God has sustained me through years of domestic violence, and will guide me now that I’m safe from that relationship.
Over 34 years of my life was spent with one person.
I was married almost 34 years. (33 years, 11 months and 12 days to be exact.)
That has ended now. I worked and cried and struggled and prayed and tried again for 34 years, but it was impossible to keep him from looking elsewhere, so my marriage is over. Why do I feel like the one with the Scarlet Letter?
I keep asking myself what I could have done differently, how much more I could have done, how I could have changed to make it work. My head knows the answer: I did everything I could, but my raw emotions keep telling me there was something else I should have, could have done. I feel guilty for not making it work. My marriage failed, therefore I am a failure.
I married my high school sweetheart. Well, he wasn’t in high school–he had dropped out to join the military, but I was in high school when I met him, so I actually married the boy I dated in high school. I was the good girl who was always enamored with the bad boys. Good guys were boring–just like me. I loved the vicarious thrill when I heard what mischief the more daring got into while I wasn’t around. I never thought about what it would feel like to be permanently tethered to someone who regularly broke the law or skated on the border between truth and lies. I never considered how it would feel to be the victim of his lawlessness, or to be held accountable for his actions due to our relationship.
None of my friends liked him, and my family didn’t either, but I was in love and oblivious to reality. I reasoned they just couldn’t understand our enduring love during our dating. I lost my friends one by one, and didn’t fit in with his, effectively isolating myself for his benefit. The night he gave me a ring, we couldn’t go celebrate with mutual friends, so we played cards with my grandparents, godly Christians who wouldn’t turn us away or lecture us about the bad decisions we were making. I cried almost every day the last month before the wedding, but attributed it to pre-wedding jitters or exhaustion. People in love can’t be unhappy, can they?
I survived almost 34 years. That’s what I keep telling myself. Not everyone survives marriage to an abusive alcoholic, but I did. When I doubt my efforts to save the marriage, I have to go back to the darkest days and remind myself of the worst, but I have to be careful not to camp there and set up a massive monument to poor me. It feels like walking a tightrope stretched between despair and depression, but it’s a walk I have to take to avoid the overwhelming guilt and the crippling voices that tell me I didn’t try hard enough and there was so much more I could have done because God hates divorce.
Here’s the trek in my mind today. Wedding pictures show him glowering at the car before we left the church, but they don’t show his cursing and swearing when he got in the car. We ended our honeymoon early because he had a wonderful friend from Washington, D.C. that came in to take pictures of the wedding and he wanted to see his friend off. There was a problem with returning his friend’s rental car, and I waited in our car while they resolved it. They came to the car laughing hysterically. They had lied to the agent and were quite proud of their escapade–the first time I wondered whether I could be liable for his dishonesty. Spending evenings alone in our first apartment while he got drunk with the neighbor. Explaining bruises with lies so convincing that even now, I can’t remember how I really got them. Him banging my head against the cold tile of the bathroom. Wearing turtleneck sweaters to work in a warehouse during a heatwave of 100+ because he had choked me and the necklace left abrasions between the bruises from his fingers that I couldn’t explain away. Coming home on my birthday to find him sneaking out with his buddies to go camping for the weekend (can you say revenge shopping?) his words when I told him we were expecting our first child: “You’ve just ruined the next 18 years of my life.” Finding bruises that matched his hand print on the buttocks of the same child under his diaper. Discovering the same bruises on his youngest sister 10 years later. Loading the kids into the car in a panic to escape from their dad’s anger. Frantic calls and texts to me any time he got angry when I was away from the house, interviews with DHS workers, counselors, police officers, screaming echoing in my head, flinching from fists and objects thrown at me, but jumping between him and the kids when he was angry. Calling the police to have him arrested, the peace for 3 months while he was gone, then the resulting turmoil when he returned. Counselors warning me to escape while we could, an attorney giving me a sliver of hope that I could leave and the kids wouldn’t be forced to have visitation with him, and finding slivers of glass all over the bedroom for weeks after he destroyed things before moving out.
I take a deep breath and leave the pain behind me. I’ve seen more than I need to quiet the voices that criticize me for not doing enough, but I know they’ll return as I put the images and feelings out of my mind, and I’ll have to step out again. I can say I tried my hardest to be the wife that I should be. I put up with years of physical abuse, years of emotional and verbal abuse, and I have watched my kids wither and suffer at his hand. I survived and they did, too.
He chose to register online for an affair (thank you Ashley Madison), and then attempt to justify his actions. I don’t deserve the scarlet letter, and neither do my kids, who have been approached by classmates and teachers asking about his activities online. Some were curious and vulgar, while others were compassionate and concerned, but asking children about their parents’ proclivities never turns out well for the kids. He has moved, but our address, along with his name still circulate the internet and are saved in various files to haunt us.
I wonder if there is a ribbon for survivors of domestic abuse, but wouldn’t we all be afraid to wear it? That’s the reason it continues–you can’t tell the people you live with–they are fellow victims or the perpetrator. You can’t tell your family of origin, because that might lead to further violence. You are locked in a cycle of abuse, silence, resentment, resignation, fear and loneliness.
And yet, the sick part–the part that turns my stomach–is that I would do it all again. And that may be the biggest source of my guilt. I have four wonderful children for whom I would walk through fire. They are the best part of me. They are amazing individuals that make me smile and laugh and cry and worry and drive me to my knees in prayer, thankful for their presence and begging God for their safety and discernment, health and protection.
I’ve thought about this post for quite a while, wondering how I would feel when I could actually write the words that I’m divorced. I knew I’d have mixed emotions, but I didn’t expect the guilt. I thought I was done with guilt. I try to banish it from my kids’ vocabulary, assuring them that nothing they saw, heard, or experienced was ever their fault. I see them struggle to deal with it, and I guess that’s a reflection of my poor coping skills.
I’m excited to see what the next chapter of my life brings. It’s frightening to be on my own, and yet the friends and family members who have surrounded me through this process will continue to sustain and support me. God has sustained me through my nightmares. He is good and will continue to bless me as I move forward. I’m praying for a smoother ride, or for grace to handle whatever loving lessons I need.