Isolation and Independence

It’s now been almost 6 months since I filed for separation from my Soon-To-Be-Ex-Wife (STBEW).  I’m thinking I need to change the acronym to my EEW for “Eventual Ex Wife”!  The court process is neither simple nor fast, especially when matters are complicated.  It’s excruciatingly slow when dealing with an ex who is unreasonable, dishonest, and manipulative.

I tried my best to come to a settlement without involving the courts, but no dice.  My STBEW filed a response and a motion for divorce and custody of our children, and this has spiraled out into a mountain of paperwork for both of our attorneys, multiple (mostly) fruitless court hearings, and an insane amount of money spent.

During a conversation about how things were going, and me bringing up the very large sums of money being spent on my divorce, a very good friend of mine helped put things into perspective:

“It’s just a change of currency.  Now you’re paying in dollars instead of bruises”.

This is true.  I suffered years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of my STBEW.  I missed work due to contusions and lacerations; hid black eyes and nursed fat lips; called in sick after being berated until the wee hours of the morning.  I lived without the support of my friends and family throughout the whole ordeal.  I’ve since reconnected with many friends, and with my immediate and extended family.

I’m getting back to being me again … It was my birthday this past week, and I spent the entire day alone.  It was a sharp contrast to my adult birthday celebrations before I was married, and also much different than the past 5 years of birthday ‘parties’.  Before I met my STBEW, my friends and I would all go out and have a great dinner, including drinks and festivities at someone’s house afterwards.  I felt loved, secure, and happy with my family of friends.

While I was married, my birthdays were hollow and lonely.  I didn’t have conversations with my family,  there were no socially mediated well wishes of ‘Happy Birthday’.  My STBEW would make efforts to make a cake, buy me gifts, and give a nice card.  We’d have dinner with a friend, or two (her friends, as I had none under her rules).  These efforts, while appreciated, could not make up for the isolation and fear under which I lived on a daily basis.

Two years ago, just a few days before my birthday, I was threatened with “You’re going to end up spending your birthday alone!” during a fight.  This was also a fight when my STBEW had wailed on me with both fists, and my daughter bored witness to it.  I will never forget her scream at what was going on.  I told my wife then and there that the next time she hit me, that I was going to call the police and file for divorce.

Later that week, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up to wrapped gifts and coffee, and opened my presents with my daughter and wife.  The presents were great, exactly what I wanted.  My daughter had fun helping me open them.  We got some great pictures.  I should have been happy.  But I wasn’t.  I was lonely, miserable, and depressed.  I put on a good face, but knew that things were over.

My heart wasn’t in it anymore.  It had been beaten to death.

My birthday wasn’t nearly as much fun as I have had in the past, but it wasn’t as miserable either.  It was bittersweet and lonely, more solitary than isolated.  Think about that for a minute.  Solitary beings are strong, self-reliant, comfortable in their own skin.  Isolated beings are caged, fearful, utterly stifled beings.

I’m looking forward to next year …

Outbound and Down

At my last hearing, the presiding official scheduled an ‘Emergency Screening’, which is essentially an intervention by the state to determine the best place for my children. Given the allegations made by me (which are all true), and the allegations made by my STBEW (which are mostly false), we had to go and talk to a counselor to answer to said allegations, be observed with our children, and await a recommendation from the screener as to the best course of action.

My position has, and will remain as follows:

1) My STBEW is emotionally unstable and volatile
2) My STBEW needs mental help for her anger and emotional instability
3) My STBEW has been abusive to me, as evidenced by multiple arrests and a plea-bargained conviction
4) My STBEW may be abusive to my children if she does not get help for her issues

During the screening, I was asked about specific acts of Domestic Violence perpetrated by my STBEW. I answered all questions honestly and completely. Yet there was still an air of interrogation, perhaps excacserbated by the German/Dutch accent of the screener. I know I am in the right, and I know I am being honest, but somehow this screener was able to make me feel as if I hadn’t done enough to stop the abuse, or that I was somehow weak and deficient or neglectful as a parent.

