Are You Open About the Abuse?

Dear Readers,

I’m writing a story about women who no longer hide that they are an abuse victim. Are you will to be a part of an article I am writing about this subject for divorcedmoms.com? If so, please msg me at Thriving in Crazy Land on divorcedmoms.com. I would like to interview as many women victims of domestic abuse as possible.

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

J.B.Cole

How to cope and recover after domestic abuse

Nov. 16, 2013 _ Domestic violence reeked havoc in my life, my children’s and to this day, eight years after the last physical assault, still weighs on my heart. It doesn’t help that I must, by court order, have limited contact with my abuser, the father of my children. Imagine being forced to communicate with someone who beat you up, assaulted you, called you every name in the book, betrayed you and repeatedly used you _ it sucks.

But, today, I’m healthier emotionally than I have ever been and it is in large part due to great counseling from a very well trained domestic abuse counselor at my local DV agency. With therapy, I am processing the trauma of abuse and healing from PTSD, a condition I never through applied to me.

If you are involved in some way with a domestic abuser, my prayers are with you. I know that your life is harder than most realize. I hope that you will seek help from a very good therapist who understands domestic abuse.

Here are my tips to learning to cope and recover:

1. If you are still living with your abuser, please make a plan to leave as soon as you can. If you have children together, it is very important to meet with an attorney first, before leaving. Many states have antiquated family law that doesn’t yet recognize the facts and dangers about DV. You need to get as much custody of your children as you can and have as much in writing as possible. Please don’t live in the fantasy that you will be able to work together post divorce as parents. Sadly, your abuser is more likely to use your children as a way to continue to control and get power.

2. Get help from your local domestic abuse service. Google domestic abuse and your city to find out who and where you can get help. You need help from people who understand the difficulties you face. Domestic abuse is a crime and like most crimes, it results in a traumatized victim and a demented criminal, and that is hard enough of course. But, with domestic abuse, the victim is often falsely accused of causing the abuse and held at least partly responsible for the dynamic. The legal system, friends and family can cause further trauma, as a result. A good therapist can help you process all of those feelings in a way that can help your recovery. Please don’t try to go it alone. I think it is impossible to recover without the help of good people in your corner.

3. Grieve the loss of your “traditional” life. This means, you must walk through the pain of grief, which is not easy to do after going through the pain of abuse. But, grieving is a healthy step, one that we often gloss over. It is Ok to cry about your disappointment, fear and pain. No one gets married believing that they are going to end up in a mess. It sucks and you deserve to have a bunch of days in tears over it. The best thing about grieving is that when its over, days, weeks, months later, you will feel so much better and the clouds will begin to clear.

4. If you have children together, spend a lot of time working through every parenting issue you think you might face in the future and get it in writing now. The more you have on paper, the less chance your abuser will have to continue to abuse. Get as much spelled out as possible about the kids’ schedules, schooling, medical decisions, activities, church, vacations, drop offs and pick ups, and so on. Don’t spend too much time trying to control how your ex cares for your children, no matter how worried you are about his judgment. Judges don’t like parents who try to control what an ex does with the children. But, when it comes to how you two work together, get it in writing. Abusers love gray areas, because it gives them a way to fight. Abusers really enjoy fighting.

5. Build a new life in ways that make you happy and brings joy. Go back to school. Get a new job. Move. Take care of yourself. This is one of the hardest goals to achieve because it takes two things most victims don’t have, money and time. But, it is so important. Do your best to find ways to take care of yourself and don’t judge yourself too harshly. You have been through hell and you need to understand you aren’t perfect.

6. Cut people out of your life that judge your marriage with the abuser. You do not need anyone in your life who wants to “stay neutral” or think that have a ligitimate opinion on your life together. They don’t.   You need to surround yourself with people who love you, support you and have only the best comments to say to you. If someone wants to tell you how to get over it, get along with your ex or how to feel, you need to find a new friend. Victims are often co-dependents, and really bad at recognizing a good friend vs. a bad one. Tell yourself over and over that you need supportive friends and family only at this time. It is no time to give your time to the wrong people.

7. Work hard to keep distance between you and your abuser. For safety reasons, you need to distance. No contract or limited contact is advised for emotional and physical safety. Work hard at breaking the ties that bind you with your abuser. It takes time, but keep at it. You will be thankful when you finally realize your abuser is completely out of your life.

 

Recovering from trauma ain’t easy, but you can do it

August 25, 2013 _ When I started writing this blog a few years ago, I did it as a way to get out my thoughts and feelings revolving around my abusive ex-husband and the pain I felt about co-parenting with him.

