Part Two

You should be crying, I tell myself internally. It’s really weird that you aren’t a mess right now. I’m standing in my small living room, where the total of five adults could barely stand shoulder to shoulder and not feel crowded, thinking about the oddness of my lack of emotion right now. I can hear my breathing in my ears and my heart in my throat. Hmm, that should be faster. Is it weird my heart isn’t racing right now? I’m trying to quiet my mind because I cannot quiet his anger.

I walked home from work today. That was my punishment for not answering his texts fast enough. Or well enough. Or loving enough? I cannot figure him out anymore. Or maybe I don’t want to. I can feel my life-force surrendering internally, more and more as the days get worse. Things will fall apart before you can rebuild them. I read that on Pinterest the other day. Has to be right, I think to myself. This is me falling apart. In front of my children and the man who has broken me. It was always bound to happen. Never even mind that our ten-year anniversary just passed, where he forced me to go out with him and pretend we were okay. He had pulled the stool out next to the one he was going to sit in and I thought, I’m onstage and this is a performance and one day I will get an Oscar from like, God or someone. There has to be someone watching this because it’s my greatest act and it is perpetual. I wake up and I’m on; I lay in bed and I’m on. I cannot stop pretending this is what life is because he will lose it and kill me, probably. Throughout the whole evening I kept thinking how it never should have come to this. Once, we were driving to visit my parents. He was holding my hand and asked me if I could go back, would I still marry him? My traitorous mouth beat my mind to the punch and told him no before I could stop it. Girl, aren’t you scared? I asked my mouth. You can’t be honest and not have it end in an almost broken nose. I remember that drive, too. Cars are dangerous.

I come back to the living room like a transition on a movie. Cut scene from the little bar with the anniversary dinner or maybe either of those car rides and pan back to hell. My little boys are in the tiny bedroom the three of them are forced to share and my oldest is standing next to his father, confused and wide-eyed. My poor baby. He doesn’t understand what is happening. See, that is why I shouldn’t have acted. I wasn’t saving them from this, I was only prolonging the inevitable. Focus!

It’s okay, I say out loud. Your dad is angry. Sometimes when we are angry, we say things that are confusing. You don’t have to make this decision, I calmly tell him.

Yes, you do, he yells back. Choose right now! Your mom says she wants to leave me so tell me RIGHT NOW who you want to live with? Tell me right now! PICK!

My son is shaking, he is so scared right now. I don’t know what to say, he squeaks out. I move to give him a safe embrace, but think twice. I saw the flash of insanity in his eyes right now when he guessed my intention. I can almost see the wheels of crazy cranking in his mind, trying to find the precise words to cut me in front of our child, except he isn’t thinking about the trauma this will cause him. His only desire right now is to make me understand what my words for the past few weeks will bring. What my declaration from this afternoon will bring. He wants me to know he won’t go without destroying me in any way he can.

Your mom is doing this to you, Sam, he hisses. This is her fault. She is the reason your life will never be the same. She is breaking this family apart and you deserve better.

I love you, I murmur to my son. I love you so much. Whatever is going on with your dad and I is between us and I’m sorry you are being forced to stand in the middle of it right now but I love you.

I know that will escalate things but I can’t stop myself from saying it either way. Somehow, after I mutter that proclamation, I feel a renewed energy in me. I stand up straighter and look him in the eyes. I hold my gaze as I tell Sam he can go to his room and play with his brothers. I’m almost daring my ex-husband to contradict me as I release my oldest from this untenable situation. I feel a fireball in my stomach, growing with each heartbeat, bigger and hotter. It rises to my mouth and I hear myself tell him that he needs to get it together, stop playing our children against me.

You love your mother, I spit at him. Why would you try to turn your children against theirs? What kind of MONSTER are you? I don’t know where this gumption is coming from but I ride the wave as I discover my strength. I have so much more to say but I leave it at that, before I become him too easily. If you think for one fucking second that THIS is going to manipulate or convince me to stay with you, think again, I assure him.

And I mean it.

Before the End

The lunchroom of the bank I’m working at is small and cold. It feels clinical but smells like a dirty sponge. You know that smell. It’s fetid and rank. My cup-o-noodles is sitting in front of me growing cold but I hardly notice. I’m in full-on triage mode, as I call it, frantically texting whatever I can think of to keep him from entering rage mode. Except, he is already in rage mode. Lately, it is his only mode.

