Stronger Than Silence
Mindy, 43, mom of 3, social worker, Maine.
Can you describe who your abuser was and how the abuse began?
My abuser is my ex-husband. We were married 17 years and together over 20 years. I was 18 when we met. The emotional abuse, controlling behavior, and manipulation started soon after we met and the physical abuse started after we were married.
Please share more of your story, as much as you are comfortable.
In the beginning, I fell in love with his ability to do what he wanted despite what others felt. I had spent my life pleasing everyone around me and the concept of not doing that was enticing. In the end, this is what broke me. It was and will always be about him and only him. No one else’s thoughts or feelings will ever be important to him. No one will ever have value to him except himself. I was a means of stroking his ego. It’s taking a really long time to come to terms with that and to understand that.
I thought I was in love, that I was going to live out my dream. We built a home got married and talked about children started our careers. It was everything I wanted except I was never enough even from the very beginning. I spent years and years believing it was about my inadequacy, that I was failing, that if I only did better he wouldn’t be so mean, so hurtful. That has been one of the hardest things to overcome. The idea that if I could just do better it would be better when the reality is that no matter what I did it would never be enough. It’s hard to accept that I didn’t deserve his abuse. But I’m learning.
It started off as little things. Controlling limiting time with my family, always questioning. What I learned later was gaslighting started right from the very beginning. I thought I was crazy, and he said that belief always. Made me feel like I was lucky that he put up with me. The physical abuse didn’t start right away, but soon enough. That too I believe it was my fault, that I deserved it, that it was just part of my life. I don’t think I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. Most of the time I did everything I could to make him happy. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and it was hard to tell why.
The physical abuse escalated after her first child was born. I could no longer focus 100% on him. My daughter was everything to me and I would not sacrifice her to meet his needs. He was frequently angry often verbally abusive. The sexual abuse started shortly after. Meeting his sexual needs was no longer an option. And along with that the physical abuse continued. But the mind games, the manipulation, the gaslighting, those were the hardest. My perception of reality changed. I started to give up. I had no value and I truly believed that - he had broken me. But by this time I had three beautifully amazing children gifts that I cherished with all of my being, and despite wanting to end it all I could not leave them. So I fought. Some days I thought for a better life and others I thought to just get out of bed, to just face another day.
Please share more about how you felt during the time of the abuse and what happened or changed to help you start taking steps to get out of the situation?
At first I would say that I didn’t really understand what was going on. It felt normal and I didn’t realize it was abuse. At times I felt hopeless, felt I deserved everything that was done to me, and felt there was no other way. I wanted to believe that if I just tried harder did more wasn’t such a failure, that the abuse would stop. I blamed myself. I felt inadequate, felt like it was my fault, and thought if I just did better it would be different.
The emotional abuse was the hardest. There was ongoing physical abuse, but I could hide the bruises and eventually they went away. The emotional abuse, the manipulation, the gaslighting, all made me feel crazy! He was always in my head making me question myself my actions my beliefs my thoughts my words! I felt like I was going crazy, I felt like I was crazy!
The first time I tried to leave was after child protective services got involved. He had been physically abusive and I had started to not hide it as well. The thought of losing my kids was absolutely devastating. They were my whole world and my purpose, my reason for living. I had done everything and anything to protect them from him including facilitating their relationship with him, making sure they were never around when he was angry, doing everything for them so as not to bother him. At the same time, I had found concrete evidence of an ongoing affair that I had known about for years but denied. I told child protective services that I was leaving and I left! It was an incredibly hard decision, but I would have done anything to protect my children. I left with a bag of clothes for myself and the kids and nothing else. No job and no belongings. I was able to get an apartment with help from family and we stayed there almost a year. but from the very beginning he played nice. Swore things would be better if I came back, promised to change,. He continued to blame me, but made me believe that it would be different.
Eventually we went back and it quickly returned to the way it was. Not long after I got pregnant with our third child and felt trapped. Being a single mom with two children was hard enough, I was certain I could not do it with three. And I didn’t want my children to have to be with him without me there to protect them. The abuse continued and got worse than ever. I withdrew more and more. I stayed another five years. During that time I started counseling and tried to work on being a better wife and mother continuing to think if I just did better it wouldn’t be as bad. Eventually my therapist caught on, saw the bruises. I went to my physician for treatment and the police were contacted. I wasn’t ready to press charges, but because of the physical assault they press charged without me. A protective order followed and when I refused to drop it he filed for divorce. It was the beginning of a four year battle and an absolutely devastating time in my life.
How did other people or resources help you get out of the situation?
I received lots of support and guidance from our local domestic violence agency. There was always somebody to talk to. They helped me to safety plan talked to my kids, and just listened when I needed somebody there. They advocated for me and went with me to meetings with law-enforcement. They helped me obtain a protective order, and sat with me in court. They truly helped me feel that I wasn’t alone. I had kept things a secret for so long and telling others was one of the hardest things I ever did, but I never would’ve gone through it without the support of a couple of friends and family. I didn’t tell anyone everything all at once, but piece by piece and little by little I shared and they supported me. Not everybody reacted the way that I had hoped, but in the end the people that mattered held my hand through all of the hard times.
I will say that my experience with law-enforcement was a complete nightmare, but I have also seen it be incredibly powerful and supportive for others. Unfortunately my ex had strong ties to our local law-enforcement and I was not able to break through that. He has yet to be held accountable for anything that he did or continues to do, but I will not stop fighting.
What is life like now that you have gotten out of the abusive situation? How has it become better?
This is a tough one! If I take the time to look back far enough, I can see the incredible progress I’ve made and how different my life is, but it’s hard to see day to day. I now live in our home with myself and just my children! We play, we laugh, we make messes, and we never walk on eggshells! It is the most amazing gift! It is not easy and it is frequently very hard, but I am so incredibly grateful for the life that I’m able to give to my children away from the abuse. It was an uphill battle. Every day was hard, every second was hard, but I’m in a much different place now and stronger for it and so are my children. I went from being a stay at home mom with no access or control over money to desperately trying to save my house and provide a home for my children.
I still don’t know how it all worked out, how we got by, but today is different. I still worry about money every day, but I was able to keep our home, buy him out, and provide for my children. I Google how to every time something goes wrong and somehow we figure it out. I know how to bleed my furnace, I learned how to cut off the lock, I stack firewood, chase bats out of the house, and we laugh at ourselves and the things we don’t know every day. I have shown my kids a different way, the challenges and struggles are learning opportunities, and that it’s OK to ask for help. Unfortunately they still spend time with their father. I have lots of mixed feelings around this as I know it’s important for them to have that relationship, but I worry so much about their emotional and physical safety. He continues to find ways to manipulate and abuse, but he’s not in my home, he’s not here every day. It is a completely different way of life and I am so incredibly grateful!
What else would you like to say to any women reading your story who are currently experiencing domestic abuse?
There is no right answer! Each story is different despite the similarities. What’s right for some people is completely wrong for others. You get to make the choices. Believe in yourself, believe you are worth more, that you have inherent worth no matter what! You deserve to be loved, you deserve to be imperfect without the consequence of abusive behavior. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, believe there is a life different than the one you’re currently experiencing and go for it and whatever way is right for you! No one deserves to be abused, emotionally, verbally, physically, sexually or financially. No one deserves it!