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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

10/23 Interactive Board: Quandary Revisited

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7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Recovery Map: Life During and After Abuse

Recovery Map: Life During and After Abuse (Waking Up)

No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way 
you take it.  - Ellen Glascow

Dear Readers,

This is an incredible account of one woman's recovery from abuse. This lady has taken responsibility for herself, taken her personal power, dumped her victim's rage, found peace, and has gone on to live life. She personifies the concepts taught on this site. This is how she did it.   Dr. Irene

January 11, 2000 

Dear Dr. Irene,   

Your site is wonderful, educational, and inspiring.  It is a great comfort that a site such as this exists to help spread awareness that verbal abuse is unacceptable.  Although verbal abuse does not leave scars it is none the less felt deeply, in the heart, soul, and mind. Abuse gradually deteriorates the most vital part of an individual: their self-esteem and self-respect.

I am submitting this today, Jan. 11, because today marks the fourth anniversary of when my husband left me in search of “his happiness." It also marks the anniversary of my freedom; of my rebirth.  But this of course is the end or rather the happy beginning, depending on your point of view, to an otherwise unhappy marriage. 

I want to share my story in the hopes that it may help someone realize that a better life is possible after abuse ends.

I married very young to my high school sweetheart.  I know for a fact that I married my abuser knowing “in my heart” that he was not perfect, that he had “problems and issues”, but my love made him perfect in my eyes. I was sure that my love would be enough to change him, to make him feel secure.   But, as I was to discover, nothing would make him secure enough. Because I was so young, na´ve, and inexperienced (he was my first boyfriend), I believed that everything this man had to say about relationships was true, and thus must be followed.  (After all, had I not promised to love, honor, and OBEY him?) 

And so began my INDOCTRINATION!

I learned:     

I shouldn’t talk to any of my friends because “They’re crazy and messed up.” “We should spend our time together.” “I want to be with you, don’t you want to be with me?” “They don’t appreciate your company like I do.”  In the process I lost my friends and any hopes of obtaining a clear perspective of what was happening in our relationship.

I shouldn’t go to certain places because “We could do something together.” “Don’t you want to be with me?” “We can have more fun together.” And so I lost my individuality.

I shouldn’t do certain things because “It’s not right.” “It’s silly.” “It can affect us.” “Or better yet let’s do this.”  And so I lost my spontaneous nature.

I shouldn’t smile so much, or look guys in the eyes because “The guys will think you like them and that might cause problems.”  And so I became more serious and reserved, and walked looking toward the ground.

I shouldn’t complain because I was “Too sensitive” “Exaggerating” or “Taking things too personally or seriously.” “Didn’t know how to take a joke.” And so I disconnected from my feelings because I thought I could not trust them.

I was expected to do everything to avoid putting “our relationship” in jeopardy by always taking into consideration the “we” and the “us”.  When in reality there was never an “us”, there was only him, his way, his needs, his wants and desires.  His need for absolute control.

            I had to watch what I said (and it never mattered how I practiced it), walk on eggs, watch for any hints or gestures that would give me an indication of his mood.  And so I became cautious and adopted an “on guard” approach in my interactions with him.

            I shouldn’t provide opinions that differed from his because “You’re wrong”, “Not thinking straight.” “Too stupid to understand.” “Not seeing the point clearly.” or “Have no experience on the subject.”  “You are being incoherent.”  And so I began to doubt myself when I spoke.  I believed my judgment and perspective was flawed. 

Eventually, I became silent -  because by becoming quiet you never said the wrong thing and thus had nothing to fear.  One did not have to worry about getting “the look”, hearing him raise his voice, hear his speeches (verbal torture as I used to call it) or see his scary gestures.  I stayed quiet because I was scared, I didn’t want the children to be scared.  I also did not want to be embarrassed in front of family or friends. (I was anyway!)  Silence meant I didn’t have to watch him get angry over the stupidest thing.  I wanted to keep the peace.  I also didn’t want to give him reason to attack me (I felt vulnerable).  But, SILENCE had a price.  One I paid dearly. On the outside I looked calm and complacent, but inside a storm of resentment and anger brewed. The more I kept quiet and refused to fight back, the more he thought he was right, the more he justified that his needs, wants, and desires were first. By staying quiet, I never told him of my needs and wants, and so never had any hope of these being acknowledged or satisfied. So, he was not responsible for my happiness, although I was responsible for his happiness. 

