Written by: BTSADV Survivor
After 17 years and three children, I found the strength to leave my abusive marriage.
After six weeks of marriage, I experienced my ex-husband’s temper for the first time. I had never seen that anger in anyone before, and I mistook it for intense emotion. I decided that no one had never been so angry with me, because no one had ever loved me so intensely before. I apologized to him for inciting his anger and turned the blame to myself. I found myself apologizing constantly.
I replayed sentences in my head before speaking to him, editing and censoring myself. I learned to speak quietly, to take the temperature of the room as I entered. Trying to find the words that wouldn’t anger him. I didn’t always succeed, so I wore long sleeves in the summertime, covering the dark bruises where his hands gripped my arm in frustration when I said the wrong thing.
My ex-husband is an engaging, charismatic person. He is loud and funny, and he hides his abuse behind countless stories. He could explain away a bruise in such an entertaining way that people walked away thinking he was an adoring husband.
“Check out this goose egg!” he would exclaim, pointing to my forehead. He would launch into a detailed explanation before anyone could ask about my bruises.
“I was opening the door for her, and she jumped out of the car, not paying attention, of course, and bumped right into this.” He rapped his knuckles against his own forehead. He added a head shake, ‘oh well’ shoulder shrug and a good-natured laugh.
“That’ll teach me to be a gentleman,” he would laugh and grab my hand sweetly and kissed the back of it in a regal gesture. He repeated his stories until the bruises faded away. Every time, his audience ‘ahhed’ accordingly and laughed along with him. He was a good storyteller. People told me how lucky I was. I always stood by him during his explanations. I couldn’t bring myself to tell friends that instead of someone adored, I was someone despised.
My ex-husband told me about his abusive stepfather and how cruel he had been to his mother, both emotionally and physically. As the years passed, he began to speak of this same stepfather with reverence and admiration. When we had a son ten years into the marriage, his stepfather had become a hero in his stories.
I knew I would have to leave. I always assumed I could shield my daughters from the abuse, but with a son, I knew things would be different. I would have to break the cycle of abuse. I waited seven more years to leave. I stayed for so many reasons: religion, obligation, social stigma, but mostly fear. I was afraid of him, and I was afraid of life without him. He controlled every part of my life: what I wore, who I saw, where I went.
Seventeen years and three children later, I was a shell of the person I used to be. Years of fear, control, sadness, loss, and pain had shaped me into a person I could barely recognize. Leaving was a painful, scary process. He told me I would have no money. He told me he would fight me and get custody of the children. He told me I was old and no one would want me. He told me I would be saddled with debt and would never recover. I left anyway.
It took me years to remember who I was. My identity was stripped bare; I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted. I didn’t know who to trust or what to believe. I had been told I was wrong for so long that I had a hard time trusting myself. For years after the divorce, he continued to harass me. He sent me threatening text messages and assaulted me in my own garage.
I finally found my voice. I found that exposure was the best weapon I had. My ex-husband was given court-ordered anger management, and strong boundaries were put in place. I added surveillance cameras to my garage and front door.
Five years later, I am a kindergarten teacher in a healthy loving relationship. I am so sad for the woman I was, for the wasted years and painful scars that came from that time. My hope is that people can see signs of abuse for what they are and understand that chronic behavior will not go away.
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