*The stories of suffering and courage come to us, as one might expect, quite rough with mispellings, etc. We do a bit of clean-up for ease of reading, but we in no way change the details!*
Ascending Out of Domestic Violence -
My Story by Gwenneth Morgan
I was 27 and thought I had finally succeeded in my long standing goal to find the right person for me, the person I would share my life with. He was strong, smart and handsome, with a great sense of humor. He also had what seemed to be uncommon sensitivity and an ability to look at himself objectively, which he seemed to use in an effort to continually improve himself. We were like peas in a pod, obviously meant to be together.
We were both a little wild. No matter. We had already decided that kids were not in our future and I felt sure I could handle the occasional angry outbursts he was prone to. Hell, I had angry outbursts from time to time. I had seen my own parents fight like that now and then, that was normal, right?
We had a few scuffles early on, before we were married. I remember once he came in to the bar where I was working and started an argument with me that certainly could have waited. There was the times he got really angry because I accidentally locked him out or was late coming home from an office job (I had stopped for an innocent drink with a female co-worker.) And once, we got really drunk and almost came to blows in a bar (our friends had intervened with no injuries inflicted.) These incidents were spread out over months and seemed like isolated events. In retrospect, I wish I had taken warning and avoided one of the bigger mistakes in my life.
Decisions got made early on. He made more money than me and wanted to handle the money: "Okay, Honey, you handle the money." Money was always tight (we used to go out all the time!), so we only had one car. I was good at finding jobs close to home because I didn't really like to drive; if I needed to go some where on my own (rare), he had no problem taking me. He did all the shopping and cooking (great!)
He had a nasty habit of letting things get to him to a point where he would explode every now and then, once or twice a year. He would scream at me that nothing I did was good enough, sometimes he would throw things or act in threatening ways. Honestly, sometimes he seemed to scream at me about things that didn't even relate to our life together, as if he was reliving an argument that had happened between his parents when he was a kid. I always reacted to these outbursts with strength. I never thought I was in danger, I was pretty tough.
He had a very rough background, riddled with violence since early childhood, but he had also undergone extensive self development training and it showed when he was not angry. Of course it was also clear to both of us, due to his background and also his training as a Navy Seal, that if he ever did lose control, I could be in mortal danger.
We became pregnant, by surprise, three years into our marriage. For me this was a huge blow. I was literally in denial for the first three months of pregnancy and then only grudgingly started to make the adjustment to motherhood. He was helpful and supportive for the most part, although I had extreme difficulty wrapping my mind around the new expectations the world now had for me. He was studying to become a Master Herbalist at the time and he saw to a full regiment of nutritional supplements while I grew larger, more uncomfortable and more terrified of becoming a mother.
Labor was a nightmare. Fifty hours with a tear that had to be stitched and later became infected. It didn't heal for three months. My beautiful baby turned out to be a crying machine that required every single moment of my attention and it never seemed good enough to stop her crying for long enough to give me a chance to rest. My husband was not much help in the baby care department. The first six months of her life were the hardest I have ever endured. When we finally started to settle into a working relationship, I found my marriage had changed.
My husband probably felt neglected with so much of my time focused on our daughter, but he never really said so, most likely because his rational brain knew that it was a necessary part of the adjustment. He also took on the responsibility of supporting a family as a heavy burden, even though to my mind, it didn't really differ from what he'd been doing all along. His brow was clouded more often and it was harder for him to really relax and have any kind of fun.
At around the time our daughter was six months old, we had a fight that really scared me. I needed some help bringing our daughter and her things in from the truck after having dinner at my Dad's. He sat on the sofa looking like he was going to fall asleep, but we were both exhausted. In exasperation I said, "Can I get some help!" He jumped up off the sofa and came at me like a madman. He had me by the throat, pushed up against a wall with his fist drawn back like he was going to hit me. I was shocked. The only thing I could think to do was reach up and scratch his face. In complete astonishment he released me, then he saw the blood and was really mad. He chased me all around the apartment until our daughter demanded our attention and he regained control over himself. Once we were able to talk to each other, it turned out he didn't remember jumping off the sofa to attack me. He only knew that I attacked him by scratching his face.