Things have been more volatile lately. We have only been in Hawaii for three months and it has been a constant struggle. I work out of necessity even though my take-home is only $200 after I pay daycare. It seems ridiculous but we need every single one of those dollars to almost make ends meet. As I send another scared response, a colleague walks in to the lunchroom with a meal from some restaurant nearby and a Starbucks in hand. It looks so lucrative in her hands and I’m full of jealousy but not food. My stomach grumbles, reminding me to finish my noodles. I smile at her and make small talk, all while thinking about this stupid fight we are having, where I’ve once again messed up. It’s like I’m Matilda and Danny DeVito is yelling at me how he’s big and I’m small, he’s smart and I’m dumb, he’s right and I’m wrong. That’s what he means. He’s everything and I’m nothing. I’ve always been nothing.

I don’t remember the rest of the workday. It’s the same as every other day there, I’m sure. What I do recall is seeing a text as I packed up my stuff to head home. “I picked up the boys.” It is odd to me. They are always at the sitter’s house, which is really close to the branch I’m a teller at. I usually walk to get them and ride the bus home. This is out of the ordinary. Anything out of the ordinary in regards to him is worrisome, so naturally, now I’m worried. I reply back that I’m on my way home and head out the door, fingers crossed I’m not walking in to a warzone in front of my babies again.

I miss the bus by four minutes. Two hundred and forty lousy seconds that now equate to waiting twenty for the next one. Great. I can feel my anxiety growing, making my legs and my heart tremble. Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right. I feel my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. It is a photo of the boys in the car. Are you home? I ask him.

The phone rings and I jump because I’m fully on-edge now. I shake my head to get some of the jitters out and answer cheerily, just trying so hard to not show how scared I am.

Tell your Mom goodbye, boys! His voice is eerie because he matched my fake cheer.

Bye, Mom! They all shout at me in unison. I’m so confused. Why are they telling me goodbye? I say something like that, barely get it out, actually. I don’t know what is going on but it’s unsettling and now I’m really scared. He is unstable. But how unstable, really?

I can tell he takes me off speaker phone and I hear the nervousness in my voice as I ask him what is going on. I just bought the three of us plane tickets and we are headed to the airport. You are never going to see us again. Just remember you did this to yourself. Good luck in your life. He says all of this with a calm, terrifying tone and then hangs up. I am staring at my phone, trying so hard to process. I try calling back three times but they just go straight to voicemail. I’m pretty sure he shut his phone off. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I have no idea what is happening. All I can do is start running home. I’m about a mile and a half away, which feels like five because I’m not a runner. I don’t workout. I have no endurance or stamina, so I run with adrenaline and fear, straight to the apartment we live in. It takes me a long thirty minutes because I keep stopping to catch my breath and dial his number again. None of the calls go through. I’ve never hated my body so much as I do in this moment. I just want to be there to stop whatever he is doing.

When I arrive at the apartment I see that sure as shit the car we share is missing. I shakily climb the fourteen stairs. They take all the rest of my energy and the last bit of hope I had. If he isn’t here, neither are they. Whatever is happening right now is a new level of terror and I cannot fathom what triggered it. Yes, I made him angry but this is out of the norm. I don’t have a key to the apartment so I lean up against the door, my forehead pressed against it, and emotionally breakdown. I have no one to call, no one to turn to so I just sob. I have been trying so hard to think Hawaii was a fresh new start but every day it is feeling more and more like I’m in solitary confinement. I keep trying his phone. My call continues to go straight to voicemail. I am utterly defeated.

An eternity goes by and then I hear it. The familiar rattle of the engine of our car and I wearily look over the balcony. There they are. The four of them getting out of the vehicle and my two oldest are so excited, holding ice cream cones in their hands. Dad took us for a treat! they yell up the stairs. They are smiling and unaware of anything going on between us. I am speechless. I watch them walk up the stairs and I cannot think of one damn thing to say.

And that was the beginning of the end.

What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

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I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Surviving

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I am almost 37 years old.

I am still at a point where the majority of my adult years were spent in fight, flight or freeze.

I have a lot of nightmares. Even when I am doing well and not getting bombarded with ugly memories, I will wake up drenched in sweat from trying to run away from him.