Maybe this is part of the process, maybe it’s part of the game, maybe it’s just that my STBEW got to go first and paint me as an alcoholic monster.

I don’t care why or how, I just care about the WHAT. The WHAT is that this screener made me, the fucking VICTIM, feel as if I were on trial. “How could she drag you back into the house, you are bigger and stronger!?”, “Why didn’t you call the police?”, “Why did you film her beating you instead of caring for your children?”.

To that, I will say the following:

You don’t know how it feels. You don’t know what it’s like. You haven’t been abused as I have. You haven’t walked a foot, let alone a mile, in my shoes. And, for that matter, I wouldn’t ask you to. Because you wouldn’t survive. But I have. I lived to tell about it. And I’m lucky for that.

So, let the chips fall as they may. I’m not gambling, I’m doing my best to protect my family. But I am playing fair, and if my opponent is playing unfairly, I and my children should not be punished for it.

I’m out for awhile, to do some good work and get away from this nightmare.

Violence, Victims, and Triggers

You might be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:

  • Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
  • Prevents you from going to work or school
  • Stops you from seeing family members or friends
  • Tries to control how you spend money, where you go or what you wear
  • Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Threatens you with violence or a weapon
  • Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
  • Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
  • Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it

I’ve had every single one of these things happen to me over the past 5 years.  And it really sucks.

My case with my STBEW has escalated, most notably her false allegations that I’ve abused her.  It’s turning into some he-said, she-said paper war, and the fact remains that no matter how many times you repeat something false, it will never become true. Sure, you may be able to twist someone’s mind by doing so, altering his or her reality, but you won’t be able to change reality itself.

She was arrested, twice, not me.  I’m the one who had to go to the doctor with a back injury from her kicking me repeatedly.  I’m the one who missed work because of black eyes and bloody lips.  I’m the one who was kicked out of the house with no money and forced to sleep in a car.  I had no contact with friends, with family, for 5 years.  

The fact of the matter is: I was a victim.  I can’t deny that.  However, with all of the police visits, I was protecting HER.  I did so by lying to the cops, minimizing the situation, never saying that she had hit me.  I’m bigger, stronger, and capable of defending myself.  I LET her hit me.  And the fact that I laid down like such a doormat kills me sometimes.  It won’t happen again.

I have knee-jerk reactions sometimes.  What might seem funny to someone who hasn’t been through what I have is genuinely sickening to me.  I recognize that my reaction isn’t in line with the stimulus, so I generally just leave the room or building, smoke a cigarette, and come back inside.  It seems to work.  But it doesn’t feel great.  It still feels like I’m stifling something and I don’t know exactly how to express it.  I know it’s my problem.  But it’s not my fault.

I just have to deal with it.  I’ve decided that the next time I have one of these reactions, I’m simply going to call out the situation and see what happens.  It can’t be any worse than what I’ve been through.

I Came to Drop the Pain

Ok, so it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here.  Part of the reason is that I’ve had the first court hearing with attorneys and my Soon-to-be-ex-wive (STBEW), and I’ve been working on really processing what is going on during this whole ordeal.  I’ve also been very active and getting back to actually LIVING my life.  So, my apologies for the delayed post.

One of the things I have been thinking about recently, and shared with some friends who are likewise going through tumultuous or catalytic change is the concept of a “pain body” or “pain shadow”.  Now, before you click ‘back’ or close the browser, or whatever, hear me out, because I’m not going all therapeutic and theoretical and all hippy all over the place.  What I’m talking about here is PAIN, not physical pain, per se, but mortal PAIN;  The type of pain that makes you question “Why am I here?”,  “Is there a God?”,”If there is a God, why would he/she/it put me through this HELL!?!!”, “Why don’t I just end it right now?”; The type of pain you carry with you because it’s a part of who you are.

With what I have been through, it would be quite easy and perhaps addictive to continue to dwell on it, to ruminate, to continually use it as a frame of reference for every experience.  I might be gun-shy of women.  I might react inappropriately to normal stimulus.  I might surprise the next woman I date.