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only did he want to alter my behavior and thoughts (which he did at first), he targeted on the one thing that would always place me in a superior level then him.  He targeted my brain.   Yes, that’s right, my intelligence. Having been an honor student in high school and in college, he attacked this area with more frequency and devotedness - to ensure my dependence on him.  Over time I became - in his eyes  - “immature”, “silly”, “stupid”, “ignorant” “a Barbie head.” “You need to be explained things at kindergarten level.” “You’re worse then my most inefficient employees.” “You’re going to make the company you work for incur losses when you make decisions.” “Are you sure you are learning in that college? I think you’re wasting your time” or “I glad I’m letting you study, you really need it!”  Yet, when I had to study for a test or do a project, and it was going to take away time I could dedicate to him, he would say, “You’re smart, you can learn that quickly.”  “You know that already, you don’t need to study.” “I bet you can learn that in no time, you’re so intelligent, study later.” 

Ironically, the only reason he allowed me to continue with my studies was because he wanted to shut my parents “big trap” and “show them how wrong they were”.  Retrospectively, I believe that if he had not allowed me to study, I would not have put up the fight to do so, even though I really, really wanted to.  So it was a blessing that one of the first things my parents said when I married so young was “I doubt you will get your college degree.” I immediately informed my husband of this. (Funny how starting out you tell your mate everything, but as abuse continues and escalates, you learn not to trust him with your most secret thoughts and desires - because it can later be used against you!)  As you can see, these controlling abusers only allow things if it allows THEM to manipulate the situation to get a point across, make them look good, or make someone look bad, as was the case with my parents. 

Of course the impact of these words was indescribable.  Some days were better then others.  There were times when I could actually ignore these comments and see them for what they were. But at other times (the majority), they rang in my ears for hours, even days after they were said. They affected me in ways that until now, I did not understand.  I became forgetful, I lost interest in cleaning the house, I wouldn’t fold the clothes, I lost interest in my appearance, I kept really busy, doing errands, visiting friends and family. I did anything in my power not to return home until I knew he was about to arrive.  I laughed less and cried more.  And it goes on and on: signs that clearly indicated that I was unhappy, but I stayed. Why? 

Simply answered: I did not want to see things as they really were, I did not want to confront reality.  Why?

One, because I knew it would mean I should end my marriage.  And of course I thought: I don’t want to be divorced, what about the children, what will my family say, I have no job, I don’t want to show that my parents were right about him, at least he doesn’t drink, we have only been married a couple of years, don’t quit.  I also thought: You are just about to graduate, things will get better after you find a job.  What will people think “what a coincidence she left the marriage just when she was about to finish school.” And on and on the rationalization process goes.
Two, the majority of the time the onslaught was such that it was enough just to get out of bed and go through the daily routine.  And believe me that itself was a miracle as anyone who has gone through abuse can attest to.  Every day got harder and harder to the point that I became lethargic and felt little motivation for anything.   In other words I felt depressed but when you live in this state on a constant basis you learn how to live with it by excusing it as being “tired, or stressed”, but you never admit to yourself something is wrong
Three, I realized (much later) that I was codependent.  I was willing to give way too much and receive way too little or nothing at all, even if it killed me inside.

 Fast-forward a few years when I noticed that my husband’s attention was not solely mine.  At this point I really did not care, I had just graduated college and had obtained a scholarship to continue with my Master’s degree.  This was the only thing that gave me a sense of my self-worth and helped unravel the distorted perspective my husband wanted me to adopt.  So I happily threw myself into the process, three months into my semester (Oct.) I found out I was pregnant with my second child, needless to say the timing couldn’t have been worse.  A month later around Thanksgiving, my insignificant other told me he has found happiness with his co-worker friend and was going to move out.  (What is it with special days, that abusive men always have to ruin them?  I can’t remember one special day: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, A Birthday, Graduation, Anniversary, or a Mother’s Day in which he behaved himself!)  

Well needless to say the rug was pulled out from under me!  The month of Dec. was literally spent crying and suffering because his abuse escalated during this time.  In Jan. he moved out saying, “I know I might be making the biggest mistake of my life, but I want the opportunity to come back.”  When I protested he said, “I have the right to come back.” I answered “If you have the right to come back, I also have the right to say no, and I can tell you from this moment on, once you step out of that door you might have a right to come back to this house, but you will not find me in it!”  He half-smiled and answered “Why wouldn’t you want me back?”  I answered “I just might like being ALONE.  He than said “Good, because when we get back together you will do things for me because you want to NOT because you feel you have to or because I tell you to”.   

And he left, but, boy did I feel relieved. I had no job, no money and I could never consider the house where we were living in to be mine (it belonged to his parents).  I’m not going to lie and say I finally saw the light and totally ignored him. Learned behaviors and reactions are tough (although, not impossible) to break. I cried, I was hurt.  At first I missed him, but when I asked myself:  “What do you specifically miss?”  My answers were: sex, him holding me at night, and going out together.  That’s all I could answer, and it showed me I had nothing to hold on to.  And when I asked myself “What things do you want him to change?”  The list I produced was so long that I understood from that moment on that only a MIRACLE could change him.   

And for the first time I could feel. I felt everything that was happening to me and it was overwhelming.  I felt it was unfair.  I felt I deserved better.  I felt jealous.  I felt angry.  I felt rage.  I felt disgusted and disgusting. For the first time I decided to face what I was feeling instead of burying it deep inside me in a little box.  I guess you can say I mourned for my marriage, but I especially mourned for myself.  All the time thinking: how can the man I choose to be my life long companion, be in fact my worse enemy?

I was blessed by having the parents that I have, not only did I go live with them, but my father gave me the necessary support so that I could finish my Master’s.  My Dad said “You need to provide a good life for yourself and your children, you finish your education because that is the best inheritance I could ever give you!”  “Everyone needs help now and then and it should be given when you most need it!”  This support allowed me to heal.  I call this stage the cocoon stage, because what would eventually emerge was the butterfly.  Of course it took time, but in order to evolve and help me keep focused on my newfound reality I did two things:

One, I began reading everything on the subject (and still do!).  My favorites: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, (where I learned that our realities were two different worlds, he wanted control.) I wanted a loving, trusting, mutual friendship. When we married, these two worlds crashed together.  I of course lost.  When Words Hurt, No Visible Wounds, and Men Who Hate Woman, and the Women Who Love Them (The first book I found that addressed my problem).  In each I saw my life in print.

Two, I began writing a day by day journal of how I felt, of what had happened. I collected every scrap of evidence that demonstrated his lack of love and respect for me.  (This was done by saving all the credit card bills, which showed all the money he was spending on his new lady, while the only thing he left on the kitchen counter for me was $60.00).  So the day he would call complaining about his life, asking me to go back with him, to listen to his problems, I would force myself to read my journal and look through the bills. In a snap any urge to help him, go back to him, hear him, feel sorry for him - evaporated completely.  As time passed, the entries to that journal diminished. Currently, I no longer write in it, except once a year - when I read through it again and write about how I feel now.  The difference is remarkable; literally two different people that have been writing in this journal.

 Behind me are the days I felt: dazed and in a fog, lost, unappreciated, misunderstood (what language did I speak, to make him so mad?), depressed, and alone.  ALONE!  God, I felt so alone.  I couldn’t understand this at first.  How could you feel alone when you have someone in your life?  his depressed me.  Why is that when we were together we seemed to be light years apart?  t wasn’t until he left that I realized that even though he was no longer around, I was still doing the things I had always done.  I mean I was still cleaning the house, doing the laundry, doing the errands, washing the car, taking care of the kids, throwing out the trash (Yes, he didn’t even do this), going to school.  I was still doing it ALL.  I was still doing it ALL.  I was still doing it ALL.  It hit me how little he helped me; how little he did around the house, That is when I understood why I felt so lonely, so drained, depleted, run down - and why I felt so distant from him.  t was because even though we were together physically - emotionally and psychologically we were miles apart.  And what was even more incredible was when I discovered: I was more independent then he was, he actually needed me more then I needed him!

 Eventually, I came to one of the hardest points of my healing process. It was a very, very, very painful lesson. I realized I was co-dependent.  I had to accept that I played a significant part in this abusive cycle. Believe me, this is not easy to accept.  I realized that the reason he did what he did was because I LET HIM!  I had to realize that the only reason he didn’t give me the respect I deserved, wanted, and needed - was because I never respected myself enough to ask or demand them.  I never protected myself when he hurt me.  I never said OUCH! You are hurting me and I do not like it and I will not allow it!  