Ku and I watch movies or shows sometimes where there is a character in an abusive relationship. I’m usually shaking my head as it happens, both as a reminder that I am not that character and that I am okay, and also because I don’t get it. I lived that life for over a decade and I still can’t comprehend WHY. I’m not just saying why it happens. I’ve read plenty of articles and attended events where phrases like toxic masculinity and gender norms and rape culture are explained. They make sense and I can see where the change needs to happen. I always leave thinking YES, we can FIX THIS, TEACH THE BOYS! Except, it is deeper than that, right?

Why me, though?

Not to say it should have happened to someone else, anyone else, as long as I was spared. No. Not at all. I’m saying why did I allow it happen? Why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I walk away? I can’t think of any situation where domestic violence makes sense. I also cannot think of one where it made sense that I would fall victim. You see, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA, honor roll, Honor Society, accepted to my first university of choice. I guess when I think about circumstances that people find themselves in, I think that education and book smarts should help play a role in how they handle themselves.

My book smarts didn’t save me.

My Dad taught me when I was young that I had to walk on the inside of the sidewalk and him on the outside because if it was reversed than guys would think I was for sale. This seems to be a pretty universal understanding, judging from popular culture. We have been taught to buy in to this belief that boys will be boys and consent isn’t always clear, and boys who are mean to you on the playground like you. That locker room talk is just that, and should be excused. Yet somehow, guys have a basic, universal understanding that if I’m closest to the curb than I am open for business.

Early on I learned that if a man behaves inappropriately to me than it is my fault. If I’m standing on a beach in Puerto Vallarta when I’m thirteen in a one-piece swimsuit and some male walks by and ogles me, I share the blame between myself and puberty. If I’m standing in a bar, chatting with the people I walked in with, and a guy walks up to me and inappropriately puts his hand on my shoulder to say things that I don’t want him telling me, I can’t make a scene because it would be rude. What I learned when I was growing up was that if a grown man did anything disgusting to me, such as rub his erect penis against my leg even when I was fifteen, it was my fault and that if I said something, I would be blamed. That easily translated to me being responsible if I was hit by my other half. We have been taught, as young girls, to be meek, quiet, accepting and to not embarrass our parents.

Before I got pregnant with Abraham, my ex and I were living in my hometown. It was a calm, beautiful summer day and my friend Yesenia had stopped by to make flour tortillas with me. My meanager, Sammy, was only two or three years old and playing in the living room. Everything was great that day, because it wasn’t always terrible. Except, my ex-husband didn’t like Yesenia and I hadn’t told him she stopped by. Of course his mom did, though and he came home from work so angry. I don’t remember the argument but I remember I got in my car and left. I drove to Yesenia’s house because I needed space. I couldn’t stay there one more second and I didn’t feel safe. I could always tell when he was going to get physical.

When I drove up to her house, I thought briefly about how he would probably guess where I was but I knocked anyway. I remember the wind blowing gently through my hair as she answered the door with a worried look and I distinctly recall sitting on her couch feeling calmer. What I can’t conjure no matter how hard I try is what he said when he called her house and made her reluctantly hand me the phone, my drive back because he threatened banging on her door until I left if I didn’t, or walking in to my house. And somewhere between the door shutting and me turning towards both him and his mom, he hit me. Hard.

She came in to the bedroom a short while later, and as I cried in to my pillow, she told me I should never have driven away, that I should never have gone to Yesenia’s, and that I should have stopped arguing before he got to that point.

I was blamed. And I spent many years thinking it was all my fault.

I’m still so hesitant to share my story. I would be lying if I said it was because I don’t want to be blamed. I didn’t deserve it then, when someone who witnessed it firsthand was quick to place it on me or by anyone who would continue to do it today.

We become a mean type of human when we use stories of survivors’ trauma to apply irrational justification. I hear a lot (usually as a joke lobbed at trying to ease the discomfort of a terrible truth that was just shared) of comments about how embarrassed my ex must be to have lost me to a woman. What I wouldn’t give for this to not be someone’s first response when we talk about something very painful for me, still.

In reality, his manhood was gone the second he hit me. The moment he dismissed my love and loyalty to manipulate me into staying. When he decided to use my feelings to make himself feel bigger. <–That is what is really embarrassing.

Bravery is an action that is hard to muster up.

