Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How This Happens (At Least In My Case)

I am only speaking for me, and me alone. I do not know how women stay in physically abusive situations, but once was enough for me, and it was a clear and easy choice to make, and thank God I had friend and family support to be able to do it. (I have been shamed for asking my friends for help by my soon to be ex-sister-in-law, who told me that I should be "HUMILIATED" for actually asking for small donations during that time of crisis. Never mind that the PayPal "DONATE" button has been on my website and that of nearly every blogger I know for years, as a kind of virtual "tip jar." I never got an answer from her about how SHE would have survived on $20 during those days, had it happened to her, except that of course it wouldn't happen to her, because SHE "married a GOOD man." Oh, well. But the shaming? It's stupid, and it didn't work. All of you who helped out know that if I can't pay it back, I'll pay it forward someday, and I have a post upcoming about all of that.) But now is the time to address the most commonly asked question of me right now: "Why? Why did you stay in this mess for so long?"

Well, I believe that I have an answer for that. I've noticed that in many cases of people hanging on to marriages with actively episodic mentally ill spouses, they profess themselves that they have histories of being co-dependent, and of consistently choosing the "wrong" type of partner for themselves. They speak of growing up amidst chaos, often with rampant untreated mental illness and abuse. There is the tired but necessary (because it's true) cliche of the "endless cycle" of the abuse victim. She/he was abused or witnessed abuse as a child, and grows up to perpetuate that pattern, either as the victim or the abused. And while I was only physically abused once, I can now look back with great clarity and recognize that I have been in an emotionally abusive marriage since...well, almost Day One. I have been controlled, I have been monitored, I have never been allowed to be alone, and I have walked on eggshells so much that I think I might qualify as a deerstalker now. I had even discussed with my husband, many times, just how his behavior was abusive to me. I should not, for example, have to sit in a doctor's office and cry because my husband refuses to leave and go to the waiting room so that I can have a private visit. That right there? ABUSIVE. Controlling. NOT OKAY.

"How?" you ask. "WHY?" you ask. Those of you who've known me for a lifetime have been more blunt: "Belinda-- YOU? Why did you stay?" Listen, it's not just friends and family. On my first visit to my therapist (who had been my husband's and my couples counselor) and was filled in by phone on what was going on, I sat down, he looked at me quietly for a moment, then just asked that famous question: "What took you so long?" He has been asking me, literally for years, what was keeping me in this marriage. And my response to him was always in the form of a question of my own: "If I leave, what will become of him?" He had been through so much, and needed so much help, and someone to fight for him...and by gosh, I had all those qualities, and was up to the task! Also, the thought of my daughter's father (who I loved fiercely, and STILL love, though the quality and nature of that love are evolving into something solid but totally detached) being without medical care, without support--he always insisted that he had "nowhere to go"--possibly even winding up homeless, was just more than I could bear.

So we discussed this a bit, the psychologist and myself, and besides the fact that I AM a habitual "fixer"-- of animals, of problems, of people--always the peacemaker (thanks, Mom! Although I wish I'd pulled it off as well as you have!), I believe that I landed upon a theory, which I would like to share with you. I KNOW that there are many out there in this exact same boat, the ones who never "fit in" at the Al-Anon and Narc-Anon meetings, or the NAMI support groups, or the Bipolar Significant Others online support group (may God rain blessings down on all their souls), so here we go.

I am not damaged goods. Not now, not at any point in my life, and most importantly, not when I met my VERY charming husband. I did not come from a "broken" home, much less an abusive or even mildly dysfunctional one. I grew up my entire life with a living example, in my parents, of what true, selfless, mutual love and respect looked like. They literally loved each other to distraction until death parted them, and shared that perfect love with my sister and me. I was a ridiculously happy child, as was my sister. During our young lives, we were scratching poor at times, but we never knew it. We had everything that we needed, and then some, in our loving, amazing family.

At the time I met my husband, I had never had a relationship with a mentally ill person. Heck, HE didn't even know he was bipolar at the time; how was I supposed to spot it? (I can spot it at least three miles away NOW, so if you are wondering about someone, run it by my MI-dar.) I had never had a relationship with an alcoholic, or even with a drinker. I had never had a relationship with a drug addict or user. My dating history was a GOOD one. And when I didn't find anyone who suited my rigorous demands, I just happily spent time being single. And LOVED it. Didn't get married until I was 34, and up until then was perfectly content with the thought of being forever single. I did want children, but I was prepared to make that happen on my own. Thinking back, I have never had a relationship with ANY man who was not respectful to me and solicitous of my needs. Never. Some of you reading this may BE one of those men, and for this, I thank you.

