the night I forced him into rehab. He did everything he was supposed to do. We attended all the family counseling events. And for many months, things went well. GP’s temper when he is sober is not the same beast it is when he’s drinking.
Then September 11, 2001, happened. That day affected almost all of us in one way or another. For us, it moved us to decide to marry and we did in November, 2001. It’s probably telling that the only people at our wedding were the two of us and the Notary Public who married us.
Everything was great until 14 months later. One night, he went to pick up Chinese food, brought the bag home and set it on the counter. He went into another room for some reason, and I went to open the bag. The receipt was stapled to the outside. There it was in black and white – he had two mixed drinks while waiting for the food.
My knees buckled. I just stood there. We had just returned from 10 wonderful days in Tuscany, and he was going to AA meetings several times a week. When had he started drinking again?
GP came back into the kitchen, took one look at me and said, “What’s wrong?”. I just handed him the receipt, picked up my keys & pocketbook and left. It would be almost seven months before I would see him again.
I still do not fully understand my own behavior – we got back together seven months later, moved to South Carolina and stayed together for three more years. During that time, the verbal abuse was constant but there was no more physical abuse until the day after Thanksgiving, 2006.
After that night, I was no longer able to justify being married to him or even in any relationship with him. I knew in my gut that, if I didn’t get away from him, one of us was going to wind up dead and the other was going to be in jail. I mean really – who lives with a gun in one pocket and their truck keys in another at all times?
At that point, I didn’t care which one of us killed the other. I told him so and told him I wanted a divorce. It took six months to get him off my farm, and a few more months after that to get him out of my life.
After we separated, GP harrassed me to the point that I had a Columbia, SC, Police Officer tell me to file charges against him. I just couldn’t go through another round of criminal court with him so I chose not to. GP gave up harrassing me shortly thereafter.
Today, I count myself as lucky. My damages were wasting a few years of my life, and a fractured cheekbone after only one night of true physical abuse. The after-effects of that relationship have taken me years to even begin to process and leave behind.
We both live in Aiken, and I see GP frequently. As time has gone by, I’ve come to believe that our proximity is a blessing in my life – every time I see him, I get the opportunity to let go of a little bit more of the pain and fear.
In psycho-babble terms, our relationship (on my part) was an attempt to fix my parents’ relationship. I understand why I got into it. I understand why I stayed as long as I did. I’ve already told you how loyal I am, and I never quit (even to my detriment apparently). I’m a Warrior – if I love you, I won’t let go until I believe I have no other option.
Along the way, I learned that abuse doesn’t care whether you’re:
- male or female
- black, white or purple
- low income or high income
- educated or not
- a good person or not
- weak or strong
Alcoholism simply doesn’t give a damn about you at all. It wants you dead, and if it can’t kill you, it wants you in as much pain as possible. It’s not a disease as some claim. It’s an escape route and a coping mechanism for unresolved pain and trauma.
I talk a lot about raising your standards. When I was in the midst of that relationship, if someone had told me to “raise my standards”, I would have understood it intellectually but I wouldn’t have really gotten it. I lived it, and learned to raise my standards by refusing to tolerate being abused.
Sometimes I even heard Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in my head: “As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” except I changed it to “As God as my witness, no one will ever call me names like that again“.
And they haven’t. I know that no one will ever have the power over me to make me feel that small again.
So you would think that’s the end of the story, but this is life and the story is eternal. I did raise my standards. And I was optimistic enough to marry again. My first employer, Bill Horsley, used to say that anyone who married more than once believed in the “victory of hope over experience“. And so I did.
Interestingly enough, in the Spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to raise my standards once again and end my marriage to Walkaway Bob. Walkaway Bob said “Fuck You” to me once but I just laughed in his face. I’m sure he’s called me worse outside of my presence. Impotence has many forms, and I’ve come to understand that’s one of them. At least I only wasted one year of my life trying to keep that marriage together, but then you’ve read that story.
What I know for sure is that if someone is in an abusive relationship, you can’t talk them into getting out until they’re ready. I kept telling one of my best friends who was unhappy in her marriage that “you’ll know when you’re ready, and until you are, let it be”.
If you’re not sure whether or not your relationship is abusive, here’s a graphic that will help:
If you find yourself shaking your head “Yes” to a lot of the statements on that graphic, you’re probably in an abusive relationship. If you have children, ask yourself if what they see between you and your spouse is beneficial to them or not. In effect, you both are teaching your sons and daughters that it’s OK to treat other people that way.
No matter your circumstances, you don’t have to live that way. You have a choice. Scarlett O’Hara said so.
And so do I.
If you’re in an abusive relationship and want help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
And if you’re wondering whether or not I still believe in the victory of hope over experience, not so much! But I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone cause me to become bitter, cynical or hopeless. No one has that power in my life. No one.