Friday, July 24, 2009

History Repeating Itself

As usual, my ruminations on all things political and social were brought to a screeching halt this week thanks to my ex, AKA the mother of my children. Without getting too much disputable detail (because there's endless gray area after a breakup), I had to put a call into my attorney regarding my responsibilities if she had moved to an alleged unsafe location and had not informed me. And the reason for her relocation was a domestic violence situation (her boyfriend was the one going to the hospital).

Apparently, the situation resolved itself because her boyfriend took her back in. However, the look on his face as I gathered the necessary information (the information above) was enough to tell me the depth of the current situation. Because I remember seeing that face in the mirror.

So because I strive for emotional nudity (and because kids means less actual nudity around the house), I'm going to present you with portions of my victim impact statement, offered to the court, from the time when I was at the point he is at now:

(note: I will be omitting personal details, names, and dates for privacy reasons, and editing for brevity (because the judge was overwhelmed by the size of the statement (it is me)))

In the time between[date] and now, I have had time to learn more about domestic violence. For example, I discovered that ninety-five percent of the victims of domestic violence in the United States are women. I am in the other five percent. And it is with that, and with enough experience to understand why a woman would stay with a man until he beat her to death, that I begin this statement.
...

Domestic violence is perhaps one of the most insidious crimes, as it begins long before the police are called and the abuser is hauled away in handcuffs. It began in late [year], after the birth of our son. At first, I took it for just an argument. I have known many people to get into fights on occasion, resolve the problems, and continue on. But these problems only grew worse. After a year, it was obvious to everyone that [my ex] was out of control, yet I believed she could change, straighten herself out, and become the partner I desired. After the birth of our second child, my hope was that maybe she would see the damage she was doing. Even when our son ... began to clearly show the signs of autism, I still held out hope. In all that time, I sought to find her counseling, attempted to get her medication through her doctor, attended couple’s counseling in the hopes to get her help, called children’s services when, in a rage, she yanked on the steering wheel as we were driving somewhere, and called the police twice prior to the incident that precipitated this case. By the time I was, in effect, “beaten to death”, I had exhausted every option I could find.

Physically,[she] could never hurt me in any way that affected me. The claw marks would sting a few days and heal after a week. There was little bruising; there were few sore spots a day later. The damage she did to myself and, in effect, my children, was deeper. The emotional have she unleashed may have contributed to the worsening of [son's] autism. I know I planned my days and nights with her reaction in mind. I know I had to watch that day in particular to make certain that the children stayed out of the way. In fact, it was not the claws in my arm that motivated me to call the police. It was a piece of plastic, broken off a toy, flung at me and striking [son] as a consequence, that was the final thread in a tapestry of abuse.

So taken alone, without the experiences of years behind it, the events of the day could be considered trivial. However, with the full weight of months of worsening conditions, I felt a need to act, to save what remained of my family. And only in desperation, with fear that a future fight would result in more pain, more injury, I had to call for help.
...

As the confrontations between [my ex] and I worsened, I saw my family unable to stay silent as things grew slowly worse. Because I had invested much of myself in my relationship with [her], the relationship with various members of my family became strained. This made talking to them more challenging, even in the aftermath of [her] arrest. While they were supportive initially, some of my decisions regarding [her] after her arrest have caused a significant divide, and I am no sure how to fix it.

...

I am certain [my ex] feels great remorse for what she has done, although I am certain she was unaware of the damage she has caused. But expressing remorse is what she has done after every incident of abuse, which is why I do not believe she has really learned the error of her ways. However, she is not a hardened criminal. I believe that she has been a victim of emotional abuse for most of her life. This should mitigate her punishment significantly. I also love her, and want to have the possibility of making my family whole.
...

I ask the court, in deciding her sentence, to remember that she is a mother, and while many of her actions have shown a disregard for her children in that respect, her children may also be the reason she will work hard to get the help she needs. While there would be some personal satisfaction seeing her sent to jail, there would be no purpose served by sentencing someone who needs psychological help to sit in a cell. I would ask the court to give [my ex] probation, with the condition that she seeks help. She need anger management, as she has shown herself to be violent. She needs psychological evaluation and counseling, for she may have an underlying condition that was aggravated by postpartum depression. Finally, she needs parenting classes, as her maternal instinct has not been enough to stop her before now. As for monetary penalties, any fines or costs levied against [her] will directly impact me, as well as the children. I ask that the court impose community service as payment in lieu of money.

After this case is concluded, I hope to continue the healing of our family. It is my hope that with intensive therapy and ongoing help, she can be the mother she should be, the wife I suspect she could be, and the person she would be if she could choose how her life would turn out.


Of course, nothing changed, including a lot of things that aren't in the court documents, until I was forced, in the end, to choose between her and my family (my parents and sisters and nephews, as well as the kids). Thankfully, I chose my family.