It was also a very visual way for me to face what had happened to me in my violent marriage and sort through it, understand it and my role in my abuse.

Abuse, and especially violent abuse, by a loved one is incredibly traumatic. My husband hurt me in every way possible, including being 100 percent willing to deceive often, on big issues and small and with no regard for how that might effect me.

This blog and all the research I’ve done through the years, has helped me tremendously understand just what was and is happening to me and what responsibility I have had through it all.

But, no amount of writing and research has been more helpful in my journey to heal, than simply letting go of the gravity on my emotions and letting myself weep.

Trauma isn’t about personal responsibility or making sense of anything. Trauma just happens and it sucks and that is worth a good cry. And each time that I have allowed myself to sob over the unfairness, loss, broken fantasy, and randomness of being a victim of abuse, or for that matter, anything else, I begin to feel better and to heal.

The world tell us that domestic abuse is a couple’s dynamic issue, one that can be fixed with the right combination of therapy and personal resolve. Not true. Domestic abuse is and always will be the victimization of one partner at the hands and mind of another and in most cases, it is a crime.

It is no more about a dynamic between two people as is a robber and his target or a rapist and the quivering victim.

And the feelings surrounding domestic abuse suck. Who would want to feel it. No one I know. That is why so many victims bury the crime and continue with their abuser. To realize that you married, procreated, sleep with someone who is a criminal without morals, ethics or a desire to honor you is awful.

It is much easier to believe that your abuser is just mentally or emotionally challenged and means well.

When I finally realized that my abuser is dangerous to me no matter what I do or how I treat him, I started to truly get healthy and I began the journey to build my life again, this time with weathered eyes and a scarred, but wiser heart.

I credit my therapist with my true recovery because she walked me through the healing process, which is the grieving process.

The education and this blog helped me understand what was happening and that helped me believe it was worth it to face the pain. I stopped blaming myself and started to see just how random it was to marry an abuser.

Oh sure, I am a “type” that hooks up nicely with an abuser, but for all the best reasons. I’m empathic, tolerant, loyal, understanding. So because I have those traits, I should land with a criminal? No, even I see that. I certainly have responsibility in my marriage. I wasn’t perfect. But, I’m not responsible for abuse. No victim is.

Leaving a door unlocked doesn’t mean you invite everyone into your home to steal your things.

Real recovery for me came with the tears I shed when I realized that I wasn’t responsible, which means, I couldn’t find a way to change it, him, to make it stop. I realized that I was a victim, not responsible for the pain and trauma that was coming my way. Any more responsible than a victim of disease or an accident.

Then, my sobs were about the unfairness of it all. I wanted just what everyone else wants, a peaceful, happy life with family and friends. My version included a long, happy marriage with the father of my children. But, I didn’t draw that card, any more than my nephew didn’t draw the card that included a life without Type 1 diabetes.

Grieving that was and still is my ticket to emotional health and happiness.

All the cliches are true: Life isn’t fair; getting knocked down isn’t the trick, its how you get back up; make lemonade out of lemons … and on and on.

But, I couldn’t get there until I allowed myself to face the pain of the true trauma: That I trusted a man who used that trust against me and hurt me again and again. That it really hurts to be hit by my husband. That it sucks to be lied to by my partner. That someone has the right to use my precious children as pawns to hurt me and mess with my heart. That the court, i.e. strangers who didn’t know my children, had a say in how I was going to raise my babies. That I wasn’t going to grow old with the father of my children. That I was going to get divorced. That I felt really bad about all of that.

I’ve cried and cried on my therapist sofa about all the voices in my head that tell me its all my fault or only what I deserve, too. In fact, that is where she started with me. After I grieved that feelings of worthlessness, then I could move to the above paragraph and cry about that.

Now, I try to remind myself to feel, laughable and trite as that sounds. After I give myself time to cry, I feel better every time.

Trauma needs recovery and recovery comes on the other side of grieving. Not even understanding and analytical thinking does it. My blog has been very helpful for me, but not nearly as much as sitting with a kind and caring therapist who says things to me like, “A feeling is just a feeling,” and “You will feel better walking through the pain.” And who asked me the tough questions with kindness and love, “What would you tell that little girl inside you?” and of course, “What do you want to say to your abuser?”

