Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The EX-files

My ex-husband (we'll call him "Rich") was a marine, 8 years older than me, and was quite the charmer. Having preyed on my complete lack of self-esteem, over the years he was able to mold me into a thin, snobby, fashionista who alienated all family and friends. Add on layers of paranoia and dire financial straits, and you have a girl who felt hopelessly stuck in a lonely and abusive marriage.

We met when I was in my early twenties, and got married after a couple of years together. We got married by a justice of the peace, in the pouring rain, with just two friends and his young son as our "witnesses". Our wedding night was spent with friends getting high in their garage. Nothing says "'Til death do us part" like a fatty and the munchies!

There were times where I would be suspicious about where he was (traveling for work) and what he was doing on those trips...we maintained separate bank accounts throughout our marriage, so I found myself figuring out his online passwords to try and track his activity based on his debit card transactions. He was very slick and convincing, and had an answer for everything. While I knew in my gut he was lying, I had no solid evidence to the contrary, and found it easier to just believe him than to face what I knew to be true.

I also learned the hard way that questioning his whereabouts would quickly escalate into name-calling and more. The very first time he hit me, it was a hard slap across the face. Never in my life had I been slapped before, not even as a child. It stung, I cried and hit him back. I told him that if he ever did that again I would leave him. That "threat" would repeat itself over the years. He knew I wouldn't leave. His response of course, was that he hadn't hit me nearly as hard as he could have, and to not be such a baby. Around the same time, he also decided that whenever he was unhappy with me, an acceptable pet name for me was "c**t". Yes, the word that makes just about every woman cringe and shudder. I became so numb to that word, it stopped having an effect on me.

Over the course of our marriage I had many outlets for the pain I felt. I drank a lot, smoked a lot, and had a lot of sex. Rich either never suspected, or just didn't care. In retrospect, I desperately wanted a man to love me and care about me, and put me first. Having an affair made my reality so much more bearable. It was how I survived. It was a vicious cycle that left me more lonely than before, and sinking further into the self-depricating hole of alcohol and drugs.

It took 4 years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse for me to build up the courage to leave. I connected with a counselor using my company's Employee Assistance Program (a free service offered by most large companies). In just a few sessions, my counselor was able to help me to see that I did not deserve that kind of treatment. She helped me to see that while difficult, I could and would find a way to leave him. It wasn't without sacrifice of course - I lost many "material" things, and among other things our house was foreclosed on, but it didn't matter. Once she got me to see that I DID deserve better, and that I COULD do it on my own, it was life-changing. Almost 10 years later I can still feel a twinge of that self-empowerment. I was unstoppable!

I told him I was leaving, as I'd done many times before. He had no reason to believe this time was any different, until I started bringing boxes home, and had him served with papers for a separation (required in that state before I could formally file for divorce). All of a sudden he became the most loving, apologetic man I'd ever seen. Fortunately I was still seeing my counselor, who helped me stay confident in my decision. He was manipulative, and he was good. While I wavered a few times and questioned myself along the way, in the end I never looked back. Once he knew I was leaving for good, the "real" Rich came right back, with all kinds of mud-slinging and horrible names, telling me no one would ever want me and he never loved me - and oh by the way all of those times I thought he was cheating, he was.

I changed my phone numbers and blocked his email addresses. I hired a lawyer and only had to see Rich one more time, in court for the divorce hearing. He never looked me in the eye. He had lost. He had lost the power to control me, and without that power, he had nothing.

Without God's grace and unconditional love, I shudder to think where I might be today. I still stand in awe that God has since blessed me with a wonderful, loving and caring husband, and an amazing little girl. I've often wondered why God chose to bless me in these ways, after I'd strayed so far from Him. Rather than questioning His motives, I think I am better served by sharing my story. Being open and vulnerable can be very scary, but with God beside me, I am unstoppable.