This was the moment I started to suspect I had signed up for serious trouble. What could I do? I couldn't leave him, I had this tiny person to care for now that took up every minute of every day. I had no life, no job prospects and whatever I could have made at the time would really have only covered day care and maybe transportation. I didn't want some day care to raise my tiny baby! I felt despair, trapped, and the only practical course of action I could see was to stick with the current plan. I would stop fighting with him to lessen the amount of yelling my daughter was exposed to and I would simply focus on raising her. I thought once she's big enough to go to school I will be free to get a job and make a different choice.
We moved from East Coast big city life to rural Southwest Colorado. It was beautiful, a wonderful place to raise kids. We had a second child, a son. When he was born, I was at a point where I was going out of my mind with the whole stay at home mom lifestyle. I never went any where. All of my activities centered around my two year old daughter. Even if we had people over, I always ended up spending all my time with babies. The children were 100% my responsibility. He would occasionally take them with him to the grocery store to give me half an hour of peace.
I needed something else on which to focus my mind and, since money was always tight, I decided to try doing some kind of business online as the perfect way to stay home with the kids (my first responsibility) and make money. It was slow going. First I had to build a computer, bit by bit, with the help of a techie friend. And then I had a long learning curve to go through to learn to use the computer and do business with it in "spare" time such as nap time and bed time. It took years and I can't tell you how many times my husband encouraged me to simply give up. Once he insisted that I get a job because he just couldn't earn enough to support us. That job lasted one week. I came home several nights to find him asleep in one end of the house with the children awake and playing in their room at the other with a baby gate midway between, so I didn't try too hard to keep it.
Life went on like this for years. I was in the house all the time, I had no friends that I saw outside of school functions, I had no transportation of my own for the most part and every cent I made went to him to manage along with his income. Honestly, I as not entirely unhappy. He hadn't scared me again like he did that night when our daughter was so small. He still had his occasional outbursts, but again, they struck me as understandable. I stuck to the promise I'd made to myself and went out of my way not to upset him. If I had something I needed to say, I would think about it first, sometimes for days, until I could come up with a way to say it without starting a fight. We talked every day and had a good sex life for the most part. It seemed to me that I was experiencing "married life" and perhaps if we could just get our finances under control we wouldn't have the stress that was the underlying cause of the outbursts. Maybe we could be happy after all.
Then, in 2005, my husband decided he wanted us to take a self development course like he had done in his twenties. He felt they had done him so much good back then that we could only benefit from going through it together now. I was reluctant, but agreed. It was actually a fascinating three day course during which we each learned a lot. I started to feel hopeful that we would be able to work through all of our difficulties and be as happy as we'd always wanted to be. We each took a second, week long course individually and gears really started to turn in my head as a result. I was surprised at the respect other people taking the course showed for me, my experience and even my wisdom. Rebellious thoughts I'd had through the years started to demand attention, thoughts like "If I am taking care of the kids, the house and making money, what do I need him for?!" I wanted to talk to him about it, but couldn't. I was terrified that it would start something I couldn't handle. I literally shook at the thought of trying to confront him with my true feelings.
About a year later I read Constance d'Angelis' article, "The 7 Laws to Peaceful Solutions" in Science of Mind magazine which talked about peaceful resolution to conflict. It used a real life example to illustrate the process and in this example the man talked about his feelings about his wife calling the police on him. He said he never hurt her, that it was wrong for the police to charge him. The facilitator in the article asked him if he acted like he was going to hit his wife and he reluctantly admitted he had in an effort to scare her, but he never intended to do her any harm. The therapist said, "That's assault." I was stunned. My husband had done that to me lots of times, but I never realized it was a crime!
At about this same time, my husband's angry outbursts started coming more often (about every three months) and they seemed to be gaining in intensity. In February of 2007 he went completely crazy because he burned his hand on dinner. I thought he was going to put me through a window, he punched a hole in a wall in our home, threatened to kill me and all the while our two children were hiding under my desk in the office terrified. In the end he apologized saying he didn't know what came over him, but I took warning and started to think about what I would do if it ever happened again.
