Today – June 28, 2017 – marks seven years since I left. After thirteen years, I had finally had enough and was getting out. It was a long, long road to get there.
Listen to Jump by Madonna as you read this blog entry. It’s my theme song.
I met him a month or two after my Dad died in 1995 … and was still reeling and numb from the loss. Set adrift without the one solid male in my family, I suppose I looked for another. My Dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer the day I handed in my resignation from one job and left for another, so I also lost my grounding and a support structure.
My Mother hated him.
I’ve forgotten or buried much of the abuse because I can’t recall all of it to write about it. Every once in a while I find a note I wrote myself and it takes my breath away. It will take a few more years to lift its secrets hidden in dark corners in my mind.
I missed the warning signs that not all was right. I blew through red flags, assuming that we were both highly intelligent and successful individuals and we could fix any breaks in the chain. How utterly naïve of me … or perhaps arrogant. He never had any intention of changing and it takes two to fix a broken relationship.
We dated. We decided to move in together. We got pregnant. When I told him, he almost broke my fingers, grabbing my hand and shaking it in anger. He bent my pinkie back so far it almost snapped. I sat motionless waiting for him to stop. That should have been my first – and last – warning that this would be a burning bed, but I made excuses for him. He was under stress.
I asked him what he wanted with three choices. He wanted us. I was now locked into the relationship because I didn’t want to raise our child alone, but everything changed right then and there. Behind the curtains, neither of us were happy.
He was there for the birth of our son. Humbled by the experience. But he left me to pay my own hospital bill because I wasn’t worth the funds. I hemmorhaged two days after Matthew was born and went back to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency surgery. The nurse told me at 9am that my husband could come collect me, so I called him. He didn’t arrive until 5pm and spat at me that I was selfish to expect him to drop everything to get me.
I toyed with hurting myself when Matthew was three weeks old. But I would never leave my son alone with this monster. I was still recovering from the birth, a broken tailbone and 3rd degree tears, when he went on a business trip and left us alone. I loved the peace.
I remember hearing the garage door go up, signalling that he was home. I would experience pure fear and my head would rush to wonder what he would find fault with today.
If I didn’t put the recycling in the box properly … in the proper quadrants that constantly changed, he would smash the stuff around and scare me. I became so desensitized to things being smashed around, that I stopped hearing the anger. It became the norm.
Friends and family slipped away because he hated to come home and find anyone else there. I made excuses that he was a bit reclusive. But my son only had play mates over two or three times. He was fourteen when he left that house … he maybe played in his backyard a dozen times. But the lawn was perfectly mowed.
Matthew didn’t have a Christmas tree for his first Christmas. He refused to indulge the hassle of putting up and tearing down the tree. I cried and refused to look at “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments because they made me so sad. The next year I told him to fuck off and not only put up a tree but threw out his ornaments and bought everything new. A flicker of the old Lisa was barely alive.
Nothing I did was good enough. I wasn’t good enough. I was told how to do my job. I was told what to cook and how. He snarled at me if I didn’t ask to go to the grocery store at the right time. He snarled and yelled if I turned the car on before he loaded groceries. Even if it was -20C and I had an infant in the car. He would snarl more if the grocery bags were not properly folded for reuse. He would snarl if the cans weren’t alphabetically organized and forward facing. He would angrily smash the cutlery around if it wasn’t all perfectly lined up like soldiers. He’d bitch about the dishes in the sink but wouldn’t load them in himself.
I snarled right back.
He doesn’t know that I watered the fiscus tree with bleach.
I walked on eggshells constantly and still kept cutting my feet … It was a downward spiral into depression.
I believe he had OCD and every edge of everything had to line up with the other. Mail was stacked accordingly. As I became bolder and more fed up … I would knock the mail and scatter the envelopes just to watch him go up one wall and down the other. I would get screamed at if I made him wait, but he would make me wait. He would walk down to the driveway then retrace his steps to check that he locked the door. He would begin to shovel the driveway and walks once I was in the car ready to go grocery shopping. Once I said “Fuck it” and left him there. I knew there would be hell to pay when I got home … and there was.
The physical abuse was easy to identify. While walking downtown – soon after the finger incident – we were crossing at a light. I was going to go one way and he wanted to go another. He grabbed my shoulder and dug his fingers in so hard that my knees buckled. I turned to him in anger and yelled “YOU EVER LAY A FINGER ON ME LIKE THAT AGAIN AND YOU WON’T LIKE WHAT HAPPENS.”
