LIFE GOES ON

Updates and I talk to M

I had no idea how hard the knee surgery would be. It was The Summer Of My Discontent. A very long summer of pain, physical therapy, aqua therapy and more physical therapy. My husband put a swimming pool in at the lake house so I could do aqua therapy there. Really wonderful to work out in the warm water in a pool just outside our bedroom and overlooking the lake. Heaven on earth.

While my surgeon and various physical therapists all say I have done very well, I still feel I have a long way to go. So – more physical therapy on my own along with water aerobics and working out with my husband. I know you all must get tired of reading this but I can’t imagine going through all this without him beside me.

After the knee surgery, we both thought we were finished with doctors and hospitals for a while and made plans to spend Christmas on the Caribbean island of Vieques. But fate had other ideas. Instead of lolling about in the sun and sipping from glasses with funny umbrellas in them, I’ll be having a “mass” removed from my abdomen.

This will be the seventh surgery I’ve had in four years and the second time I’ve spent Christmas in a hospital recovering from surgery. But, I’m not complaining. By any measurement, I have a perfect life and wouldn’t change anything. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to spend the holidays differently but “then” and “now” could not be more different.

The first time I had surgery over Christmas, my now-ex-husband came to see me once and spent the entire visit swearing at me for being sick and playing solitaire He never once called and didn’t know I’d had surgery until I tracked him down on Christmas Day to ask him if he would give me a ride home. It was some time later that I learned he had been partying with one of his girlfriends. I also heard from his co-workers where he volunteers that he had been so worried and had left there almost daily so he could hurry over to the hospital to sit with me. Typical of him, he had been lying, to them and to me.

I have no doubt that Grey Fox will be beside me every inch of the way so, while its certainly not what I had planned for our Christmas, I am happy and so very lucky to have the love of a Real Man. Besides, he says, the Caribbean will be there next Christmas and we still have two weeks in France coming up in March.

But, my reason for this entry is to address several emails I’ve gotten from a woman who posts at an on-line community geared for victims of marital abuse.

She has said repeatedly that she does not want to take the chance that her family, or her husband’s family could follow the link from that site to this one so, just in case, I’m going to refer to her as “M”.

M has asked me to write about some of the issues she faces every day because they are so similar to the things I was dealing with in the final years before I escaped my own abusive marriage. I’ve told M that I’m not a therapist, that I have no training and that those years were the hardest and most lonely of my life. During that time, I learned a lot about people and a lot about myself. I can tell M and the other cyber-friends from that site what worked for me and what didn’t but if possible, I think it would be far better to get professional help.

Having said all that, I want to talk about some of the things she has written to me without giving any clue to her identify. I’ve talked about some of this before but I’m afraid for M and want to talk to her about the things that worry her. And, since most of the emails I get from this site concern Bran Muffin and the illustrations, I’ll also add an explanation of the substantial changes we’re making to Bran Muffin at the end of this post.

That last seems like a good place to start … Self-protection vs. isolation …

I planned for years to leave my ex-husband but without get-away money, I knew I would be helpless. So, I started saving money many years before I was finally able to leave. My very first advice to any woman who wants to escape an abusive marriage is save, save and save.

I put away five dollar bills, tens and twenties, even singles. When the opportunity presented itself, I would stuff whatever I could into my secret stash. Every once in a while, when I was alone and knew he would not be coming home for a while, I would shake all the wads of cash out onto the bed and count it. Then, feeling hopeful and courageous, I would smooth out the bills, put them in order and very neatly fit them back into my hiding place.

M, I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. Don’t ever let him know about your stash. You need to be hard hearted and stubborn or you’ll end up trapped for years – just like I was.

It was my own fault. We would hit a rough patch and I would drag out my stash to pay for whatever it was we needed. Oddly, this was always a source of very real heartache for me. I had always thought that marriage should be a partnership and, stupidly, I believed he felt the same.

The fact is that he always had someone on the side and that’s where the money went. So, while I was just trying to stay out of his way, he was spending money on someone else.

