Lee
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
One in Three Campaign

I was in a 13 year relationship that ended a few years ago in a divorce. Like most relationships, we had our ups and downs, but things were relatively fine for the most part for the first few years. The trouble began within weeks of our marriage. My then wife had always been a very strong-willed person who demanded things be her way all of the time. For the most part, I was happy to play along, because in most cases I didn't see that I would lose or gain anything by arguing the point too strenuously over issues that I felt were quite trivial to say the least.

The abuse began verbally at first. I'd be called lazy if I didn't jump to it when my ex wanted me to do something, regardless of how busy I was. Everything I did was scrutinised and criticised without a word of encouragement. In general, I tried to avoid arguments and see that my ex's needs were being met, but as the frustration in me grew, and as my needs were continually being pushed further aside, it came to a point where I felt it was important to assert myself a little, just to create a little breathing space. From that point on, the verbal abuse started to get worse, and very personal.

Unknown to me at the time, my ex was going to my family members leaving hints that I was being abusive towards her. This was happening even though I had never been critical of her, and had always tried to find some middle ground. I never hit my ex-wife, and never even threatened her. In public, she presented herself as vulnerable and if I wasn't there, she'd present herself as a victim. In private, I'd attempt to walk away from arguments, only to be pursued, threatened and taunted.

After nearly 8 years of this I'd had enough, and our arguments grew louder, and the language worse. Again, I never abused my ex wife, but I'll admit that I had reached the stage where I felt I needed to shout to make myself heard. I am not proud of this, and I regret that this allowed the children to be witnesses to the troubles my ex and I were having. I attempted to seek relationship counselling and was told by the counsellor that I would need to give into everything my ex-wife wanted if I was committed to keeping her around. I would have done anything to save my marriage, sad though it was, and to protect the children we had from the inevitable pain that was to follow. I gave in, swallowed my pride and did everything she asked.

In the end, I had to draw a line when my ex-wife insisted that I needed to physically punish our children. The eldest in particular was reacting to the stress in his life, and my ex would insist that I either hit him, or leave him outside without adequate clothing in the winter. In the summer if I wasn't around, I learned that she would lock the children outside without access to food or drink on 40 degree days, without adequate clothing to shade themselves. Naturally I tried to put a stop to this, and that's when the arguing began again.

In the last two years of the marriage, I had noticed myself waking with bruises, and had woken a few times after feeling something hitting me in the head and face. I started to sleep lightly. At first I'd started to believe that I had hit my head on the side table as I slept, or I would wake up on the floor thinking I'd fallen out of bed. It turns out that my ex had been attacking me during the night, hitting me in the face with her elbow, and pushing me out of the bed so that I would effectively hurt "myself." During one particular night, I remember finding it very difficult to go to sleep, and a couple of hours later, as I lay on my back, I saw my ex-wife swinging her elbow at me. I'd known she was awake because her breathing had been quite too fast and loud to have been real sleep. I moved a little late and her elbow connected just below my ear. She pretended that the move had "woken her up", but I knew differently. My sleep had been quite bad for several years, but during the last couple of years of our marriage, I slept seldom, and woke up extremely nervous. Needless to say the lack of sleep was detrimental to my health, my nerves, and left me fatigued and short tempered.

I began to make plans to leave her. I started looking into hiring a lawyer and trying to find help for myself and the kids. I think that my ex must have become aware of this because she started to make sure I was not alone when I used my computer. I became angry with her for not giving me a little space, and I took steps to ensure I could be alone by removing the power from her computer's monitor. She confronted me about this, and then refused to leave the room when I told her I was busy, having expected her to do her evening workout as she would usually do. She refused to comply and started needling me, taunting and goading until I eventually asked her if I would need to destroy her computer simply so that I could be alone.

In hindsight, that was probably a silly thing to say, and was later used as "evidence" that I was abusive and threatening her. One week later, she predictably started a fight in front of the children, and during the course of the fighting I attempted to remove the children from the room. She grabbed them and at one point her arm was around one of the boys necks. She was so focussed on thwarting me that she didn't even realise that she was choking her own child. After telling her to let go and that she was hurting our sons, I did the only thing I could, and this is the only time I ever laid a hand on her in either anger or fear. I grabbed her wrists, applied a little pressure, and lifted her arms off the boys. I had overpowered her, and at that point she looked at me with what I can only describe as "murderous hatred". She then put on the biggest performance I had ever seen, and made out like I was hurting her. My boys reacted to this and clung to her more tightly, and as I tried to move the boys away from her, she literally threw herself on the floor and pretended that I had done it to her!

She had been abusing me for nearly 10 years, and I had in only a matter of moments ended up in the middle of a situation where suddenly it looked like I was the bad guy. She made a call to some sort of women's crisis line, and the next day she left, draining our bank accounts, and taking the kids away from my parents who were looking after them that day. Two days later, I had a police officer deliver a document telling me that a restraining order was being taken out against me and that I had only a few days if I wanted to contest it. The account on the order was entirely fabricated, but to make things worse, my entire family had up until that day believed that I had been an abusive husband and father. It was only a combination of circumstances that allowed me to prove to them that I had done nothing wrong.

For 10 years my ex had worked hard to destroy my reputation with friends, in the workplace, and with my own family. I had no-one to turn to, and at every turn I had to battle with police, courts, psychologists, lawyers, the kids' school, work, and everyone else who bought into her lies. I was alone, and had a battle to try and protect my kids from further harm. I reached some very dark places within myself before I was finally able to convince others that I was not the person I had been painted to be. It was lucky for me that it was my ex herself that went a few steps too far and created the opportunities that I needed to defend myself.

I'm 41 years old, and have spent about a 3rd of my life the victim of abuse. It's been a long and hard journey over the last 4 years to reach a point of acceptance within myself. I consider myself lucky, and in some ways my situation probably sounds tame compared to some of the other accounts that I have read. Like others though, I have had to battle with anxiety and depression. The net result is that I am financially crippled, and on more medications than anyone should be taking. My health has suffered dramatically. Even so, I consider myself lucky, and I feel stronger because I have found it within myself to battle on and find a way out of the mess of pain I have existed in for nearly 14 years. I feel that my honour is intact, and I have worked tirelessly on my kids to ensure that they can grow up as normally as possible even though their mother is not a very nice person (something I would NEVER suggest to them). I'm lucky because I was able to make a strong enough case so that I can in the end enjoy a significant amount of time regularly with my kids, and that I have my extended family back again.

I no longer feel embarrassed about what happened to me. If anything, I feel I have grown to be more of a man as a result not only of surviving the experience, but also in the way I have conducted myself throughout. If I have any advice for any of you other 'survivors' out there, it is that you should be able to look back at how you conducted yourself, and if you honestly did everything you could to behave with honour and integrity, then there is no shame to be felt. Hold your head high and believe in yourself, and don't feel that you are less of a man for allowing yourself to be a victim of abuse. Feel that you are more of a man for staying true to yourself.

And I hope that instead of painting future relationships badly, that you can see that not all women are crazy, and that you do not need to fear what your future may bring to you. Seek help, talk to your GP, get medication and counselling if you need it, and learn to grow stronger from your experiences, rather than being weakened by them. Don't listen to those insensitive people who tell you to suck it up, because they themselves can never truly understand what you have been through. Remember too, that it is up to you to be willing to help yourself to grow stronger from the experience, but you also need to be willing to ignore the potential for shame and pride to get in the way of receiving the help that you deserve.

You are not alone, and I wish you all the best.

Article originally appeared on One in Three Campaign (http://www.oneinthree.com.au/).
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