Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Own Misbehavior

I wish I could say my husband was the only one who was abusive in our relationship.  With all my heart I wish I could say that.  But it's just not true.

Growing up I never fought back.  My abusers were always bigger and stronger and more powerful than me.  I didn't think there was anyone who could protect me.  I learned not to cry because it only angered my abusers more.  My best weapons of survival were to hide or acquiesce.  I did my best to stay out of sight.  When I couldn't do that I just tried to be quiet and do what they wanted me to do.  I became excellent at reading the emotions in the room so I could sometimes head off an attack by changing my behavior or leaving.

I promised myself I would never stay with a man who was abusive.  If he hit me, I was gone.  Physical abuse is easy to recognize and prove.  When I was pregnant with our first child my husband and I got into a heated argument.  I stepped in front of him to keep him from storming away.  He shoved me out of the way hard enough that I fell to the ground.  I let him go.  When things cooled off I told him if he ever did anything like that again I would leave.  He never did.

Physical abuse is a quick blow (or several).  Emotional abuse is slow torture.  It isn't usually evident to others.  But it eats your soul.

I had been unhappy with the way my husband treated me and the kids for a long time, but I didn't call it abuse.  I didn't recognize it for what it was.  Mostly because it was so familiar.  It was how I'd grown up.  I remember the moment I knew.  It was when I heard myself telling the children, "Please be as good as you can so daddy won't get mad."

What a horrific moment.  What an awful responsibility to dump on a child.  A responsibility that was in no way theirs.  That's when I started to search for a better way. 

Instead of trying to placate him I began standing up to him.  In the only way I knew how.  I yelled.  I demanded.  I criticized and name called.  I threatened.  I demeaned and mocked and shamed.  I'd only seen my mom stand up to my dad a few times and this was how she did it.  It was what my emotions were shouting at me to do.  My heart said protect the children, so I stood between them and the raging lion.  With a whip and a chair.

It would be years before I knew a better way.  And after he started to change it was a long time before I saw how awful I had been to him.  In defense or not, my actions had been emotionally abusive as well.  Neither of us knew how to deal with these things in an emotionally healthy way.

One or both of us has been in therapy now off and on for about six years.  We have generations of unhealthy behavior to unlearn.  We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which means sometimes we are triggered and find ourselves back in those moments when we were powerless and terrified.  We are still working to get healthy and strong.  We still mess up.  We are still sometimes unkind to each other.  We still often see the other as an enemy and forget we're on the same team.

But we are so much better than we used to be.  I am proud of us for all the hard work and progress.  There are so many horrible things we experienced as children that we were able to protect our own kids from.  So many emotional battles we've fought so they won't have to.

We're cleaning up the line as best we can.  Breaking the chains that bound us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part three

For the first part of my husband's story and why we are sharing it read this.
For the second part of our story read this.

Today I offer the final part of the story:  what happened when he saw the truth.


I started to work with a friend from an old job.  He is a very sensitive and caring man who understands women (and no he isn't gay).  But when I would talk to him at work and tell him how nuts my wife was he would always tell me where I was wrong.  He was very good at it because he can talk both male and female.  He had been through a lot of therapy, too.

Robin and I were about done with marriage and I was sick of all the accusations of being abusive.  I still loved her and didn't want to divorce but she just wasn't getting it.  Then one day we had a meeting, just her and me.  I was finally to the point where I really wanted to understand what she was trying to say.  I don't know if she explained it to me better that time or I finally listened but I got it.  It was the yelling, putting down and getting even that was the abuse.  The seething hatred when I was angry.  The fact that everyone at home was walking on egg shells around me so they wouldn't trigger another outburst from the angry man.

Holy cow, what an eye opener that was.  I love these people and they all feel like I hate them.  They walk on egg shells around me.  My wife and kids.  It was a shot to my heart.

But how to fix it, for now I see just what a bastard I am.  Anger was my nature.  I couldn't control it.  It would explode in me and I had to yell or I would be violent (I never was but it was because I could yell at those I was angry with).  I also knew that my OCD triggered my anger and how was I going to fix that?

