I cannot remember the day or moment this happened. I cannot remember what I did or said that precipitated this violent action, but I know it was my fault and it was a warning to me. I still have this door but hang a dream catcher over this hole and usually ignore it. But lately, I haven’t been able to ignore it. Lately, I have wanted a newer, more perfect door.
The thing of it is, this door is still good, although it is broken in this one spot. It was perfect before it got hurt. It closed when I wanted it closed and opened when I wanted it open. The lock on the knob is perfectly functional and always has been. For practical reasons, this door IS perfect. But, it’s blemished. It is ugly and broken. I have to hide a piece of it when people come over, so they don’t see it’s brokenness.
My marriage was like this door in many ways. It functioned ok, as a marriage. I could put someone’s name down as my emergency contact and knew he was legally obligated to be there for me…. although he actually never was. My kids had a daddy at home, but really he was a bully and a tyrant most of the time he was actually around. Everything was his way or else. I wasn’t abused, I was just married to a difficult man with PTSD. And anyway, I was married, so you just deal with these things. In sickness and in health….
In 2014, I came across a graphic similar to this one, in the bathroom of a biker bar, where I had had a few too many drinks and wanted to go home, but was trying to hold myself together to get through a few more hours of “church night”. See, my husband was in a motorcycle club and on the weekend I was often riding on the back of his bike, from club to bar to party…. love me, see me, like me for being what you want me to be… The crane wife refrain.
I hadn’t spoken to my father or sister for over a year, because in their words they couldn’t stand to see me be abused. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t abuse, it was PTSD. That was my other refrain. “He used to be different, before. It wasn’t always like this. He wasn’t always like this.” I’ve seen other examples of this wheel and at the center there is sometimes a single word, DENIAL.
Even tipsy, I was able to read this wheel, taped to the inside of a toilet stall. I wobbly stood there in my too tall heels and too tight jeans and read each section. Twice. As I read through the first time, I started thinking “oh, I know what that is like” and “oh, that has happened to me.” The second time I thought, “wait, is there a section of this I haven’t experienced?” And the answer was no. I had experienced every type of abuse in the Power & Control wheel.
I rocked back a bit on my heels and sat down on the lid of the toilet seat. I squeezed my eyes shut, as though I could unsee and unknow what I’d just read. How could I be abused? I had a great career. I ran a non-profit. I was a good mom and a good friend. I was a great wife. His friends called me “Saint Allie” and saints can’t be abused. Oh wait, martyrs. Shit.
I wish I could say that I saw this and woke up in that moment and walked out and never looked back. I wish to every god every person in the universe prays to that was the case. But I didn’t.
Did you know statistics show that it takes 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship for good. SEVEN TIMES. It’s been studied so much that not only does it take 7 attempts (on average) but also there are identifiable stages to leaving an abuser.
Stage 1 & 2 – You start to not care for your abuser any more. You disconnect emotionally from the abusive relationship.
Stage 3 – You start to notice the effects of the abuse, and start to make preparations to leave, and leave the relationship. (You LEAVE in stage 3!)
Stage 4 – You go back to the relationship. This stage includes a lot of back and forth. Survivors (not victims) need clarity but also want support and seek it physically and emotionally within the abusive relationship.
Stage 5 – The last stage is leaving the relationship for good. Being out of the relationship for 6 months or more marks this stage. Sometimes people cycle through Stages 3 & 4 multiple times before they reach Stage 5. (I did.)
There are lots of reasons I stayed. I loved him. I knew what to expect. I knew how to act to keep things mostly calm. I knew how to handle it when things weren’t calm. I knew how to protect my kids when he was “having a bad night/time/day/weekend.” I knew that it wasn’t really him that was acting this way, it was some broken part of him. I knew that if he just stopped drinking so much or using drugs, he would be better. And sometimes he was GREAT. I knew that if he just had the right support from the army after his deployments it wouldn’t be like this. And what would I do anyway? Move back to my moms? My dad wouldn’t help me. And frankly, I didn’t want their help. I’d made my bed, I’d just deal with it. (So damn stubborn and stupid.)
The reason I finally left is much, much simpler. I finally realized I would rather live a life that I don’t know than the one that I did. I would rather be brave and face the uncertainty of life on my own than live with him making me feel small, calling me worthless or fat or whatever fill in the blank awful thing you can imagine, and have to wake up to him every day for the rest of my life. I had been his best friend and he had been my best enemy for the better part of two decades and I was finally done.
I look back at this wheel now, which I looked up to share with someone else recently, and it baffles me that I ever allowed myself to be abused. But, I didn’t allow it. It happened slowly. It crept up on me a little bit at a time and in a way that was familiar. My dad and my ex husband are so similar it is really sickening. To be fully honest, that scares me to death for my children. I tell them all the time how much I love them, how valuable their existence is, what wonderful qualities they possess, all in an effort to build them up so that no one will ever be able to tear them down the way I was torn down, first by my father, then by my husband.
But, I didn’t allow it. I got consumed by it and it took everything in me to get out of it. I thought my door was perfect, that it still did most of the things it was supposed to do. I thought I could hide the bad parts and just keep functioning. But the brokenness inside me grew. It wasn’t a fixed shape hole, it grew and grew until I all but disappeared inside it.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, or if you are in an abusive relationship, know that there are resources to help you. If you read the things on the wheel and ANY of them sound familiar, know that it will only get worse. The darker outside ring of the wheel is the next step. Once the abuser feels they aren’t being “respected” or that they are losing control, they will escalate to physical and sexual violence. There is nothing you can do, you cannot do enough to please them, you cannot do anything to protect yourself from this inevitability except leave.
If you or anyone you know are being abused, here are resources for support:
Women’s health.gov to search for resources by US state.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline provides educational resources, support forums, counseling, and legal assistance.
Crazy isn’t part time, but it doesn’t have to be the full time life sentence you choose to take. Abusive relationships can come in all shapes and sizes, orientations, legal definitions, socioeconomic demographics but they can be left behind and you can heal.
I wish for all generational curses to be healed,
For all beings to know peace,