Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to leave abuse behind

This is me yesterday on the hike William and I went on in the canyons above Logan, Utah (details below). I'm living proof that, cancer aside, life after abuse can be beautiful. (PS: And how did I get this much hair, one might ask. I got hair extensions! In church, a lady asked me what vitamins I'm taking. No vitamins, just some cold hard cash. Worth every penny. So I'm veering off topic here but funny story: Back when I wore a wig, William and I were cuddling up and my wig slid off my head. He knew I wore a wig but no way was he allowed to see my bald head. When I went to sleep, I put on a pink beanie cap. I've learned to laugh at myself so instead of feeling completely humiliated, I laughed it off - hahahaha. Guess what? I'm not perfect. And I'm quirky. And I am who I am and that's the way it is. But I don't have to pretend as much with my hair extensions because these glorious things are real hair - someone else's real hair - and they are glued right in. Progress is fabulous!)

Rebuilding my life after leaving behind abuse at the hands of my alcoholic husband was... interesting.

I can't say leaving was awful. The time leading up to leaving was horrible. Making the final decision to leave was easy. I was sick. My husband spit in my face and screamed at me. That incident was the final straw. I knew I would never be in a room alone with him again. I simply would never allow him to scream at me again. Ever. Even the tone of his voice -- this high pitched bizarre scream --made my skin crawl. So leaving was actually quite a relief. All that pressure and evilness and insanity just... just... vanished.

I can't say it was traumatic. Living with abuse was traumatic. Once I left, the trauma was... over.

It was horrible still reading his hateful texts and emails and voicemails. But I controlled the situation at that point. I didn't have to listen to him. It took me months of the continued abuse before I refused to open another text or email from him or accept another phone call. I should have done it the day I walked out of our home.

And that's what it takes to leave an abusive husband. Just walk away. Pull the trigger. Stop communicating. Let the lawyers handle it. Grab onto your life and your sanity and don't compromise. Nothing is worth more than you, the victim. Put yourself and your children first and protect yourself as if everything depends on it.

An abuser thrives on exerting power over you. For my husband, the way he tried to establish and maintain power over me was to try and convince me that I was shit and without him, I just couldn't survive. He continually reminded me of his great (non existent) qualities. He heaped responsibilities on my head that made it extremely difficult for me to walk away. And then he sat back and put me down- again and again and again. At some point, you just have to do it- get up, walk away, do the right thing. And let the chips fall where they may.

Leaving is overwhelming. But if you start with a list and do just one thing a day, it becomes easier. Stay focused. One step at a time, one day at a time. Sooner or later, the abuse will end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

(Oh wow I'm heavy on the platitudes this evening!)

Here's my list to help get you started:

Step 1: Interview and select a good attorney. If it's expensive, sell your rings, china, TV sets... anything and everything. Trust me, it's worth it. No amount of stuff is worth your sanity, health and dignity- not even your favorite overstuffed chair, graduated pearl necklace, or Stuart Weitzman strappies, as hard as that last one is to fathom.

Step 2: Leave. Make a plan on where you're going to go. If you have children, ask an attorney what your rights are. Perhaps you can get an order forcing him out of the home. If not, prepare for your interim home.

Step 3: Tell your children, closest friends, your boss and most important co-workers, and a few close family members that you're leaving and why. Be honest. Telling others about the abuse is such a relief. No longer making excuses for abuser feels incredibly cathartic. Live your life in the open, in full honesty, and make no apologies to anyone (especially your abuser) for doing so. Do not protect your abuser's reputation any longer. Call it what it is and be matter-of-fact about it. It is not your job to make your abuser look good. In fact, I'll say that it's your job to be honest and truthful and whether he likes it or not is completely irrelevant to you any longer. Let me tell you how amazing it feels to come to that realization. After living in shame and embarrassment, you'll love living in the open- trust me. It'll be a ginormous relief.

