October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month. That’s very fitting for me because it was a crisp, clear morning in October when I finally allowed myself to admit that I was being abused, and my husband was the abuser.
You might wonder how it’s possible that I was married for 27 years and never realized I was being abused. It’s a valid and complicated question. Abuse comes in many forms and it is not always blatantly obvious.
My husband never hit me. Sometimes I wished that he would. If he did, then I would know. It would be clear. But he was a smart man. He used his words and his anger to crush me and intimidate me. He berated and belittled me until any self confidence that I might have had was gone.
He was a master manipulator and nobody ever dared question him or challenge him. He could talk himself in to or out of any situation. He controlled me with his anger. He ruled with insults and threats. He humiliated me and shamed me to the point that I learned it was better to stay quiet and stay out of the way. I was a nothing and a nobody, I know this because he told me often.
For years I thought nobody saw or knew what was happening. I thought if I pretended to be happy or to laugh at his insults, nobody would see how much he hurt me. I thought if I just tried harder, if I stopped making so many mistakes, things would get better.
I was living it. I was in the middle of it. I couldn’t see the damage it was doing. I didn’t know it affected anyone but me. My children proved me wrong. It was only through them that I could see the harm that was being inflicted. It was only because of them that I found the strength and the courage to stand up and say “no more!”
That morning in October started out to be just like any other morning. I got the kids off to school and then I left for work. A few hours later paramedics arrived at my house and took my husband to the hospital. When they slammed the door of the ambulance the first piece of my new story fell so quietly in to place that I didn’t even realize it.
Within days of him being gone my children changed and blossomed. My autisitc daughter stopped screaming. My younger daughter stopped hiding away in the back room. They started talking and laughing. The air felt lighter. I was calmer. The house was quiet.
One day I took my six year old daughter to go visit her father. It was a long drive and when we were almost there I remembered that I was supposed to bring him some things from home. When I mentioned to my daughter that I forgot them she started crying and shaking. Frantically she tried to make plans. She insisted I turn back around or that I just drop her off and she would explain that I went to run an errand and would come with his things soon. She begged me not to show up without them. She cried that he would be so angry and he would start yelling. She said she was scared.
When I looked in my mirror and saw her face, I suddenly knew what I had been denying for years. In that moment I knew that he could never come home again.
It wasn’t easy. I wavered so many times. He was angry. He tried to bully me in to changing my mind. He told me I would never make it without him, I couldn’t survive on my own. I was afraid he might be right. He told me if I just apologized he would forgive me. It never occurred to him to apologize for anything.
I went to therapy. Every time I wanted to give up I called my therapist. She listened and guided me. She reminded me why I was doing it all in the first place. She believed me. She believed in me. She cheered every victory.
Money was tight and I had no idea how it was all going to work. Somehow it always did. I am a woman of faith and I prayed hard. I could see and feel G-d’s hand guiding me and holding me up. I had amazing friends who supported me in every way imaginable. I learned to make decisions and to pay my bills.
I had no idea how strong I could be. My story is still evolving and changing. I have no idea where I will go or what adventures await me. But my children are happy and healthy. There is nothing more important than that.