So many moments of powerlessness envelop my memory, and it is easy to feel ashamed, or discouraged or foolish. Ashamed that I covered up so much. Foolish for protecting my family and loved ones from the intensity of my Ex’s childishness and mood swings. Discouraged that I spent so many years of my life struggling forward on a path I had chosen for myself, only to give up on it, in the end.
Early on in my counseling sessions, my therapist mentioned that it can be healing for people in my situation to look back at their life and pick out moments of empowerment. To find the moments of strength in history.
I can more easily point to days and weeks and months and years where my focus was just on getting through the day. There were many times I made concessions. Catered to his moods. Kept silent. Refrained from sharing information I knew might stir him to anger or upset.
And yet… there were times I drew a line, and dared him to cross it. And usually he would back away.
Physicality was my line. If he broke things. Threw things at me (even items that might not ‘hurt’ like a coat). I removed myself from the situation. He came near that line a few times, once he even tried to block me from leaving the house. I remember calling him on that attempt to intimidate, backing off to give him a chance to reconsider, and then making my escape. That was strength.
Of course, I still went back. It seemed like the only bargaining chip I held, was my very presence. As if it didn’t occur to him that what he was doing was wrong until I left him alone with no one to rage at.
When he left on a tirade, threatening that he might not make it home, I confronted him on those choices. We made an agreement (that he only sometimes followed) that neither of us would leave without expressing when we would return. That we would keep our phones with us. I followed my own guidelines.
It’s a sorry state of affairs, when a wife attempts to model appropriate behavior to her spouse – futilely – for nearly a decade. When we were together, it never occurred to me how ridiculous that was. He a grown man.
I remember cycling through all kinds of different responses when he would spend a night in tears, suicidal, or raging. At first I tried to comfort. His emotions often stirred mine, and two emotional beings never made for a good end. Then I merely tried to be present, and supportive, learning to restrain my emotions. I stopped telling him he shouldn’t feel suicidal – and instead merely asserted my own viewpoint, that I didn’t think he was worthless. That he had value.
Silence felt like tacit agreement. So I found ways not to be silent, and yet not to challenge him.
Once, when he was in a rage, I tried to yell back, I let myself get angry. Thinking that if I met him on his level, maybe that was the missing piece. Again, two emotional outbursts did not make for a calm consensus or any agreement.
I tried not swearing. I tried swearing, once or twice. I tried being present, and listening. I tried letting him be alone, and just going to bed. I tried waiting for him to go to bed before me, which meant I got little to no sleep many nights. I tried just going to bed before him, though the last time I attempted that before I left, he came in and yanked the covers off the bed while in a temper.
After he was committed, I told him any threats of suicide would be taken seriously. His response was to say he would kill himself if I ever called the police again.
He wouldn’t help pay bills, but then would get angry with me if I let one fall through the cracks. Now I look back, and wonder at all the times he raged, when he could have simply just agreed to take a more active role.
Through it all, we would cycle. Good moments, and bad. And I grew more and more numb as I sought to survive. I stopped trying to challenge him. To contradict him when I became the target of his anger. I grew silent. I stopped sharing my own thoughts, and he never noticed. There were nights I would simply ask random questions to keep him talking. Sometimes it became an odd little game – seeing how little I could say and keep him talking – all the while I wondered, hoped, I wouldn’t win. But he loved nothing so much as talking about himself and sounding important.
Even now I feel a little brittle, thinking of the past. But as I look at what I’ve just written, I think I can see a thread of strength.
I never gave up. I was all in. Divorce was never an option, until suddenly, it had to be as my own health and wellbeing grew increasingly compromised. Perhaps my methods didn’t help, but I tried with everything I had to make our marriage work. I examined myself, trying to become a better person, a stronger person. I struggled to learn boundaries. Not everything I tried was healthy, helpful or right. But I never stopped trying.
Until… the day I left. I pulled the ring from my finger, and put it away. Because I was all in as long as I could be. And now? Now I’m all out. I suppose, though I wasn’t successful, it is a kind of strength. It feels a brittle sort of thing, but the thread of it is there, nonetheless.