Navigating the Currents

After taking a class for a first-time experience with a water sport this weekend, I’m amused by the similarities between relationships and the water itself. On their own, neither are inherently bad, it’s how we interact with them that determines the outcome. Do we jump in feet first, not even knowing how deep it is? Do we know the currents? Do we jump in anyway, for the thrill, despite knowing the danger?

My last, rather brief, relationship I fell hard, and I fell fast for someone I’d known for many, many years. I certainly took the jump, knowing the danger – the lack of emotional maturity, being in different places in life. The currents of our lives drew us close to one another for a brief moment, but now have drawn us further away again.

I’ve promised myself to be completely honest here – both for anyone interested in the journey post Domestic Violence as well as post Divorce.

We had two wonderful first dates, and then he stopped actively pursuing. We talked daily, and he had a lot going on, but in hindsight his feelings were not as strong as mine were becoming. He was kind, still is kind, and respectful of my boundaries. But when we were together there was a lot of the physical and not as much of the emotional connection. Which was odd, because before our first date there was a natural build-up of emotional intimacy. I let down my physical boundaries too soon, and while he was a considerate and fun lover, I had no idea how much that would super-charge my emotions.
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Procrastination and priorities

To the tune of Anticipation, by Carly Simon… “Procrastination, procrastination…. Is makin’ me late… Is keepin’ me waitin’.”

Something I wrote a while ago keeps coming back to me, and it has to do  with this feeling of fragility. Intangibility. Perhaps it is kin to that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kin to the feeling of balancing many spinning plates on the ends of long sticks. Everything is going well, really, but sometimes I still feel the anxiety of being one unlucky tip away from shattered glass at my feet.

(Upon writing that sentence, the snarky part of my mind suggested that maybe it was time I started using heavy plastic instead of glass. Then that led me to rabbit trail down the practical considerations of whether or not plastic (however dense) might spin comparative to ceramic. All up to the point where I reminded myself, this was only intended as a visual example. I share this, because it shows how abstractedly distracted my thoughts have become, lately. Maybe you’ll get a chuckle; I know I did – sometimes all I can do is just laugh at myself and move along.)

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The Power of No

Why is it one of the first words children learn, is also one of the hardest for some of us to verbalize as adults? One of the common themes in my counseling sessions has become understanding the coping mechanisms I learned as a child when I struggled to deal with my emotions.

My parents made many good decisions regarding my upbringing, teaching me a healthy skepticism for information and facts, teaching me how to question and challenge and understand the world around me. Yet the strange irony, is that same freedom was not expected, allowed, or ever welcomed when it came to their own authority.

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Leaving your abuser: Discretion in a digital world

Having written a post with tips on how to get away from your abuser many months ago, I thought it might be helpful to provide some information on covering your tracks. There is a plethora of information available to us online, but if our significant other has access to our computers, phones, or other media (instant messages, etc.) – and has had a history of abusing these or us – it is important to know how to protect yourself.

I expect this post will get updated from time to time. If you have found a good resource you would like to share, please feel free to link it below.

Computer/Mobile Web Browsing

This link is a great place to start, Cover Your Tracks, for the computer/mobile. A quick summary:

  • Learn how to delete the history on your browser so your abuser cannot tell you have been to our site.
  • Safest way to find information is at local library, friend’s house, or work.
  • Modern browsers and “hidden” modes. (Also you can search Google for how to browse in private.)
  • IMPORTANT: If you’re reading this YOUR ABUSER ALREADY CAN SEE YOU’VE BEEN TO OUR SITE unless you started browsing using a mode listed above.
  • Private browsing on mobile devices.
  • How do I cover my tracks if I haven’t used one of these modes or have already visited this page without one enabled? This website has some good information on how to erase your browsing history.

 

Additionally, hide smart, don’t just eradicate all your online activities. If someone goes looking for your online search history, make sure to leave some innocuous information – like news sites, etc. Essentially, misinformation.

For the tech-savvy abuser, be aware they may have access to spyware or keylogging programs.

Private messaging/mobile phone folders

Strategies

There are a lot of great strategies you can employ to take back control of your life, even if only in small doses. Consider if any of the strategies at this link will be helpful for you (see summary below of topics covered). Technology Safety Planning. This article was written from a Canadian perspective, but shares pretty universally useful tips.

