Surviving Abuse: How I Began To Heal
Rumi, a famous Persian philosopher from the 13th century, once aptly penned: “The wound is where the light enters you.” I wonder what kind of pain he experienced to understand wounds and healing so well.
I was a victim of spousal abuse. Even writing it makes me cringe. I do not like to admit that I was a victim because “victim” sounds like I was weak, but I really wasn’t. I am an intelligent woman, a nurse of 37 years experience. I do have to admit it: I was weak, but only in some ways.
Some of this information is rather personal and painful, but despite his weaknesses, my now deceased husband would do anything to help others. So I will be brave and share my story. I hope the wound allows the light of understanding, wisdom, and change to enter my life — and begin healing in the lives of other domestic violence survivors.
I loved the man I married. We were high school sweethearts. From the observations of others and from my own early experiences, I know he loved me. But as time passed, his own emotional and physical health issues changed him. I also found myself gradually losing some of me and some of him until I truly became “aware” that he was abusive. Then illness, and later death, took him.
The truth is I had no background on how to deal with his mistreatment. I tried to be compassionate and made up excuses to “understand” his behavior. Finally I started to understand that I had to be different to make things different. Now I am strong because I survived, and am healing through understanding and accepting the truth. I have been healing from these wounds since my husband’s death in 2009.
Subtle Changes: Abuse Starts Slowly
I didn’t see the changes in our relationship because they were so insidious and subtle. I simply adapted to them to make things go smoothly–or so I thought. I have always been a trusting, peace-loving person, and when it comes to love, I give my all. I didn’t want to see that things were going awry. Good friends and even relatives told me that things were not as they should be. I also made excuses for him to others. I wanted everyone to know the good, intelligent, kind side of him. I was his rescuer, his defender–more accurately I was his enabler!
I found that people who disliked his behavior liked me, so I’d shift all blame to myself in order to keep the peace. “Oh, he is just upset because I goofed up something, forgot something, broke something, or whatever.”
Later it became, “Because I failed to follow his instructions or do something his way.” In fact, I denied and hid my pain so well from everyone else that I even hid them from myself!
Abusers Can Be Very Intelligent — And Manipulative
Truth was, he was brilliant. He could remember word for word what was said. He was multilingual, speaking English, German, and Ancient Hebrew. In the time I knew him he earned a Bachelor’s, then Master’s then Doctorate degree. But I didn’t have a degree. I was “just” a three year nurse with years of experience (17 years of that were ICU/CCU). I felt under qualified compared to him, which made it easy for me to assume he was always right.
Health Problems And Excuses
After a 36 year marriage my husband died of health problems. Actually in my mind a part of him died gradually over the years. It is not my goal to speak ill of the dead. He was not a monster. He was sick with his own health (physical and other) problems. I saw his self control weaken, his tolerance to stress lessen along with his affection. The quality of our relationship declined along with that of his life.
I still loved the man I married and the good man that was there some of the time. But his problems are not the issue here. No matter what his problems were, no matter how severe or minuscule, no matter how frequent or infrequent, I did not deserve the abuse I received!
I was surprised to find later that not only my family and close friends knew something was amiss, but also my co-workers. My approval seeking, insecure behavior betrayed my secrets. Some tried to make me aware that my husband wasn’t treating me as a loving husband should. But I dismissed them every time with the good things he had done, and how smart and responsible he always was. I could always depend on him when I needed him.
Occasional Violence Is Still Violence
But no matter how much I tried to be a good wife, his behavior devolved from name calling, to belittling, to controlling behavior, to physical threats, and later to occasional violence. Listen to that out loud. “Occasional violence,” as if to say, “It only happened occasionally!” That is wrong! Violence is violence, no matter how frequent or severe! Sometimes I think if the violence had been more frequent I might not have been able to excuse it so easily or explain it away. But being an optimist I seemed to cling to Scarlet O’Hara’s famous line: After all, tomorrow is another day! So I persisted in my delusions that all was well or would be.
So why didn’t I see I was in trouble? I wanted the happy marriage that my parents had. I desperately wanted to continue the happy life I had growing up. I wanted everything to be like it was supposed to be. But it wasn’t.
The turning point of this story came after several years of warnings from my friends. One unique and inspiring book, “Women Who Run With Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., helped me understand that women are not the weaker sex–we are stronger than they are often allowed to believe.
But the most crucial help came from my wise oldest son, who knew what was happening before I did. I realized I had blocked the memories of some incidents that he recalled. Finally I realized that I did not deserve any of the abuse that created my daily walk on eggshells.
Self Blame, Enabling, And Acceptance
Some of the fault for our marital problems are mine to bear. I had my own problems that allowed the abuse to begin, to continue, and to escalate. But … Listen to me! I am already trying to blame myself! NO! I am responsible for my behavior, but not his temper, not his anger, not his belittling.
After his death I realized that I had shut out painful memories to keep my “happy memories.” I believe now that denial was my way of coping with a situation I could not deal with then. After all, why would anyone want to realize how starved they were for attention, affection, affirmation, acceptance, respect, validation, dignity, value and love from their own husband?
Someone who is ready to heal. That’s who.
If any of this sounds like you in whatever relationship you are in, with whoever they may be, get help! Get it now! A relationship like this can take a tremendous toll on your mental, physical and emotional well being. You can survive–but at what cost? How many years will you throw away covering for someone else’s sickness? You are worth more than that, and so is your life.
If changes are to take place you both have to want them, and you both need to get help! I was ready to get help, but my husband said he had gone through counseling training in seminary. He knew it all already and didn’t need counseling.