If They Only Knew

She held the phone precariously over her face and squinted at the words on the small screen. Her heart began pounding sporadically as a bead of sweat formed on her temple. She read the text again.

You’re still MY wife. You’re MINE. No one else can have you.

Perplexed, she wracked her brain, sifting through the last few months. She couldn’t even recall leaving the house without the kids. Was she seen talking to a man at the grocery store? Did she accidentally smile at someone in public? Her head began to ache when a thought occurred to her.

She jumped out of bed and ran over to the window. Peering out, her eyes roved up and down the street. She didn’t see anyone, but did that really mean anything? Her shaky fingers yanked the curtain across the panes and she cursed at herself for leaving it open earlier. She had to stop letting her guard down when time passed without an incident. Was he out there? Her breath began to quicken and she wondered if her heart would burst out of her chest with the erratic thumping.

As she sunk down against the wall, her phone beeped again. She roughly ran her fingers across her temple before covering her mouth in shock.

Cunt. You spread your legs for everyone but me.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she mustered a reply. Stop. Please stop doing this to me.

His response was immediate. Whore. Who is he?

She typed back angrily. I don’t know what you are talking about. All I do is take care of the kids. We’re divorced. Please don’t text me at all unless it’s about the kids. Getting up off the floor, she stomped through the living room and paced back and forth. Her fingernails scratched furiously at her scalp in agitation until her phone pinged once again. She eyed the blinking device warily and against her better judgment, picked it up and hesitantly entered her passcode to reveal his new message.

Don’t lie to me. I’ll handle him later. And all your boyfriends. You’re MY wife.

She craned her neck up and rubbed her temples again. New texts appeared in spurts.

You broke my heart.

You broke up our family.

You took my kids away from me.

Fu@king whore.

Her fingers gripped the power button on her phone until it turned off. She pressed her head against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut. The image of saliva flying out of his mouth as he screamed at her through the car window pummeled the blackness of her vision. “NO!” she shrieked as the memory of his voice shrouded with hatred sent shudders through her body. The image of his face loomed and she ducked her head into her knees.

It wasn’t fair. She was tired of feeling brutalized and overwhelmed by his continued barrage of jealous accusations. The constant fear of his inferred threats to beat up any and every man that might come across her path was jarring.

She returned to her bed and pulled the comforter up to her chin. She tucked her legs up to her chest and bit her lip to stop it from quivering even if she couldn’t control the tears seeping silently from the corners of her eyes. She wasn’t looking forward to the barrage of messages she would find in the morning. Exhaustion finally won and she drifted into a fitful sleep of darkness.

I Saw a Therapist Today

My therapist got right to the point. “What do you hope to achieve from our sessions together?” Fortunately, I had a head start on thinking about what I wanted, since it was also on the new patient questionnaire.

“I want to be more calm and logical when bad things happen. If the ex-husband tries to make me angry or confuse me, I want to control my reaction, especially when I am around the kids.”

What I did not mention is what was already in my questionnaire – that I have frequent anxiety attacks and am exhibiting signs of depression: Sleeping too much and too little, feeling restless, withdrawn, hopeless, discouraged, fatigue, loss of motivation and having a general sense of foreboding wash over me all the time. My general feeling is that everything felt doomed.

After a few weeks of being in this funk, I realized it wasn’t normal. I am aware that everyone has their own struggles and can handle different amounts. I was starting to have trouble handling the amount of crap I was dealt. I don’t think my life is horrible, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel challenged by situations or disappointed in my perceived success or failures.

The therapist asked me how I slept. My answer was easy! “Hey – when I go to sleep, I am a deep sleeper. I sleep very well!” She asked how many hours a night I sleep. I was a little embarrassed to share my sporadic sleeping habits with her because I sleep anywhere from 1.5 to 12 hours at a time. My work schedule is regular, my weekly tasks are regular but my sleep habits are all over the place.

I guess the first step to improving my mental health is to regulate my sleep, otherwise known as resetting my Circadian sleep rhythm. The second step is to get on a regular exercise schedule so I have an outlet for my pain. The endorphins released by the pituitary gland along with a regular sleep schedule can really help my mental health.