He blocked me in the bathroom once and wouldn’t let me escape while we were having a fight. I literally bashed my own head against the wall repeatedly in sheer frustration. With deadly calm I said “If you don’t move, you are going down the stairs.” He called his father and told him I had threatened him. Because I was a good person, and never before violent, I felt guilty. I had threatened him, hadn’t I? It took a therapist to point out that it wasn’t my violent act that started it. It was forcible confinement.
He hurt our baby once while changing his diaper. I didn’t see what happened, but I suspect the baby peed on him. I heard the gut-wrenching scream of pain and ran in. Once a mother, always a mother … you know when your child screams in pain. He had our son by the leg on the change table. “What happened?” I asked.
“Nothing” he forced out through his gritted teeth.
“If I ever hear that baby scream like that again, I will have you charged.” I said in a calm, but deadly serious voice.
So how come I couldn’t detect the physiological and emotional, verbal, sexual or financial abuse? Perhaps, as I have explained to myself, I had never, ever encountered it before and didn’t know what I was dealing with. He used fear and intimidation to keep me in line.
I had no idea what the Cycle of Abuse was but I was living it … I was spinning in tighter and tighter circles. I compare it to a figure skater in a spin. The tighter the arms and legs are to the center, the faster the spin. You can’t see ahead because you are spinning so fast.
I started documenting his complaints about me, my housecleaning abilities, and showing him that if I did exactly what he wanted, he dismissed me and found fault with something else. He told me he hadn’t asked for me to do that and it was all in my head. I started to doubt my own sanity and question my memory. He criticized how I looked and made fun of me when I began a nervous habit of twirling my hair on my forehead. He told me no one would want me. I laughed and said “Back at ya!”
He gaslighted me.
He financially abused me. I spent more monthly on our expenses but my money went to intangible assets like daycare and groceries and things a kid needs like clothing and bikes and baseball and swimming lessons. He swiped any home ownership out from underneath my feet. He wouldn’t even help his own wife to be with investments, something he excelled at. He wanted power of attorney over me to do that. Thank God I refused! He would have cleaned me out. He was the type of person who would contact a fund company and tell them that the formula in their prospectus was incorrect … and he would be right.
He has earned the title of Deadbeat Dad. He continues the financial abuse – his last clutch of control – today because he doesn’t support his son financially (except for a few “gifts” for college tuition. Or emotionally. He sent a word of encouragement, a birthday card or an email to ask how he son was doing in five years. Nor has his family.
Yet … it’s my fault.
Verbally, he was nasty. He stayed away from the “classic” verbal abuse tactics, but still managed to tell me I was stupid and useless and incompetent or a bitch. And soon … I felt it. “If you didn’t make me so angry, I wouldn’t treat you this way!” was his response when I asked if he talked this way to colleagues at work. He did … in fact … make another female team member cry.
I often envisioned him as a petulant three year old child who would have fits when he didn’t have everything his way. “You had better <insert demand>” was his way of asking. Everything grated on my ear, but … I remained passive. People who knew me told me the light in my eyes was gone. I hated what my life had become, and felt embarrassed to talk about it. How had I fallen into this trap? I felt like I was stuck.
He ignored me. He would walk out of a room angrily if I walked in. He would lose his shit if I worked from home because he wanted “space”. He called me at client locations to check that I was there. I was in a constant state of “fight or flight” stress. He would refuse to communicate with me, his face permanently arranged in a long nasty scowl. We never, ever once solved one argument because I was always wrong.
In front of others, he would take to me like there was nothing wrong. Starved for affection, I would respond and talk normally to him. It was surreal … like there was nothing wrong. A facade. Then once – at baseball in front of everyone – I whipped around and said “Why the fuck are you talking to me? You don’t talk to me at home. Why the pretense here?” He never spoke to me at baseball again.
He would sit at the opposite end of the field or far end of the bleachers with that scowl on his face. A nice and cozy distance.
One night my friend and fellow convenor Terri had a flat tire. I could here the thump thump thump as she slowly drove up from the parking lot. It was very late and I called Charles. He came down … but not to help, just to take our son. Within a minute, he left two women – alone late at night in a shady part of town to change a tire. When the park emptied of baseball players, it filled up with drug deals. He thought nothing of leaving us. I was used to it. Terri was stunned. Together we waited for CAA. Upon hearing the story, her husband was furious. I was so used to being treated with disprespect as if I was an annoyance that I forgot that most men would rush in like knights to save their ladies.
I got sick with autoimmune thyroid disorders and had to take three months off of work. I miscarried our baby girl. Sex was always infrequent and on his demand, usually in the middle of the night by surprise while I was trying to sleep. I started sleeping downstairs on the couch. He would sit on my legs when he wanted couch space.
I did horrible things with his Oral B toothbrush … and will leave that story out for the book.
Once I recovered from the thyroid disorders, I resumed my running with a passion. It paid off because in no time I was back to a Size 4.
He began noticing other men noticing me … and would rage at me for being a slut and enticing them. He demanded I get out. I suggested counselling. The first family therapist threw us out. But he did something, even if done incorrectly, for me. He stopped in the middle of session two and asked if this was an abusive relationship. Stunned, I said no.
But when I left his office, I began researching abuse. And was stunned at how really classic it was. Outside of the physical abuse which I had always assumed accompanied other forms of abuse. That is what I assumed domestic voilence was about.
In secret, I sought out another therapist just for me. I remember going to his office, sitting down, going to paperwork and small talk.
“What can I do for you?” he asked calmly.
“I need to know if I am in an abusive relationship or if I am going crazy.” I replied.
I spent the full hour describing my last 12 years. At the end of the session he said “Lisa, I need you to do something for me. I need you to pick two friends and check in with them at 9am and 9pm every day and night. I have worked with abusive men for 30 years and you are at risk.”
He gave me examples and his experience in guiding court led programs for three decades. He told me that no one woke up and said “I am going to hit my wife for the first time today.” He stepped through how that would happen. First, I would do something that would enrage him. It could be something as simple as putting a spoon in the drawer upside down. Or putting a dirty dish in the wrong one of two sinks in the kitchen. He would then give himself permission to … finally … hit me. The counsellor assured me it was coming. He used my own example as proof.
I had been coming downstairs one morning the week before. My Ex blocked my exit at the landing, glaring me down with red, angry eyes and the worst scowl you have ever seen. I completely avoided contact with him. I swiveled around, making myself as tiny as possible, and passed him without making eye contact. I knew he wanted a fight. If I had given him any reason – or if my shoulder so much as grazed him – I instinctively knew what was coming.
It still took me a year to get out. I told myself I was staying to protect my son, but really I gave him a very skewed view of relationships. Charles and I tried a marriage counsellor who told me, even though I explained the abuse – that I had to have sex with him. I said no. While I get that you sometimes have to “fake it ’till you make it” we were beyond that. Besides, he wasn’t faking any love for me either. He had his lawyer draft up a letter telling me to leave by May 1st if things between us weren’t better. He was calling my bluff.
I called his.
Once I found my apartment – a hell hole in it’s own right – I waited until I had the keys in my hand. I was TERRIFIED that something would fall through and I’d be stuck with him after telling him I was leaving. I finally told him. He EXPLODED that I had betrayed him (Wait … what? And you haven’t betrayed me for 13 years?). He tried everything. Offering me money. To do what I asked. He turned on the charm. My mother cried and pleaded with me not to consider it – which I didn’t – because she feared he would just revert back to his old ways once I was back under his control. That’s probably what would have happened, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. When his tactics didn’t work, it didn’t take him long to go back to snarling and spitting in my face.
I spent my evenings at the new apartment. The first night I spent curled up in the empty corner of the bare living room with a bottle of red wine. I guess I was celebrating. The apartment reeked of 60 years of grime and grease. I threw up while cleaning old cupboards and dirty bathrooms. I painted accent walls in a beautiful cranberry red. I bought a wall sized mirror – 8 feet high by 5 feet wide – and leaned it against one wall to brighting the space. Getting it home took the teamwork of two girlfriends, Becky and Terri. But I hated the building. It was disgusting. The worst place I had ever lived … but it felt like a sanctuary. I was safe and it was mine.
My friend, the Doctor, gave me the June 28 page off his office calendar. It read “I don’t have OCD … I have CDO like it should be”. I laughed … and still have to tacked to my fridge. But it isn’t a laughing matter. I know that my Ex is living inside is own hell. I still wish I could help … but that is no longer my fight or my journey. No. I don’t love him. He killed that love in me long ago. But I still have empathy. I wish he could find a way to be a good father to our son … but he blames me for his inability to do that as well. Blame. Blame. Blame is all I saw from him. He didn’t kill my spirit. While the pilot light went out a few times, I am still standing.
The lawyer was going to involve the police to get me out quickly. Those two weeks were pure hell but I wanted out without a fight and refused a police escort. I didn’t want my son to see that. I awoke one night with his hands on me and his eyes an angry fiery red, screaming “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET THE FUCK OUT?!” I rolled out of bed and left in the middle of the night, too scared to remain and too scared to even try to remove Matthew (what the HELL was I thinking?!)