I was a great student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class with a set determination to make something of myself. What took me a long time to realize was that even though I stepped back and chose to start a family over my education, I was still smart. Even though I fell into an abusive relationship, I was still strong. And when I got away, in those first few steps of freedom, I found the road lonely. I lost friendships. I fought with family. I was scared yet I was without quit in me. I was judged, sometimes to my face, even. I sat in my car and cried because I couldn’t immediately fix everything.

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I rebuilt, brick by brick, my insides. Somewhere in all the mess I had made, I began to see the beauty again. One of the best discoveries was that I could use my scared, shaking voice to recount my stories, share them publicly, and discover that I was encouraging women to stand up and leave. I don’t blog as often as I initially meant to about surviving domestic violence, but every single post brings at least ONE woman forward, who chooses to disclose to me a trauma she is currently or has gone through.

That fuels my fire. Telling someone your deepest secret is a big kind of scary. To each of you who has found the strength to break your silence to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And know I don’t judge you.

 

Meandering with Meanagers

I have gotten better at sharing my herstory of domestic violence but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to think about what it means to my boys. While it was never physical in front of them, they definitely witnessed verbal and emotional. The meanager and I had a deep discussion about it recently and with his permission, I’m sharing Sam’s perspective on domestic violence (these are his words, undoctored):

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Sometimes my Dad loses his temper. If you make him mad, he’ll probably spank you or tell you to stop talking to him or he’ll say hurtful things. It’s not always bad, though. The thing is, some kids might really disrespect his parents and someone seeing it might say things like, “That kid really needs a beating/spanking, etc” but I don’t think hitting is the answer because that kid will grow up thinking violence is okay and then probably hit his kids and the cycle keeps on going.

If he would have hit you in front of us when we were growing up, I think we would have grown up thinking hitting women is okay. About two months ago I talked privately with my Dad and asked him to not yell or say hurtful things to my stepmom. I asked him to try harder to not be so angry or disrespectful towards her. I think he’s working on it, not perfectly, but trying, I would say.

I’ve never physically hit anyone in my life. Well, except for my brothers. We do wrestle sometimes and it gets out of hand but at the end of the day, I would never want to punch someone or hurt someone. When I get mad I want to smash something or punch a punching bag or break something. I’ve been trying not to play certain games on Xbox because they make me the most frustrated but when I do get to that level of mad, listening to music helps me or watching dumb things on YouTube.

When it all came down to my Dad leaving Hawaii with Moose, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought we were moving back to continue living as a family. When you shared some stuff that had happened the night you left, I felt betrayed by him. When you marry someone, you promise to always have a good time, to not hurt each other in a physical way, and I felt like he broke that promise. The first year you guys were separated, I didn’t understand everything because it wasn’t until about two years ago that you shared A LOT MORE of the story. It was hard because I couldn’t see him as much. Because I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t know if I should be upset with him or with you so I just felt neutral. I’m not upset with either one of you now, because that is the past, and I know that you won’t ever forget that whole thing, but even thinking about it makes me frustrated.

My Dad knows it’s not right to hit someone, especially a woman, and I don’t know where he learned that because one day my Grandma told me my Grandpa had never laid a finger on her, so it’s not like he saw that growing up. They [his dad and stepmom] were arguing one day and that’s when my Grandma said that. Sometimes I worry about [my stepmom]. I hope she doesn’t get put in a situation where she worries about her life, like you did.

I hope my Dad has learned from his past mistakes. I’ll probably ask him questions when I’m older and have a bigger perspective of things, but I try not to say too much now because he gets mad easy. I do plan on it, though. My big worry is Moose might become like him because he hits when he’s upset and I worry about Abraham because when he gets mad he calls people names and I don’t want him to get beat up. It’s stressful and I can see those things happening.

I’m 100% happy, right along with my brothers and I know that hitting is wrong. I think my Dad and I are completely different because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings on purpose. I don’t like that. I’m not saying he tries to hurt people’s feelings on purposeI don’t like it when he says terrible things to me so I don’t want to be that way. In a way I know things happen for a reason because if you would have left him sooner, we wouldn’t have gone to Hawaii and you wouldn’t have met Ku. I just know that I still love my Dad and I think he’s happy and I KNOW you are. And I’m proud of you, Mom, for being strong enough to leave and figure out how to be happy.

**Insert crying mom face, because sometimes this young man-cub just blows me out of the water with his maturity and depth of understanding. It can’t be easy being my oldest boy, but maaaaaan, he makes us so effin proud. This reads as he speaks and while I could have changed the layout, I wanted to stay true to him and his heart.

