Dr. Jekyll and his other behavior ….

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.


Real Housewives highlight real issues around domestic abuse

Dec. 9, 2011 _ The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills television show has been knocked and mocked repeatedly for its unrealistic portrayal of women in California and supposed fake or scripted behavior of its characters and even an alleged victim of domestic abuse hasn’t been spared the jeers.

I would agree that the lifestyles portrayed in this show and most reality programs are laughable most of the time.

However, Housewife Taylor Armstrong’s behavior and subsequent disclosure of abuse hardly seems out of the ordinary and the confusion of her co-stars also seems to fit reality.

In fact, there are many typical issues exposed during the recent shows that fit the patterns of abuse within a family and within a circle of friends.

For starters, Taylor’s behavior is confusing, erratic and hard to understand. Bloggers and critics have made fun of the woman for her emotional break-downs and dramatic behavior captured by the rolling cameras. But, as a victim of domestic abuse, her behavior can be explained in one way: She is afraid.

She is afraid of her husband’s reactions, her daughter’s future, her own financial dependency, what her family, friends and fans will think of her, she is afraid of what the truth will cause and the cameras capture the struggle that victims face as they sit between a rock and hard place.

To victims in the thick of their daily struggle, there is simply no good choice and they often hope that something will happen that will change their situation for the better. You can see that this housewife tries marriage counseling as she desperately tries to preserve her fantasy of a healthy family.

Taylor’s friends also act typically in their attempts to help Taylor and their doubts about the abuse. One of her co-stars even says, “Well I have never seen any abuse, so I don’t know.” A very common sentiment, but no abuser is going to abuser his victims before the eyes of others. In fact, abusers are terrific at acting the part of a caring husband in front of other people so that they can reap the compliments from others about how “good” they are.

Her friends also struggle with loyalty between the married couple and don’t know how to act toward Taylor’s husband. They are friendly toward him and even talk to him about the struggle with respect and reserve, but they don’t approach the abuse with him.

But, it is understandable why her friends, and in this case, millions of viewers, are unsure if the allegations are true.

Another issue surrounding domestic abuse so subtlety  exposed in these episodes is that the victim doesn’t want to leave their abuser. Taylor is surrounded by many friends offering their homes _ no mansions _ as a sanctuary, yet Taylor doesn’t take them up on the offers. Taylor so clings to the hope that her husband can change and she can stay with him, that she is not looking for a place to go.

Her friends also take a common position of believing that they would never stay in such a relationship and they can’t relate to Taylor’s decision to stay despite her claims of abuse. So often people feel this way and can’t understand why someone who not run out of the house the first time they got hit and never look back.

You see it too when you look at politician wives who swear they won’t stand by their man if he ever does her wrong, only to see them on the podium right next to the apologetic official.

What people tend to forget is that when families are formed, they are bonded and vested together and breaking those bonds, hopes and maybe fantasies are difficult. How many people excuse questionable behavior of their loved ones?

I can related to every issue exposed in these shows. I know what it is like to judge another woman’s choice to stay in a marriage full of behaviors that I would not tolerate. I can related to the woman who has hope that their mate will change and get better. I can related to the denial. I can understand the doubt. I can understand the confusion.

In my case, I could have called on many people to put me and my children up for a few days or maybe a few weeks so that I could get out of the house of my abusing and violent ex-husband. But, then what? What would I do after I’d worn out my welcome injected into someone’s life? Besides, while I lived with my abuser, I was giving all of my efforts to trying to “fix” the relationship, end the violence so that we could keep our family in tact. Denial is a powerful perspective.

It took me years and years to accept that my ex wasn’t going to be “fixed” and that I was throwing my efforts into a foolish pursuit and in fact, was wasting my time and the lives of my children. It is sad that it took me 10 years after the first attack, to finally have the courage to face facts, but I was stubborn in my hope that I could have my happily-ever-after.

I believe that there are many, many women spending time in abusive relationships doing the same thing. They aren’t staying because they don’t have a place to go to escape immediate abuse, they are staying because they aren’t ready to give up on the dream of a perfect, peaceful life with their husband.

I know there are many women who don’t leave because they are afraid of their abusers’ reaction to divorce. In my case, I worried about how my ex would treat my children and I knew that in marriage, I would be able to protect them. I knew it would be much harder to protect them after divorce. I was very motivated to find a way to stop the abuse within the marriage rather than outside it.

I always knew that I could stop the abuse if I left. I am a smart person and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. But, for so many years, I didn’t want to leave. I was too afraid to face what my life would look like, what my children’s lives would look like, if we left.

I am sad that it took me so long to find that path out and to finally say to myself that I would not settle for someone who is willing to hit me when he didn’t get what he wants. But, thankfully, I finally did tell myself that I would not continue living life with so little.

I am not married now, nor am I in a relationship. I have been in love since my divorce 6 years ago, but that relationship didn’t last. My children are teen-agers now and have settled into the routine of divorced parents. It is not perfect. I am tired most days. I juggle work, single motherhood, and financial insecurity. But, I am so much happier than I ever was when I was with my ex.

Unfortunately, my ex can still abuse me, emotionally, and he still tries. We will always be connected by our children. But, I can go to my house, lock my door and rest assured that I have peace and safety within.

His continued abuse does cause me stress and there are times that I feel sorry for myself because no one should have to deal with the abuse of another. But, I can talk myself into the reality that we all have problems to handle, this is just mine.

Counseling, this blog, and good friends help me today to face the abuse my ex inflicts today. I have learned that silence is the worse approach. Abusers tend to be insecure. My silence only give my abuser power.

Today, the best approach seems to be to disengage in every way that I can. The least amount of contact, the best. Even then, I never know when he will strike again.

I hope that Taylor can learn to cope with the scars of abuse and violence and move forward to a better life. I hope now that she knows she has a better change for it.