Yeah, that’s probably true. I am not disciplined about going to sleep at a consistent time. After the kids all finally go to sleep, I revel in the time I am left with to clean up the kitchen, make home lunches for everyone, tidy the living room, fold laundry, work on my finances (i.e. balance the good ol’ checking acct) and best of all… BE ALONE. The questions stop, the responsibilities are mundane tasks that I can do while … watching NETFLIX! I don’t mind the chores when I can watch Netflix in the background. I also go to the store after the kids go to sleep. No lines at the check out! I truly treasure the middle of the night when no one is awake.

But… sometimes… okay a lot of the time… I lose track of time and suddenly it’s 3:00 am and I need to wake up in a few hours to start the day again.

I agree with the therapist. I’ll try to abide by a bedtime and go running three times a week. Ummm.. I ate a big dinner so I can’t go running. Can I start tomorrow? Or after the weekend? Or next weekend? Sigh…

Do You Feel Alone?

Am I the only one who feels alone?  Sometimes it feels like no one will understand my pain and frustrations. I know I am not the only single working mom with a mentally abusive ex-husband, but I don’t know anyone else in the same situation. It’s hard to share my story. It’s embarrassing and I don’t always appreciate people’s reactions. But every once in a while, I feel awful and wish I had someone to confide in.

When I first broke up with my ex, our friends and family were astonished. They pushed me to take him back, to be that beautiful family again. I tried to explain the mental games, how he made feel crazy, how he abused me. They didn’t believe such a nice guy could do anything wrong. My own friends encouraged me to return to the relationship that hurt me.

I did the only thing I could control.  I built a wall and closed off everyone.  I became a ghost of myself while he defiled my name on social media.  It was hurtful to see him post lies about me and see others respond with comforting words about him while getting on the bandwagon of speaking ill about me. I didn’t defend myself and simply took the verbal beatings. Finally, I blocked him on all of my accounts.

An abuser hides their abusive behavior behind closed doors when they aren’t publicly shaming the victim-the real victim. An abuser claims to be the victim.  It’s very confusing, I know.  I was trapped in an endless cycle of feeling crazy until I finally recognized it. Everything that happened was my fault (according to him) and I believed it.  It was my fault that he literally ignored me for a week at a time because I did something wrong. I think it would have helped to know I was being punished.  I wasn’t aware I was a “slut” (and worse) if someone in a grocery store smiled at me and my baby when I wasn’t looking.

His cold shoulder stung. He just stopped talking to me. He didn’t answer calls or texts when I was at work. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t kiss me hello or goodbye. If he was sitting on the couch when I got home from work, I would kiss his cheek and he wouldn’t move or acknowledge my presence. I was invisible for days at a time. 

I don’t know how this treatment sounds to other people, but I was devastated every time it happened. I couldn’t function as a human and felt torn apart. Half the time, I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong.  I was reduced to crouching at his feet, begging for him to love me again, to please just be nice to me again. I would sob uncontrollably as he turned away from me, coldly stating that crying wouldn’t work on him, and that I knew what I did.  I would lose all self-worth and shriek out that I knew it was my fault, that I was sorry and to please forgive me.   I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, I only knew that I wanted to exist in his eyes again.

I am ashamed for my self-deprecating behavior all those years ago. I wish I realized it wasn’t normal or healthy at the time. I don’t want the world to know about my past. I don’t read or respond to his accusations on social media because even though he repeatedly soils my name, I refuse to publicly attack him by defending myself and sharing what he has done and continues to do.

I saw a therapist once. I was told not to respond to negative behavior from him because he is looking for any attention he can get from me now. He will push my buttons any way possible to get a reaction.  I think that’s true.

Years later, he is still trying to antagonize me by twisting words and outright lying. I wish that I didn’t have to coordinate our kids schedule with him.  I wish I didn’t have to communicate with him at all.  Every few months, he calls me names and accuses me of vile behavior in texts.  If he talks to me over the phone or sees me in person, he inevitably yells at me.  I know he is angry at me and I am still scared of him.

But you know what? He is nice to his friends. He is nice to his co-workers. He is nice to strangers.  He is nice to everyone… except me. I feel like a target or a toilet for him to use.  On social media, people congratulate him for being a great father and a good guy. He appears to be mostly nice to his kids, although I worry that he tries to make them feel sorry for him. I shouldn’t say that.  But sometimes, I worry.

It’s hard to explain. I have tried to talk to others and no one truly understands. I don’t know who might be his friend, so I am afraid to make new friends.  I am invisible to the world. I like being alone, but sometimes I feel alone.