At the age of 15, I fell hard for a boy without even knowing what I was supposed to be looking for. No one ever told me what made for a good boyfriend or the type of boy to avoid, except to the extent that he shouldn’t be a criminal or do drugs. I was so fresh-faced and naïve, a girl who didn’t even understand what a boyfriend should be. I married him at 18 and then suffered through 25 years of the most insidious, mind-altering, reality-skewing, soul-crushing abuse imaginable. It wasn’t until my fourth attempt at freedom, with no job, two young daughters, and what I later learned was a misdiagnosed medical condition, that I was able to put distance between us. 1,000 miles of distance, in fact.
Geographically, I was free. But I had no preparation for just how the abuse would continue and even escalate.
Ours was not, in any sense, a “high conflict” divorce, which makes my story all that much more baffling. I told him I was filing for divorce, I presented him with a proposal, we worked it all out, and he signed. Of course, this was my fourth attempt at doing this. Neither of us hired an attorney (although he said he consulted one) and he didn’t even appear for the final hearing. All he had to do was just go away and live by the terms he agreed to freely. Abusers being what they are, however, this meant that once he realized I had actually gone through with it on my fourth escape attempt, the next years were spent fending off continued abuses, stalking, court actions, threats… In other words, worse than I ever imagined or bargained for. What I didn’t realize at the time was there was freedom to be found in that, too.
More than three years after my escape, I learned of many horrible things he had done to others. Dozens of others. Even while terrorizing me and my daughters, and bankrupting us with legal proceedings which he filed on utter lies, he found a way to cost other people dearly. Once I truly understood who and what I was dealing with, I was free to accept that I had spent a quarter century convincing myself that this illusion was the man I wanted and deserved. However, being faced with this reality helped free me to accept that the abuse was never about me, but about a pathology I could not have changed. It is a terrible thing to realize that the entity you believed you loved existed only as an ethereal concept created to keep you entrapped. It is like finding out you were married to a serial killer when the police show up and uncover the bodies in your basement.
Bodies in the Basement
I opted to title this work Bodies in the Basement for two reasons: one, because of the feeling I just described, and two, because if you are still in your abusive relationship, you can read this without the title giving it away. Really, How to Ditch Your Abuser kind of raises a red flag, doesn’t it?
This series is actually the rebirth of a blog and support site called Emotional Abuse Survivors Network. After being financially obliterated defending myself against a baseless lawsuit pursued by my ex-husband (after, by the way, multiple law firms declined the case), I opted to shut down those pages and republish my edited writings with SwanWaters. I credit my dear friend Ann for encouraging me from the beginning and telling me what a “fabulous page-a-day reader” it would be. To get maximum enjoyment from that quote, you must read it with a British accent, since that’s Ann.
I Am Not A Preacher, I Am a Teacher
What you will notice about this work is the combination of caustic humor, sarcasm, and raw emotion including anger and profound sadness. This is the normal rollercoaster of abuse recovery. This writing was composed over the course of two years and I promised myself that it would reflect my actual experiences, feelings, and processes. After all, what good is it to learn from someone who is preaching rather than teaching? If I hadn’t lived all of this, I couldn’t give you the unvarnished version of what happened. Because I can do that, I teach from a place of knowledge-sharing rather than authority. Sure, I know a metric ton about sociopathy, abuse, the psychology of recovery, and toxic relationships, because I chose to learn. Am I a qualified clinician? No. My Master’s degree is in healthcare leadership! However, I have been lucky enough to get to know some of the top authorities in domestic violence, sociopathy and various personality disorders, law, and reform, from whom I was able to glean huge amounts of very valuable learning. Many of them are cited or quoted in my writing. This is not a novel but rather a hybrid of the Chicken Soup books concept and a personal recovery diary, written mostly in the present tense and conversationally, as if I am simply your friend who has gone before you on the journey.
Another thing you will notice is that I am clearly a person of faith. While my faith walk has had a huge impact on my recovery, it also had a huge impact on my staying in the marriage for as long as I did. I had to come to terms with that and make peace with it. I don’t expect everyone who reads this to be of the same view on faith as I am, but I do believe we are all spiritual beings and that abuse is nothing short of spiritual murder.
Making an escape from an abusive relationship is likely one of the most profound experiences one can have because you are wiping clean the slate of who you thought you were and rediscovering yourself with clarity. If you are not prepared, it fools you into thinking you are free, then ambushes you with a whole new set of challenges you didn’t see coming. Your “new normal” can be that abuse has changed forms, but not stopped, or that the abuse continues in your head despite your best efforts. The great news is that, if you can learn what to expect and prepare your arsenal of tools, you can move forward even while the craziness continues. Release yourself from the torture of always trying to keep the peace, stand up for your rights as a human, and thrive despite the abuser’s efforts.
This isn’t your typical feel-good abuse recovery stuff. It’s time to get educated and find your voice. You have rights and it’s time to assert them!