I never, in my life, went for the "bad boy." (Well, unless you count Nicholas Cage in "Valley Girl," and I think we can all agree that we do.) Never. I wanted a man who held down a job, knew how to save money, loved animals and kids, and opened the darn car doors for me and carried my heavy stuff. That's pretty much it. I never wanted lots of money, or a big house, or fancy cars (*mentally pats her faithful 10-year-old Tahoe, which runs like a dream, and is paid for, so will be run until its wheels fall off*), or anything like that. I wanted love, honesty, and respect. And to be frank, these were not things for which I needed another person. I felt whole and content on my own, and quite comfortable in my own skin.

When my husband came along, he absolutely seemed to fit that bill. He was charming, romantic, dashingly handsome, intensely masculine and strong, funny, smart, and most of all...he just "got" me. We hit if off and were engaged within weeks of meeting. In perfect hindsight, there were warning signs, things that were "off." But I was so happy with him, and so much in love, that it was easy to shoo those nagging little doubts away...especially since I'd never before encountered them. He reminded me of my dad in so many ways in the beginning, and when you had a father as wonderful as mine, that's a huge, huge thing.

As those of you who've followed my 'blog for years know, things went sour fast. They got really bad when I was pregnant, which led to hospitalization, residential rehab, and putting him out and officially separating. But then he did "all the right things," and he had, at long last, a diagnosis. He was bipolar. There were medicines that could keep things in check. It was FIXABLE. Except then it happened again. Florid mania that broke through the medication, then running (a term used among significant others of bipolar people that means just taking off for days, weeks, and in extreme cases even months on end), which in our case usually lasted several days...heck, my husband disappeared for 4 solid days as soon as we got our newborn baby home from the hospital. And then came the second episode that almost ended the marriage: once again, breakthrough mania, followed by drinking, and then heavy drug use, and finally just disappearing, accompanied by extremely risky sexual behavior. There was, ultimately, another hospitalization, followed by inpatient rehab, followed by an Intensive Outpatient Program for alcoholism and drug addiction.

And I took him back. Despite the indignities inflicted upon me by this person who I loved and had trusted, I took him back. And people were confused, baffled, even angry with me for doing so. But here I fall back on my personal history up to that point. THIS SORT OF THING DOES NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFE, combined with the hubris of, AND I AM IN CONTROL OF MY LIFE, AND I WILL DARN WELL FIX THIS, TOO. I absolutely could not accept that I (I never thought of it as "we," which is sort of telling) would not get this thing in check and keep it stifled, and that things would be OK. And sometimes, it seemed to work, so I would be vindicated for my optimism and hope. Click, click, came the pellets, as I pushed that lever faster and faster.

Some of you are internally screaming, "DENIAL!" Well, yes and no. It wasn't that I was denying the reality of the situation; it was more that I was absolutely refusing to ACCEPT the reality of the situation, because in MY reality, this was alien and would be dealt with Sigourney Weaver-style, accordingly.

But even I have my limits. Some of you may have noticed that in the weeks prior to the domestic assault, I had changed my Facebook status from "married to Alex Miller," to, "it's complicated with Alex Miller," and then simply, "it's complicated." The things I was learning at the time were finally, finally piling up enough straws on this camel's back that I knew the breaking point was coming, and coming soon. When I discovered things like secret P.O. boxes in the next town over, credit card accounts opened fraudulently in my name, having my prescription medication stolen and sold to cover debts I hadn't even known about (on our last bank statement, despite having had $4500 wired into the account from who knows what source, there were STILL over $1700 in bank fees alone, for returned checks, NSF charges, etc. $1700, account completely in the red, and $s4500 wired IN. And nothing to show for it that I could see). It was only later that I discovered his dating history of the last several months (Craigslist "Casual Encounters" FTL, plus multiple subscriptions to "Adult" dating sites), but at the time, I had come to realize that, however much I might love this man (and that was a LOT), I would never, ever be able to trust him...about anything. I had pretty much made up my mind that it was over, barring a miracle, and to be honest was likely within 6 weeks or so of filing anyway. Arkansas is a no-fault state, so I don't even have to have a reason for getting out, beyond "personal indignities."

