November is Domestic Violence Month here at Band Back Together.
If you’d like, please share your stories of domestic violence
to remind each of us that we are none of us alone.
None of us.
My ex-husband doesn't intend
to hurt anyone. He actually goes out of his way to demonstrate to everyone what a great person he is. He professes to have hippie ideals and an open mind. And for a long time I believed the things he told me about himself...in fact, I held on so long to the idea that this man was dedicated to loving everyone and doing good in the world that I could not acknowledge the damage he was doing to me.
It started with jealousy.
We were teens and dating long-distance, so it seemed natural that he would get upset if I was late to our regularly scheduled chat (every night from 8pm until 10pm) or if I had to miss it for one reason or another. That was our time together - the only time we got to talk since we lived thousands of miles apart. That time was sacred. It was selfish for me to put my friends or family members ahead of 'our time.' And if we weren't talking, he was left to wonder where I was, what I was doing, and why I wasn't there to tell him how much I loved him.
Professions of love were important and I tried not to forget to remind him that he was the love of my life. The mere mention of previous relationships would create an explosion of derisive questions about why I didn't wait for him and what was going on in my mind at the time. Why didn't I have the foresight to think about how my future partner would feel about me having relations with someone else? It hurt him deeply and made him question whether I really did love him. How could he really know that the love I professed for him was unlike no other? HE had waited for ME - for his one true love - so why wasn't I more patient? I had to pretend that I'd never been with anyone else or that it was a lapse in judgment and in fact I did not even remember it.
Being that we were teenagers and had a long-distance relationship, I thought these issues would pass as he matured.
Instead they got worse.
Once we were married, things became even more about him. He was unhappy living in my mother's converted garage, so we got our own place, despite the fact that it was beyond our means and meant I could no longer afford to attend college classes. A year later, the town we lived in was the problem so we moved to a suburb outside of San Francisco. That worked for a while, but after a year it lost its charm, although it supposedly had nothing to do with his frequent joblessness (it crushed his soul to work in a job he didn't enjoy) and failing college grades (which were the teachers' fault)...so around year two in the Bay Area, we moved again to the "perfect place" - a town much closer to the city.
He began to chip away at me.
He made it sound like a joke, but no longer was I a white girl with brown hair - girls of a different ethnicity were exotic and much more attractive - he would swear that I was black with red hair. He made attempts to correct my west coast accent - I pronounced mayonnaise incorrectly, among other things. We no longer listened to music I liked - if something I liked was on and he didn't approve, he would mockingly sing over it about how awful the song was. It was just easier to listen to his music.
The insults started, although they weren't overt - when I asked him to refrain from constantly trying to 'educate' me about the environment, he said I was just like George W. Bush (coming from an environmentalist, this was a terrible insult). How could I not want to learn more about the trees we drive past every single day (every time we drove past them)? Didn't I believe in him and his career path? Why wasn't I being supportive? Why wasn't I on his side?
Then we needed to move again. There was only ONE place he could go to college and that place was five hours away from everyone we knew. I suggested alternatives - a degree not quite so specific or maybe I could stay in the Bay Area and we could do the long-distance thing again. No alternative was suitable, and in the end I relented - I lost all the arguments anyway since he viewed compromise as losing. I put in my notice at work and we made plans to move. I had panic attacks constantly but it was clear our relationship wouldn't survive if I didn't move with him.
It seemed like it took forever to settle in and find jobs in the new town. Despite my experience, I was back to making barely over minimum wage and he couldn't find a job at all. The isolation was unbearable. Eventually there were friends, but they were all his friends - befriending his friends was better than being alone. Besides, if I tried to refuse an invitation to a social obligation (even if I was sick) I was not giving people a chance and I was just like my (abusive) grandmother (whom I loathe more than anything).
I drank to deal with stress and isolation. Sex was his answer to the stress. Our entire life began to revolve around sex. I started hiding while dressing to avoid being groped. I began to avoid physical contact because a simple kiss was seen as an invitation to sex. If I protested at all, I became the awful person controlling his sex life, denying him at every turn. He couldn't feel loved if we didn't have sex - how could I make him live like that for the rest of his life? How could I have tricked him into that - we used to have sex all the time before we were married but NOW I was going to change it up? That was a bait and switch! What had happened to the sixteen year old girl he fell in love with?
It got worse when we had a child. After a long induced labor and a (likely) broken tailbone, it took me a long time to recover enough to be able to sit on less than three pillows. I sank into depression as I realized I was suddenly responsible for both an infant and the grown up baby I was married to (he couldn't cook, didn't "know how" to do laundry, and the house would be filled with ants and fruit flies before garbage would be taken out).
I attempted to set boundaries with my postpartum body and he responded with derisive questions and remarks. When did other women start having sex again after childbirth? Maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I could get medication to help with my lack of sex drive. Maybe I should drink more - drinking loosened me up. I should stop telling myself I wouldn't like it. And, well, if the traditional way didn't work out, we could go with the back door. Oh, I didn't feel comfortable with that? No worries, he would just slip out and then "accidentally" switch directions...except accidents became routine and asking for forgiveness was easier than asking for permission. The sobbing afterward was worth the orgasm, it seemed.
And then there was the time I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself engaged in sex while having a completely different dream. He didn't understand the resulting panic attack - after all, I started it. In my sleep. Despite being KNOWN for sleeping like the dead (he frequently checked to see if I was still breathing). I couldn't be sure what had happened, so I set aside my feelings of being violated and tried to move on.
And, of course, there were always the ladies in waiting...he very bluntly told me who he would pursue if we weren't together, including one of my best friends.
One transgression led to another, but with enough time and subtlety between incidents, it didn't occur to me that I was becoming trapped in an emotional maze. He never hit me and sexual consent wasn't outright ignored. If I said no to sex, he said we could just kiss. Then the kiss turned into touching me. When I would protest, he assured me it wouldn't go further...but it always did. It became a matter of whether I would rather have sex for 20 minutes and get it over with or be subjected to guilt trips and accusations of sexual dysfunction in every argument for the rest of our lives. Much of the time, I chose the sex to avoid another argument. My fatigue was my downfall.
It was the smallest thing that made me realize that my marriage was working for only one of us.
I got food poisoning and he decided to go hiking with Lady in Waiting #2. A friend left work early to bring me medication and a milkshake. My friend played guitar until I fell into an exhausted sleep. It was the nicest thing that had ever been done for me by far and I wondered why I wasn't with someone who would take care of me sometimes.
When he got the urge to uproot us again, I took a stand. I decided it was my turn to choose where we were going to live. I quickly found a job and a place for us to live. We headed back to the Bay Area, a place where we had family support so I would no longer be isolated and could have access to therapy. Our marriage didn't last a year past that.
I still struggle with calling my experience abuse. Every year since the divorce I've worked to heal the emotional damage done to me in those twelve years with my ex. I try to remember that I don't need to apologize for having desires or a libido that differs from my partner's. It's taken me time (and a patient partner) to learn that intimacy can be achieved without intercourse, that a kiss can be just a kiss, and that I can actually enjoy sex.
Most of the time I know now - despite professions that he is a concerned environmentalist, a philanthropist, a good citizen - that my ex is only concerned about himself and how the world and other people can satisfy his narcissism.
Domestic abuse can be subtle. It might leave no visible marks. Your abuser can convince you that you are at fault. Sometimes, your abuser has no conscious intention of harming you. Still, it's abuse and you don't deserve it. Your feelings are ALWAYS as important as your partner's.
Abuse - physical, emotional, economic, sexual or otherwise - is never EVER okay.