Monday, September 23, 2013

What's worse than divorce?

I have a friend who is living in a horrific marriage. His wife is a sex addict and, from time to time, has "dates" with other men. He is living in a special hell that is hard to imagine. But he's sticking it out.

"We have children together," he says. "I don't want to put them through a divorce."

My ex husband, "Rob", and I have children together, too. Ripping my family apart weighed heavily on my mind, trust me. Divorce is awful. It hurts so many people-- the couple, the children, extended family, friends, sometimes neighbors. But there are worse things than divorce and an abusive marriage is one of them. Children living in high conflict homes actually have worse adult outcomes than children of divorce. Of course, how the adults handle the split helps. My divorce was ugly, though I tried in vain to change that. Some things are out of my control and I've learned to accept it and make as much peace with it as possible.

Bottoming out
I know the exact fight Rob and I got into when I knew that divorce was on our horizon and that every day I spent in the marriage was just borrowed time. Just a little background here before I get on with my story: Rob is an alcoholic. A highly functioning alcoholic. And Rob has two different personalities when he's drinking: 1) Happy Drunk: he gets slap-happy, silly, giddy, and excited. Usually Happy Drunk shows up when we are on vacation, or we are having a party, or we are at a party; 2) Mean Drunk: if there is any stress at all in Rob's life, he becomes hateful. Mean Drunk typically shows up when at home. If it's a Sunday, I could almost be guaranteed that Mean Drunk would surface (unless we were on vacation or having a party-- see #1).

Back to my story...

It was a Sunday during football season. It must have been MLK weekend because the next day was a holiday. Rob went to a Chargers game with his brother and I was home with the girls. The reason for the argument was completely unimportant. We were texting each other and I said, "Enjoy the rest of your weekend. The girls and I won't be home tonight." And with that, I put my phone down and gathered the girls together. "Hey girls, guess what? We are going to the Residence Inn tonight, just the three of us, for a little get-away. We'll watch movies, and get pizza, and go in the jaccuzi. Yay!"

I raced upstairs and started throwing a few things into a suitcase. Rob wasn't expected home for hours yet for some reason, I was shaking. Less than 30 minutes later, the girls were in the car and I was putting the suitcase in the trunk. And then I looked down the street and my heart nearly stopped. There was Rob driving up the street- and fast. OMG- he had left the football game early and raced home. I slammed my trunk shut, got into my car as quickly as I could and locked the doors.

Rob jumped out of his car and ran up my door and tried to open it. I was scared. What the Hell was he doing? He started screaming in that high-pitched Rob wail- bizarre and out of control, glassy eyed.

"You're so boring!" he screamed. And he started banging on my windshield. "Hey girls! I hope you have fun tonight. Your mom is so boring! Hopefully she'll have fun with you tonight! Have fun!" And he was pounding on the windshield again and again and again. I found my key, put it in the ignition and looked at the girls. Morgan had tears in her eyes. Siena in the back seat had eyes as wide as saucers. She was laughing but looking scared. She didn't know what response she should have.

And then, as if in slow motion, a thought entered my head. That thought probably lasted just a split second, but yet it seemed like an eternity. I was calm and it felt rational at that moment: "I could put my car in drive instead of neutral and run him over."

I swear to you, my Guardian Angel was with me that second. Because it was almost like a physical hand slapped me upside the head and said, "DRIVE AWAY." And, calmly, my shaking hands gone, I put the car in reverse and I drove down the street towards La Jolla and the serenity of the Residence Inn.

On our way to the hotel, Morgan looked at me and with the innocence of a child who still loves her dad immensely and said, "Why do you let him treat you like that?" And I couldn't answer her. I didn't know. And it wasn't ok. I felt sick.

While it would be more than a year before I left Rob, it was that question that made me realize that I was doing my children no favors by letting them grow up in an alcoholic home. It wasn't ok for me and it certainly wasn't ok for them. Showing them that such an unhealthy relationship was "normal" was incredibly damaging for all of us victims and it had to end.

That evening, I gathered the girls on my bed and we had a little chat. "I want you to know that Daddy has some great qualities. You love him and you should. He loves you. But my hope for both of you is that when you get older, you never allow a man to treat you like Daddy treats me. It is not ok."

Divorce is horrible. But I'm here to tell you that there are worse things than divorce and an abusive, volatile relationship is one of them. There is hope, though. If you're in a terrible relationship like I was, you can escape. And while it's tough, you'll survive it and life can be beautiful on the other side.