  • Trust your instincts – if an abusive S.O. possesses information they shouldn’t about you, take note of it.
  • Plan for safety – there are resources out there, but you may not have immediate access to them. Finding someone you trust who can help you with research is great. (In an emergency, don’t forget the police. I myself called upon them twice here in the US, and they were both professional and kind to me.)
  • Use the safest computer/technology access you can.
  • Create a new email, Facebook or instant messaging account – be anonymous, and provide no details. Always sign out of your email or social network sites.
  • Check your mobile phone settings
  • Change passwords and pin numbers
  • Also keep anti-virus software up-to-date on your computer and other devices. This may assist you to identify and remove any unknown programs.
  • Minimize use of cordless phones or baby monitors
  • Get your own mobile phone
  • Get a private post box and don’t give out your real address
  • Google yourself
  • Save evidence and consider reporting abuse or stalking

 

Hopefully you don’t have to use these tips, but my “How do I leave?” post has been getting a lot of views lately, and I felt additional, detailed help might be useful.

Why Didn’t I leave? Part II

Part II: The Practical Quandry

My personal emotional quagmire was not the only reason I struggled to leave. There was a practical side to things too.

  1. Where will I live?
  2. Can I afford to live on my own?
  3. How am I going to get around without a car?
  4. Will I lose friends and/or family?
  5. Can I afford to keep/protect my pets?
  6. How do I break away financially without him getting suspicious?
  7. What happens to our joint mortgage/bills?
  8. What happens when people get tired of helping me?

Even though I have a full-time job, people offering me rooms to stay, my situation over the past few years left me reluctant to put my life, livelihood, and living situation in anyone else’s hands. There are matters of trust I had to get past. Fears of inconveniencing others (though they assured me, time and again, I would not be an inconvenience.) Fears of being let down, or dropped, when I became too great of a burden. (I assumed I would be).

My ex’s patience with me was so short, I didn’t want to exchange that for simply another situation where people would be short and angry with me, too. I wasn’t willing to risk losing the independence I did have simply for a chance to be miserable somewhere else.

The fact of the matter was, I was paralyzed by the unknown of the distant future, and too emotionally exhausted to cope with more than one or two days of my present.

The reality of the situation, now that I am out, is this:

I don’t know what the next few years will have for me in the way of belongings, or possessions, or financial situation. I might be in a lot of debt for a long time. However, I will have my family. I will have my friends. I will have my pets. I will go home (wherever that is) and be at peace. Already I am sleeping more than I have in a long time, even when I don’t sleep well. Instead of ‘not sleeping well’ meaning 1 to 3 hours of sleep, it now means I ‘only’ got 5-6. Some nights I even manage a few, full eight hours.

I have no car. My personal space is limited to an 8×8 room. But I still have my job. The rest can come with time. I have a lifetime to figure that out.

Still, however, if I think too far ahead, the fear of the unknown is paralyzing. You see, for so long, when you live in an abusive relationship, it’s your job to overthink the possibilities. You have to be aware of what can happen, so you can minimize the fallout and the pain (emotional in my case, physical for some others) that you will experience. It’s something my counselor calls being hyper-vigilant, and was a way I survived in that terrible marriage for so long. But the trouble is, the things we learn to protect ourselves in an abusive relationship, don’t always translate so well to reality as other people see them.

I still marvel, that I am one of the lucky ones. I had the people to help me escape. I never let go of my job. I grieve the loss of children I’ve never had and may never have, but I know that choice of having no children made my departure easier, too. But I am out. And now that I am out, I realize that none of the above things really matter.

Because I will survive, and I’ll be happier doing so without an abusive marriage hanging over me. If I can escape that, I can do pretty much anything.

How do I leave?

Those who are struggling with issues of Domestic Violence involve not only the person experiencing that situation first hand, but also those around them who know or suspect what is going on. While there are a bunch of resources out there for people in domestic violence situations, the difficulty is in getting those resources to the people who need them. Not only that, but it can be difficult to disseminate the information in a safe manner.

My situation was helped by the fact I had a good support team. When I got married, I made a promise to myself to prioritize my friendships and relationships with the people I cared about. If you are going through a difficult time, I know it is hard not to hide away and isolate yourself, but try to keep or rebuild some connections. If you haven’t, now is the time to slowly start establishing any relationship that is non-threatening to your abuser. Try and have something you do with enough regularity that it becomes routine and he or she hopefully doesn’t question it. This might help give you a break, and will help you make contacts that may help you if you need to leave.

If you are in a dangerous situation I highly encourage:

  • Have a safe word or phrase (or two). I had a safe word for “Call 911 and come right away, I am in immediate danger”. I also had another safe word that was, “We need to move up my departure plans ASAP.”
  • Do not use any computer or phone that the abuser has access to, or that the abuser can access the history or contact records of.
  • Be wary of your use of social media and instant messenging.
  • Create an emergency bag you can store at a friend or family members home.
  • Whenever possible, have someone else coordinate resources and plans for you, and perhaps be a point of contact. My mother did this for me. I barely had the mental capacity to get up in the morning, let alone function on any rational level due to my level of exhaustion. Below are some links you may find of immediate assistance.

Preparing to leave:

Creating a safety plan