A few days ago, I received an email from one of my readers who was struggling with her abusive boyfriend. So many of my stories resonated with her and she was desperately trying to find enough strength to leave her guy. Despite all the horrible things he was doing, she knew that he was capable of being a good person. After all, he started off as a great guy when they first met. Right? Wrong! That’s the pattern of an abuser. He sucks in his victim and, before she knows it, she’s in too deep. That’s the point.
Here’s my story…
When I met my abuser, “Rob,” he portrayed himself to be a really great guy (which he reminded me of throughout our marriage) until he had completed his sales pitch. Then the real Rob showed up and, well, yuck. Horror, actually. Rob blamed all his bizarre temper tantrums at the feet of his ex-wife, Tina. This woman was, in his words, nothing but a lying, lazy, whore who only cared about his money and their GINORMOUS amazing house (except when I saw this BIG house, it wasn’t big or impressive).
Within weeks of our meeting, Rob asked me for a commitment. Within a month, he told me he was in love with me. I felt sorry for him. This poor innocent boy had no real life experiences because his ex-wife stunted his emotional development. What a line a crap he sold me. During the first Rob temper tantrum, I was literally speechless and horrified as I witnessed a grown man act in a way I had never seen in my entire life. Soon, the Rob tantrum cycles became disgustingly apparent: Pressure, pressure, pressure– EXPLOSION. BAM. And EVERYING for Rob was pressure and he couldn’t handle ANY of it. Problem is, he had to handle his job at the utility company. Everything else, well, fuck everyone– we victims got to pick up all the pieces of the disaster known as his life. Rob couldn’t handle the pressures of parenting, dogs, paying bills, managing the vacation rental, or anything at all. All he could really handle was drinking, diving and going on vacations. Rob would get this crazed look in his eyes just before a Rob tantrum and just– EXPLODE. And nothing I could do would prevent those horrible, awful, inexcusable explosions.
And this is how I ended up with an abuser:
1. I got sucked in
Rob did this by saying he loved me, slamming through a huge commitment from me, pulling out all the stops to sell me that he was a great guy and would be an amazing husband, companion and father. Sheesh, all he had to do was show me (and continually remind me) of all the millions of friends he had and his really close relationship with his entire family. Except, truly, none of his friends truly “know” Rob beyond diving trips, drinking binges at the bars, and a few war stories.
And, sure, he has a close relationship with his family. Or did he really? Truth is, he lives 20 minutes away from his mom and yet I saw my parents (who lived 12 hours away) more than we saw her. He badmouthed every member of his family. No one– not mom, dad, his two daughters, brother, nephews– was immune to the terrible things he said about everyone. Even after his father passed away but before the funeral, Rob told me what a sucky father he had been. I was preparing to deliver the eulogy and I finally had to tell Rob to save the stories for another day because it was highly inappropriate and incredibly ill timed.
2. I got boxed in
As abusers do, the next step was to get me so boxed into that relationship that leaving became nearly impossible. Rob dragged me into buying a bigger home than I wanted. (Yes, I’m culpable here– I should have said NO!!! and I didn’t.) Once in the home, the more Rob knew I wanted to leave him, the more responsibility he heaped on my shoulders. Promises that he would clean the pool? Nope, hire a pool cleaner. Promises to clean up the yard? Nope, hire a gardener or do it yourself. All the cleaning of the home? That was me, or hire someone. Rob “surprised” me with two puppies. Guess who raised and cared for them? Me. Buy a vacation home and help me manage it? Nope, I did it all (until I was diagnosed with cancer and turned that responsibility over to Rob; turns out, he couldn’t manage his drinking binges and the vacation house so it ended up going into foreclosure– but not before allowing a squatter into the home who Rob finally had to formally evict through the courts).
