As the survivor of three domestic violence marriages I cringe with shame whenever anyone asks me how many times I’ve been married. It’s a stigma I have to live with for the rest of my life. Once upon a time, growing old with someone who I’d had children with, with whom I had shared the ups and downs of a close relationship, was all I wanted.
On my wedding day to my first husband I felt as if I were putting my neck in a noose. Despite the fact that I loved him, I had already figured out that he was insensitive and abusive, that in all likelihood his friends would always come first and that he “drank a lot”. Even at the end I couldn’t bring myself to say the dreaded words, “alcoholic”. And yet I married him. Why? Did I really think that because I loved him I had to go through with it? No. Did the fact that I was already three months pregnant play a part? No. I didn’t even know I was pregnant, and in the area of how and when babies were made I was sorely in need of education; it was all murky waters.And so we married, had four kids in three years and everything I had known would happen, did. He was in the bar when I had my first baby; he had to celebrate. He was in the bar when I had my second; he had to console himself because it wasn’t a boy. He was in the bar when I had my third; again he had to celebrate for he finally had his boy. He was in the bar when I had my fourth; he had to drown his sorrows. This time he was angry and the day I came home from the hospital he went into a rage that left our living room looking like it had been trashed by burglars. I was too devoted a Catholic to use birth control. We quarreled. He was already working two jobs to keep up with the expenses, albeit he went to the bar every night after work and stayed till it closed, coming home so drunk he never made it past the living room sofa. Finally, I gave in and did what he told me. He started bringing his drinking buddies home after 2:00, dragging me out of bed to make breakfast for them. I told him one of his buddies was trying to talk me into having an affair.My husband’s only comment: “You’re my little sweet thing. I trust you.”One night that same man, after helping me put my husband to bed, forced himself on me sexually. I began drowning in despair, guilt and self-loathing. My husband refused to believe that his friend was capable of such a deed. I grabbed the kids one day and drove away.No apartment manager would take someone with four little kids so I knocked on the door of my husband’s boss who had told me recently that if I needed a place to go to get away from Mike’s rages he would be happy to take me in.
Within months I had filed for divorce and was now planning on marrying his boss, a man 20 years older. I didn’t love him. I still loved my husband. But I thought he’d protect me from my first husband’s rages and that he’d be a better husband. During the year while we waited for my divorce to become final, my husband showed up twice to break into his boss’s home, beat me up and got into fights with his boss: one brandishing a tire iron, the gripping a fireplace poker. I tried to go back to my first husband three times. Three times I couldn’t take his,“had to drink to celebrate”. Twice I wound up in a Psychiatric Ward – failed suicide attempts.
My new husband not only was also an alcoholic, he cheated on me and when he was drunk beat me up, telling me the next day, “You must have deserved it.”
I had no idea that my suicide attempts, my screaming nightmares, my low self-esteem, my insomnia, my sex addiction, my codependency, my manic depressive behavior and neurotic tendencies were all outward manifestations of what my inward problem was: I was a child of incest, a victim of such brutality that once my mother found out about my father’s middle of the night raids, she had him beat me as punishment for what he was doing. I refused to look at the horrible pictures that stayed locked in that room in my mind.
After 8 years of marriage my husband decided he wanted a divorce. I was his fourth wife and he always got rid of pets and wives if they showed any signs of disobedience. I had become disobedient. For twelve years I was a single mom. For twelve years I went from man to man, a sex addict, who, like the lady in the book, Looking For Mr. Goodbar, was a devoted and loving mother during the day and someone who searched for the one man who could make me complete at night. I had no idea that I could be cured if only I unlocked that room in my mind.
Several years after the children were raised I began living with a man I barely knew, one who I became addicted to. He was a control freak, telling me what to wear, who to see, who I could talk to on the phone, and even which jokes I could laugh at. He too was a sex addict. Within months it was turning ugly. Having quite his job he began forcing me to have sex several times a day. In the night, over and over, he woke me up to have sex. Despite all this, I agreed to marry him. Once again I felt the noose on my neck.
Terrible pictures in my memory began leaking out. My husband quit his job so he could have more sex only now it was rape. Having found my journals he hammered on me about former sexual wrongdoings in order to get me to obey whatever his current whim was. I began losing my mind. I had lost my job and all we had was time. I became suicidal, insomnia worsened. My family doctor, who had never believed me when I told him my father had never forced me to have sex with him, sent me to a specialist. Within days I was on a recovery program. My therapist told me that what my father had admitted to twice when I was in my thirties was in fact true. He had had an incestuous relationship with me. She also told me my husband’s abuse was so severe that I would never survive. I went 3 nights a week to a Twelve Step program, one night a week to Alternatives to Domestic Violence. I began fighting back. Sex continued to be brutal rapes, over and over. Fighting back made it worse. There was nowhere to hide. My addiction was so complete that every time I told him to get out and he left I vomited, had dry heaves, and shook with continual tremors
until he returned. Someone told me later that trying to leave someone you are addicted to is like coming down from heroin.
For five years I diligently worked my program. The horrors I suffered at home increased. I began a new job. It brought me strength and time away from the torment at home. Now I was fighting back. I felt like I was in the middle of a nightmare that had no end but one day at a time, one hour at a time and finally one minute at a time I kept working my program, one I would eventually call REPAIR. I took a medical leave of absence and spent part of that time in a women’s shelter. I completed both my Twelve Step program and my REPAIR program. My children circled around me; my daughter got him out of the house and my son walked paper work through the courts that not only got me a restraining order but a divorce. Finally the nightmare was over.
Today, after several years of being alone, I am remarried to a sweet and wonderful guy. Today, I’m the published author of six books on recovery. Today, I’m the founder of The Lamplighter Movement, a movement for recovery from incest and childhood sexual abuse. We currently have 79 chapters in thirteen countries.
Today I am only a statistic in domestic violence. Today I understand. Women caught in a domestic violence relationship are gripped by an addiction of the worst kind. Most of them were abused as a child and literally don’t know how to get out of their marriages Don’t ever tell a woman living in a domestic violence relationship that she should just leave him. Don’t tell her that if she doesn’t leave him you’ll never have anything to do with her. Don’t tell her it was her own fault and you have no sympathy for her.
Just be there.
PS And ask her to get a copy of REPAIR Your Life and
work that program.