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15 Ways I knew I was in an Abusive Relationship

15 Ways to Recognize Abuse

October is fast approaching, which just so happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but in all honesty, I feel like every month is it for me. I never lose that awareness. I never lose sight of what I’ve fought so hard to survive. When I think about my previous marriage and the things I went through with my ex-husband, all the red flags stick out. I recognize them now and wish my blinders handn’t kept me from acting on them during that long ten year period, but I want to speak them now, share them, give them a voice. It’s easy to call physical altercations abuse, because it’s so obvious, but it can be more than that. It’s also harder to acknowledge…

1 – He always wanted to know where I was

While we were dating, I thought it was understandable. We weren’t together 24/7 and so he just missed me so much that he had to message me constantly and would get upset when I didn’t immediately text right back. When I was pregnant, I made excuses for it. Of course, he had to know where I was because you never know when an emergency might happen, right? It took years for me to recognize this was his way of keeping control of me.

2 – He wasn’t nice to the waiter

I see this quote making its way around the web every now and then and I can instantly think of four handfuls of occassions when I witnessed my ex being extraordinarily rude to the waiter. You can’t be nice to some people and not others. Life doesn’t work that way. This in and of itself doesn’t spell abuser, but throw it in with a few more and it’s clear why I put it in here.

3 – He constantly judged my friends

Sure, we all have a crazy friend or two that might make your significant other wonder if they’re the best person to have around. We know why they’re our friends, but it’s not always easy to explain to someone you’re trying to keep around. My ex didn’t just like one person. He disliked all of my friends and he would nitpick each of them. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was easier to stop hanging out. When I wasn’t with them I wasn’t constantly answering texts on my phone regarding where I was or what we were doing, I wasn’t leaving early because he wanted me home for one reason or another, I wasn’t defending what I was up to, or explaining who all was there. The jealousy was overwhelming.

4 – He started making me skip school/work

I was a freshman at the University of Washington when we started dating. Yeah, it was cute to be convinced to skip one or two classes here or there, but it became a constant. One time he waited outside my Socioeconomics class until it was over, to make sure I came straight home after. I called out of work a bunch because “me being gone made him sick.” It was the worst kind of manipulation and I just kept giving in because his anger scared me.

5 – His anger scared me

This is the biggest red flag. I remember sitting with a friend recently, who was adamant she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and I asked her why she was certain she couldn’t go back home. She responded that it wasn’t safe, she wouldn’t be safe because she didn’t trust his anger. It was a sort of ah-ha moment that took me right back to the first time my ex got upset with me. He yelled so terrifyingly at me that I was legitimately scared. After that incident, anytime I could see his temper rising, I went into survival mode.

6 – He put me down in front of others

Whenever I did something commendable, he found something to be negative about. Sometimes it was obvious but more often than not, he found a way to say it in a way that made it sound constructive, helpful, or even right. Not everything we do will always be amazing, but constantly criticizing your significant other in front of people is deplorable. It’s no show of love, in my opinion.

7 – He kept trying to “teach me”

For some reason he had it in his head that I was a country bumpkin that hadn’t somehow gotten herself accepted to UW, which is not an easy task. Aside from putting me down, he would mansplain what I was doing wrong, no matter what it was. He would say things like, “I guess nobody taught you this, or nobody showed you how to be respectful.” Constant mansplaining. I am not stupid.

8 – He hit me

One day, after a major argument, his sister called as we were arriving at Target in North Seattle. He pretended as if everything was okay, as if he didn’t just yell at me until I was crying and felt two inches tall. He then had the audacity to hand his sister the phone so I could say hi and be “respectful” to her. When she asked me how everything was going, I said it could be better, if only he could be nicer to me. I said, “Tell him to be nice to me.” We never made it inside Target. We left right after the phone call, drove home in complete silence and as soon as we walked in the house, he exploded. It was the first time he actually hit me.

9 – He convinced me it was my fault

“If you hadn’t disrespected me to my sister, if you would have just done as you were told, if you hadn’t kept making me upset….” Two seconds after he struck me, I was apologizing. To him. The list of what I could do to deserve him losing his cool was neverending. NEVER.ENDING. For ten years. I could have written a 20,000 word book over all of the things that I DID to justify his rage. He always successfully made me think it was my fault. It was not my fault.

