Earlier today I republished the original Leaving the Abusive Relationship.I am trying to republish all the DV articles, although they will not be in order. I will post one post with links to all the DV and gaslighting articles as soon as I have them all republished. Please bear with me. I thank you for your patience.
I realize this is a VERY long post. It’s my story and I have this and much more on the GPYB YouTube channel. Go to the Resources button below to be taken to the YouTube channel. Also my husband Michael was very much alive and well when I wrote this post. A year and a half later, life would take him from me. But I have his love and care imprinted to the core of my being….and that’s a forever love.
I tell this story because if I can go from an abusive, unfaithful, terrible man to one who adored me and showed it to me every day – day in and day out – so can you. That is why I tell this story and tell it in such detail – to give others hope. If you know someone who needs HOPE, send them this story.
I originally wrote this post in February of 2007. I have occasionally rerun it in February and on Mother’s Day because I am reminded that I left my abuser when the abuse started to be doled out to my children. I had no job and no place to go and that is typically when the cheating and abuse would escalate in the past. However, I left but I never tried to interfere with my children’s relationship with their father. Their father managed to do that all on his own.
Earlier this year one of my Facebook groups talked about new state statutes that presume equal parenting time in divorce. It is becoming law in Kentucky and some are upset about it, as they should be.
As both a therapist and an attorney, I have written so much on the failure of the court systems where “less than optimal” families (i.e. high conflict) families are concerned. I am writing on how courts are failing on the “parental alienation” issue and how non-victims are hijacking the statutes designed to protect victims and how non-victims are involving CPS unnecessarily. A client of mine had a sociopathic ex who accused her and her children (not his) of sexually abusing their child. It took YEARS for the courts and CPS to understand what was REALLY going on there. He made all those accusations to get a leg up in child custody and it almost worked. But the grilling that he put his OWN child through, not to mention the children of his ex, was disgusting.
Not only that, but as I have said MANY TIMES, when these disordered people make false claims, they take services away from children to actually need help. CPS and GALs are stretched so thin and when a child DIES at the hands of an abuser, everyone wants to know where social services were. Many times they are out on false reports and that is terrible. A sociopath will stop at NOTHING to gain the upper legal hand and many times there is too little too late done.
My experience in court is that too many judges give free reign to people who are control freaks trying to gain a leg up. It’s not okay and not fair. As a mental health professional, I shake my head when I see judges turn themselves inside out to give a personality-disordered person the run of the court room. I have a series of podcasts about the Personality Disordered and the Legal System – click on the podcast button below to listen to the episodes. Even TV judges will say, “I’m not a therapist…” and TV therapists will say, “I’m not an attorney….” Well, I am BOTH and I can see the flaws on each side and when it endangers a client’s best interests, it drives me NUTS. For a Quick Listing of the Topics of all the Mean Lady Talking Podcast Episodes go HERE
I have many divorce and divorce coaching clients who have been at the mercy of judges trying to make things “equal” when parents have not been equal and will NEVER be equal. If you listen to my podcasts and read my articles on personality disorders and the legal system, it can be very difficult trying to work your way through. With both my divorce clients and my divorce coaching clients, I try to give as much support as I can. It’s very difficult. Very few people in the mental health system understand the legal system and visa versa. As a very learned therapist and attorney, it drives me mad. If you need my help, as a therapist or an attorney or a divorce coach, email me HERE
I am not only a therapist and an attorney, but I crawled out of the wreckage of an abusive marriage many years ago. I know this stuff FROM ALL ANGLES.
I am writing here about my own experience of trying – desperately – to convince my ex to spend ALONE time with his boys and was turned down every time. I am writing about how it is important for both parents to have a relationship with their kids but you have to show your kids they are a PRIORITY and this is something my ex failed to do. I argued with my ex. I pleaded with my ex. I invited him, his wife and her kids TO MY HOUSE to get them to see my son in a play – for ONCE – and they never showed. I swallowed my pride again and again trying to advocate for my kids and he wouldn’t hear of it. There are so many factors in each family and no law is going to satisfy every situation.
Shared parenting works under only the best condition. My kids would not have wanted to be at their father’s half the time and compete with their step siblings and be exposed to their step mother (for whom they had little respect). I would have moved Heaven and Earth to see that didn’t happen. No one should be forced into that kind of situation.
Further, my ex sued me for custody ONLY to get me to sign away financial rights I had. On the afternoon I walked out of the mediation session where he finally agreed to drop the suit if I dropped certain financial demands, I said to him, “Thank you for selling me your children.” I believe that if he was entitled to 50 percent custody by default, he would have used it to get me to acquiesce to financial demands.
He never wanted custody and wouldn’t have wanted 50 percent custody but he would have used it to get a leg up in other areas and that would have been SO UNFAIR. I got practically NOTHING in child support and he continually reneged on his obligations like child care, summer care, traveling expenses, medical care, dental care etc. For the ENTIRETY of my children’s growing up, he NEVER paid what he was supposed to pay. And then he claimed I was partying like a rockstar on his pitiful child support check.