I’ve got invisible buttons that could be pressed.  She might say “pass the salt”, and I might say “DON’T FUCKING TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!”.  She might joke “I’d cut your balls off if you did that!” and I might call the police instead of saying “But then you’d be killing your future children!”.  Exaggerations, I admit, but it drives the point home.  You don’t survive what I’ve endured without a few soft spots and defensive responses.

I refuse to carry this weight any longer.  I’m not going to keep my pain around any longer than I have to.  I’m not going to cling to it as a part of my identity.  I’m going to drop the dead weight, this shadow of myself, and stay in the sun for as long as I possibly can.  While I have been shaped by my experience, I refuse to let it define me.  I don’t want to carry it with me forever.  I don’t want to have open wounds; scars that won’t heal because I keep picking at them.  I want to heal and grow from my experiences.  It’s going to take a bit of time and a lot of self-control to not scratch the healing wounds that itch and beg for relief.

Think on this for a minute, is there a part of you that hurts, that you can turn to, that is a part of you?  Do you have grudges or painful feelings towards people you’ve been with, your family, or yourself?

What would it feel like if you left it behind and kept on living without it?

(Un) Happy Father’s Day!

Father’s Day was bittersweet this year.  I didn’t have any high expectations, and the reality was close to what I figured it would be.  I’m not able to visit with my kids freely right now.

My Soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBEW) took my children and moved a few hours away the week we separated.  I did allow her to take the children with the stipulation that she’d return for my son’s doctors appointment the following week.  Instead of returning with the kids, she cleaned out the house of her and the kids’ possessions while I was at work.

Since then, the burden has been on me to travel several hours to visit my kids every 2 weeks.  My STBEW is denying me access to them by refusing to let them stay with me, or even to be in my presence without her.  This is a big problem for me.  I have a right to see my children, and have them stay with me without her being present.

The visits are marginal, there’s only so much time that I can take being around her.  Sometimes the visits are fine and conflict free, but not always.  This time, there were a couple of incidents that reminded me of the hell I’ve been through and how great it is to be free from the dragon’s lair.

Over the past few visits, I’ve been delivering various household items that my STBEW has requested, either because she didn’t have room for them when she moved out, or that she overlooked in her secret daytime cleanout of the house.  One of these items is a fairly large painting.  She’s been purchasing furniture and decorating her new house, and this is an important thing for her to have.

But it doesn’t fit in my car.  So I wasn’t able to bring it.  Needless to say, she was disappointed.  During the visit, while I was playing with my kids in the living room, she was talking to her mom and said (towards me):  “‘Dang Dirtball Dad’ didn’t bring the painting”.  This was said in front of my Mother-in-law and both of my children.

I let it slide, because I was busy wrestling with my kids and I didn’t want any conflict.  I just want to see them and spend time with them.  I love them more than anything.  When it was time to leave, we went outside to look at my car.  My daughter loves it.  She said “I love your car, dad!”,  “I want go with you”, and “I want go your house”.  I took her for a little spin up the block, then dropped her back with my STBEW.  It broke my heart that my daughter wanted to come with me and that she wasn’t allowed to by her mother.

The next day, we took a trip to the water park for some family fun.  I got to spend a good amount of time with my little girl, and we rode some slides and played in waterfalls, and generally had a great time.

When we were out at the water park, STBEW inquired about my sunburn and whether I had taken a vacation.  I told her that I had gone to see my family.  She told me that she’s sick of the ‘secrecy’ and the ‘bullshit’.  She then proceed to get upset and make a (minor) scene, saying that I had no manners and that its common courtesy to have conversations with people that you are with.

I told her that I was not going to engage with her on this, and that I was there to see my children on Father’s Day.  My visit was cut short because of her emotional instability.  She informed me that “we have another party to go to”, and that “we’re done here”.  As we walked to our respective cars with the kids, my daughter again said “I wanna ride with you, daddy!”,  “I want ride your car”, “I want go your house”.

