Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mirror, Mirror - Part One

Let me start off by complaining. I'm sick. Again. I have been sick for most of December and January and now, February.
Moving on...
My sweet Catholic parents are having a hard time with this divorce thing. My parents met in high school and beyond a thrilling three-day break-up in Junior year when my mom went picnicing with my Dad's best friend, Ed (who I have called Uncle Ed my entire life), my parents have always been together. They have rarely fought in front of me. They have provided a very stable home environment for me. I'm sure it rocks them to the core that their "perfect" daughter turned out to be such a home-wrecker.
But there you are.
And they're trying to help, but they just can't ACCEPT it.

Mom and Dad say: "Don't give up hope."
Me: "Sometimes you have to give up hope."
Mom and Dad: "We hope you and your dh get over your personal problems."
Me: "Sometimes problems aren't personal."

Dostoevsky: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”
Me: "So I'm finding."

You know you can only admit to others what you are willing to admit to yourself. There is more hidden than I knew...more events rationalized, more memories buried. But they are finding the light.
And their voice.

After a bitter and tiring weekend punctuated by equal measures of grace and anger, I found myself on Sunday night, after the kids were in bed, talking to the bathroom mirror.
Telling all.
I imagined myself talking to my family. Specifically, the women folk, standing and sitting in my aunt's kitchen. Their sincere faces pained, listening. Sympathetic arms around my shoulders and waist. Tears in their eyes. They helped comfort my mom too. Helped her understand.

I realize I'm ashamed. It's humiliating to be in an abusive relationship. I certainly thought I could and would fix it, eventually.
I also wanted to protect my dh...still do. I care about him. I'm worried about him. But I see that hiding the truth helps no one. And hiding the truth is so fucking symbiotic of an abusive relationship. And man, that's what cuts. I thought I was doing what was best for everyone and yet, I find, I was just following some cookie cutter abusive wife pattern. Ick. Big ick.
So...I'm working on that.
And I wanted to protect my family from the information. I've never been comfortable bearing my pain in front of them (read "information" in the last sentence)...and this is a doozy.

So I stood in front of the mirror, crying the shame away.
I have a story to tell. Like all art, it's a story I need to hear first and most importantly. Everyone else benefits by proxy. In the end, all our stories are the same.

I did most of the changing in our relationship, even though on the outside, it would seem my dh would have the most to change. In fact, that became the pattern. He'd rage. I'd cry and admit failure. He would hug me, build me back up by brainstorming ways I could change...for the better of our relationship. Everything from me getting more therapy to me watching less TV. He'd stroke my head, put me to bed and I'd promise to try harder.
My dh had lots of opinions about me. He liked to involve himself in the details of my life. I should practice food combining. I should meditate more. I should drink less coffee. I should use less toliet paper. I shouldn't have my own credit card. I couldn't be trusted with it.

The credit card thing was a big, big moment for me. And so typical in its abusive-wife pattern it makes me sick. Sick because I just couldn't see it at the time and that's frustrating. It's humiliating. Yes it is. But it's true.
He did not want me to have any credit cards. If I needed one, I could borrow his, he said. I won this fight after years of needling (and after our daughter was born...what if there was an emergency?) and so he finally added me to one of his cards after three years of marriage. A couple years after that, it dawned on me that this was not going to build MY credit. I needed to have a card in my own name, period.
So I applied for an American Express card. And got one.
You'd thought I'd stolen state secrets so deep was the betrayal.
Some of our biggest fights were over this American Express card. Not that I ran up non-essential purchases on it or didn't pay it off as soon as it came in. No. It was because I got the card, WITHOUT PERMISSION. But despite his hot breath, literally screaming in my face, I had an epiphany that would watershed over the years.
No matter how he yells, I can still, practically, do what I want. He can't yell me into cancelling my card. When I stood up to him, withstood the raging, and kept my card, it was a major victory to my spirit.
However, to maintain control, he would open my American Express bill when it came in the mail if I didn't hide it first. This was the case still, years later, up until the day he moved out.

Control was an issue.

His rage controlled me. It frightened me. Froze me. Having a chair smashed to smithereens in front of me is no different than a fist in my face. It's a warning. It says: don't push me any farther. Being spit on during a fight informed me that what I had to say didn't matter. Having a glass of water thrown in my face said: I am nothing. Being called names, having the truth of WHO I AM constantly perverted...well, it did something to me.

Until I said, "No more."

I knew it was going to be scary. But I assured myself, that it was just the territory that was new. I was the same old Ellen.

Me: "I can do this. I can change it all. I can tear it all apart and build it back up again."
Joseph Campbell: "You know the rule. If you're falling, DIVE."

(Stay tuned for Part Two...it's a doozy.)


Anonymous said...

"Leap, and the net will appear."
Feel the net. Here are our arms.

Anonymous said...

Abandon all hope. And when others extend it, just realize that it's the best they can offer. Good God, hope is the national anthem. It does not serve. I'm here for the story; I'm sure its a familiar one, but that doesn't make it anything but completely original.

Tam said...

Its amazing how much pain we humans can endure. Then when we stand up for ourselves there are so many to support us. But the ones who dont, dont get it, they are seem somehow in collusion with the abuser. You did suffer wife abuse. That is real. Now that you have expressed it, does it feel less crazy?

Anonymous said...

OK, I need to hear more about your Mom picnicking with Uncle Ed. That's not very Catholic! Thank you for owning up to your role as an enabler of the abusive relationship you had with your dh. That is a great step towards claiming the life you deserve. Be strong! Love, Bri