Those questions began a river of tears and a path to real recovery from trauma. The dictionary says that trauma is a deeply disturbing experience, a victim is someone who is injured or killed as a result of a crime or accident and recovery is the return to a normal state of health or the recovery of that which was lost. How didn’t that make me cry before?

Trauma happens to us all. We are all vulnerable of becoming victims and recovery is possible for every single one of us. I wish you all the opportunity to grieve your own losses and traumatic experiences and I know that you will come out on the other side recovered. Blessings to you all.

Forgive me, DV agencies need to improve

August 8, 2013 _ I am very grateful for the services offered by my local domestic abuse agency and the support I have received, but, um, I think the agency needs to make a dramatic change.

And, I think that most agencies need to do the same _ that is, completely reevaluate the goal, the services and the approach. As I write this, I want the hit the delete key and erase all of this and just accept the services that are provided for free! But, to do so would be to deny the feelings I feel and continue the “just shut up and accept it” mentality that got me into this mess in the first place.

So, I’m going to point out a few things that I see and how we can improve services for the victims of domestic abuse.

  1. Do not hold support groups that are lead by young, unmarried college kids who have never experienced abuse. I sat last night in such a group meeting with four other victims. The leader, a nice enough young women, more or less “taught” us how to set boundaries off a printed sheet that included how we women need to give ourselves 30 minutes to meditate or read and stand up to friends who ask too much. Yep, she is right, but the frozen daze on these women’s faces told me something really important _ these women are suffering big time and lessons in self-care is like trying to cure cancer with aspirin. Our group leader was trying her best, but she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t get what is going on. She set up one more voice in the heads of these women that they need to “do” something to make the abuse stop. Really? Victims are victims are victims. It sucks. The only thing a victim can “do” to make it stop is leave. The only thing a young therapist should be teaching a victim of abuse is that it is OK to leave.
  2. Don’t treat women like second class citizens. I love that my local agency hands out free stuff for women of abuse, but frankly the free bread and hygiene products getting handed out sure make me feel like they see me as a victim of life instead of a victim of abuse. I really appreciate the gift of the bread, but I don’t need bread, I need help in protecting my children from their abusive father. I need help understanding a legal system that doesn’t understand domestic violence. I need help recovering from abuse and how it made me feel. I need help dealing with PTSD. Your loaves of bread, make me feel like you see me as incapable. Wow, did I really write that .. Yes, I did. But frankly, treating domestic abuse victims like they are charity cases just keeps the shame alive.
  3. Create programs that help women navigate their way out beyond the emergency shelter. I was financially beholding to my abuser, unemployed, and so on, but I would never have left him if all I had was a temporary shelter. I left because I figured out how to get out without having to go to a shelter. Why do you think so many women stay? This is the alternative? Community living with strangers in a temporary setup with your kids? Who wants that? I learned how to take a blow from my husband. I had some piece of normalcy with my abuser. And hey, I paid the price and got what I got. I’m not saying the shelter wouldn’t have been better for us, but if your agency is saying it wants to help, then maybe you should think about what really will.

Look, I’m not trying to push aside all that agencies do. I use them after all. But, I am saying that there is a mindset that needs changing. Victims are just that, victims of someone’s criminal abuse. They are not stupid for staying with an abuser. They are hurt. And hurt people need help, but the right kind. They need to process the trauma they have experienced.

They need to know that they are NOT the reason they have been abused. They need to know that they can get through this and find joy on the other side. They need to know that there are people, in this crazy evolving world, who understand.

The do not need lessons in life any more or any less than any of us. Think of it this way, imagine what you would say to a person who lost their leg in a car accident in which they were the passenger. Gee, let me teach you how to drive a car so this won’t happen again.

Umm, may be helpful, but that is not what that victim is thinking about.

It’s time to listen to those who have been through it and understand how much it sucks. And if you want to help, well then, ask a victim, “How can I help you?” or simply say, “I’m here.”

I’ll write more about this because there is so much more to say, including, thank you to all those who help and give to victim agencies.

Accepting my journey, my abuser and who I am

Aug. 4, 2013 _ Today, I’m sitting on my sunny back porch, tapping away on my laptop and enjoying the birds flying around my back yard.

My children are with me, safe and sound. My abuser is no where near me.

I am content today and not afraid and when I am feeling this way, I’m grateful.

I don’t always feel this way.

As you know, my ex-husband and the father of my children is an abuser and likely a narcissist, who has spent years and years lashing out at me in so many horrible ways. The worst experience by far, even worse than being strangled, was a frivolous custody suit he filed against me 5 years after our divorce. I was never so scared as I was in those months during that suit.