I don’t mean that your husband has other women. I’m just saying that you need to plan your escape carefully, guard your money and keep it secret from all others, including and especially your husband.

Re-loadable credit cards can be the best friend of any woman trying to leave an abusive husband. The ones I’ve seen or used all work pretty much the same – you buy the card for x dollars and add to it as you wish. Hiding wads of cash can be difficult and these cards give you a very small, safe place to hide money. Just as cumbersome as cash is a bank account, with the added difficulty of getting the money out when you need to. The card is easy to hide. They can be tucked away and he need never know the exist.

Another advantage is that no one else ever needs to know what you’re doing. Which brings up another subject you’ve written me about – friends and family.

Boy, this is a tough one. As you have written, even though he has treated his own family as badly as he’s treated you, they seem to be blind to that when it comes to you. You may find the same is true of friends.

Been there, done that, girlfriend!

I know you’ve read my previous writing about his so won’t belabor it but it’s a simple and horribly basic truth that you cannot count on anyone except yourself. I don’t want to sound bitter but just as basic is that you will be blamed for not being able to hold your man or for making him angry enough to hurt you.

For all those years, I watched in awe as he lied and charmed the people around us. I’ve seen him lie to his clients, to the people he volunteered for and to those he worked for. He could joke and charm and reel them in with an effortless ease that truly astounded me. He’d tell the same lies over an over and still, they’d take his bait and ask for more.

M, I know you’ve read about the charm of the abuser on our site but I urge you to read http://www.drirene.com/. This ability is almost universal among abusers and it really is helpful to read the words of strangers and see that they agree so completely with your own experience.

My own experience was that as I unconsciously insulated my heart from his attacks, I also became very defensive toward others. The more I yearned for closeness, the more I pushed others away. I’ve since learned that this is very typical of the behavior of someone who is being abused but knowing that doesn’t really help you to be more open with the outside world. Or, I should say, it never helped me. I am only now beginning to open up to others but I’m still very distrusting and afraid. Sometimes I think I always will be.

Since leaving my ex-husband I have reestablished contact with some of my old friends, they have begun to understand my situation. They have told me that since I left, my ex has been telling lies about me to anyone who will listen.  He tries to make it seem as if he is the victim and that I injured him by leaving.  This is not true but just as I was silent when I was still with him, I‘m still silent now. You may find that you’re hearing the worst lies about you and there really is nothing you can do about it.

You have mentioned that you were abused as a child and as you know, I was too. This gives us both a real double whammy of hurt to try to get past. Every once in a while – and it can be months in-between, I’ll notice again, that small round scar on my throat, a cigarette burn inflicted so many years ago and then I think of all the other little round scars and it all becomes so overwhelming that I have to just go away and not think about it.

Is it the same for you? Actually, I know it is because I’ve read what you’ve written about your own childhood. Like you, I’ve spent my life trying to outrun my own history and not doing a very good job of it. Only in the past five years or so I’ve been able to admit to others that I was abused as a kid. Even now, I see that I wrote “admit” as though I was and am to blame for being abused as a child. And, indeed, on some unexplainable level, I do still feel guilt and blame. I read about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and see myself but knowing isn’t the same as being able to change.

I really was not prepared for so many things. While I had carefully worked out a place to go, I guess I was naïve to think that I could ask anyone for help. I was afraid to ask for help and, to be honest, I was ashamed. I was also careful not to put anyone else in danger of my ex’s temper or to put them in the position of having to lie for me.

Only you can decide if your own husband could become physically dangerous but don’t underestimate his anger or his need for revenge. Its better to protect yourself, your family and your friends than to put anyone in danger.

I also believed what I had heard about the sheriff or police coming to your home to stand by while you get out safely. That’s not quite the way it works in the county I left. When I went to the sheriff’s office near my home, I was told that first, I had to have previously filed a complaint against him, in that county. The officer agreed that waving a complaint in my ex’s face probably wouldn’t give me much protection and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t see any bruises on you now”.

In other words, law enforcement hasn’t really come very far since the days when men were allowed to beat their wives as long as the club wasn’t any bigger around than their thumb.

M, if you can, find a place to go before your home situation boils over. Don’t wait and hope he’ll change. Don’t hope that he can suddenly become what you know he is not.

If there is one thing I know, its that you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. You are not responsible for the actions of another person but you are responsible for your own actions.

Once you make this break, don’t go back. I saw the photos of you after the last time he beat you up and M, if I could say this gently, I would. But dammit, you don’t have a marriage any more than I did. When he calls or writes and tells you he wants you back, you must be strong.

When I left my ex, he wrote long emails begging me to come back. He said ridiculous things, such as, “I competed him and he wanted the chance to prove he could complete me”. Although I didn’t say it, what I thought was, “You had 25 years to complete me. Why would I fall for such a lame line now?”.

Your husband may do some really rotten things to you. I count myself lucky that my ex did so little to me after I left. He bombarded me with porn and advertisements for such things as Viagra. A woman he volunteers with wrote me many emails about him and was also very open about being his “friend” and thought nothing of gossiping with him about me. I finally had no choice but to block both their email addresses but the porn and other spam filled my email, so I opened another email account.

You may lose many of your prized belongings. I had no choice but to leave in a hurry. I had only a couple of days notice and that was only because I overheard him tell a friend that he was going to Sante Fe, New Mexico for the weekend. I knew that was my chance and I had to take it.

As a result, I left behind many things that had emotional value to me. Later, when the dust cleared, he said he would send them to me but of course, that was just another lie. I even sent him money but it didn’t help. You need to brace yourself for the anger of someone who is accustomed to getting his own way and to being able to make your life miserable. If he cannot get revenge in his usual ways, he may find other things he can do to you.

One of the things you lose in an abusive relationship is the ability to trust your own instincts. All those years of listening to his lies – AND – listening to the lies YOU tell the outside world … It leaves a huge emotional crater in your heart and soul that will take you years to repair and refill.

You must also prepare yourself for the grief you’ll feel. Give yourself a chance to mourn the death of your marriage. I had so many dreams after I left him. In one dream, I was walking through a graveyard of my hopes and dreams. Accept that you will feel very real pain and guilt for leaving him but also understand that what you are leaving is living death for everything you value.

I remember another dream I had many years ago. It was after literally begging him to talk to me and him heaping his nasty foul language on me. I dreamed he was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. He held our marriage in his hand and he was quietly whittling away at it with a jagged sharp knife. On the floor around him were bloody shreds of everything I had hoped for.

I know this all sounds like so much work and so wearisome to have to deal with just to get your life back. I know it feels like you’ll never see the light at the end of this miserable tunnel. But, trust me …There really does come a glorious sunshiny day when you realize you haven’t been subconsciously listening for him to come through the door, cussing and calling you the most horrible names imaginable.

There will also come a day when you start to trust people again. I smile at people now. All those years that I was snarling and afraid, I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

Finally, about Bran Muffin –

The character, me, her thoughts, my thoughts, all of it and more is evolving and growing and changing. When I first started writing from the point of view of Bran Muffin, I was so tender and raw and afraid. Its been a wonderful roller coaster since I left my ex and found real love with Gray Fox. He’s an amazing man who loves me, all of me, in ways I’ve never before been loved.

Together, we’ve been working hard new Bran Muffin illustrations and probably will not be putting them up here. The new illustrations are quite different from most of what we’ve put up here. While we have sold some designs, we both feel its time to break out and push Bran Muffin out of the nest.

There are no words to thank you all for the love and support you’ve shown us both since we began our life together.

To M, again I must say to you, if you stay where you are, you will die. You may look like you’re alive on the outside but believe me when I say, not all scars show. I know just how possible it is to put one foot in front of the other and still be dried up and dead on the inside. I hope you’ll go back in the archives and look at the very first Bran Muffin illustration on this site and know that its speaking to you. Read the message in the “Welcome” and know that can be you. You really can do it.