Flatline. She died, that old version of myself. The one who tried everything to fit into boxes that could never contain my power and beauty and truth.
Maybe that's exactly what I needed, to die.
Not a physical death, but a spiritual death and rise, like a phoenix from the ashes.
How I wish I knew back then I would rise. Instead of moving toward my joy, which was my death (of who I was), I fought for almost another year. I was stuck, like tires spinning in a deep muddy pit.
I kept asking the same questions.
Will he change? How can I change? What else can I do? Should I stay? Should I go? Why is this happening?
And the only answer that came was, “I don’t know”. To each and every question, “I don’t know”, was all I knew.
I didn't feel like I was making any progress. Every move, every question seemed to dig me deeper into muck.
FLASHBACK: Early Spring 2011
Cemented, my legs felt like lead and my feet were nailed to the floor. I can’t move.
I was frozen. Immobile. Standing perfectly still while my husband gently washed vegetables in the kitchen. If he was gentle with the tomatoes, why wasn’t he gentle with me? Only a few feet away my, 18 month old son sat quietly in his highchair, crunching cheerios.
The sun was shining, it was 75 degrees, a few puffy clouds scattered over the mostly blue sky. The leaves on the trees were brilliant shades of green, as the season was moving from winter to spring. Everything in the world seemed all right, and yet I felt like I had the weight of the world on me. I never before knew the weight of emptiness, ten thousand pounds of nothingness I carried in my heart.
Not until this very moment did I realize my life had spiraled out of control. Not until the simple act of walking to the kitchen triggered me to stop dead in my tracks and become stiff as a board.
I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t take one step toward him. The abuse had gotten out of control and so had I. I couldn’t handle one more venomous word aimed in my direction.
If I don’t move, I rationalized, then there is nothing to criticize. My mind reeled. I if I’m not doing anything, I can’t be wrong.
That’s precisely why I stopped moving, for a moment's reprieve. Just one quiet moment of peace. One moment was all I wanted; A second to simply be me. A moment I wasn’t wrong. A time without judgment. A second to breathe. I could not handle another ounce of criticism.
My husband had been at me nonstop since I woke up, unrelentingly critical.
He berated me, labeling me controlling when I attempted to assert myself. He diminished my voice asking me to mean what I say, as though I did not. He asked me to talk to him in a way he could understand. “I should know to choose my words more carefully,” I thought.
My husband became enraged when I added something to the conversation, yelling at me for making it ‘all about me’ and convincing me of my selfishness.
He assured me that I was being disrespectful for changing the topic. He had facts. He could spit back the words I had said in a way that transformed them into poison. He was adamant that he was right, he was adamant that I was wrong. I had nothing left to defend. I relented. This was not the first time this scene had played out. I should know better by now.
The truth was that I was being blamed for all of the problems in our relationship. We never had time to talk about what he could change because we never got past the list of grievances I had incurred. I was always wrong. The criticism was endless and he was relentless.
I was not enough.
If I asked a question I was questioning him.
If I made a statement I was making it all about me.
Even when I made a statement from my perspective, taking full ownership of my thoughts and feelings he would argue with me.
It was as though he was convinced me sharing my thoughts and feelings was attacking him. As though I was telling him what he thought was invalid because I believed something different.
My husband treated me like the enemy.
He wouldn’t drop a topic even if I had apologized for a mistake.
He picked out words I had spoken and used them as a weapon against me.
It was constant chaos. Every conversation was a boxing match. I was on the defense from the time I woke in the morning until the wee hours of the night, which were more often than not, spent fighting.
Battered from the previous days bout, I’d wearily stagger into the ring and try to keep the gloves off. As I stood in the ring of conversation his words would fly like punches . . . .
. . . “You can’t be wrong” stuck in my ribs.
“You are so controlling,” was a jab to my jaw.
I’d shake it off, and stand again . . . vulnerable to attack, yet willing to do better.
Then out of nowhere. . “You are so selfish” hit me in my gut.
“You are so emotional.” got under my skin.
Then he assured me, “You can’t really understand what anyone else feels. Empathy does not exist.”
It was the final blow. . . Knock Out.
But he wasn’t done. Not yet. When I came too and staggered to my feet, I heard the words . . .”You are out of control.” And that was it. I found a way. I fought back, swinging my own words with all I had.
All my resentment, contempt, loneliness, vengeance, rage, anger, desire for connection, grief, confusion and despair came spewing out like a red hot volcano.
And then as the volcano died down and the words ceased I knew he was right. I was out of control.
He is right about me, I’d think. I am out of control.
Maybe I am controlling, maybe all he says is true.
It was as though his words were some kind of sick self-fulfilling prophecy. And every time he told me I was out of control, I somehow felt out of control.
I was willing to do anything to be heard. I longed to be validated. Perhaps that is selfish I considered. Am I asking too much of him?
Maybe I’m still approaching it wrong? Maybe I need to try a new way. Maybe if I just remember to ask him if it's ok to talk, before I bring up a topic, then he will listen to me.
And I need to remember the words he responds well to.
And I’ll stay on topic, deal with one thing at a time.
And pick a good time of day, and not interrupt him in the middle of anything.
And be prepared when I approach him.
I was making a plan, trying to remember each and every detail he’d given me, assuring me that it was indeed under my control and ability to fix. Not to mention that it was my responsibility. And I bought into that belief, wholeheartedly.
Perhaps this out of control, off balanced feeling was the proper response to what abuse experts call crazy making.
Feeling off balance, like you are constantly walking on eggshells, reading physical cues, gestures, tone of voice, words, even the sound of the car door closing can let you know if there is going to be a fight.
This is the realm of emotional and verbal abuse.
You read these signs and adjust your behavior. You don’t ask that any of your needs be taken care of. You certainly don’t complain. When a simple ’sigh’ could be the spark that sets off a 5 hour long inferno, you learn well to hide every emotion.
You never know what will trigger him. And it doesn’t make sense logically. There is no reason, no predicting, and no avoiding.
Back in the kitchen, my husband looks at me with a sideways glance and asks with a stern tone “What are you doing?”
“Nothing” I thought, yet I spoke no word.
“Why aren’t you moving? He persisted, “What’s wrong with you?”
And I knew he hit the nail on the head. That was the question . . . “What is wrong with me?”