Then he installed cameras in our home. He pulled me in front of them and tried to say how sorry he was, could we try again. I thanked him for the the apology and clapped. I had been to the police station for advice about the cameras earlier in the day. The officer said “It’s his home, he can install them. But you also live there and and unplug them.” So that is what I did.
Moving day came and I couldn’t get everything out. My ex had it dumped off at my place with movers who said he was the biggest asshole they had ever met. I thanked them – with a wink – for leaving him behind. But let me tell you, that day I left – June 28, 2010 – was one of the happiest of my life. Walking over that threshold for good gave me the elation of pure joy and release. I started my BMW, put down the sunroof and cranked the radio. Ironically the song Jump by Madonna came on. It has been my theme song ever since.
There’s only so much you can learn in one place
The more that I wait, the more time that I waste
I haven’t got much time to waste
It’s time to make my way
I’m not afraid of what I’ll face
But I’m afraid to stay
I’m going down my road and I can make it alone
I’ll work and I’ll fight till I find a place of my own
Are you ready to jump
Get ready to jump
Don’t ever look back oh baby
Yes, I’m ready to jump
Just take my hand
get ready to jump
We learned out lesson from the start
My sisters and me
The only thing you can depend on
Is your family
Life’s gonna drop you down like the limbs from a tree
It sways and it swings and it bends until it makes you see
Are you ready?
There’s only so much you can learn in one place
The more that you wait
The more time that you waste
I’ll work and I’ll fight till I find a place of my own
It sways and it swings and it bends until you make it your own
I can make it alone [repeat]
(my sisters and me)
On the advice of the therapist, I chose an apartment for safety (in numbers) and I got a dog. Carly … My souldog was the best decision I made after leaving him.
I went to a 12-week program for abused women at Catholic Family Services. I learned so much … not just about him but about me. I won’t make the same mistake twice. I have an antennae for abuse and can spot it even in unknown couples at the grocery stores or among acquaintances. If I could just give myself enough credit and ditch the assholes … It’s all about me from here on out.
Abuse is all about control. And the more he tried to control me, the more uncontrollable I became.
I did the necessary therapy … to look not only at him but at myself and my role in an abusive relationship. I have moved on. He has not. I have forgiven him. He is still angry with me and won’t utter my name or write it. I am simply “L”. Night & Day
I have come so far in seven years and today, as I finish that seven year cycle, I won’t look behind me again. Eyes forward as I move away from everything that happened in the last seven years.
No longer a prisoner,
P.S. I posted this on my Facebook wall and wanted to add it here …
I love all of my family, friends & readers. I am humbled … and saddened by how many of you reached out privately to tell me your story of abuse. Women and Men.
The one thing I learned in my 12-week program for Abused Women (and men) is that we are accommodating. I let him and let him and let him get away with it. I made excuses. I didn’t know I was being abused. I was a strong woman who would find the fix for this mess.
If I could go back in time, I would have left the day he almost broke my finger and raised Matthew alone. But I wanted our son to have a family. And now … he has a skewed view of “family” and “relationships”. Yes, I got him into therapy as well.
Our family law system is a JOKE. I feel like I was abused a second time by the Ontario courts. And someday I am going to take that whole fucking system on (give me some steroids before that fight!!!)
If you are still in an abusive relationship, please seek counselling. Call 2-1-1. The saddest thing is that I know that in the 600+ friends I have on FB, there are people who – right now – are living the nightmare. It might be right under your nose.
It’s hard to understand if you – thankfully – have not been subjected to domestic abuse. Perhaps these TED Talks will help:
Don’t hold the secret.
I have reached out to people when my spidey senses told me they were living my nightmare. Help someone else get out of the cycle. Thank you!
*Name(s) changed to protect the guilty.
Update: June 10, 2020 As of today, Matt’s father has not adequately supported him, nor reached out for birthdays, Christmas, school.
He has also demanded that I accept what he wants to give me. And the legal system in Ontario is not set up for me to get anything. If there is one place we need AI and a watchdog, it’s with the legal system. And two out of three marriage counsellors failed miserably.
One asked me if the relationship was abusive in front of my partner. I was too terrified to answer.
The next one told me that my marriage could be annulled because I was not providing sex for my partner.
The third one told me to pack my bags, check in with friends and get the hell out. And it still took me years more to do so. Strength isn’t born in an instant.