He knew I didn’t have the means to keep bringing him back to court. Had he gotten 50 percent custody to START with, who knows how he would have manipulated the situation. He wouldn’t have truly wanted it, but would have taken it to hold sway over me. I have also had divorce clients and divorce coaching clients who have been gaslighted by their abusive ex into believing they were incapable of full-time parenting and agreed to 50 percent custody before I got involved. Now they share 50/50 custody with a personality-disordered, abusive ex and it’s hard to unwind those deals.
I will be writing and doing podcasts on all these topics so please email me with your experience and how “shared parenting” would affect you, especially if you were divorcing right now. For now, this is my story of leaving abuse:
Usually in February, I do some kind of hat tip to my journey. It started in February. I forgot to do that this year (internet stalkers and all). So I’m going to post this version of this post that I rarely run. It’s very graphic, violent and I pulled it down years ago trying to be sensitive to my ex when he was sick. While he was sick, I never posted it. I have retold it with less detail, but some people need to hear the emotional and verbal abuse and gaslighting as it was terrible.
The retelling of the entire spectacle is not to upset or embarrass anyone. I’ve been over this for many years. I only continue to tell it to help people who are struggling or who may be gaslighted to the nth degree as I was.
This the “full version” post that I wrote in February 2007 on an anniversary of my escape…when the blog was about 3 months old and had few hundred readers and no book was even a remote thought in my brain. It took me many, many years to share the actual story. It’s been a hard thing to do, but if it helps just one other person, it’s worth it. And though members of his second wife’s family would like to say my book is a lie, it’s not. And I have the court papers to prove it. Many women are called liars when they come out about their abuse, but we should NEVER back down.
This is the long version in its original 2/10/07 form. If you want to hear me tell my story go HERE for the YouTube version
Me and Max, the year after I left
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.– Anonymous
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed. February 7, 2007
It’s been many years since my life fell completely apart. I had separated from my husband on February 1st and February 9th was our wedding anniversary. Although he was unfaithful, controlling and abusive, after our separation I could not deal with the void that rushed in, the pain that engulfed me and the horrible feeling of abandonment.It was not him that I missed, but I did not know that. It was the pain of a lifetime that I had not dealt with which came home to roost upon our separation.
I had never fully grieved the fact that my birth mother had given me up…but she hadn’t “really” given me up for the first 7 years of my life…she had kept me frozen in the world of foster care where I had no idea where I belonged or what would become of me. I had to grieve being taken from my brothers. (update 2018: I have since found another brother… or he found me….what a peach my mother is).
Although I wasn’t really clear that I wanted to go home to my birth mother, I was clear I wanted to know my brothers and be with them. I thought of my brothers all my life and wished they were with me.
I had never grieved the uncertainty and fear that those 7 years brought.
I had never grieved being adopted into an abusive, alcoholic home where my parents marriage fell apart as soon as the adoption was final. Both my parents seemed to blame me for the marriage’s demise.
I had never fully dealt with the fact that all my relationships with boys and men were horribly abusive….verbally, mentally, physically…and that I blamed my self for not being “good enough.”
I had never grieved the fact that I had wanted to go to school and both my family and my boyfriends made fun of my higher aspirations, asking me who I thought I was and how self-centered I was to want to go to college.
I had never grieved leaving my hometown of New York City and how much I wanted to go back, all the time.
I lost my job in January and that was the first diversion to go. I had loved my job and the company folded. It was no one’s fault and no one could be to blame but it hurt and it was very upsetting. In addition, I now had way too much time on my hands.
I had wanted to leave in September and he talked me into staying. What about the holidays? Could we do a pre-holiday separation and inflict that on our 3 little boys? I fell for it and we went fah-la-la-ing along until New Years.
Then everything changed. January – the Coldest Month
In January the place I had been working for 3 years had suddenly closed due to financial issues. Not only did I lose my job but all of us had been close friends.
The ex became even more overbearing and there was nothing I could do to please him. If I looked for work, I wasn’t home cleaning and cooking. If I was home cleaning and cooking, I wasn’t looking for work. If I looked for work and cleaned and cooked, I hadn’t taken the boys out (even when the 3 of them were on different schedules because one was in grade school, one in a separate school for private kindergarten and one not in school.) Just dropping them off and picking them up took up hours of each day.
Then he started to come home and “inspect” the very large house. He was working a lot of doubles or second shifts and would get home around midnight. I didn’t think he was really working. He also told me he was taking classes, but I found out, months later, he had dropped out long before January. He was, I was sure, busy on affair #3. But now he was here – it was midnight and he was on the warpath.
He would sweep through the first floor which was comprised of a foyer, formal living room, formal dining room, office, half bath and kitchen. He would race down to the basement. It was finished with half cordoned off for our television and sofa and the other half was the playroom.
There was also a laundry room and another half bath. Upstairs, on the second floor, were 3 bedrooms and a full bath. Our room was the size of two bedrooms (12 x 24).
On his days off (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) he would usually wax the many wood floors we had. When I lost my job, I tried one night to wax all the floors including the linoleum kitchen which didn’t really take a shine. The linoleum was worn, but I tried to wax it anyway. After painstakingly trying to wax the floors after the kids were in bed, he came home and bellowed, “You purposely left streaks on the floor knowing I would never want you to wax the floors again!” I cried in defense of my effort, and swore up and down I didn’t purposely leave streaks. This was the gaslighting nature of our relationship. He was ALWAYS accusing me of thinking or doing or plotting things. None of the accusations were true. We had so many arguments about what I wasn’t thinking, feeling, doing or plotting. Although he was the abusive cheater, it was I who was always on the defensive. When I became a Psychiatric Services Clinician, I learned this is how it works.
The nightly inspections and insanity were becoming commonplace. He had almost given up as I stopped defending myself. I was depressed and upset. For the past few nights I just listened as he raged about whatever I hadn’t done or did on purpose or was doing just to upset him in his imaginary world. He accused me of thinking things I wasn’t thinking. He accused me of things I wasn’t doing. He called me the most disgusting names and when that didn’t work, he would get physical.
I had nothing left in the tank. I cooked, I cleaned, I looked for work, I took care of the kids. He didn’t believe it or he just wanted to start with me. I didn’t realize then that he would escalate to get me to play. And on this first night of the last nights, he did just that.
The house was spotless.
Everything was shining.
His dinner, cooked from scratch by me, was warming in the microwave as soon as I heard his car. As he came in, I let my dog Max out.
Max was a large red Doberman Pinscher that I had rescued when he was 8 months old, trained by myself and he was a one-person dog, and that person was me.
Max was very protective and I knew that if things got physical, Max would come to my aid and I didn’t need that happening. My husband would get rid of him when I wasn’t home. I knew he would. So, as a precaution, I always let Max out whenever he was coming home late.
I was pretty sure that on this night, he could find nothing wrong. I was pretty sure. He stomped around the house looking up and down for something to be angry about. I sat in the kitchen, feeling defeated. I had, once again, attempted to wax the floors, omitting the kitchen floor as that was the one he said had the streaks. He said nothing about the perfectly waxed wood floors in the living room, dining room, foyer and up the stately stairs to the 2nd floor. There were no streaks. Of course, he barely looked at any of the floors. They were perfect so why mention them?
Instead he flew down to the playroom.
I followed behind, knowing it was spotless. I had helped the kids put the toys away and I had vacuumed after they went to bed. There was NOTHING out of place. And yet he plunged his hand into the seat and came up with a Fisher Price person. And his face turned red and he grimaced. I had no idea what he was going to do but I thought he was going to come after me.
Instead, he ran past me and up 2 flights of stairs to the boys’ room. My 4 year old (he had only just turned 4) and 5 year old were fast asleep. He slammed into their room, flipped on the lights and woke them up.
I stood frozen watching them blink awake as he barked at them to get downstairs and put this away. I watched these two tousled-hair, sleepy tots in their warm footie pajamas, one in blue and one in yellow, rubbing their eyes, and looking disoriented as they rushed down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night to put away ONE Fisher Price toy.
I had not anticipated the boys having to come down those freshly polished stairs before morning. I had tried to think of everything, even polishing the stairs to the second floor and now I may have made them in to a death trap for my innocent little babies.
I held my breath hearing the slippery bottoms of their pajama feet sliding on the stairs. I wanted to rush to them and pick them up and carry them down but that would have made this worse. He was always yelling that I was babying them. Yes, a 4 and 5 year old…babies…he thought they were all grown already. We argued all the time about me “babying” them.
I held my breath as they tried to go down as fast as they could. I may have unwittingly doomed my children in an effort to quell the anger of their unreasonable father.
To THIS DAY I can see their faces, I can see them rubbing their eyes and it still fills me with tears. I felt helpless at that moment. If I started yelling at him, it would frighten them more. I had no idea what to do. This was a complete surprise to me. Was this a new tactic to get to me?
I thought about our argument the night before and yes, I had “under” reacted. Normally I would argue back or stay involved but I had been tired and just went to bed and he was upset by that. Usually HE ended the argument and went to bed on me leaving me upset and freaked out while he shut the argument down.
The night before I had done it first and apparently that did not sit right with him, so now the kids were going to pay. Son. of. a. bitch. I never saw this coming.
I was paralyzed by, “How crazy is this?” I could not believe this was happening. The boys put the little plastic guy away and returned to bed as their father barked and yelled.
I had no idea what just happened but I turned off his dinner in the microwave and went to bed. I think he wanted a reaction out of me, but I didn’t even know what to think or feel about this. He had been abusive to me and was a strict disciplinarian with the kids but he had never done anything like this before. It broke my heart. It also made me realize that we were all doomed.
I was in some kind of shock as I fell asleep that night.
I’m sure he would minimize it if I brought it up – well it’s not like I hit them! It’s not like I KILLED them!
He said those things all the time. For me, everything little thing was criticized. For the boys every little thing was criticized. For him, if it didn’t amount to murder it was okay.
The next night I scoured every inch of the house. It was hard to believe anyone lived here, let alone 3 kids, a dog and a cat. Everything was spotless. He actually arrived about 20 minutes early and I had not put his dinner in the microwave yet. In my rush to do that, I forgot to let Max out.
As soon as he came in, he flew down to the basement. I knew there was nothing out of place. I had not only looked in all the cushions, I had taken each one off and shook it out. Amazingly enough, it was under his seat in the family room that I found a bag of cookies. That is how it was. HE could shove an entire bag of cookies under his seat, but the boys couldn’t have a stray toy under theirs. And as far as I knew, Fisher Price people didn’t attract bugs. Cookies did.
I don’t know what it was he found. He seemed to indicate that he found “something” and I knew – without a doubt – this was horse crap. I could not believe this guy was PLANTING EVIDENCE on a 4 and 5 year old. Excuse me, what?
He – again at midnight and again after surveying the family room – raced up to the boys’ room. I raced up right behind him, and as he started to open their door I grabbed the back of his shirt. He was much bigger than me but he spun around. Apparently this was the interaction he was looking for. Okay, if this is what he wanted, I would give it to him. Anything for him to leave my kids alone.
As he spun right, I went left and threw myself in front of their door. I wedged my feet on the bottom and my hands on the top and I said, hoping they couldn’t hear me, “No. You are NOT waking up these kids.” I was a foster kid when I was their ages. I had nightmares every single night. I remembered, vividly, what it was like at those ages and – when you’re 5 – no one can hear you scream. I slept with a nightlight all my life (until I met Michael) due to the trauma at those ages. He was NOT going to inflict trauma on my kids. NO NO NO.
He grabbed at me to pull me out of the way. I then realized I had forgotten to do what I usually did at this time – put Max out.
I detected Max behind us but I tried to not bring attention to him and still stay in the door frame of the boys’ room.
My husband loomed over me, screaming at me, inches from my nose, to get the F out of the way. When I refused to budge, he pulled me out of the way and then pulled me down the hallway and down the stairs.
Our house was a turn of the century house with plenty of heavy wood and stained glass. He pulled me down the first stairs to the landing and I thought I was going to go right out the stained glass window that graced the landing. As he pulled to get me down the next set of steps, I held onto the banister, refusing to let go. He pulled and pulled at me and I heard Max barking furiously at him.
I could not maintain my grip on the banister and when he managed to pull me off, I swung around and my face hit the very large Newell post on the end of the banister. I felt it hit my cheek bone and something went pop. I turned around – seeing stars and feeling pain shooting through my face – but I wanted to rush back up to the boys’ room if he was going back after them. I ran back up – blindly – feeling pain and dizziness. His version of this event, months later, was that I would not have gotten hurt if I hadn’t tried to hang onto the banister. It was, once again, as always, my fault.
He had not gone back to the boys’ room. Instead he had pulled off his belt and put it around Max’s neck and was dragging him down the stairs.
I kept shaking my head – trying to shake off my disorientation, my pain and my confusion – to go save Max. I then ran DOWN the bottom of the stairs and grabbed his arm that had Max at nearly 100 pounds, dangling off the ground. This is how strong my ex was…he had him by ONE hand and I “karate chopped” that hand. I don’t know karate but it was the only thing I could think of doing – I turned my hand sideways – and slammed it down on his forearm as hard as I could…despite my size, despite my throbbing face, despite my belief he was going to kill me for it.
He dropped the belt and Max ran into a corner and I ran over to put my body between them. I stood in front of Max who was shaking uncontrollably. I had never seen Max back down or be afraid and I was sick with fear that he had pulled the belt so tight around his neck, that my poor doggie was dying. In that moment, thinking of the kids being marched down the stairs, thinking of Max being dragged down the stairs, I honestly felt that if I had a gun, I could have killed him. Right there. Right then. No remorse.
His father was a huge gun advocate and believed everyone should have one. Well, one of us would not have survived that month had either of us had one.
He gave up after several punches and slaps did not dissuade me from my post in front of Max. After he stormed out of the room and then out of the house, I pulled the belt from Max’s neck and sat with him for hours until he stopped shaking. I cried and cried.
I’m sure he had gone to the house of the woman he worked with, the one he was having an affair. I thought affairs were supposed to make you happy but he was so wretched every time he had one. A few months later I would find a note from her to him saying how I didn’t appreciate him and how cute he was (yes, she was almost 30 and sounded like a besotted teenager….). Yes, this night was full of cuteness and under appreciation.
In the morning my face was twice its size and I had a black eye of the like I have never had before. And I’d been in more than one abusive relationship so this was certainly not my first black eye. I was in relationship with a man who had been, on the whole, MORE violent and blackened both my eyes at once more than once, but this one was definitely the worst I’d ever gotten. It was a sit-up-and-take-notice shiner.
A friend of mine looked at my face and said, “I think you’ve damaged your eye.” It was completely shut.
She convinced me to let her take me to the ER where a doctor grilled me. Back then there was no mandatory reporting. I told him I fell down the stairs and hit the Newell post. I sorta did. I definitely hit the Newell post. He did not believe me. There was a level of frustration in his voice that I understand NOW, but didn’t then.
This life could not continue.
I had been in abusive relationships only. I believed that they were my fault. Everything that went wrong and “caused” someone to hit me, was my fault.
Okay, I got that. But now it was spilling over to the kids and the dog. I had become so used to his dramatics that he was now attacking a 4 year old and a 5 year old and a dog to get responses out of me. This I could not accept.
I had a duty to my children and my pets. I could not allow this – not now, not ever. They were innocent and they needed me to protect them. I had a responsibility to do that. I had my children, I had rescued my dog. I couldn’t let my husband inflict all this on them. I couldn’t.
The time had come. the calendar said February. As I ripped off the month of January from the kitchen calendar I realized that had I left in September, as I had wanted, me and the kids would have been spared all this crap. I couldn’t let it go on another month, another week, another day.
I packed a box of his things and left them on the table. When he came home (working days for once), I pointed to it and said, “Get out.” No explanation, no argument. He was furious at the size of the box, “This is it? This is what I get?” I just nodded and said he could get his clothes when he needed them. He grabbed the box and left. I thought that was way too easy.
It was. For days he would swing by and threaten, yell, argue. One night he tried to do the same “marching the kids down” routine that had ended things for me. I said, oh no no no. We argued.
I realized he was going to keep doing this. Keep coming in. Keep coming back.
Hastily I raced around the house throwing mine and the kids’ clothes into garbage bags (we had suitcases, I just had no idea where they were). Then I scooped up the 3 boys and put them in the back seat of the car with the garbage bags in the trunk.
He was SCREAMING at me as the kids were confused and just scrambling into the car as I commanded them to. He was screaming, “You’re not taking my kids anywhere!” He tried to get them to go back into the house. As afraid of him as they were, it was obvious that NONE of them wanted to stay with him. In a very uncharacteristic move, they didn’t listen. They stayed put in the back seat.
I raced around to the driver’s side. I had to back out of the driveway. Backing up is not a skill of mine. I pretty much suck at it. And he knew it. I also drove a manual transmission so jerky movements would stall it, giving him time to stop me.
I slammed the driver’s door. I could see him standing behind the car, face red and angry – yelling. He was punching the trunk and every punch made the boys jump. I had to get the hell out of there before they were too traumatized.
And then I gunned it. I looked up just in time to see him diving into the side yard bushes. it looked comical but I wouldn’t laugh about it until years later.
I drove around and around. I had no job, no money and 3 very upset kids. When, in his upset, my middle son threw up into my oldest son’s lap and my oldest started screeching, I went to my mother’s house. We did not get along. We could NEVER co-exist under one roof but I knew he wouldn’t pull crap at her house. He was’t afraid of many people, but he was afraid of her.
I went back and got my dog and cat a few nights later. The two younger boys were downstairs and the first night my mother went to tuck them in, Max leapt up on the bed, laid across them and growled at her, baring his teeth. She was taken aback as she always thought he was the sweetest dog (“for a Doberman” she would say).
We had been through a lot and Max wasn’t taking crap from anyone.
Then it was quiet. Too quiet.
I went back to my now-empty house (well, all my furniture and worldly possessions were there) We were going to have to sell it. I sighed. We bought our first house at the age of 23. We had to evict the deadbeat tenants living there, but we managed to do that, fix the place up and sell it at a huge profit. Now, 7 years later I had no job and wouldn’t get a mortgage. I started to slip…
Not only was it too quiet but the quiet was broken only by my “Oh my God, what will become of me?” That is when the fear of abandonment kicked in. I didn’t yet know that term, but it’s what happened.
All of my historical issues and many others rushed in to fill the void where the drama and chaos had been. People with deep sense of abandonment and so much unresolved issues stay in chaotic relationships to keep the focus on the outside so they don’t need to deal with what is broken – and they don’t know how to repair – on the inside.
So there I was — left alone with my fear of abandonment, my unresolved losses, my low self-esteem, my feeling of unworthiness and the aching thought that no one would ever want me again. No wonder I had stayed in bad relationships for so long…over and over again…one after the other. To not be in those relationships, to not be distracted by all that drama, would bring me face to face with feeling as bad as I really felt.
Ten days later, I felt as bad as I really felt. I had been feeling that way for almost days and in the face of the mounting horror, I had begged my abusive, cheating ex husband to come back.
Despite the drama that went on right before we split. Despite the fact that I knew I could not put my kids or dog back into the situation, some part of me thought if I started to “engage” him in talks about couples counseling (we had been twice already), I could FIX this all and keep me and the kids and the dog safe.
I needed to think about that. I needed to refocus my thoughts. The relationship had always been so chaotic and kept me from the deep despair. I needed him back simply as something to stem the tide of loss and sorrow that was engulfing me. I needed the distraction and the diversion back in my life. I wanted him to come back for our anniversary on February 9th. I wanted to start anew.
I had a plan. I would refocus and re-engage with him, but the kids and dog and cat were NOT coming home until we worked on this mess and he promised the midnight raids were not going to happen. He didn’t have to promise to not cheat (honestly I was furiously bargaining with myself) or even not to hit me (he’d promised that before and never kept it) but he would have to promise to leave the kids and dog alone.
So there I was. If he was SO sad about his family moving out, he would play ball.
Well apparently his Einstein girlfriend who thought he was so cute and under-appreciated had been stroking his ego (and lord knows what else) and he was now strutting his “I don’t need you…” style. Wait. What?
He told me no.
He told me no.
And I was off to the races. I was hysterical that night. I kept calling him in some out-of-control, unable-to-switch-gears obsessive melodrama. I kept putting myself in the way of his emotional battering. Every time I called him he had something new and devastating to say about me and how everything was my fault. I cried, I begged him to come back, I freaked out over and over again. It was an insane and painful night. I barely slept and I didn’t eat. Where had my chips gone? Where had my edge gone? I thought I had an edge by removing the kids (he wailed, “my boys! my boys!”…what a load of crap that was).