That's when I started therapy (or thereabouts).  We found Dr. Dan.  Robin, bless her, saw my horror when I finally understood and we decided to work together to beat this thing.  I was ready.

It was really hard.  I had to learn how to control my anger.  I had to face issues from my past that I wanted to leave alone.  I had to trust Dr. Dan.  (Don't think that wasn't hard.)  I had to learn how to be a real man.  A real husband and father.  I don't always win in my daily fight to control my anger or my OCD, but I win most days.  I've learned that you can change.  You can control anger.  I'm to the point now where I hardly ever get angry anymore.  It's been a long road and I've had a lot of help.

The most important thing I've learned in this whole process is that you have to accept the fact that you are wrong.  Be humble enough to be told you're being a jerk and realize you are but you can change.  Your wife isn't trying to control you.  She loves you and is trying to help you reach your potential.

Thanks for helping me be a better man, Robin.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part two

For the first part of my husband's story and why we are sharing it read this.

This is the second part of my husband's story: we got married and things got ugly.


I finished my 2-year mission and came home and that's when I met MisssRobin.  I was still very religious and active in my church but I had anger.  Robin was awesome.  Good looking, smart and would play with me in a snarky way.  She was a tease but then again so was I.  I fell in love with her so fast.

We got married and that's when things changed.  She is right about almost everything and she is very strong willed.  I, however, am not right about most things but won't admit it for self esteem reasons.  I am also strong willed and at the time was of the opinion that it's my castle and you're my property.  That's where it gets hard for women to understand I think.  How can you love someone if you think they are your property?  But that is how I was raised.  I'm the man, she's the woman.  It's my job to provide for her and keep her safe and it's her job to do as I say.

I became everything I hated in authority and didn't even notice.  I also suffer from OCD so my perception of reality isn't always on the mark.  Things would often make me angry that wouldn't bother other people.  When I got angry I would be mean to the person I was angry at.  I hated them for the time I was angry.  I wouldn't hit them or be physical, but I would yell and ignore and withhold.  I would scheme of ways I could get even.  "You won't do this for me then I'll not do something for you."  And I thought it was fine that I acted that way.  After a few days of cooling off, I would feel horrible and apologize and then everything was fine.  (How naive I was.)

Years into our marriage, Robin started telling me that I was being abusive.  I was shocked.  What the heck is she talking about?  I've never hit her or the kids.  I would think that I should hit her so she can see what abuse really is.  I talked to friends at work about it (all male) and they would agree with me.  What does she mean?

Then she started to tell me it was emotional abuse.  WHAT IS SHE SMOKING?  Emotional abuse?  What is that?  In my mind it was an imaginary thing.  I didn't really have emotions other than hate, anger and love.  I had never even heard of such a thing as emotional abuse and if there was such a thing then she was abusive to me.  She would not talk to me for days after one of my explosions.  She was always complaining about me.  ME, the guy who was working every day so that she could stay home.  40 hours a week and all I asked for in return was for my family not to trigger my OCD and let me be the king of the house.  It took years, but things started to get ugly between us.

Read more here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part one

I have written very openly about the difficulties in my marriage, although it's primarily been on my other blog.  Many people have commented to ask if my husband knows that I write about him and the things he's done.  He does.  He reads almost everything I write; I hide none of it from him.  Sometimes the things I write are difficult for him.  It's not so much that he doesn't want people to know what he's done, it's that he's so sad that he did those things.  But he has read the comments.  He has seen how many people are grateful that I share our story.  He has felt their gratitude for sharing what we've learned.  He is proud that I have been able to help others.    And he is courageous enough to allow me to share the story of our struggles.

This weekend he surprised me with a grand step of bravery.  He opened his heart and wrote his story.  So that I could share it on my blog.  Because he believes it can help.

I know it was hard and am so proud of him.

I offer the first segment today.  Where the hate and anger come from.