Truth was, I worked like a dog in that marriage attempting to run our home, care for dogs, pay all the bills, buy groceries, manage a home, care for children, help with homework, and try to manage Bob’s oldest daughter who had substance abuse problems of her own. Leaving Rob became one more thing I didn’t have the time or energy to do, and we were so in debt with Rob’s enormous financial obligations left from his first marriage, that I didn’t know how we could even afford a divorce. And so it was that I stayed in a marriage way past its due date while Rob promised he would change and stop drinking and blah blah blah and simply lie every single day. I grew to hate him. He disgusted me.
3. I was terrorized
The verbal putdowns from Rob were unbelievable (and laughable, coming from an overweight man who mostly wore pants too short and used really embarrassing grammar in his speech). Rob endlessly told me that if it wasn’t for him, I couldn’t manage my life. I would have no friends, no home (right, I had two homes before I had to sell them both to try and bail Rob out of his crushing financial debts and obligations), would be a terrible mother, no job (for some reason, Rob decided that it was his connections that got me a job offer, though no one in my company knew who Rob was). I did EVERYTHING I could to try and live with Rob and make life “better”. I went to Alanon meetings twice a week. I read books. I joined support groups. I tried to set boundaries not allowing alcohol in the house. I drank with Rob, then I didn’t drink at all. I went with him to AA meetings. I went to therapy sessions alone. I begged Rob to go to therapy sessions with me (he’d show up a few times and, after that, fail to show up in favor of bar-hopping). I stopped talking to him. I tried to be nicer. I cleaned better, cooked better, did less, did more more MORE. NOTHING was enough. I couldn’t be nicer, prettier, sexier, smarter, a better cook, better cleaner, better partner to stop Rob from being a raging, abusing, bullying, screaming, mean alcoholic.
4. I carried the weight of our family on my back (and I was exhausted)
Rob felt that once we purchased a home, or vacation home, or dogs, or whatever, his work was DONE. Mine just began because then it became 100% on my shoulders to pick up the pieces and make it work. I begged, threatened and complained about the unfair balance of responsibilities. I was frustrated, exhausted and desperate. He’d say he understood, blame it on his alcoholism, and promise to do better. But, of course, when you say you’re at an AA meeting and, instead, you’re pounding beers at the bars, it’s kind of hard to deal with alcoholism. And, sadly, the only time Rob was a decent man, partner and father was when we were on vacation. Home life was pure hell.
5. I lived with endless blame and guilt
Rob said that it was my fault that he was an alcoholic. I was his trigger. Except so was his ex-wife, his daughters, our daughters, his work, his co-workers, his dad, his brother, his brother’s wife, insomnia, stress, work, the children, the dogs… You name it. And he was an alcoholic way before me.
My advice: Run, don’t walk, from an abuser
Here’s my advice to anyone dating, involved with, friends with, or living with a substance abuser, RUN LIKE HELL. It will NOT get better- EVER. Not unless they bottom out and get serious help over a period of time. At one meeting with Rob’s alcohol counselor (at a session where we were both supposed to attend but in which Rob skipped in favor of a night of drinking), I learned this: Addicts have one coping skill in life: their addiction. Take that away, and they have no coping skills. It takes years (if ever) for an addict to become likable. And that’s when I lost hope. Even if Rob finally dealt with his horrific behavior and illness, he would probably be more pathetic and evil and awful until he learned to become a better man. Several months after I left Rob, he sent me a text denying that was an alcoholic at all. He only ever told me that to try and make me feel sorry enough for him so that I wouldn’t leave. So I emailed Tina, his ex-wife. I asked her if she thought Rob was an alcoholic and if it had been a problem in their marriage. Hell yes, she said. He was lazy and evil and mean and a liar when they were married. And it destroyed their marriage, leaving two confused, angry and hurt children in his wake of booze.
As I read my stories, I am often horrified myself. Did that really happen to me? Yes, every single word I write is true. Am I dwelling on the past? No. If my story can help one reader out there, I will keep sharing. If one reader can relate, find solace in, and strength to leave, from my tales, I won’t ever be silent. Perhaps this was my journey—live and help.