I don’t need to make conversation with my STBEW.  It’s best not to.  I don’t criticize her in front of the kids, or family, or, for that matter, even to her.  Invariably it turns into conflict of some sort, and that’s why we’re not together anymore.  The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was 2 months ago when my wife was yelling at me in the car, and my daughter said “Can’t do it guys!  Can’t do it guys!” from the back seat.  Now she’s saying “I want to go your house” and “I want go with you”.

At least somebody’s talking!

Into the Fray

I met with my Attorney today.  I met with my Therapist yesterday.  They are both women.  My Soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBEW) forbid me from having any female acquaintances, friends, or caretakers in any sense of the word.  The fact that both my Attorney and Therapist are female has no bearing on the level of service or care they are able to provide, but it’s much easier for me as a male “Survivor” of Domestic Violence to work with a female professional.

My male (and female) friends have all been amazingly compassionate, supportive, generous and open with their time to pick up the phone when I call, to listen and advise where appropriate as to how they think I should proceed.  However, the male professionals I have encountered in dealing with this issue just haven’t hit the mark as far as what I’m going through and how I need to process and execute this transition to the next phase of my life.

My Therapist yesterday brought up the fact that I’ve got some conflicting and contradictory thoughts going on (yathink!?), specifically that I am scarred and afraid due to how she has hurt me, yet I express that I don’t think she’d do anything to our children.  I’ve been carefully considering this over the past few days, and in light of discussions I’ve had with friends and family on the matter.

I still live in fear of my STBEW, I worry she’s going to come by my house when I’m not home (as she did when she moved out) and do one or more of the following:

  • Take more property than what she has already taken
  • Vandalize remaining property
  • Go through my waste looking for ‘Evidence’
  • Key my car
  • Generally snoop around and take computer equipment or other personal effects

My STBEW would have me believe that if I don’t want her going through my stuff I must have ‘something to hide’ … this was a constant issue throughout our relationship.  She demanded, by threat of force or exile, that I turn over every key, every password, to bank accounts, to credit cards, to utilities, etc.  This is the same tactic that is used to torture and extract information from prisoners.  But I’m not guilty of anything, and I’m not a prisoner anymore.

Now, as my STBEW has changed the ‘Status Quo’, by moving my children three hours away without my consent, I’m no longer able to know how she is treating my children.  She’s had no problems yelling at me, having emotional outbursts (crying, etc.), throughout the course of our marriage.  She continued to do so after we had children.  I’m afraid now that my children are going to be subject to witnessing abusive behavior and I am no longer able to do anything about it.  I have thought about how things may look down the road, after 2, 5, 10, and even 20 years.  If I left her because of abuse and her unwillingness to get help for her anger issues, what kind of a Father am I to let her retain custody of the children?

She needs help, she needs a Therapist, she probably needs medication.  I’ve advised her of this many many times over the course of our relationship to no avail.  Eventually the anger and rage will come out on those closest to her, and my kids will be witness to or subjects of this abuse.

My STBEW has accused me of being a bully for urging her to get help, of being passive aggressive, and on and on.  She’s been using access to my children as a token to try and garner more money for child and spousal support.  She’s threatened to poison them against me on numerous occasions.  She’s said she won’t pick up my calls and let me talk to my children unless I talk to her about stuff that is the business of our respective Attorneys.

It’s time to leave this one to the Professionals.  

A Fearsome Battle

My soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBEW) is not well.  I filed for legal separation from her in order to be able to provide her with health insurance.  In fact, is a large part of the reason for us getting married was to provide her with health insurance for the medical condition she suffers from.  Without disclosing any specifics, she suffers from an auto-immune disorder that causes her daily pain.  Whether this illness (or the medication she takes for it) is an underlying cause of her violent temper and abusive behavior is, at this point, unknown and unproven.  But what is known and proven is that she has been consistently physically and verbally abusive.

She was advised (from what she has told me) by her attorney, after her most recent arrest for Felony Domestic Violence towards me, that she should NOT seek treatment for any psychological disorder, because I may use it against her in a custody hearing.  This is some seriously fucked up advice.  “Don’t get help for your problems, because admitting that you have problems may cause problems for you in a divorce.” … hold on a minute!  Let that idea sink in.  Here’s what I get from it:

  1. Admitting that you are sick may be used against you regarding custody.
  2. Don’t get help for your illness because there is a stigma attached to it

I’ll level with you.  Yes, I suffer from depression.  Yes, I am medicated.  Yes, in the past I have self-medicated.  But I work every day to stay on top of my depression.  I make sure to fight the demons and get out and enjoy life.  I enjoy spending time with people.  I enjoy my job.  I love my children.  I miss them terribly and am under an incredible amount of stress right now because of it.  But I’m not letting it take my down.  I’m focused on taking care of myself so I can be the best father I can be, despite not being a husband anymore.

I’m between a rock and a hard place because I don’t want to take my kids from their Mother.  But by the same token, I have no guarantee that her illness won’t affect them.  I don’t want them to feel the brunt of her rage, nor do I want to deprive them of the good that their Mother can do for them.  I have shared some details of our relationship with a few close friends, and they all think I need to sue for full custody.  My wife is suing for sole physical custody of the children, and I wouldn’t do that to her (and not just because she has threatened to kill me if I do).

Am I being neglectful here?  I know she loves them and is very patient with them.  But if you have seen what I have seen, you may see a bomb waiting to explode.  I’m torn.  I’m worried.  I’m scared.  I’m afraid.  I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but there is a battle ahead and I want to make sure I make the right moves at the right time.  I really feel this war must be tempered with mercy, but that may not be the right thing to do.

I hate this, but I’m sure I’ll make it to the other side.

Knowing the Dragon

Knowing someone is powerful.  Particularly, knowledge of a person, what they have been through, what they have done, who they are and how they think, feel and react can be a very dangerous thing when abused.

Those of you reading this who have siblings, particularly siblings close in age, should understand what I am talking about.  It’s easy to push your brother or sister’s buttons because you know exactly where they are.  It’s easy for them to make you piss your pants laughing because they know exactly where you are ticklish.   They know your soft spots, your weak points, the words to say to soothe or anger.  Generally, it’s probably a zero-sum game between siblings, just part of growing up and being part of a family.

My soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBEW) and I know each other.  We’ve both been through a lot in our lives, and we’re both going through a tough time now.  Historically, I seem to push her buttons without even realizing it, and I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t push mine.

I’ve decided to act with integrity, honesty, and with the best interests of everyone at heart.  I don’t want to look back on this period of my life with regret.

I’m dealing with her as best I can, going to visit my children and spending time with them, engaging my wife in minimal conversation and trying to keep it to small talk.

Why, you ask (or probably don’t because it’s pretty obvious)?  I’ll tell you.  I’m protecting myself, my children, and my STBEW.  This simple protection from conflict is not my previous silence to avoid rocking the boat.  It’s more like the failsafe on the big red nuclear war button that takes two keys to unlock.  I’m leaving my key in the car, I’m not bringing it into the house.  I’m not emailing it.  I’m not sending it via text message.

I’m afraid to pick up the phone sometimes (even thought it’s probably my daughter calling since she’s figured out the phone), for fear of whatever verbal torrent of flame is on the other side.  But I still pick it up instead of letting it go to voicemail.  Why don’t I just let it go to voicemail?  For starters, I’m afraid something terrible has happened to my kids when they are away.

Secondly, I don’t have to wrestle the fire-breathing dragon anymore.  I’ve done it for too long, and it’s just not worth it.

At one point, I thought a phenomenal treasure was hidden in the back of the lair.  I just had to slay the dragon and rescue the princess.  Sounds easy enough, right?  I’m sure the dragon just needs some love, to be understood.  It’s not really a mean, dangerous, greedy and vengeful creature.

Bullshit.  I know the dragon.  It’s lethal.  And although I’m no longer directly engaged in active battle with the dragon, it’s still breathing, still clawing, and still staring me down.  I know when it’s going to strike, and I know that I’m not going to get close enough to get snagged, singed or incinerated.

