Thanksgiving is one of those days that for many, well, sucks.
For victims of domestic violence, rather than being a day in which we're reminded of all we have to be grateful for, it's a day of remembering all that we've lost. Like most survivors of spousal abuse, my husband increased his control over me by the subtle, systematic dismantling of my relationships. He was, crafty, that one. It began with a series of discreet phone calls with my twin brother, inquiring, delicately, if I had any mental illness in my past that he should be aware of. Nothing wrong here, right? Except that early on in our relationship, I disclosed to him that I'd taken anti-depressants, so clearly, he was in the know (on both occasions I was postpartum with a colicky baby). The hesitant, almost awkward inquiry did exactly as it was intended to do; create an atmosphere of concern for my well-being and solidarity between my husband and brother, leaving me on the outside, looking in. Private details of my depression were discussed in secret between the two, and then my brother unknowingly disclosed his concern for me during that time, my husband collected an arsenal of negative commentary to be used against me in the pursuit of crazy-making.
In the huge, eight bedroom log cabin we lived in in the country as farm workers, the man I married launched a similar campaign with the family we shared the home with. Our living arrangement was close to idyllic; save for the fact that my husband created a terrible friction between the married couple and myself. I couldn't for the life of me understand why they were always angry with me; my husband inserted himself as our go-between, to "soften" any communication between us that might go awry. In the finished basement apartment he and I shared, I felt like an outcast; a pariah. I couldn't understand how, whenever my abuser would come downstairs after relaying messages, he would be irate at their attitude toward me. He was wonderfully protective; defensive of me in the face of their vicious attacks on my person-hood. On many occasions I had to calm him to keep him from coming to blows protecting my honor. It was all an act.
While he was "putting out fires" upstairs, I began to notice that my relationship with my two teenagers was beginning to sour. My husband had taken over their morning and evening routines as well as transporting them to school, so our interaction had become more and more limited. Prior to meeting my abuser, I had been a single mother, by choice, raising my five children alone. I felt both empowered and capable in doing so, but admittedly, it was a huge undertaking. When my husband took over many of the practicalities involved with raising children, I felt freed up to focus my energies on my relationships with the kids and character building aspects of child-rearing. The conflict that arose from my focus was my teens's unwillingness to have any voluntary contact with me. As it turned out, my husband had been grooming them to believe that I was a mentally-ill basket case, and dangerous. When cleaning under my son's bed one day, I found a stack of paper at least a hundred pages thick that Michael had printed off from the internet. The topic... child abuse.
The day that I made my escape, I had spent two week's worth of five minute phone calls with the staff at my local domestic violence shelter. My husband monitored all my phone calls, so the only privacy I had was in the five to seven minutes it took him to drop the kids at the bus stop each day and rush home to make sure I hadn't had the chance to make contact with the outside world. He made it a practice to park all the farm vehicles in front of my minivan, blocking me in and without access to leave. It took an incredible amount of maneuvering and "good behavior" on my part to have my car accessible and with gas enough to drive into town. I'd done everything right; I created an escape plan. I'd gathered legal documents and hidden them underneath a pile of folded laundry to be put away (to grab and run when I escaped). I'd made contact with the shelter, and they were expecting me and my kids after I filed a no contact-order at the police station. I even had a little money stashed.
The reality of how my leaving played out contrasted with my expectation of the event played out was laughably tragic. I'd planned on taking my leave as soon as Michael had left with the kids on the way to the bus stop. I'd envisioned myself triumphing over the sight of his shocked face when he saw me driving past him on his way back up the hill, but that's not how things played out. He had trumped me, again, by taking my car to drop the kids and then run an errand in town. I was livid. There was no way on God's green earth that I was spending another day shackled to that asshat. I called him, demanding my car; threatening to smash my spouse's laptop he used for business (read: online hookups for sex), when he calmly inquired, "Why would you possibly need the car? Was there something he could pick up for me?" Again, I say, Asshat.
My husband drove furiously up the hill; I heard him before I even saw him. I had my eighteen month baby in my arms, dressed in a snowsuit and my purse over my shoulder. Everything else I had strategically packed to leave with was now inconsequential. As soon as he was out of the car and stormed up to me, I flew to the car (flying is the only way to explain how I was able to get past him; on prior attempts to leave, he physically blocked my path and wouldn't let me pass). I clicked the locks and climbed over the front seat to buckle my baby into his carseat.
Driving to the courthouse was literally a race with my husband; he had dialed 9-1-1 and reported me as driving erratically with a baby in the car, saying he was concerned for both my safety and my son's. This was a clever ploy to allow him to pursue me at high speeds with little or no consequence to himself; he was the savior of the drama unfolding. I somehow made it to the courthouse before him when he was caught at a light, and ran inside with my son. I immediately informed the security officer what was happening, and he barred my abuser from entering the building and harassing me until my order was filed.
This is where my happily ever after should have began.
Asshat, furious with his loss of control over the situation, pulled my four older children from their classes at school and hid them at my parent's house, calling my mother at work and calmly explaining that he desperately needed her help; I was abusing both my children and himself, and he needed help protecting my kids and staging an intervention. He didn't want to involve child protective services he said; maybe he was just too close to the situation because he loved me so much, but maybe, as a family, they could get me the help I needed without keeping the children at risk.
I can't describe to you the pain I experienced as a mother, making the decision to barter with my mother, allowing her temporary custody of my children, on the condition that my abuser would not be permitted any contact with them. I knew that my babies would be safe with my mother, even if she believed his lies over my truth. And she did.
I died that day.
Every day, I die a little more, thinking of it.
Some days, I pray that the Lord will take me, so my suffering will end.
Today, Thanksgiving, is one of those days.
I know I'm supposed to be thankful for my many blessings, and especially that my husband and I haven't lived together for over two years. I'm supposed to shouting out in victory. On Thanksgiving, however, I'm faced with triggers that I havn't learned the skills to cope with, yet. I'm alone. Today, I have my three youngest of five at home with me, but my family is fragmented. My parents and two oldest children won't speak to me. We've had moments of healing, but our problems have become bigger than we have the ability to process. We all experience guilt, on some level, and my parents and oldest two children cope in the best way they know how; assigning blame. I find this terrifying, because unhealed wounds and a history of abuse (even if their experience of it was indirect) tend to repeating itself. I see it already in my daughter's relationship; she gave up all her control at the gate.
There are no easy answers for those of us who fought, desperately, to save our own lives, only to be left with no support system and broken relationships. I offer these words, little as they may be, to my Sisters in survival:
I honor you.
On this very day, I celebrate you,
for finding the strength to survive
I hear your cries; I see your tears
in the place of broken beginnings,
for they are my own
you have risen up from the ashes
you have been baptized by fire
you've emerged a new woman,
unrecognizable from the old
And this, my Sisters, this
is the most important thing;
I beg you,
hear me in this;
Despite all evidence to the contrary,
you are not alone
you are Beloved of the King
our Lord weeps for you, my Sister
He longs for you;
He suffers in your pain
He longs to bring you healing
to cover you with Himself as a balm
He longs to soothe you
with the song of His voice
You are so, so loved.
You are not forgotten; will never be forgotten
You are cherished