Step 4: Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and walk out. Just go. Now don't look back and don't let him try to convince you that you were part of the problem, he's sorry, come back and it'll get better. When you hear this shit, say (let's go, you'll be coached on practicing this below): "Fuck you." How easy was that!

Step 5: Do not accept any communication from your abuser for a period of time. Let your lawyer deal with it. Take time to heal and enjoy your peace. You've more than earned it.

Step 6: Don't second guess yourself. You're doing the right thing.

Step 7: Learn to start loving and embracing your new life filled with truth and honesty. You no longer have to hear his excuses for his behavior ("I'm sorry, I acted that way because I was stressed and once I'm not stressed I'll be a really great guy again, the great guy you love." When you hear the likes of that excuse, look him in the eye and say - now practice this at home because it gets really easy - "Fuck you." If you don't use such saucy language as I do, now is a good time to start. Soon, that "fuck you" phrase will roll right off your tongue and it'll feel fantastic, empowering, liberating and truthful. It's amazing. Not take a deep breath, close your eyes and say it. See how good that feels?

I remember when I was still living with "Rob", my ex husband, I went on several sites to ask the question: Should I leave my alcoholic spouse? The resounding answer was: YES. Run, don't walk. It will never get better. It won't get better. Don't look back. Run like hell.

And, God forbid, if you're dating a man who is an alcoholic (or you think he might be), STOP. If you move forward with an alcoholic, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of pain, anguish, confusion and horror. If you think that you can "cure" him when no one else was successful, you are wrong.

In my case, Rob's first wife left him because of alcoholism. I didn't know until it was too late. She couldn't cure him. I couldn't cure him. An alcoholic can only cure himself. And it takes years of intense therapy. That's what I learned from my ex husband's alcohol counselor. Even if Rob managed to quit drinking, he would still need years of therapy to learn adult coping and communication skills before he'd ever become "normal" and, even then, who knew if he'd become likable? And that's the pathology of an alcoholic. Feel sorry for him because he's sick but don't think for a second you will make it better because you can't. And when you hear his endlessly pathetic excuses on why he's drinking this time but he won't again, what do you say? That's right... "Fuck you." Perfect.

It's been almost two years since I left my abusive home. Yesterday, William surprised me with a get-away. I had never been to Logan, Utah. So we drove the two hours to the home of Utah State University. It is such a beautiful and picturesque town that I just melted when I saw it. We took a hike up into the canyon to Wind Cave. The views were unbelievable.

Afterwards, we went to Bear Lake and did some shopping and went to dinner where I had some of the best ravioli I've ever had. Best yet, we stayed in a gorgeous, romantic and intimate B&B called the Riter Mansion (http://www.theritermansion.com/). Breakfast featured apple pancakes with this delicious syrup that was made from fresh cream and brown sugar. Ok so it wasn't the lowest calorie breakfast but the taste was worth it.
And guess what? During our entire trip, not for a second did I wonder if William might start screaming at me. Talk about peace and joy and ability to live in the moment in a purely joyous way.
My whole point is this: Life gets better. Far better. It might seem impossible or implausible right now but happiness is waiting for you. I compare my get-away with William to my time with Bob and, well, the difference is stark. It's not to say that we don't argue (well, truth be told, in the almost one year we've been together, we've only gotten in two very tiny arguments), but we communicate incredibly well and we respect each other. And not once has he ever screamed at me, made excuses for his behavior, or blamed anyone else for his challenges. What a welcomed change. Not once - and I am not exaggerating - have I ever wondered if or when William would ignore me, yell at me, disparage me, or criticize me. He's never done it. And had I stayed with my ex husband, I'd stsill be living with all of the above. The absence of such abuse in my life is an incredibly amazing thing. I no longer am in a relationship with a "man" who has the emotional maturity of a mean 13 year old bully. There are amazingly good people out there, trust me. Now you get to go find one! You deserve it.
Now take a deep breath and plan your escape.