Hello readers! My name is Julie Boyd Cole and this is my first blog for divorcedmoms.com.
Since your are reading this, you are looking for support in navigating divorce and motherhood. I hear ya! So am I. It isn’t easy even in the most amicable divorces, but throw in animosity and it gets tricky in a hurry. Add to the mix domestic abuse and then your divorce becomes a Greek tragedy.
I have been divorced since 2005 after a 15-year union. The best thing that came out of my marriage were my two boys. They are gifts from God and the joy of my life. I feel honored to be their mother every day.
The worst thing: an even bigger bully in my life than when I was married to an abuser.
Domestic abuse survivor
As my blog title says, I am a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of my ex-husband. I was attacked many times, too many for me to count, over the course of our marriage. The first time, I was just about nine months pregnant with our first child. I was sitting on the glider rocker my grandmother had given us at my baby shower. He was in another room of the home and we were arguing about something I don’t even remember. But, I remember it was something stupid.
I was rocking away on the glider, every once in a while shouting my point through a few walls to the room he was in, when all of a sudden, I saw out of the corner of my eye, my husband running toward me and making a grunting sound. The rest happened both quickly and in slow motion.
He grabbed my neck with both hands and pinned me back against the rocker and began to squeeze. I don’t remember his face, just the sounds coming out of him. Grunts and guttural noises. And he was suddenly very big.
Shock and trauma
Immediately, I was in shock. As his grip tightened around my neck, I wondered why he was doing this. It didn’t make sense in the context we were in. We had had arguments before and this wasn’t the outcome, so there was no precedent for such behavior. My emotional level was pretty low just seconds before and only half-heartly in the conversation, so I could imagine what I said that would trigger such a response. He must be having some medical problem, like a brain aneurism, that is causing craziness, I supposed while my husband was strangling my baby and me.
Then, I snapped out of the daze of shock and woke up. I was in trouble and needed to get him off me or I would die and so would my baby! I lifted my leg somehow and got it positioned on him and used the momentum of the gliding rocker, now all the way back against its mechanics, and kicked with all my might against him. The rocker was my leverage and propelled it, me and him forward and his grip broke from around my neck. He went flying off me, pick himself up and quickly left our home.
I then went back into shock and really don’t remember much after that.
The cycle of violence
That was the start of the violence in our home and it last for another 10 or so years. I was pregnant four more times after that (I had had three miscarriages) and we lived a very compartmentalized life. Periods of physical abuse. Periods of recovery from physical abuse. And periods of peace. Sometimes the life cycle was just a few days. Sometimes months. But always a cycle.
Physical abuse started then and ended when I took our kids and left. “Domestic abuse” started the day I met him and continues today. Simply put, abusers abuse. Or rather, abusers exploit people in any number of ways to get what they want on any given day. My experience is no different.
I was definitely more physically safe after I separated from my abuser. I had a door I could lock at night and keep him away from me, at least more so than when I was married. But, abuse comes in many forms: verbal, financial, emotional, legal.
Legal and emotional abuse
Five years after divorce, my ex sued me for custody of our then-teenage boys without warning. Just the day before I was served, I was on the phone with him, talking about my job, our boys, general stuff. He was giving me advice, like you might expect from a friend. For the sake of our boys, and really because I didn’t understand abuse, I kept up a friendship with my abuser after divorce. More compartmentalizing life. Though I had custody, he had unlimited visitation and he saw our teenagers every week, sometimes twice a week. He came to our house for birthday parties and dinner. He had 24 hour access to the kids through phone calls or visits, school activities and so on. I included him in all milestone activities and even agreed to coach our son’s team with him when he needed my help. And on and on.
But, I had custody, and therefore control.
I was in the car with my children when I got the call from the attorney I had used when my ex-husband had fought me with his lawyers the year before over child support payments. She had just been served with a custody suit.
I was back in that glider rocker and it was a lot worse. I was in shock again. I was scared to death of loosing my kids to an abuser. It was another overreaction that didn’t fit the context of our situation. This time, I didn’t have the momentum of the glider to push him off me in a few seconds. I had to navigate the legal system for eight months to get him off me. It worked. He did finally stop without custody, responsible for my legal bill, and a thick court order of what could and couldn’t happen from now on to replace the line in our divorce decree that gave me sole custody.
But, it was traumatizing, very traumatizing, to me and my children.
Learning to survive and thrive abuse
Therapy at the local domestic abuse center where I live was incredible and thankfully free. My therapist Jessica saved me and my psyche. She diagnosed PTSD and began treatment. It took three years of weekly sessions. It was hard, but it was necessary. And I was “cured.”
I am thriving, though will always have to contend with an abuser in my life and in the life of my children. I don’t wish him ill. I pray for him in fact, for healing and for help, but it took me a long time to get there. A very long time. Abuse hurts deeply and reeks havoc on everyone. No one is in their best shape in the middle of a traumatic event. Thriving only comes when the trauma stops. I still am subject to abuse, but I’m less victimized by it now because of the margins in my life.
What you need to know about domestic abuse: