My experience with denial in a 9 year long abusive marriage

I am in the midst of a highly contested divorce. My husband assaulted me violently on the 25th of January this year leaving me with multiple contusions on my neck, head, back, face and arms. It was not the first time he had used physical violence on me, but this time, it had a distinctly different flavour. He kept pummelling me with his fists, and did not stop until I was completely balled up into a fetal position. When he finally stopped, he shouted “You fucking bitch! This is it, I’m getting a divorce”

I had been moving at a hundred-miles-a-minute prior, my husband had been pressuring me to have a child with him for years, and I had held back because of his lack of responsibility with planning and follow through on a myriad number of practical things, from handling taxes, to looking for work, to preparing for home moves and being an equal partner – he was like a little child I needed to drag along in everything. It was exhausting.

I wanted to have fun too, but he was truly cramping my style, and I was getting engulfed by the stresses and emotional strains of the relationship; the insatiable ‘fixer’ in me just did not know how to give up. 2020 was particularly stressful because he had lost his full time gig and was only doing part time work. I was also freshly out of a job as a Creative project manager due to COVID.

However, I knew how much he had wanted to be a father, he had told me once that the thought of not being father stirred up suicidal feelings in him. I have attempted suicide more than once, a couple times in my early twenties and one time while married to my husband, so I understand the depth of pain and desperation you must feel when you are in such a dark place. I did not want to deny my husband and possibly push him into such a dark space. So in spite of my reservations, I decided I would bite the bullet and try to have a child with him, I was, after all, 40 years old, my biological clock was ticking.

This is what women do when they love someone, oftentimes, they throw all caution to the wind and sacrifice their dreams, their ideals, and their sense of safety to preserve the relationship by giving to the person they love everything he wants. Really bad strategy by the way, I have since learnt better. Blame it on the hormones that are released when we ‘fall’ in love and commit ourselves to our partners. It is in our biological blueprint. We must resist.

But the stakes would be completely different if we were to have a child. There was so much to do in order to prepare for a child with him – the top thing on my list was to get off anti-depressants and to get mentally and emotionally healthy and strong. I was on anti-depressants for as long as I was married, but since getting separated from my husband I have gotten off anti-depressants completely; I am now completely drug free whereas I used to regularly take sleeping pills and anti-depressants to manage persistent and pernicious insomnia through the course of my marriage.

I had grown up in a family with a mother who had no self-control and who was always unhinged – she was constantly yelling, crying and creating drama and strife. This left a huge impact on me emotionally, mentally and physically – but I could see myself becoming that person if I did not draw good boundaries with myself and my husband.

I am of the conviction that if I cannot provide an emotionally calm and stable home environment for my child, then I do not want to be a parent. So in order to get into a better mental and emotional space, I decided that I needed to draw good boundaries with my husband and not put up with anymore bullshit. I also had to learn to get my emotions under control and not let them get the better of me.

Interestingly, this is what made him feel like he was losing control, and ultimately led to him assaulting me. Leslie Vernick, an author and speaker who talks about emotionally destructive and abusive marriages in church, describes the covert abuser who appears to be like a cute little sheep, but who sheds the sheepskin to reveal his true wolf personality when you start to call out his covert abuse, and he realises that he can no longer manipulate you.

This is a chilling but accurate picture of my husband. He is such a master manipulator that I, myself, was duped into thinking he was worthy of my loyalty, love and affection.

After the assault and the words he spewed out, I saw the dust motes floating in the air; out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him stretching out relaxedly on the floor in the studio, as if he was recovering from a particularly strenuous workout. My heart did a flip-flop in that moment. Not only did he not seemed lost or afraid, (as he had done on previous occasions when he had used physical force on me) this time around, he was completely collected and cool.

This was definitely not the man I thought I had married.

Well, I have to thank God for finally revealing to me the true person under the good guy mask. This is indeed what you call ‘a blessing in disguise.’ As violently as he exited this relationship, the more loudly and happily I will celebrate his unmasking because now I can finally live in reality. I can finally stop blaming myself and start living without a 243 pound dead-weight on my back.

Of course the damage is there. I am suffering from trauma. When I start to relax, sometimes images of his fists pummelling the left side of my face come back to me. It is really unsettling, and I have set up an appointment with an EMDR psychologist at IMH to deal with these recurring and intrusive thoughts. Apart from that I am seeing a psychotherapist and a solutions-focused counsellor to get more perspective and self-awareness, and to develop the inner strength I need to weather this very difficult time. My husband did not see it fit to merely assault me, victim blame me and abandon me, but now he is going after the inheritance that my father left for me when he passed away in 2015. I was shocked when I first found out, but now nothing he does shocks me anymore. This behaviour is par for the course in the narcissists’ playbook.

I was not actually going to talk about the abuse I went through, and the amount of denial I shrouded myself in for years in order to do life together with someone I had naively believed was my best-friend. I was going to keep my head down and work on my 2nd sing-songwriter album and personal memoir which I plan to release next year.

However, today, I read a poem by Charles Bukowski – I had posted it some time ago on FB, and read it again. It really saddened me, because I know this is the reality so many women live with. These are the delusions they swallow to continue staying in dead and emotionally, mentally and physically destructive marriages.

The assault on the 25th of January was the wake-up call I needed to know that if I stayed on with him, my life would be at risk. Sure, we all will die one day, but in my book, there are better ways to die, and I would like to do a great many more things before the day God rings my number.

One of my top-most priorities moving forward is to keep on talking about my experience of having been a victim in a physically, emotionally, spiritually abusive relationship for 10 years. I will keep on talking it about it, so women know it’s okay to speak up, it’s okay to stop lying to themselves, it’s okay to stop blaming themselves for their husbands’ narcissistic and physically, emotionally and spiritually abusive gaslighting behaviour.

Forget what other people think and say, because your reality is your own.

Abuse is real, gaslighting is real, double abuse from church leaders is real, covert abuse is real, spiritual abuse is real, victim blaming is real, cycles of abuse are real, and the trauma and pain and the years of therapy and healing that you will need in order to heal is real.

Do not worry about what other people think and say; your truth should never be whitewashed; you should never be ashamed of speaking truth to power, and bringing the terrible things that your abuser did to you to the light.

This is how we stop abuse, by giving up the “I am okay” act, by naming and calling out behaviour that enables abusers; this is how we finally start to end the cycles of trauma that are kept alive by our silence, shame, denial, complicity and by our striving to be the nice girls that religion, society and family tells us we need to be in order to find love and acceptance.

Fuck nice.

I have often asked God to give me tears to cry for the things that breaks His heart.

Well, this poem made me cry, and I pay attention when I cry, because my tears are hard to come by – through no fault of my own. I wish I could cry on demand, but unfortunately my tear glands are not forthcoming.

I usually get mad instead of sad – it’s how I am built. People know this about me. It’s like my scorpion’s tail. I rather enjoy this aspect of myself, it’s so much more empowering to get mad, but sometimes tears are necessary to keep your sanity.

A Smile to Remember – Charles Bukowski

we had the goldfish and they went around and around
in the bowl on the table near the purple drapes
across our front picture window and
my mother, poor fish, always smiling, wanting to
appear happy, she always told me, “be happy, Henry,”
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
can be
but my father beat her two or three times a week while
raging through his 6 foot two frame because he couldn’t
defeat what was attacking him.

my mother, poor fish, poor goldfish, poor nothing fish,
wanting to be happy, being beaten two or three times a
week and telling me to be happy: “Henry, smile!
why don’t you smile?

and then, she always did to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw upon the earth, like hell and
hell and hell and hell, and nothing else

one day all the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on top of the water, on their sides, the
eye on each top side still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled