I want to share my story with you, even if it is only the abbreviated version, so that you can know that it is possible to end the suffering you are experiencing right now.
I am a survivor. I survived two abusive marriages, and this is my story.
I started dating my first husband at the age of 15. By age 16, we were living together; by 20, we were married. During these first five years, some major psychological damage was done, that would take me years to undo. My first husband never beat me physically; he didn't have to. He used his booming voice, cruel words, and intimidating posture to control me. And when he drank, it was worse.
Everything that went wrong was my fault. I was stupid, no one else would ever want me; I made him do the things he did. He could do as he pleased and if I felt differently, I would end up on the floor, in a corner, in a puddle of tears, wondering if I'd be better off dead. But, he never hit me, so I never once considered myself as being abused. I bought into every negative, hateful thing he ever said to me. The mind learns through repetition, and he was repetitive.
By the time we'd been married a year, he was publicly humiliating me, having affairs, and bullying me in front of our friends. And, it was all my fault. The affairs he denied, but I knew differently (it doesn't take two hours to drive a few blocks to take a waitress home after her shift).
Three years into our marriage, our son was born. He had abandoned me during my pregnancy, but wanted to come back after our son was three months old. Being scared about raising a child on my own, with no job, no money, and as I saw it, no future, I took him back. After all, I still loved him, and even though I was a failure, I could make it work; I knew I could. All I had to do was change.
He came back, and nothing had changed, except that I grew smaller.
By the time our son was two years old, he was drinking every night, and staying out until I had to leave for work in the morning. He'd come home reeking of alcohol and wanting sex. I couldn't stand pacing the floor each night; I was a wreck. I decided to leave, and did. As scared as I was, about raising a child on my own, I had to get my son out of that environment.
Even after I had moved out and filed for divorce, he did not stop trying to control my life. He'd scare potential boy-friends away by confronting them. He made up lies about me, accusing me of child abuse, drug addiction... to try to have our son taken from me. He even went so far as to accuse my brother of molesting our son.
I had petitioned the court, asking for sole custody, but somehow the papers got lost. (I filed for divorce without a lawyer; my ex insisted on filling out the forms with me.) I ended up with joint custody; no child support order.
So here I was, 26 years old, with a toddler, living in a housing project, making $6.00 an hour at my full time job, and working nights as a waitress, to make ends meet. (Somehow, I got stuck with the lion's share of the debt my marriage had produced.) And that's when I met husband number two.
He seemed like Prince Charming. Our first date even included my son, he took us both to dinner. He wanted to help me financially, and when I lost my full time job, he moved me in with him, and out of that dangerous neighborhood. I was glad to go.
I found another job, and thought things were looking up for us, my boy and me. Then one night after work, I went to visit my mother for awhile. When I returned home, I was not welcome. It didn't matter where I had been, or what I was doing, I was out the door; my bags had been packed and were waiting for me.
I spent the night at my mother's, and the next day he called to tell me that I was forgiven, he'd give me another chance, and I could come back. I went. Where else was I going to go? My mom's one bedroom apartment wasn't going to hold three of us, and I was down to one job. Prince Charming had told me to quit my second job. The hook had been set, and I was about to go from the frying pan into the fire.
This one was a Jekyll and Hyde; he drank too. And, he did get physical with me. Throughout the four years we spent together, I experienced some pretty bizarre things. He freaked out on me for dancing with my brother, accused me of sleeping with everyone I worked with, including the women; he would fly into rages and destroy my clothing, photos, etc.. And he did things I won't even mention here. He was a pro at keeping me off balance.
He never hurt me when my son was with us, and he made sure that there were no marks for anyone to see. He never laid a hand on my son either. But he messed with his head. He wouldn't allow him to play outside his room, except to go outside the house. He would chase my son with a mask on, giving him nightmares... The psychological abuse was there. Inside I was dying. Guilt was consuming me.
To the outside world, I was the picture of confidence, but when it came time to turn in to the driveway, after work, I would be sick, scared, and wanting to be anywhere else than where I was.
Though I knew the problem wasn't me, I fell for the: promises to change, apologies, suicide threats, and more. I'd had him arrested three times, obtained a TRO, and still, I took him back. Once, while he was at work, I even moved out. I was a mess.
I should mention that while all of this is going on, my ex-husband is trying to use my situation against me in court, over our son.
Because of a court ordered treatment program that Prince Charming had to attend, I met a woman who changed my life forever. She worked with women, in partnership with my husband's therapist. She offered her program to me; she took me into her group, even though I had no way to pay her.
At this point, I am 29 years old and heading into a mid-life crisis. I am attending sessions, with a group of four other amazing women. I live for these sessions. I am transforming into a brand new woman. And for the first time I realized, after it having been pointed out to me, that I had been a battered woman for the last 15 years of my life. Not just the last four, when the hitting started, but every year since I started dating my first husband. Battered with hand or with words, it didn't matter. Abuse is abuse.
As my 30th birthday approaches, I find myself more depressed than I have ever been. I feel so old. I spend a lot of time thinking about turning thirty; talking about it and writing about it. (I've kept a journal since I was a teenager, and it is what kept me sane, even when I thought sanity was a universe away from where I was at.)
One fine day, it dawned on me that the only reason that I was stressing out about turning thirty was because I was not where I thought I'd be in life at that point. Sure, I had a decent job, an awesome kid, and I felt better about myself than I ever had, but I was miserable. The abuse hadn't quite stopped either, even though Prince Charming was in therapy, sober, and on probation.
So, I made a decision... I was going to change my life into what I wanted it to be. I decided that my 30th year would be my best year yet. I came to realize that I could make it on my own. That's really what I'd been doing all along. If I was strong enough to put up with the abuse for all these years, I was strong enough to stop it. And that is just what I did. I gave Prince Charming his walking papers, and went on with my life.
Of course, it wasn't without snags, but I got through those too. He stalked me for a while; called me threatening suicide, and my response was to refer him to his therapist, or the police.
I spent 20 weeks in therapy, getting support from those fabulous women, and the experience saved my life. I learned that if I am not happy with my life then it is up to me to change it. I am powerless to change my abuser, but I can change the circumstances in which I live. I am strong, and I have value. There is no reason that I should waste my love on someone who does not treat me with the love and respect I deserve.
Do I hate these men? Absolutely not. To hate them would require me to live in the past, and the past is better left where it is. My life is better now and theirs is of no consequence to me.
'My Journey' is the result of my experiences. Writing was my therapy. Whenever I felt lost, out of control, or hopeless, I would sit down and write. Taking my pain, and turning into something creative, helped me get through it all. I could write what I dared not say, and the page wouldn't tell me that I was wrong, stupid, or worthless. The only thing the page could tell me is something that, deep down, I already knew... My life was crazy, not me.
My message to you is this: Seek support and help. It is out there. You are not the problem; you are the solution. Be smart, be safe, but don't let fear keep you prisoner. Free yourself; you can do it!
Trina L.C. Sonnenberg
In case you're interested... I have been living in Colorado for the past 12 years, with my first love, my only true love, (no, not my first husband) being happier than I ever thought possible. Jeff and I were blessed with a child on Thanksgiving day, 1997. As for my older son, he is on his way to college now, and he's grown up to be quite the impressive young man. I am very proud of him.
A Lifetime of Verse
by Trina L.C. Sonnenberg