To someone who has never experienced an abusive relationship, I’m sure it seems like common sense to be aware that a relationship is abusive. For me, that wasn’t the case. Despite fading bruises and healed fractures, four years ago I could not have said that I was in an abusive relationship.
From the very beginning of our relationship Joe had an edge to him. I had this thing I would say to myself (and sometimes to others) that I could take the 10% jerk because 90% of the time he was fantastic. By the end of our marriage, those numbers had completely flipped. The most drastic flip was in my own mindset. I remember in the second year of my marriage, before any of my children were born, I had a constant thought, “I wish he would just hit me, then it would be an outward sign and I could leave.” What Joe was putting me through psychologically and emotionally was intense, but I wasn’t sure it was a valid reason to break my marriage vows. The ups and downs of approval and disdain were hard to manage. I fell into believing that his unhappiness was solely my fault, which was exactly what he told me day in and day out. I thought I was worthy of the treatment that I was getting and I was always working and trying to become what he demanded. I was losing myself to his whims and in an internal battle that I had been dealing with my entire life, that I needed to be more and do more to be worthy of love.
It would be 10 years after wishing he would hit me, so that I would have visible evidence to leave, before he did. By that time, my emotional state and my self-confidence were completely depleted. I was barely treading water anymore. I didn’t see it. I was ashamed that he would “have to” resort to that to correct me. It took me a couple of months after he was removed from our home to be able to articulate that he had been physically abusive. At that time, I had only been aware that our relationship was abusive for six months.
At Joe’s request, I entered beauty school. He said that I needed to work and he thought that would be good for me. However, it came under the stipulation that he and the kids always took complete priority to it and that I was not to work on any male clients. I looked at it as an opportunity to turn a hobby into something that I could have for myself, so I enrolled. I relished my time there. It was a group of amazingly unique, accepting, and loving individuals. I started to gain a little bit of myself back. As part of our curriculum, the local women’s shelter came and talked with us about domestic abuse. Not only was there a chance of someone sitting in our chair and opening up about abuse, but people in our profession have a high chance of being in one ourselves. Before the talk began, they took all of our cell phones away so that we wouldn’t be distracted. They started discussing personal stories of abuse and certain scenarios that are labeled as abusive. My heart was pouring out to my fellow students who were being overcome with emotion as they listened and thought back to their own experiences. Then, I had my own moment of awakening. The speaker started discussing harassment and abuse through texting. She asked, “if you get a call from your significant other and you don’t respond immediately, how is that handled? Do they begin to text repeatedly, do they become angry that you aren’t responding….” There was a list of things. I sat there and thought to the many times that I didn’t answer a phone call or a text at the very moment it was happening. I thought back to my time working for the county recorder’s office when Joe had called when I was helping a customer and became irate when I told him I would need to call him back. He was always the priority, I should be grateful that he wanted to talk to me. I’m not sure what the next 30 minutes of discussion was because my mind was starting to scramble. Then it happened. Joe texted. I did not have my phone, but I could see on my watch what he was texting. It was not anything that I could reply to on my watch. He was asking a question. A minute later he sent another text repeating the question. My heart felt like it stopped. I was panicking that I couldn’t get to my phone, which quickly switched over to, “Wait, this is me. The woman at the front of the room is talking about women in my situation. This isn’t right….” I began to hyperventilate and ran up the stairs and out of the school. From that moment, I realized that maybe it wasn’t just my lack of being good enough, maybe Joe was abusing me. It was 6 more months of scrambling, trying to figure out how to survive and what to do in this new state of awareness, before Joe was taken from our home.
My marriage lasted 6,519 days. It took me 6,337 days to realize that Joe was drowning me in the deep water. It took an additional 182 days for me to gather the courage to make my way to the beach. Getting out of an abusive relationship is incredibly difficult. The first hurdle is to realize that you are in one.