Actually, thinking back, I can only remember three instances (early in our marriage) in which I put my foot down, opened my mouth, complained and protested very loudly - not caring about the consequences. One of those moments occurred when we were about to go out and I put on a nice shirt and a skirt (the skirt was from a two piece set but, I was not using the shirt).  Hubby came over and said in a demanding voice, “Hey, put on the shirt that really goes with that skirt!” I said, “No, I won’t feel comfortable.” He insisted, “If you're going out with me, I want you to put on the shirt that goes with that skirt.”  “I said “No, I’m six months pregnant and the half- shirt that goes with this skirt is short and will not cover me.”  He said “I don’t care, do it for me.”  To which I responded very angrily “I told you I will feel uncomfortable, and besides I have been dressing myself my whole life and don’t need you to tell me what I can and can not put on!”  Well he got off my case. Looking back, I see I set a limit. After that, I can honestly say that he NEVER EVER repeated the same conduct again. 

 But my assertive moments were rare exceptions.  In general I did not set rules or boundaries because I did not really know what setting limits and boundaries meant at the time.  I also thought if I said what I wanted, I’d be selfish or greedy; I would seem bitchy.  Worse of all I believed if I gave the best of myself, he would feel satisfied with my love.  He would feel confident and secure enough to reciprocate. This of course never happened because the more I gave in, the more I gave up, the more I stayed quiet, the more he still needed and the more pain I felt.

 After learning this final lesson, I obtained the closure I so desired.  The closure I found was much different then what I had initially hoped for or wanted.  At first I wanted to see my ex on his hands and knees begging for forgiveness - because he realized just how good I was and how horrible his new lady was, how undeserving and foolish he was to give it all up and not appreciate it. (My Fairy Tale phase)  Then, I wanted to see him suffer economic, psychological, and emotional chaos, while I was doing great (My revenge phase).  But closure did not come in his “I’m sorry, take me back!”  When he uttered that magical phrase, I realized that all the "I’m sorrys" in the world could not erase what I had been through.  closure come when he did go through a very low point in his life.  By this time I had totally disconnected from him; I really didn’t care.   Yet, ironically he called me saying “This is your fault, if you would have taken me back when I asked for forgiveness, I wouldn’t be in this mess!  I should have never asked for your forgiveness!”  I laughed, and said, "Then consider that you never did, because even my forgiveness, I still don't want  you back. It changes nothing!"  To which he replied “My biggest mistake was leaving, I should have stayed. "You would have forgiven me then.”  I calmly replied “That is precisely why God made sure you left!”  Needless to say he hung up. I would be lying if I said that these events did not bring a smug smile to my face.  My smile was in fact my pat on my back:  “I’m proud of you, girl” because I knew I had changed, but he had not!

Closure came when I finally confronted and accepted my feelings, absorbed all that happened, understood it as much as I could, learned the role I played (my codependency), and did everything possible to improve and enrich my life.

Closure came when I learned to laugh, be happy and love myself enough to forgive myself for what happened.

Closure came when I obtained a high level of self-awareness that allowed me to know I learned my lesson. 

Closure came when I could once again trust in myself and know that I would never, ever let this happen again.  (If by chance I happen to meet another abusive person I know to RUN not walk to the nearest exit!)  My feelings are first!

Closure came when I learned that my needs and wants were just as valid as his - even more so - and that I had every right to demand  what I wanted and needed. But, more then demand, I had a right to HAVE MY WANTS MET!  I learned that I am important and I must take care of myself emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually, and economically because if I didn’t,  no one will. Quite honestly, no one should feel they have to.  Gone is the Cinderella Complex: I do not need the Prince on the white horse. All I ever needed was strength to stand on my own two feet.

Closure came when I regained my self worth and self-respect.  In short closure had nothing to do with my ex, but everything to do with ME! I had to take responsibility for myself and my actions.

 I am

Life is a choice, I know it sounds too simple, but it is. I decided not to go back to abuse.  I decided to take the road less traveled. Let me assure you, although bumpy and difficult at first, it is definitely worth traveling.  Had my ex-husband not decided to leave me, or had I made the choice to go back, how many years would I have lost, and how many opportunities would I have missed or given up?  Sadly, I know the answer would be “too many” because one thing I am sure of is that my ex-husband never wanted for me what I wanted for myself.  And that, my friends, is a shame and a great pity. 

I made the choice of living the life that God intended me to have: one that is fruitful, happy, and peaceful.

What is your choice? 

P.S. Dr. Irene, I would greatly appreciate it if you would allow readers to comment on my story, it is with the hope that I may find it truly did help someone make a life altering decision.  

Dear RMM,

After reading your extraordinary account, I am delighted  to honor your request! Dear Lady, you have laid out the recovery "map."  Thank you for your contribution. May God bless you. Dr. Irene

I would like to read what others wrote.