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10 – He monitored my phone

It wasn’t blatant, but rather sneaky. He was always reading through my text messages. He had the passwords to my emails. Not giving him the codes to stuff caused a fight. Made him accuse me of hiding stuff. While I almost never saw him reading my conversations, he would bring them casually up in arguments.

11- He took me away from everyone I knew

Right after we were married, he moved us to Southern California on the pretense we would be by family that wanted  us in their life. That was something he always threw in my face. My family isn’t like most. There isn’t this close Sunday-night-dinners and we-are-always-there-for-you feel like some people are so lucky to have. He did have that, to a fault if you ask me, and I could not have forgotten it if I wanted to. Eight years later he moved us to Hawaii because it was his last ditch effort to try to keep control over me. Moving away isn’t what makes it wrong, it’s making contact with those you need in your life impossible that is not okay.

12 – He corrected me in front of our children

I’m a firm believer in united fronts, as difficult as they may be with the undestanding that sometimes that won’t happen. In our case, whenever one of the boys asked me a question or if they could do something, he would override my answer or decision in front of them. It took away my credibility, which I feel like we still deal with sometimes, even now.

13 – He took away my method of communications

Things got especially heinous the year we moved to Hawaii. His answer to some mistakes on my end was to disconnect my phone, take away my car, deactivate my social media and monitor me even moreso. It was like living with the FBI. Both my Mother and my BFF at the time called the police to have them come check on me, which made matters worse.

13 – He allowed his parents to disrespect me

Whatever problems couples have in marriages, there should be some semblance of respect from either family. The thing is, even though we stayed together a whole decade, he always shared my downfalls to his mother, from the word go, so she constantly put me down. He allowed it.

14 – I always defended him

When my friends, family or anyone mentioned his behavior was questionable, I immediately defended him. I was about to type that I never understood why, but that’s not true. It’s because I took it personal, as proof that I had made the wrong decision in marrying him and desperately wanted to prove everyone wrong.

15 – He threatened me

Whether it was in regards to our children and leaving to Mexico with them, to “never be seen again,” or how if I left he would make sure everyone would know what a piece of shit I was, or that he would prove that I was an unfit mother, he would find the threat necessary to keep me from dialing 911, to keep me from seeking help, to stop me from leaving and to make me stay.

 

I haven’t even mentioned money. It’s a trigger for me. Yes, all of the above can be at any time, but finances and feeling like I have none will send me into a tail spin panic attack faster than you can say moola. Money stresses me out. Still. To this day. The thing is, domestic violence, which one in four women experience severe physical violence from their significant other, is a systematic pattern of power and control. It is not always physical. In all my reminiscing above, only one bullet point is about him putting his hands on me. The one constant component in each of my examples, is the constant effort to maintain both of those over me. Power and control.

My wish is that none of my friends have this in their relationships, but if you do, there is help. There is always help. Leaving isn’t easy. God, I know that is absolute truth. It doesn’t even end what was going on, because then, being “out of control” they become even more unpredictable, begin to harass and stalk and text ugly ish to you. Leaving is not easy, but it’s doable. And whether you’ve dealt with this for one day, month, year or decade, you can save yourself.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

Girl, be brave

brave

An AHA moment for me came recently.

I talk often of changing your life if you aren’t happy with it. Rewrite your shitty first draft, great things don’t come from your comfort zone, make today day one rather than  one day, etc. It’s a notion I have taken to heart so deeply, because life is so short. IT.IS.SO.SHORT. If you can do what it takes to stop being unhappy, I WILL CHEER YOU ON! Even 100 years is not but a ripple in the waters of this world.

Except, change is hard. I talk a lot about that, too. We all either work with or have worked with or know people who are hesitant/against/vocal about change. It’s hard, friends. I get it! Even the most adaptable people can find moments of struggle. I like to say that it takes one moment of insane courage to change your life. You just have to find it. A recent interaction with a friend experiencing a lot of change right now made me step back and re-evaluate my life motto. It’s incomplete.

Defining life moments can be grand when looking at them up close. Most of us can pinpoint very certain occasions in our past that changed our journey. We have to zoom out, though, to see that it was many, many decisions of bravery, of that insane courage that got us to that point. Not many things in life are sudden. Not many at all. I shared a story, a while back, of how my re-birthday was April 14, 2012 because that was the night I jumped out of a moving vehicle and ran for my life. Yes, it was such a big minute in time. If a movie were made about me I can guarantee that moment, so powerful and unmistakably brave, would have the heart stopping, dramatic music playing during the scene. I didn’t need music that night, though, because my heart was pounding hard enough in my ears to have drowned any sound out, anyway.

My story of leaving a decade of abuse is tough to talk about. Still. Yet, I keep doing it because a) it’s aiding my healing and b) it’s helping, even if a tiny bit, change the view of domestic violence, because there is a stigma. In my opening up about my experiences and how I left, what I learned about the process, my self-discovery and how I and my family still deal with it now has shown me something deeper. There’s a c) now. There have been people reaching out to me for help, to get some questions answered, or just to share their story. Not just about domestic violence, but so many issues. Eating disorders, self-hatred, molestation at a young age, rape. I’ve been told things that just break my heart.

There are statistics about domestic violence that I know very well. One in four women experience sever physical intimate partner violence, meaning they are together, or dating, or married. One in four. Without meaning to, when I’m surrounded by a bunch of females, I think about that number. I think about the many people who probably think it can’t possibly be that high, except when I’m in that group, that is me. One in three woman experience physical intimate partner violence, so maybe they didn’t have the shit beaten out of them, or were choked or forcefully shoved into concrete, but an abuse of force was used on their bodies. This doesn’t even account for the verbal, emotional and psychological abuse that organizations such as *DVSAS, of which I am on the board, recognize. The court system tends to only recognize physical abuse when requesting a protection order. The other forms of abuse are harder to get legal help with. They are even harder to prove.

I sat with a friend not too long ago, during a hard time in her life. I held her hand, hugged her, listened. It was hard. When I think of my story, the things I went through, my one big moment of bravery to leave, I only thought about it from my point of view. That makes sense, right? I watched it through my eyes. While I was sitting there, hearing reasoning and worry, vacillation between two shitty choices that just creates deafening guilt because there are repercussions either way,  and justifications being made, I listened harder. I thought of my experiences and how I did the same things. When we parted ways after, I got in my car and cried. I remember my one huge shift; calling Kulia on the side of the road in the middle of the night, trying to remember where I was and coordinating how I could stay hidden, just in case but she could still find me. All of a sudden there was a movie playing in my head of all the many other courageous moments I had, like when I shared that I was being abused and when I took the time to write down when he hit me that I could remember and put dates to them. I was back in my work’s lunchroom, sitting on a dirty 70’s style couch, dialing the numbers to numerous divorce attorneys and meeting no success because not having money gets you turned down from help really fast, friends. I was sitting across from my manager and assistant manager, on the eve of my last day of work with them, answering why I haven’t been myself the past couple of weeks, why my work was suffering. They thought I had leaving-itis. They made it clear I had let them down. Not once did they ask me if I was okay or safe. Not once did I offer that information up.

I never thought about Ku’s side. Of how it must have felt to hear someone tell you things no voice should ever share. As I sat in my driver seat, I texted her and told her I was crying. That I don’t know how she did it, I don’t know how anyone does. How do you sit there and have your heart break over words that cause so much pain, how do you hear them blame themselves, call themselves selfish and not scream out in agony? She listened so intently without telling me I was worthless, a piece of shit, only thinking about myself. She didn’t hurt me when I needed love. She was pure grace while I fell apart and I never even noticed how. And being kind of, not all the way, but sorta, in that boat was so.damn.hard. It shook me to my core. If it did that to her, I couldn’t tell. All she ever did was hold me. If you had that or have that in your life, someone who was unconditionally there for you, get up and go hug them. Run to them, kiss their cheek, tell them thank you. You probably already have, but do it again anyway. Life is short.

Yes, you can make a giant, easy-to-see step of epic proportions to change your life. Just remember that you are also taking baby steps, even if they are hard to see. And don’t you ever give up on them. Those baby steps are making progress. I guarantee it. If you need help, someone to talk to, or a place to feel safe, we are always here for you. I am always here for you.

*DVSAS stands for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. This phenomenal organization is located in Bellingham, WA and is open to anyone needing help. You can find more information at http://www.dvsas.org including how to volunteer, donate and/or attend one of it’s upcoming events. Not everyone will be as vocal as I am. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

dvsas