I had to imagine a future that sent my innocent boys to live the majority of the time with my abusive ex-husband, who has never done anything solely for the sake of his children unless it also suits his needs, narcissistic supply or was some necessary variable in some fabricated plot he was spinning.

But, all of that is past me now, or I should say FOR now. Who knows when he will strike against me or my children again.

I’ve learned, after 20 some years of life with an abuser, that I don’t control his actions in the slightest and therefore, I never know when he will attack again.

I accept that there is nothing I can do to alter my ex-husband’s choices, though for years I believed that I could. He is who is he is, a very dysfunctional and dangerous man, to himself and others and the best I can do is avoid him at all costs.

I used to try to “get back” my life before abuse and get back on the path I wanted to be on … marriage, grandchildren, growing old together …. yada yada yada.

I know now that my path is different than that. And finally, I’m OK with that.

I am grateful.

My path today includes lawyers, counselors, parenting plans, and careful walks with children who are confused by their family.

My path today includes learning to live well despite having PTSD. My path today includes feeling the feelings I have tried to stuff for so many years.

My path today is more about acceptance than I’ve ever had before.

I am a strong woman who is a survivor and I continue to find the good twisted up on this journey.

God, thank you for my children. Wow, I’m glad they are here. The abuse I took from their father sucked, but is so outweighed by the delight of these kids.

I set out today, with new resolve to work hard on this issue that faces our country. I want to spread the word, with other victims today, that domestic abuse needs to stop.

It starts with legislation that prevents abusers to have custody of their kids and prevents forced contact with victim and abuser. It includes shaming the abuser by his or her peers so that they don’t believe they can get away with it any more.

The path I am on now is one that includes pulling together as many people as I can to help end this horrible crime and put families back together.

Together, we can make a difference. Together our voices matter. Together, we victims of abuse, we survivors, can let others know that domestic abuse should not be tolerated anymore.

 

Does counseling work with an abuser?

I was at a support group of women who have survived domestic abuse recently. Each was in their own stage of the experience. One in particular was sharing that her boyfriend was in a batterers’ intervention program and was truly sorry for the physical abuse he inflicted on her. She was hopeful that the therapy would “work” and they could live happily together.

I listened and cringed as I heard her speak. Sad, because I had once been there, hopeful that therapy would “fix” my husband and we could live happily ever after.

During my 15 years with my ex-husband, we sought help from six couples therapists, our first sessions were before we were married. In addition, my ex-husband spent about two years attending batterers’ intervention group therapy. He attended an anger management class and at least one individual counselor.  We also attended a weekend retreat to work on our marriage and the ways to communicate effectively.

My ex-husband, who had a family history of mental illness and substance abuse, was given prozac for about a year and spent that time visiting a psychiatrist.

I can not add up the amount of money and time we spent on therapy, all of which was arranged by me and was forced on my husband. But there were few years in our marriage when we were not seeking help for our problems. However, it wasn’t until the very last years that we told the professionals that he was beating me.

The first counselor we told recommended the anger management class. The next recommended the batterers intervention program. My ex-husband was the only man there not ordered to be there by the court, but he knew I would be getting a divorce if he didn’t go.

But during all of this, therapy, drugs, support groups, intervention, my ex-husband continued to beat me, lie to me, manipulate me, leave me, and generally not change one thing about his life.

One night after returning from his intervention group, he told me that he did tell the group that he was still hitting me… I believe they are required to disclose it… and one of the guys in the group told him “You’re going to go to jail if you keep it up.”… but that advice didn’t stop my ex-husband.

Whenever it made sense to him to hit me, he did. Whenever it made sense to him to lie to me, he did. Whenever it made sense to him to leave me, he did. And he never saw himself as like those men in the group.

I’ve since learned that couples therapy is useless with an abuser because it requires something that they have long ago forsaken… honesty. Most abusers will abuse again. Most abusers will abuse their children. Most abusers will never change. Those are harsh statistics, but unfortunately true. One of my attorney’s is a former prosecutor in family criminal cases and he has seen dozens and dozens of spousal abuse cases. He said, they are pretty much all the same.

Those sobering thoughts won’t do my friend in support group much good now. She is hoping that her boyfriend will get “better”… I know the feeling. I put so much energy into trying to help my husband get better so that we could be happy. It didn’t work and still doesn’t.

Now, I am spending my energy on me and my children so that we can get better. It’s not always perfect, but at least I have real hope that we will.