The way that this is going is SO not the way I wanted it to go. Again, because the way I was brought up, problems were not shoved under a rug, or pandered to so that they'd go away. They were exposed to the harsh light of day, discussed, and DEALT with, and then everyone got to move on. Nothing festered. No one held grudges, or kept score. So it is exceedingly difficult for me to have to deal with my husband as though a stranger, through lawyers and restraining orders and the courts. My desire and instinct is telling me to sit down with my husband, and calmly discuss and end this. To find out what he wants, and do my best to give it to him, within reason, so we can both move on with our lives. I mean, he's already been "dating" for several months, and having a whole other secret life, so why would he NOT want out?

So since once again it's too late to say "long story short," I suppose I'll sum it up: Why did I stay? Well, aside from the fact that I loved him, I felt responsible for him. I was his conduit to the rest of the world for years. Anyone who knows anything about me knows how I fought for him, how I advocated for him, and how I became an activist in the realm of mental illness awareness and support. I fed, clothed, and even bathed him during the months following the ECT when he couldn't care for himself...that was another time that I had one foot out the door, and then this debilitating brain injury happened, and what kind of person turns someone out with no support during a time like that? Well, not I. In all this, I had my daughter to consider. That is the key thing to remember here.

I kept secrets over the years. LOTS of secrets. I did it for my daughter--not just so that she wouldn't know about the Horrible Things I've Never Told Anyone, but so that people would not look at my daughter's father and only see those things. In protecting his image, I was protecting her innocence. I'm really hoping that none of that has to come out in court, for that very reason. Since the day we met until the day I fled the home, I have always been 100% faithful, honest, and trustworthy to my husband. He has not. But I stayed.

I stayed, because I could not accept that these things were happening in MY, up to then, idyllic life and that I couldn't make them stop by sheer force of my own will . I stayed because the three of us as a unit were very important to my daughter. I stayed because I felt responsibility for my husband's care, and could clearly see the burden of guilt I would have to carry for "abandoning" him. I stayed because I loved him. And at long last, finally, when he attacked me physically, I left. Immediately and with extreme prejudice. There won't be a second chance at that kind of thing.

This has been rambling and tangential at times, but I hope that I've answered, somewhat, the question of why "someone like me" would put up with all that's been done to me over the years. In short, it's not because I was "damaged." It's more because I was UNDAMAGED. And you know what? I still am.

P.S. Let me share with you possibly the WORST thing to say to someone in my, or a similar situation, when discussing the sins of the spouse. That would be any variation on how YOU would "NEVER put up with that." Shut your hole. Just shut it. You do not know what you would "put up with" until you are challenged and must answer that for yourself. It is not your job to make someone who's already feeling sad, defeated, betrayed, and foolish aware of just how superior YOU are, since YOU would never get into such a sordid situation in the first place. Bully for you, you win at smug. But you might want to check over your own shoulder every once in a while...just in case.


  1. Hi Belinda. I've read your blog for years and am so sorry for what you are going through right now.

    As for answering to anyone on why you stayed, quite honestly, it's not their business. You did what you felt was the right thing to do at the time. That's all that matters.

    I appreciate that you honored your vows/marriage and your family unit. You were trying to protect your child. All too often once people hit a "rough" patch, they just give up. I'm not saying there are not reasons to leave a marriage, because there are, but sometimes people just want the easy way out, and won't do the hard work. I admire you for all you've done.

    I truly wish you and your daughter well.

  2. Belinda, I think you are amazingly strong. For staying, for leaving, all of it. Much love to you.

  3. OMG.. my upbringing story could be yours!! Loving family, innocent of many things, etc. Wonderful childhood, isn't it? I find, though, that it calls to those that are broken. They want to find that life, too. And the only way they know to find it is by joining with someone that has it. Then, they suck it out of us, because they don't know how to do it... and they ruin it. Even if they AREN'T bipolar, they'll frequently screw it up.. because they don't understand what it takes to have it.
    I'm so sorry you had to learn this lesson this way. I applaud you for staying so long, and trying so hard. I agree with the first commenter.. People give up too easily, nowadays, so I admire you for all the hard work you tried to do. Alex tried, too.. he just doesn't have the capability. I'm very glad, especially for Bella's sake, that you were wise enough to ask for our help, and accept it. I know you'll pay it forward, and go on with much more wisdom about life, and raising Bella. I've stayed single, and am happy, and you may, also.. but if you find someone, I know you'll be much wiser about the signs you need to see. I pray for y'all and hope for you muchly.. (need grammer lessons?) And I pray this will all come out as it should.. HUGS to both of you.

