For 10 years, my ex husband abused me in so many ways its hard to count them all. He spit in my face. He slapped me. He shoved me against a wall five days after I had had major surgery. He pushed me. He choked me and punched me. He left me hundreds of times. He ignored my phone calls and pleas. He lied to me about everything you can imagine, big and small issues. He withheld important information. He manipulated me time and time again. He dismissed my feelings, concerns and worries. He threw me under the bus to friends, co-workers and family. He left our oldest child screaming for Daddy to stay. In one experience after an argument, he would not return my calls for three weeks from my dying mother’s home where I had been spending the summer with our two young children. Finally, his friend agreed to intervene for me and asked him to call me.
Overall, he used me for his own gain. He had a script for our life and I was a player that needed to fulfill her role. He turned marital disputes that other husbands handled by cooling off in front of the TV or over a beer at the local bar into criminal assault time and time again.
And yet, for so many years I blamed myself, and to be honest, I still struggle with just who is to blame for my bruises.
There is some pretty obvious responsibility coming my way, afterall. I made my bed. I married him and stayed with him for nearly 15 years.
I had children with him, my second child was conceived well after the physical abused began. Whose fault is that? Mine.
I didn’t call the police. I didn’t tell friends. I didn’t run out of the house when an argument began.
And no matter how you look at it, those were my choices. No one forced me to stay and create a family with this man.
But there are other responsibilities that blur the blame and sometimes, in my darkest moment, I tell myself that it was all my fault.
Afterall, my ex didn’t just walk into a room and smack me upside the head as he passed by. My ex physically abused me as the result of an argument in which I was doing the arguing right along side him. Often, after my ex would strike out at me violently, he would leave the house. Sometimes I would kick him out, other times he would leave on his own. And I would be left there alone with the kids and my tears and pain. Many times, I would tell myself that if I had just kept my mouth shut then it would not have happened. Why didn’t I just let it go, is what I would think.
Whenever the violence happened, our world was completely derailed. We would be on this path of our double life of denial.. pretending to be OK, and then suddenly, everything would be upside down. And I would be scrambling trying to survive. It happened every time I was hit. So I started to wonder why did I keep getting myself into this kind of trouble.
My ex would feed into it as well. He had a long history before me of blaming others for his actions. His mother treated him so horribly that he pretty much had a free ride to do whatever he wanted in her house. Their relationship to this day is difficult and one that he takes no responsibility for.
So when my ex would talk about his violence and lies against me, he always included a good dose of “I wouldn’t have to act that way if you didn’t have such high standards.” Even as I write those words by my own hands, my instinct is to quickly defend myself. Boy does that ever highlight my insecurity about how much I am to blame for getting hit.
There is another element of this dynamic that I struggled with time and time again. Just what would push someone to do this. The first time my ex choked me I was nine months pregnant for God’s sake. No one does that! Not unless they are really, really mad, so I must take some of the blame.
I am also smart and smart means that at times, I can be a smart-ass. That certainly plays a role, right?
And somewhere in the middle of our 10-years of violence, I decided the best course was for me to defend myself, or at least try. So I shoved him back, tried to kick him off me, pushed him away and slapped at him as he attacked me. Didn’t do much good, but wasn’t that me participating in the abuse, I wondered.
In my darkest moments of blame and shame, I forget that I sought help many, many times from therapists, both as a couple and separately. I made vows of change that I kept, like that I would never raise my hand again in defense because it only fired him up more. That I would accept certain aspects of our marriage without complaint, like his incredible work load and his desire to stay in the job he held. That I would live my life and not let it be depend on his.
But the blame and shame of it all still swirls around my head from time to time. And my ex will go from saying he is sorry about it all (He even called my sister to tell her he owed her an apology for hitting me) to blaming me outright and telling me that I abused him. This is classic abuser behavior, straight off the pages of the book, yet quickly I start to wonder if I deserved to get hit.
With help and understanding, I am getting better. And it has become very clear to me, that I must tackle the blame and shame, in order to truly heal from this experience. It is a long road. But one, for my children’s sake, I am hiking.