I still have to face it, but it’s going to be on my terms from here on out, not hers.

Reason, Desperation, and Delegation

I have done my level best to be fair and reasonable and do what is best for my kids in negotiating a settlement with my Soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBEW).   I’ve tried to keep things out of the courts to avoid a war and dredging up all the abuse and putting it on the table.  Every offer has been met with ignorance, rejection and ultimately a ridiculous counter offer.  She expects that, despite years of abuse, that I’m required to support her with over two-thirds of my net pay, and that I should live on what’s left because I chose to leave.

This is an expensive week for me now.  I’m screening attorneys.   I met with one yesterday who was a   breath of fresh air.  She read over my case materials, acknowledged that I’ve been very clear and reasonable, and noted that my STBEW “just wants to fight”.  I do NOT want to fight anymore, so I’ve got to hire someone to fight FOR me.

I’m well aware that out of all of the DV cases that exist, the woman is the victim.  I’m also aware that of the cases in which the man is the victim, very few are actually reported.  So what’s a guy to do?  Sack up and suck it up alone?  Get loaded and go to a strip club?   Never speak a word of it?

I’m not really cool with any of those.  I could use some confidants that aren’t close friends, that aren’t professionals, that aren’t afraid to say what is going on and how they are feeling about it.  

The stigma of this has me feeling like a whiny bitch already, even though I know that’s not really the case.  I know of at least two other men who are dealing with a situation very similar to mine.  Not the same, but similar.  They both have wives who are mentally ill who have been abusive in some way, shape or form, and are getting divorced.  They both have kids.  They both could use someone to talk to.  They both mentioned the word ‘movement’.

I also have started looking around for any type of support group for (male) survivors of Domestic Violence.  They don’t exist.  At least not here.  There are scores of groups for women, and a few for survivors of sexual abuse, but I’m not going to go in and be the only guy in a women’s support group, and I don’t think it makes sense to attend a group where everyone was abused by a priest or family member and talk about getting beaten by my wife.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but I know that we all have to deal with what is directly in front of us before we’re able to really MOVE.  I’m so tired of fighting, so exhausted from trying to reason with the unreasonable, but it has to be dealt with.  NOW.  And I’m more than happy to delegate that responsibility to a professional so I can take care of myself.

Silence, Solitude, and Solace

I’m generally much happier these days, but it’s a little eerie coming home to an empty house.  I got pretty used to coming home from work and being greeted by my kids running to the door (yeah, it IS just like how it is portrayed on TV!).  I haven’t spent that much time at home in the past month, not because I don’t like being here, but that there is nobody to come home TO, for better or for worse.

The upside of my life now is that there is no screaming, yelling or crying going on at home.  Nobody is upset, nobody is at the end of a rope, nobody has anything to complain about.  I no longer dread coming home to stony silence and awkward attempts to figure out what we’re going to have for dinner.  I don’t have any heart palpitations walking in the door for fear of being yelled at or told what a jackass I am for whatever it is I did or didn’t do that day.

The downside of my life now is that there is no screaming, yelling, crying, or laughing going on at home.  I’m not taking videos of my kids running around and being goofy little toddlers.  No pitter-patter of little feet, no dinosaur or monster chases.  No new words being said or tricks being performed.  There’s no dance parties, no block time, no bath time, tooth time, or bed time.  It’s just me, and I”m generally pretty quiet.

I’ve thought about packing up and moving in with some other people, or renting out a room or even two to help fill the void here.  This would save some money, possibly introduce some new friends or hobbies or routines.  I’d probably cook more, probably laugh more.  But I’m just not ready for that right now.

I need the solitude, some time to heal, some time to cope with the change I’m dealing with instead of compounding it.

For the time being, I’m fine with my empty kitchen, my empty kids room and  my empty master bedroom.  I’m fine with the wasted closet space, the vacancy, the echoes.  I enjoy my little guest room, doing my own laundry, and leaving the toilet seat up.  I need some time to be by myself, to get back to being myself.  I’m enjoying being alone, even if it’s a little lonely sometimes.