I told my sister about it and asked, if it ever came down to it, would we be welcome to stay with her if I felt I had to leave my husband. She lived a thousand miles away, in California, but she was the closest family I had. She said we would absolutely be welcome and wanted to know if we wanted to come right away. After his apology, I still felt some hope, but told her I would hold onto the information and if I ever felt it was necessary, I would let her know. I had no idea how I could possibly get there, I couldn't even get into town on my own at the time.
Then in May 2007, the day after Mother's Day, he started screaming at me and the kids out of the blue. Shaking, I stood up for myself, which earned me an invitation from him to "take it outside." I tried to explain that I didn't want to fight but couldn't understand why he was yelling at us and we spent a very quiet, very tense evening without much interaction. The next day it took next to nothing to get his anger up and he scared me bad enough that I ended up screaming to the kids (hiding in another room) to call 911. They were too afraid to do it, but his surprise was enough to give me the chance to get out of the house and run down to the local bar (the only business within half a mile) and call the police.
It was only after I called the police that I truly started to understand my situation, the situation I had helped to create and allowed for twelve years. Domestic abuse is not just about hitting. I was told that I was lucky to have left when I did because the pattern I was living with, especially in light of the escalation, was a deadly one and I probably got out in the nick of time.
He was arrested and spent a couple of nights in jail. I didn't know what would happen. The Victim's Advocate who attended his hearing told me he was very angry and suggested I find somewhere else to stay. I had no friends locally that I could ask for help. I called my sister, she was ready for me. My mother paid for bus tickets to California for me and my two children (24 hours on a bus with kids ages 7 and 9!) and I've never been back. We left everything behind, taking one small bag each with our most prized possessions and clothing.
We spent a year with my sister and her family. I earned room and board for us by helping to take care of their home and my nieces. I sought therapy at the advice and expense of the Colorado Victim's Assistance program. I also attended a sixteen week Domestic Violence support group through which I learned a lot. I think the most important things I learned were:
- Domestic Violence probably affects, in some way, the lives of at least one third of the American population. The statistics are absolutely shocking.
-The range of women who are abused makes it clear that it's not a certain personality type that allows themselves to be treated this way. All kinds of women have suddenly found themselves trapped in a situation that came about gradually, but left them feeling powerless. Domestic Violence is a scary sort of cancer in our society perpetuated in part by lack of awareness.
-There are a wide range of programs and services designed to help women who are being abused and their children. Don't think you'll have to do it all by yourself if you're thinking of leaving.
- Abuse isn't just about hitting. So many women suffer abuse in so many ways, and they think no one can help them because their partner is not really committing a crime. It's not true! Abuse is a crime. And there is help for you if you are suffering.
The most shocking aspect of what I've learned since leaving is that I did not recognized all of the abusive treatment I was dealing with. Yes, it all came about in what seemed to be an understandable fashion, but the result was that I was alone and completely at the mercy of a man who scared me and was physically stronger me. Isolation is a form of abuse. Having no say in finances and having to hand over everything you earn is a form of abuse. The condescending male attitude of "women's work" and an uneven distribution of child care and household responsibilities is a form of abuse. Screaming at your partner, putting them down and belittling them is a form of abuse.
I still tried to be understanding. In the late Summer of 2007 we talked briefly about a possible reconciliation, but it wasn't long before he exploded via email and violated the terms of the temporary restraining order that was (and still is) in place. Everything I had learned made it much easier for me to identify the "honeymoon phase" we were going through and the cycle of violence that would certainly continue without extensive treatment.
I filed for divorce in September of 2007 and am still trying to separate myself from him legally and insure the safety of my children in regard to visitation.
As of this writing, my children and I have been in our own apartment for about three months. My family's been extremely helpful and supportive. I have friends now too, who have been great. I've had to take advantage of assistance programs, which was hard to face, but truthfully, I am just the kind of person these programs were created to support. I expect to be off assistance by the end of the year because my beloved business is finally blooming like I had always hoped it would. I guess cutting off 180lbs of dead weight was just what it needed!