  4. Belinda I think you are utterly remarkable, and are handling extraordinary stresses with such aplomb.

    I wonder if there is more going on than his bipolar issues, because he doesn't seem to have much conscience. If you had never dealt with that either, however would you know how to watch out for certain things? You cared deeply, but were smart enough to exit when that caring meant harm for you and could have meant harm for Bella too.

    Each relationship is different, so no one can walk in precisely your shoes though we may be able to relate to parts of your experiences. I doubt, hope anyway, no one really means to criticize you, but rather is expressing care and concern. I know you will get through this rough patch and will not only survive but will thrive, am cheering for you, Bella and your critters too!

  5. I think your underlying reason for staying with Alex is COMPASSION. What people fail to understand is how tightly this illness grips the person who suffers from it. A compassionate person senses their cries for help and responds. In time, however, the mentally ill person tires of fighting the urges because it takes great effort and thus gives in to the illness. He/she allows "the beast" to take over because it's too exhausting to fight it. And it's at this point that the compassionate person can be blindsided - they somehow believe that they can pull the sufferer away from "the beast" and back to reality, until a crisis happens and they realize they have to save themselves as well as their loved ones. Bravo to you, Belinda. You know in your heart that, for the most part, you were motivated to stay because of your great compassion for Alex. You have learned a lesson many people never understand - that God shapes our character through suffering. You have demonstrated a great strength of character, which I am confident you will pass along to Bella.

  6. this is an important post. You are right, no one knows what they would put up with, and your choices were the right ones for you at the time.

  7. I can tell you how it happened for me.

    Have no real good role model for a mother.
    Marry a man that I thought I could make better.
    Marry a man after giving a child up for adoption.
    Marry a man who was married 3x before.
    Marry a man who chose to blame all of his life's issues on the women in his life and take none for himself. And I was stupid/naive enough to believe it.
    I never knew said man was bipolar. Just thought that everything was my fault. From how I walked to how I talked to the clothes that I wore to the weight that I am. Everything was a problem.

    I finally had to get to a point where it was him or me. I chose me. I had to. I am glad that I did it. I would not recommend a woman drive across America alone, but I did it. I own it.

    But I am so much happier now. Life does get better. Sometimes you just have to get over the really rough spots first.

  8. Rock on, Belinda. Seriously. xoxo

  9. Hugs and strength for your journey. You are beautiful.

  10. You did the very best that anyone could do with the knowledge, resources, and understanding of the situation that you had. No one else has been in your situation -- perhaps a similar one, but not yours -- so they don't know what it was like, or the compromises you had to make, or the challenges you faced. Just you.

    I think when people say things like, "I NEVER would have put up with that", it's partly because they're willing that to be the case. They don't want to imagine that life gets complicated enough that we see it differently in the middle than we do in the end, or that things look different from the inside than they do from the outside.

    All I can say is that I wish you hadn't had to put up with that. That you didn't deserve to be lied to or taken advantage of, or abused in any way. You didn't deserve to have to worry or walk on eggshells or keep the peace when the other person in your marriage just wasn't putting the same effort in.

    You deserve the freedom that is beginning now, however hard fought it has been. I think you're owning it beautifully, just as you have owned every other challenge, and will own challenges in the future.

    And screw anyone -- *anyone* -- who would defend his behavior or call yours into question. I don't even have enough incredulity left over when I think about his actions to blink at yours.:)

  11. I haven't commented much, but have lurked through this whole process, and brava, Belinda, BRAVA! This is so well-written and speaks to many, many women I know who've lived through 'the same song, different verse,' situations. I am familiar with both the damaged and the undamaged goods scenario, as I did grow up in the shitty Jerry Springer family, but worked on myself to be healthy and undamaged only to go through things I never thought I would have tolerated in my own marriage. Blessings to you and Bella and prayers that you will continue to rise above the rubble - beauty from ashes, as they say.

  12. What everybody has said so far plus just remember that you deserve better.

    (And I dated somebody like Alex in high school. Can you say that I am so glad he cheated on me and got me out of that mess?)

  13. You don't owe anyone an explanation. When we know better, we do better, as Maya Angelou was wont to say.

    Thank you for your transparency in this situation. I know it will help many women who are where you are.

  14. Ditto to all of the above. What a beautiful attempt you made to share your beautiful life with someone who just was to ill to really embrace what he'd been gifted. It has always been so evident how strong you are and the source of love within the family from which you came. You are definitely not now or were you ever broken.
    We're pulling for you (and Alex)! I wish I had the presence of mind to so aptly sort things out amongst all the emotion involved. You will stay strong. I'm very proud of you!!
    Love to you from Michelle...whose known you since you brought that newborn home, shortly after mine came home. :)

  15. Oh, Michelle. How I wish I could/would have shared all this with you guys while it was happening. It would have been such a relief, and maybe you could have slapped some sense into me. But then again, if I had done that, my daughter wouldn't even KNOW her father, and from where I stand now, I wouldn't take that away from her. It's just so hard, isn't it?

