The first time he hit me was one month after we were married. He didn’t hit me again for a year, but he did hit again, and then it got worse.
He was always sorry and would promise to never do it again. But the apologies always felt insincere and there was an obvious lack of remorse. In time, the abusive behavior always returned.
I learned to walk on eggshells; a hand slammed on the table, a fist through the wall, the car wheel yanked out of my hands at 70 mph. Life was unpredictable. We never made plans. I grew further and further away from my family and friends.
Imprisoned by all the things I was scared to say and scared to do, I was afforded none of the same respect. I had no expectation of privacy. A closed door was unacceptable and a locked door was knocked down.
I made excuses for him. I felt sorry for myself. I never left and never even seriously tried to leave. Where would I go? I remember the rage. I would shake with anger and lash out. I would fantasize of beating him back. I remember the shame. How had I let this happen to me? Who would believe me? He wasn’t like one of those monsters on TV, so what was I complaining about?
Then came the numbness. Any love I had once felt for him had disappeared. But I had chosen my lot in life. Instead I would encourage him to leave me. I clearly was not the girl for him. Another girl could obviously make him so much happier. I daydreamed about life after he died.
In one moment, if someone would have just asked the right question, I would have spilled everything. In the next, I would flat out lie to my mother that he had never hit me. I became so beaten down I was diagnosed as severely depressed and put on medication.
I felt like a failure. I knew there was no life for me aside from him. I dreaded that I was as bad as he was. If I could just be what he wanted everything would be ok. Severely depressed and medicated, living with physical abuse, he convinced me they would take my children away.
But I found an amazing psychologist. She never told me I was abused. She never told me to leave. She gave me articles to read; she suggested books. She taught me coping skills and helped me create a safety plan. I discovered he was out of my control. I could not fix him. No magic change in me, nothing I could do was ever going to make him stop. He wasn’t mentally ill; he wasn’t sick. He honestly believed he was entitled to act the way he did.
A tremendous weight was lifted. Some semblance of the girl I had once been slowly came back to life. I left work in the middle of the day, packed mine and the children’s bags, picked them up from school and drove to a women’s shelter. It was probably the hardest night of my life. Thinking about it can still bring a tightening in my throat. But I didn’t turn around. I kept driving through the rain and the fear and the guilt.
I have never looked back since that night. The guilt and the feeling of loss lasted a week or two. But then life became filled with endless possibilities. I make plans; I lock the bathroom door; and there is dancing and horseback riding and camouflage. I have an amazing network of friends. My family is indispensable, and I am once again present.
The wounds are still deep and will take time to heal. But they will heal. I am starting to open up to the idea of forgiveness. It will take time, but I will forgive him. In the meantime, I will continue to share my story.