July 21, 2012_ It has been seven years since my divorce from an abusive husband and unfortunately I am still in his line of sight.
Today, his abuse is not physical, but it hurts just the same. Today, he uses what he can to gain control. Sadly, what he uses is our children.
As I walk through this chapter of my relationship with an abuser, I try to understand the behaviors and choices of someone who appears normal but is capable of causing others emotional damage.
And I conclude over and over again, he may not be a well man _ because only an unwell person could play games with their kids’ lives _ but that doesn’t mean he needs sympathy or excuses. It means he should never be trusted. And his actions, no matter how normal, should always be questioned.
The walk I make connected to an abuser is a difficult one. A walk that I wish I didn’t have to make. But, nevertheless, it is real and not going away.
Today, we have a parenting coordinator who mediates our parenting trouble. It is a completely different story than when we first divorced. When we divorced, I had primary custody of our kids and my ex had a growing life of a bachelor that he enjoyed. He thrived as a part-time parent and left the heavy lifting of our two children to me. Fine with me, was almost always my position. Sometimes I would beg him to stay connected, but mostly I gladly took the position of the lead parent. After all, I didn’t divorce my abuser because I wanted to spend less time with my kids or stop being a mother.
As he settled into life with his wife, the stories he told her didn’t match with the reality he told others. He is no different than any other abuser, he creates life stories that make him a victim. And in my abuser’s case, he creates life stories that make him a martyr. He harvests others; sympathy like any good farmer. Sometimes it takes years to prepare and tend the crop, but eventually, the harvest is ready to be reaped.
My ex tells stories and his payoff is the “love” that he seeks. But, it is not real and often those who love him begin to question his stories.
My ex told me when he was first courting me about the tragic suicide of his father. I will never forget the feeling of honor I felt as he “opened” up about how his Dad died on the first day of my ex’s high school senior year. I remember offering waterfalls of sympathy as I tried to handle the situation with the right words, so as not to hurt him any further. As I think back now on that day, one that helped me come to love him, I remember two facts: 1. As I tried to say the right thing that wouldn’t trigger tears or shame, he wasn’t anywhere close to feeling either and 2. the entire story didn’t include any description of the death or his father at all. The story was all about my ex. That this tragic circumstance happened on my ex’s first day of senior year. That he came home from school and his crazy, alcoholic mother got the phone call and told him. That he went to school the next day in a daze and didn’t cry. He never spoke of his father, a funeral or his mother’s pain.
For years, his father’s suicide has been part of our family’s story. Friends know about it. Our kids teachers at school. Our families, even our children’s doctors. We made the conscious decision now to tell our children until they were old enough to understand.
For years, I’ve based so many excuses for my ex’s abuse on the fact that his father committed suicide. My story went something like this, “he had a very difficult childhood. An alcoholic mother. A father who committed suicide…” My ex, who is a sports writer for a major online publication but was a sports writer for a newspaper at the time, even wrote a touching father’s day tribute to honor his father and fashioned it after the movie “Field of Dreams.” Clever.
I bought the story hook line and sinker, despite some gabbing holes that I never uncovered. One, that in the years of therapy we sought, he NEVER spoke about his father’s suicide. When we were alone at home, he never spoke about it. Sure, when we were around people, he would get really thoughtful and tell the story. People would immediately pour out their sympathy to my ex, as would I. But, when we were lying alone together in bed, he never, ever spoke about it. It was as if it never happened.
Many years later, in fact just a few months ago, his now very sober 79-year-old mother, was talking to me about my children. She stays in touch with me because her relationship with my ex and his wife is stranded. She was chatting away about one or other of the children and she began to discuss her former husband. There was something about the way she spoke about him that gave me pause, so I mentioned the suicide. And she said, “Oh no, we don’t belief he committed suicide? We will never know for sure, but it really appeared to be an accident.” What? I thought, holy cow, you mean there was some doubt? She then told me that he fell off a building that had a cat walk. He used to walk the cat walk often. At 70-years-old, the police never could figure out if he fell or jumped, but since he didn’t leave a note and there were no signs of suicide, it was ruled an accident.
Holy cow, my ex had taken one of his life stories and turned it ever so slightly to get what he wanted … to be the victim. He was willing to throw his father and his mother under the bus in order to gain a few sympathetic looks and the love that he seeks but doesn’t understand how to achieve.
He is good at it because he is willing. Because he has not conscious or moral compass about what he is doing. He thrives and feeds off others pity. To him, its love. But the trouble with pity and sympathy, is that is usually short-lived, while love is long lasting. He seeks pity instead of love and therefore he is always on a mission to find more and more.
He farms his plot of people and tends the field constantly to produce a great crop of it. But just like the veggie in the field. It only lasts for one season. So the each year he tries the same crop until it won’t grow anymore and he switches to a new story, a new timeline.
When my ex sued me for custody of our teenagers six years after our divorce, I was amazed at the story line he had created about me and our life. He painted a picture that was completely false and I could easily prove otherwise. No one had to take my word for it. I had plenty of evidence to show that the crazy, bitch woman who didn’t let him see his kids, was completely untrue. Phone records, txt messages, emails, witnesses, and so on. I had plenty of documentation, including day planners with dates he had the children over the last six years. Emails from him telling me that he was fine with the arrangement and that I had full custody. Not to mention the many conversations we had regarding his acceptance and even happiness over the way things worked.
But, his field of dreams was getting played out. He needed to create a new crop in order to harvest the love he sought. So his story changed. Instead of the one he told that he worked well with his ex, he began to twist it … just like he did about his father’s death. His story about me took the same turn and my ex became a martyr again. Now, he is just an innocent father trying to do right by his kids. Too bad it couldn’t be further from the truth.
This week our parenting coordinator finally met with our teenage children, one who is nearly 18 years old. In the meeting she found out that our children do not have the same story as my ex. No mother who is fighting to keep them away from their father. No hang ups with a controlling mother or emotional issues at all. The only two points that came out were the issues I’ve pleaded with my ex and our team of professional (lawyers, judge, therapist) 1. They need a regular schedule with expected times of when they will be at their dad’s or their mom’s and 2. They need their parents to communicate those schedules to each other and come to agreement. Not use them as go-betweens. FINALLY, the real issues come to the table.
My poor children have had to live this way for at least a year, maybe a few more, and it sucks! Finally, someone is listening to our children and trying to help them have the best childhood they can. Finally someone is giving them a voice. I can only hope that the parenting coordinator will stay with them as they finish out their days as minors and help them strengthen their voices. I no longer hope that my ex will listen and stop using our children as chess pieces, moving them around the board in order to gain control, pity and power. It is not likely that my ex with change. I know I can’t change him. I can only put my energies into doing right by my kids.