I got up and got the kids to school. Then I went to the house, feeling empty and horrible and started to clean the kitchen. My ex was critical about my house cleaning efforts and I had become used to rushing home to make sure the house was clean. For him it was never clean enough.
There I was that morning after my meltdown, sponging down the kitchen counter. I was using a yellow sponge and I kept repeating the same swipes over and over again. My husband had always accused me of “half-assing” the housekeeping. I worked so hard for many years to keep the house in tip top order and it was never good enough. Now he was gone and I had no idea who I was wiping the counter down for.
Did I care if it was clean?
How clean did it have to be?
Was this clean enough?
Was it good enough?
If he came over and the house was “clean enough” would he want to come back?
When was it ever clean enough?
It ever had been clean enough.
And what about me?
Did I care if it was clean?
Why was I cleaning this?
What did I like?
What did I consider clean?
I had to admit I had no idea. I had been reacting to him all these years and had no idea what I thought or felt about anything.
I stopped sponging and slid down to the floor. On the kitchen floor I sat and cried and cried. I had no idea who I was or what would become of me. I was plunged headlong into the snakepit of despair, of grief and loss and sorrow of a depth and a breadth I had never known. My questions had opened the floodgates and they would not close. No matter how much I tried, it would not stop…the feelings would not abate.
In the weeks to follow, I became a physical wreck…I wasn’t eating or sleeping. My hands shook all the time and I felt like my heart was going to pound right through my chest. I cried nonstop and felt as if ever fiber of my being was on fire and that I could not keep a simple thought in my head. I felt as if I was going crazier than crazy. The urge to throw myself off a cliff or in front of a bus grew very strong at times. I just wanted to stop the engulfing madness in my head.
The days and nights were endless. I couldn’t interview for jobs because I was a mess. I couldn’t go out with friends because I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t listen to music or watch movies or even TV. Everything reminded me of everything and I was rendered a useless mess.
Later I would realize that this complete stripping down of my life was necessary. Without it I would have found somehow and some way to continue on the path I had been on for too many years. If nothing changed, nothing would change.
I was powerless to change anything but me. I was powerless to get my job back or my husband back. I was powerless to get my house back. I was powerless to give my kids two happily married parents. I was powerless to keep someone else from moving in with my husband. I had no power.
The only thing I could do anything about was me. I could only change myself. It didn’t matter who he was sleeping with or what he blamed me for. It didn’t matter. What mattered was me. And that I had THREE KIDS to raise and they were boys. I refused to unleash 3 abusers into the world. We have enough of those. I’m was not adding to the issues.
In the beginning of my “new” life, I felt defeated but felt like I had to stop going crazy. I had to start finding solutions. It was hard, very hard, but I started going to therapy where, at first, the entire focus was on putting my marriage back together. I read every book I could get my hands on, again with the focus, at first, being on putting my marriage back together. I went to seminars and retreats and conferences. I joined several support groups and started journaling every night. I still paced and cried but now I threw a lot of my energy into finding out about me and what had gone wrong and how to make it right.
I felt worse before I felt better but after a while I started to notice that I was changing. I stopped reacting in the same old ways to my husband’s manipulations and control and criticism. I started to change almost against my will and learned to step out of the crazy dance I had been doing with him and my family.
A Few Good Incidents: The Phone Calls
I have many, many great stories to tell how I started changing. But here are a couple which happen to be my favorites.
To illustrate how and why I changed, it’s important to tell of a few incidents that stick out clearly in my head. These things happened in February and March, after he told me NO. I’m so grateful he told me NO.
When we first separated, he would pick up the kids on his days off and go to his grandmother’s house.
As soon as he would get there, he would call me and list all the things wrong with me. How I had failed him as a wife. How his cheating and abuse was my fault. When I tried to hang up, he would threaten to keep the kids if I did. I would listen to all the things I did, real and imaginary (there was A LOT of imaginary). I would try to apologize, defend, explain. Even about things that were made up out of whole cloth. He would keep me on the phone for HOURS and I would be crying hysterically the whole time, begging him to stop. It was absolute torture. But if I tried to hang up, he would say I’d never see the kids again.
I was going to therapy 2-3 times a week. My therapist didn’t take insurance and I only had Unemployment to live on, but I was an absolute wreck. She insisted I go to 12 step programs, other support groups and therapy groups. I also read books like a crazy person. She told me (as they did in 12 step) that I was as sick as my secrets. And when you’re in an abusive marriage, there are A LOT of secrets.
I went to therapy on Tuesday nights because the kids were usually with their father. One Tuesday the call has been especially brutal. I had been crying so hard, I fell off the bed. FELL OFF THE BED! I just kept sobbing all day after his call.
When I got to therapy, my eyes were still red and swollen. When I broke down and told her about his phone calls, she told me that next time I should tell him to keep them. WHAT? Keep them? She didn’t know him! He WOULD keep them! And then I’d jump off a bridge.
So when he called and started the barrage the next day, I listened and cried as usual. Over the weekend I went to an Al-Anon meeting and I told THEM about the calls and – guess what? They had the SAME advice – tell him to keep them. Had the world gone crazy?