I Was an Abusive Husband.  Really? (part one)

I've been married to MisssRobin for 22 years.  I've learned a lot in that time.  So, I've been reading her blogs and I love her writing.  I've decided to tell my side of the mess that is her life.

I was raised in a family of 4 boys and 2 girls.  I was raised with the idea that a man's house is his castle and the wife does what the husband decides after they have talked about it.  After all, I am the head of the house.  As a boy, we (including the girls) fought and wrestled with each other all the time.  I remember my dad saying, "If a girl acts like a boy, treat her like a boy."  So, I did.  I never got into a fist fight with the girls but I would have a hitting contest with one.

I lived in Los Angeles and when I was in 7th grade my family moved to Utah and things went badly for me after that.  We moved mid school year, so I was the new kid.  I didn't know the culture and was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.  I went from being popular at school to being bullied.  I was assaulted by a gym teacher that same year and no one did anything about it.  I went to the principal, school counselors, my parents and no one did a thing.  I learned to hate.  I rebelled.  I hated authority.  I didn't do drugs but I did break rules and vandalized and stole things.  This didn't go over very well with my religious parents.

In my senior year, I found religion.  I had been raised in the Mormon church but it didn't really mean anything to me until that year.  I would skip every class at school but I would never skip my religion class (seminary).  It was the only class I ever got an A in, I'm pretty certain.

I started to trust again and the hate started to fade.  It was still there but now it just smoldered.  I decided to go on a 2-year mission for the church when I was 19.  I was raised to believe that if you live the commandments and did everything you were supposed to do that God would take care of you.  I was also raised with the belief that missionaries walked 2 inches off the ground because they were so righteous.

I saved up my money and entered the mission training center and discovered that missionaries are just a bunch of 19-year old boys and some of them didn't want to be there.  It made my time there really hard because when you go into the training center you are assigned a companion (another missionary) that you are supposed to stay with 24/7.  We were not to leave the grounds; my companion wanted to leave to go to the mall.  I had to make the choice of which rule to break and I was done breaking rules.

I figured things would be different when I got to my mission area in Oklahoma.  Things didn't get better.  My mission president was an ego maniac who would not listen to the missionaries' side of anything.  So if a member of our church would call him and say that we were watching TV all day, then we would get in trouble for that even though it wasn't true.  I felt very betrayed and the hate for authority returned.

Read more here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Hate Money

I hate money with a visceral hatred from the deepest darkest place in my soul.  If you mention the word money to me there is a place in my stomach that clenches and I want to throw up.  I hate money so much.

Money has been many things in my life.  Money has been power that someone else had and used against me.  Money has been a way for someone to control me.  Money has been a substitute for love when money was all my parents had to offer.  Money has been an elusive prize that teases and dances, taking one step closer and then running away.  Money has been an avalanche that threatens the life of me and my family.  Money is my enemy.

And I don't think this is the relationship I am supposed to have with money.  It's not the way I want to feel and think about money.  I am so sick of money controlling my life.

I grew up in a home where I don't remember ever not having enough money to meet our needs and then some.  It's possible my parents had financial struggles, but if they did I never knew about it.  My parents never talked about money.  Except when they fought.

My mom grew up very poor.  My dad didn't.  My mom likes to shop.  A lot.  To the point of an addiction.  My dad has money and spends it when he wants to, but I don't know how he feels or what he thinks about it.  Except I know he thinks she spends too much.  It doesn't stop him from giving it to her; it just gives him something to be angry about.  I have heard him complain and yell about money more times in my life than anything else.  I'm pretty sure money is his God.  And a way to control people.  He gives.  It seems generous at the time.  Then he calls in the favors you didn't know you owed; you didn't know you were agreeing to an undefined contract.  And the only thing my mom ever taught me about money is that my dad has plenty and doesn't give her enough.

He's good with money, but he didn't teach me anything about it.  Except that spending it is bad and smart people know how to manage their finances and if you can't be self-sufficient financially then something is wrong with you that you should be ashamed of.

Yeah, my feelings about my parents and money are kind of intense.