    And bless you all for the tears rolling down my face right now. They're sad/happy/relieved, and most of all, cleansing.

  16. Re. the "I would never put up with that" - I agree with Meg. It's like whistling in the dark or like saying "that will never happen in my life so I will never have to deal with it." But I can image how hurtful it would be to hear, so don't think I'm trying to excuse it - just maybe explain it.

    When my dad died lots of people came up to me & said "I could never deal with something like that." Which was stupid, of course they could and most people will if they live long enough - they just didn't want to believe it could happen to them.

    I'm so sorry for all that you've been dealing with. It will get better and you're doing the right thing (even though you probably don't need to be told that). Keep being strong ever when you don't feel you're strong.

  17. I've said stuff like that, that I would kill someone before I'd let them kill me, that I'd "never" this or that. I've never said it to anyone's face but I've thought it and I've said it to other people.

    I like full disclosure between you and me. You know.

    And I did that, said that stuff, because I was so terrified deep down of knowing that I probably wouldn't. It's not an excuse, it's just the broken parts finding unfortunate words and saying them aloud. I don't do that anymore, haven't for a long, long time, because living through situations you'd never dreamed you'd tolerate, learning that once you're afraid of someone even for a second you can never really be totally unafraid of them again, tends to knock those ideas out of a girl's head. I don't say I'd "never" do much, anymore. Hard to say, impossible to tell.

    You are strong as hell. I am continually amazed. I love you.

  18. I understand completely. I was in an abusive (alcohol)relationship for years. It was hard to get out. Now he is brain damaged and I still care for him. I should have got out years ago but it is not so simple..............

  19. You took your vows seriously and tried to make the best out of an increasingly difficult situation. How could anyone knock you for doing that? The line has been drawn and now you put that energy into yourself and your daughter. Things will get better. It will be difficult -- but better.

    I divorced a few years ago. I never thought I would be in that situation. I took my vows seriously. The best thing I did was give my ex-husband plenty of rope and watched him continually "hang our relationship" over and over with no regard. I needed living proof that he could be so selfish and wasteful. I thank God because it left me with absolutely no regrets. When he tried to reconcile I had no problem standing my ground and saying no.

    His family had a very difficult time accepting the divorce -- mostly because the "bad apple" is their problem and responsibility once again.

  20. My 17 year old daughter prostitutes herself for crack, rather than come home to the family that wants to see her safe. "our rules and our meds" are too much for her to deal with. (FUCKING BULLSHIT, is what she actually says) I understand, more than you know. Her father killed himself 2 years ago (he was bi-polar, she is borderline personality) and we've been dealing with it with it as best we can. Everyone "knows" how to handle her. None of it works and she has us by the balls. I understand the fear and the hopelessness, a helluva a lot more than I care to.

  21. I don't mind people telling me they would never do that because it reminds me to quit being a doormat. I have a similiar situation but thankfully not as bad. I did have to learn how to end the compassion for my ex to protect the kids. If I don't keep my exhusband reined in, he ends up hurting the kids. I am having to learn how to steal my heart against him having much time with them. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because I know how it hurts to be without my kids but he doesn't respect their souls like I do. He won't give them clean clothes, he won't intereact with them, he won't let them be with their friends, help them with homework, celebrate their birthday or any holiday...

    Glad you found a therapist. I can't find anyone who will help me quit being a doormat to someone who won't respect me. The narcissist is very good at control and manipulation and knows what to say to make a person believe they are cared for but they don't ever do.

  22. You are amazing. Your analysis solidifies a theory I have about why I chose the man I did: because I *am* damaged and he's NOT my father and I was somehow aware enough and learned my lesson well enough to not make that mistake. I think you and I are surprisingly similar in the 'upstairs' department but come from quite different circumstances and, as a result, I benefited and you didn't. Weird way to look at it, no? (Addendum: though my father is a sorry man whose life was a huge disappointment to him I don't blame him -- was wiping his chin after feeding him his favourite Egg McMuffin in his nursing home today, even.) I am sorry to hear that your marriage failed, but have no doubt that you have exactly what it takes to make lemonade from lemons. Well done.