They didn’t know him. He WOULD keep them! That Tuesday the phone call started as usual. I couldn’t take it. I was at the end of my rope. He said, “If you hang up, you’ll never see your kids again!” I sighed and said, “Okay, you win. Keep them.” There was silence for a few minutes and then he sputtered, “Oh sure, I lose no matter what. If ….” I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was because I hung the hell up. And guess what? The kids came home and I never received another phone call like that. WOW. I had no idea. Whatever my therapist knew was something I didn’t. I had NO idea.
A Few Good Incidents: The Hospital
Another day he called and said I had not taken the kids to see his grandmother. Supposedly he was living with her, but I was supposed to go over there. He lectured me as to how nice it was of her to come up from Brooklyn to care for them when we needed her, and now I had taken them out of her life. Without even trying to mount an argument, I hastily dressed the kids and drove over to her house. It was about 11 a.m. and I figured we would take her to lunch and maybe to the park and she could give him a report when he got home and I would get a gold star (I knew I wouldn’t, but one can dream).
When we got there, she was in medical distress. I took her to the Emergency Room at the hospital and there we sat all night. He was supposed to be living with her but I called and called and he never answered the phone that night. When we got home after midnight, her place was dark. She mumbled something about how he must have been working. No, I thought, he was at his girlfriend’s house and though I had just spent 12 hours in a hospital with her, she’d stick up for him. She didn’t always. When we were living there, she once got in between us when she knew he was going to hit me. But this night, she was full of excuses. I told my therapist about this incident, trying to focus on the fact that he had never come home that night. That wasn’t the part she wanted to focus on. She wanted to focus on why I had to take the kids there. The next time he called, I said what she told me to say, “They’re YOUR kids and she’s YOUR grandmother. YOU take them.” And I slammed down the phone. What I was learning was everything AWESOME.
My therapist urged me to go No Contact with him. No Contact when you have kids is that your communication must be brief, business-like, and only when absolutely necessary. I’ve never heard anyone except my therapist use the words “No Contact” but she nailed it. Going NC – as I call it – with him was the healthiest thing I’ve ever done.
The (ahem) “Reconciliation”
In July Mr. Cuteness and Light wanted to come back. I gave it some airtime as we had 3 kids. But his old nuttiness showed itself very shortly and I had already been experiencing positive effects from my therapy and support groups. I was done with nonsense. Within days of our failed reconciliation, he was back with his long-suffering girlfriend. Part of me wondered if he had ever really left her.
The Last Straw
In September he came over to the house and because I did not say hello to him, he smacked me in the face. I went to court, I got a restraining order. He tried to frighten and intimidate me. He opposed the permanent restraining order and he subpoena’d my mother, my friends, my co-workers to get me to “back down.” I was NOT backing down.
As frightened as I was, I went to court and I testified.
As I came off the exit to the courthouse, my leg was shaking so badly I couldn’t hold the clutch in. The car jerked and sputtered and balked all the way down the street. People passing by looked at me as if I was just learning to drive a stick. When I opened the door I got sick. As I walked up the stairs to the courthouse I had to grab hold of the railing as my legs were buckling.
When they called me, to testify in open court, I was almost hyperventilating. I looked down at him, sitting at the defense table and he was furious. He was so angry at me. His face was contorted with anger. I almost ran out of the courthouse. I’m sure he was banking on that.
At first, my voice was barely audible as As I recounted the incidents of abuse. Then it all started coming back to me and I had enough. I thought of the words of my therapist, “no one has the right to put his hands on you.” It was something I had to be TAUGHT. I didn’t know.
As I thought about it, I realized I had enough and my voice grew stronger and louder. I suddenly hit my stride and I stared right back at him. This is NOT the same person you were with 7 short months ago. I have changed and no one is going to abuse me again, Mr. Man. No no no.
As I continued to recount the abuse I had suffered with him, his attorney stood up – half way through my testimony and they revoked the opposition to the permanent restraining order. They never called a witness. They never cross -examined me. It was over. It was all over. And from that day to this one, no one has abused me mentally, physically, emotionally, verbally or any other kind of way. I was done with that.
After that day, I had a new freedom. I learned to calm down and observe my life and the people in it. I learned to stop being a whirlwind of emotion at every turn and I started to learn patience and later, trust.
I don’t know when it was but eventually I stopped going to therapy and support groups and reading books with the idea of putting my marriage together. I started to only care about putting ME back together. Or me for the first time. I was a WRECK as a child. I had never been put together. No one ever cared about me. No one ever wanted me. I had been running from that brutal – cold, hard fact – all my life and accepting crumbs from the table of life. I heard people say they wanted to get back to the “Me I Used To Be.” But I was never a used to be. I was a never was.
Becoming a Me
My therapist asked me if I had ever been loved unconditionally and I cried because I had no idea what that was. Every person who had ever CLAIMED to care about me definitely cared in a conditional way. It could be taken back at any time and they would blame me for it.
Eventually I learned what unconditional love was…to give and to get. Eventually I learned to gravitate to the right people and steer clear of the wrong ones. I learned to make myself a priority in my life and find good and healthy ways of interacting and relating. Unconditional love doesn’t mean I love you no matter what you do to me, but I love you under any condition life throws at us.
I broke the cycle of abuse in my family. Had I stayed with my ex, goodness knows what my kids would have been like. No man – since my first husband – has ever called me a name. No man – since my first husband – has raised his voice to me. It simply wouldn’t be acceptable. YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT UP WITH. I put up with NOTHING.