And then there's my marriage.  We've had our share of financial arguments.  We don't have the same approach to money.  And I'm pretty sure neither of us would claim to be really good with money.  But we're grown ups so we're expected to know how to do this.

We've been married twenty-two years.  My husband has been the breadwinner the whole time.  I worked a bit but just because I wanted to.  (My health no longer allows me to work.)  And in this twenty-two years my husband has been laid off or fired ten times.  The longest we went without any income was seven months.  We've been on food stamps.  Our children have been on government insurance and received free school lunches.  In fact, the government paid entirely for the pregnancy and delivery of one of our children.  We've gone to our church for food, clothes, and help with our mortgage payment and bills.  We've lived off our food storage and sold many things of value just to meet our obligations.  We no longer have food storage or savings.  We used these up and haven't been able to rebuild them.

And because of this history, because of the many times we had our electricity shut off because we couldn't pay the bill, I am scared.  Whenever we get paid I want to put the money away just in case.  I have trouble paying bills because I'm afraid that will be our last income.  What if I pay the bills and then he gets laid off?  Then I don't have any money and my family is threatened again.

We've had well-paying jobs (I say we even though they were his jobs) and poor-paying jobs.  We've had more than enough financially and not nearly enough financially.  We've happily worked together on budgeting and spending and fought like crazy about money.  We've tracked our money together and spent behind each other's backs.  And for most of our marriage I have been in charge of the money.  Which meant that even though he earned the money I felt the pressure to handle it well.

I am a smart girl.  I am good at math and organization.  But I still really struggle with money.  And it is still a source of shame for me.

But this thing has been a burr under my saddle for long enough.  I'm ready to kick this monkey off my back.  I'm ready to acknowledge that I don't know what I'm doing.  That I've been trying to figure this out for years and am still not getting it.  That I have serious psychological issues that I need to address.

I'm ready for the battle.  And I'm going to win.

Friday, November 9, 2012

When I Couldn't Do Laundry

I did some whites today.  It was kind of urgent; I haven't had clean underwear in a few days.  Tired on top of sick on top of tired led to me having no clean underwear.  As I loaded the washing machine I thought of how nice it would be to have clean underwear.  And this led me to a sad memory of a dark time.

I've never been a clean freak, or a neat freak, but I always made sure people were clean and had clean clothes.  For years.  And then I went off the deep end.

I've mentioned it before, the year and a half I spent in bed.  I haven't fully written about it for a couple of reasons.  First, my memories from that time aren't really clear.  And second, I'm ashamed of my life from that time.

Maybe ashamed isn't the right word.  I did the best I could.  But I am embarrassed about it.

I still don't really know what started it, why I could no longer function.  I was eventually diagnosed with major depression and we tried some meds, but nothing really helped.  I just had to wait it out and adjust my life.

The reason doing laundry today reminded me of that dark time is because of a moment.  It was the moment I'd worked up the drive and determination to get out of bed long enough to do a load of laundry and my ten-year old daughter was super excited because she was going to have clean underwear.  I went to my room and cried.

No child should ever go without clean underwear long enough to be grateful when they finally get some.

I knew the laundry situation was dire.  I knew they were wearing the same clothes day after day, or cycling through them without them having been washed.  I knew it.  I was sad about it.  It bothered me.  But I couldn't do anything about it.

I had a child come home and tell me no one would sit by them because they said my child smelled bad.  I wanted to write it off as lack of bathing because then it was only partially my fault.  They could mostly all bathe themselves by then.  But that wasn't what it was.  It was wearing dirty clothes over and over.  Including underwear.

It killed me.  But I couldn't do anything about it.  I don't know how to explain the paralysis.  I was able to get them up and off to school (most days).  I was able to feed them (most meals).  I did my best to keep the kitchen clean enough that it didn't smell bad.  And then I crawled back into my bed.

I was barely functional.  I often went a week without bathing.  Days without brushing my teeth.  Unless I had to leave the house.  Then I got cleaned up enough that no one would know.  Because that's what we do.  We kill ourselves to make sure no one knows we are having a hard time.

I missed a lot of appointments.  I missed my turn helping in my children's classes.  I dropped the ball and left people hanging.  I cared.  I was humiliated.  But I couldn't do anything to change it.

I had five kids, 2 years to 10 years, and it was all I could do to keep them alive.

My husband did what he could.  He was working a lot.  Before that I had done everything around the house.  Then I almost completely withdrew from life.  So far that I couldn't even help him see what needed to be done or how to do it.  I don't know how awful it was for him, how powerless he felt.  He wanted to take me to a doctor long before I let him.  I wouldn't let him tell family or friends.  I don't know how he feels about that time because we haven't talked about it.  I tried once or twice, but I don't think he wants to go back there -- even in thought.

I was with a group of women a while back who were talking about helping to clean out a house when someone in the neighborhood moved.  They talked about how dirty it was and how certain areas had probably not been cleaned the whole time they'd lived there.  They ridiculed and judged, asking how a person could live like that.  I said there must have been more going on in their lives that led to the house being that way.  I tried to get them to look at it a little differently.  But I didn't want to speak up too much for fear that it would draw attention to my life and my home.

I'm not a good housekeeper.  I never have been.  But it's gotten so much harder and so much worse since my health fell apart.  It's not that I don't see it.  It's not that I like it this way.  It's just that I'm doing the best I can do.  I'm meeting the responsibilities that have to be met and letting the others slide.  Which often means my kitchen floor doesn't get mopped and the toilets don't get scrubbed.  For a very long time.

So, please, the next time you see someone whose house is a mess, whose yard is overgrown, or who might be wearing dirty clothes, don't judge.  People don't choose to be dirty and messy unless something is wrong in their lives.

We're all just doing the best we can.  And we're grateful when we have clean underwear.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Trust the Forward Path

I will never be the same.  I want my old life back.  If only I could go back in time and do it differently.

It's so easy to find ourselves wanting things to be the way they used to be.  Especially when things are tough or we're insecure about who we are right this moment.  Why do we do that?  Why do we want to go backwards?

This is a forward life.  Time only moves one direction.  There is no going back.  Even if you can change your decision you haven't really gone back and undone anything.  Because you are different.  You have learned something from that experience.  Even if all you learned was regret.

Years ago my marriage was abusive.  I'd lived with it for years and told no one.  If anyone suspected it, they never said anything to me.  And then one day all my life experiences combined to make me see it and face it.  I finally told someone.  I finally decided to change it.

And my world fell apart.

Things got ugly.  Really ugly.  Suddenly my husband was accusing me of having an affair, threatening divorce, and even sleeping somewhere else.  As I melted down and became lost in my misery I said, "I wish I could go back and just leave things the way they were."

But I couldn't.  Because the truth had been told and because I knew too much.  Living with it in ignorance and hidden is quite a different thing than knowingly and openly letting it continue.

Lots of therapy for both of us later, my marriage is good.  We've both learned so much.  We've grown.  We've changed.  We are better individually and together.  Because we didn't go backwards.

Sometimes when I am feeling sorry for myself because I don't feel well, I long for the days of my youth.  I remember all the energy I had.  I remember all I could do.  I remember how fun and bright I was.  I wish I could be that me again.

And then I remember how shallow I was before.  How I knew a lot of facts but wasn't very wise.  How I had lots of friends but no one I could tell my deepest secrets to.  How I wasn't sure enough of who I was to open my heart and trust.

Life changes us.  Sometimes we focus on what we don't have in this moment.  Who we aren't.  And we don't see who we are or who we are becoming.

My life has gone through lots of yuck.  Sometimes I have cursed the path I've found myself on.  But always -- always -- I have found myself somewhere better.  Someone better.

It's comfortable to be who we are.  The us we know.  It's scary to become someone else.  But each person we are is meant to be temporary.  If we remain that person for too long, the glory wears off.  The shiny us becomes dull. 

I have been reminding myself of this often recently.  Trust the forward path; it's never let you down before.

So I'm done sitting in one place longing for who I was.  I'm stepping into who I will be.