I stayed alone for a long time. I dated but did not bring men home. I was not desperate for love and I learned to build a life I loved. My therapist insisted I BUILD A LIFE. Hobbies, interests, friends, Hobbies, interests, friends.
I brought only two very loving, honest, stand-up men into their lives. The first one was a nice guy…really nice. He was great to my kids and my dog. The two youngest were little when we were dating and he would read them the Berenstain Bear books at night. He was an only child, didn’t have any kids and hadn’t been with anyone else who had kids.
For him to read those books to my kids, every night, warmed my heart SO MUCH. I can’t say I was ever in love with him, but I loved him. For what he did for my kids and my dog. He made my kids’ “middle years” a nice place to be. We had a nice time together. The kids had a nice house. Things were calm. When we broke up after almost 5 years together, it was a tough time for me and for him but it was the right thing at the right time. I will always be grateful to him for being kind to my kids and my dog. It was what mattered to me.
My wonderful husband Michael came along later and he, too, treated the boys like they were his own. Both men taught my boys that there is no reason to raise your voice, call someone names or act like a lunatic. Both men taught them how to respect women. Both men taught them to be healthy men. And if I was not healthy, these men would not have come into my life.
I declined a lot of men who wanted to date me if they had kids. My kids were competing (and losing) against the step kids of their fathers. I did not want them to compete with anyone else. I knew a very nice man who had a boy named Nicholas, the same age as my Nicholas. I crushed on him and he on me but I couldn’t…and wouldn’t…bring anyone with kids into their lives. It was hard and that was the hardest for me, but my kids deserved NO COMPETITION. They deserved a man who would read the Berenstain Bears and take them to flea markets on Sunday mornings and buy them dirt bikes. And I held out until that man came along.
Long story a little bit shorter, I changed everything because I changed everything. Everything changed when I changed everything. The past became solidly in the past and didn’t play itself out in all my present situations.
When I left that marriage, the gates of heaven did not open and let me in, but the gates of hell opened and let me OUT. The best thing my ex-husband ever said to me was NO. He wasn’t the brass ring and I deserved so much better. And got it.
People Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend
One summer day, in 1998, Michael and I took a trip to Vermont from where we lived in Massachusetts. It was a gorgeous summer day and we were riding our Harleys. Michael had bought me my Harley (first a used one, then a brand new one) and customized it for me. It was a gorgeous day on a gorgeous bike with a gorgeous man.
We were staying at a bed and breakfast and we both liked to take photos and were driving around the state photographing old cemeteries and covered bridges. On the second afternoon we were riding – somewhere in the middle of Vermont – the weather was incredible. We were in rolling hills country dotted with farms and some cows. As we rode along we started to ride in tandem, side by side, gently swaying along with the gorgeous country side, not another person or car in sight. I looked over at him when I noticed our bikes gliding in perfect harmony and he turned and winked at me. I felt so loved, it was incredible. I thought that I could never recapture that loving moment or relive such a time.
I was wrong.
In 2000 we moved to California and I remember riding up along side the California Delta on our Harleys, having almost the exact same experience. Once again, we were riding side by side, back and forth. This time there were weeping willows along the Delta and not a car or soul in sight. And I knew he loved me more – on that day in 2000 – than he did in Vermont in 1998. That is how our love has gone….I love you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow. We love each other – not just on those gorgeous Harley riding days – but every day – good or bad – UNDER ANY CONDITION life throws at us. We are together forever. He has loved me deeply and completely and I him. Had I NOT left the abusive, horrible husband I once had, I would not have found love with an awesome man who holds me in the highest regard. All my hard work led to a life second to none.
Now, I am happy in life and in love. I am a valuable and productive member of society with three plus jobs. I am educated and affluent. I am a woman of grace and dignity.
Way back when, I didn’t have enough faith in myself to sponge down the kitchen counter correctly. Today I am the master of my life and feel as if I can do and accomplish anything. I know who I am and what I like and why I like it and don’t care about what anyone thinks about anything I do. I matter to me and that is what matters.
People always ask me why a successful attorney teaches motivational seminars and does public speaking and writing on these topics. My answer is simple…I truly believe that there are people who were hurting like I was and who need to know it can be done. I spend time each week writing my blog so that people who are in pain and who have come to a crossroad know that there is hope and that life, wonderful and abundant, is waiting for you.
Getting Past Your Breakup Program
After that mess, I created the Getting Past Your Breakup program to show others how to do it. I realize not everyone comes from as far down as I did, but if this worked for me, it can work for you.
Observation, Preparation, Cultivation
Affirmations and Learning to be Positive
Working through the Grief
Building a Life – Hobbies, Interests, Friends
Clearing the Wreckage of the Past through Family of Origin Work
Working out the bad and working in the good. That is what I teach and that is what I know. If I can move from that horror show wreck of a life I had into a life with a good and loving man, so can you.
It CAN happen. It WILL happen for you. I need to be there to let people know, the way people were there for me, that it IS possible. Please so not give up if you are in your grief and everything hurts. IT CAN HAPPEN.
The change in me was very simple…just change everything and everything will change.
Don’t give up the day before the miracle happens.
Susan J. Elliott 2/10/07
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