I'm sharing this in the hope someone who is being battered (male or female, physically or emotionally) will have the sense and will to get the hell out. It's also out of a small sense of guilt (still) that I couldn't fix the problem and heal her, because now someone else is suffering the same fate.

I'd also like to hear your stories if you have them. If you want to post anonymous, and will share with me via email, I'd be glad to post your comments without anything personally identifiable (posting as anonymous still leaves web traces). The important thing to know is that you're not the only one.

6 comments:

rockync said...

That was very brave and very generous of you Patrick. Having had a close family member who suffered years of abuse and physical violence no matter how I tried to intervene, I understand your sense of guilt in not being able to "save" her.
But I think you know on another level that her mental health cannot be your responsibility. While you can offer support and caring, she must be the one to take the steps to healing.
I wish you continued strength and success in healing your family and I hope your disclosure wakes someone up who needs it.

Jennifer said...

Patrick, this is so telling in regards to you as a person. I respect you so much for your actions and your willingness to do everything in your power to help her and your family. My sister was the victim of abuse by her brothers and mother and father until she was adopted by my parents. She has gone through hell, and she needed to get help to make sure she didn't do to her children what was done to her. I support her and applaud her for that. She overcame her old life and is now happy and settled.

It is much harder to prove domestic violence to a man but your letter was eloquent and right to the point. Thank you for opening yourself up to us and sharing your story!

Beth said...

No man, woman or child should ever have to go through what you went through, but your strength is amazing, and that you want to reach out to others is also highly commendable, Patrick, although not surprising.

Patrick M said...

An anonymous comment from my email part 1:

[My husband] will tell you that I was (and continue to be) an abused child. In some ways it's almost as if the way I was brought up predisposed me towards abusive relationships; I was taught I was incompetent, incapable of taking care of myself, that I needed someone to take care of me and yet at the same time that I wasn't quite worth taking care of. This is not to lay blame in any way, shape or form on my parents-I will take the blame on myself.

So I have been in numerous abusive relationships, some worse than others, thankfully only boyfriends, not husbands (I've only had one of those). In fact, my husband is the only man who has never abused me in some way or form, and the gratitude I feel for that borders on worship.

Why would I lay the blame on myself, even 20 years later, for abusive relationships I've been in? For several reasons. One, I think I have a personality that invites it. My interpersonal style is submissive-I prefer having someone else be in charge. I'm attracted to and look for personalities that dominate, that take care of things, that run the show. Now, I also happen to be in many ways a bit too naive and a lot more trusting than I ought to be, and it's easy to mistake the overcontrolling, abusive, psychotic for a responsible, caretaking leader. Especially when you're drunk, or high, or whatever.

So I made a string of really bad choices. Even those who may have begun with me as just maybe a more outgoing and dominant personality, given someone who was willing to please, obedient and just kind of naturally submissive, couldn't handle that kind of power and responsibility and let it all get out of hand. That kind of power over another person can apparently really mess with your head.

So first, I have this personality thing, and second, in trying to find someone who could work with that, I repeatedly made bad choices. I wanted to believe, and I let that blind me to facts. I covered up reality with drugs and alcohol, and by the time I had to face the music, it was deafening.

I did this more than one time. The whole cycle, from start to finish. More than once.

Patrick M said...

Part 2 of the anonymous comment:

The crisis moment came in a Lifetime Movie kind of way. I was at the college radio station, where I worked, and it was late at night. The building was dark. My boyfriend was there. When it was time to leave, we didn't go home-instead he took me to the elevator, and got us inside. Then he proceeded to talk to me, calmly, rationally, sincerely, in a caring, gentle kind of way, explaining in minute detail that I, as a person, was too delicate, too fragile, and just too 'perfect' (his word) to live. The world was destined to do nothing but hurt me and continue to do so, and the only way out was to die.

Me, not him.

I guess it went on for hours, I don't really know how long we were in there. But I do know that he made perfect sense to me, and after a while I started to wonder why it was I'd never realized this, thought of it, and found the solution for myself ages previous.

He was talking me into killing myself and I was agreeing with it.

I don't remember how the night ended, how or when I got back home, or when it was that I understood that I was (apparently) in love with a guy who wanted to watch me commit suicide, and that no matter how right it might sound, it wasn't. But somehow, even with all the drugs and all the drinking, I did understand it. And that even though I could (theoretically) live with being raped, with being mentally, emotionally and physically abused, that I couldn't live with suicide, and somehow I had to get away.

I quit school, went back home. Adopted a new version of my name in an attempt to hide. Had nightmares for years. Hid every time I saw a black Grand National. Flinched if anyone moved too quickly. Was suspicious of guys who were nice to me. The whole nine yards.

And whenever things would get bad, I'd hear his voice again, and wonder if he wasn't right.

That's the bitch in a nutshell. Despite all the cognitive, rational understanding, despite even getting away from him, that nagging doubt every time life would hurt me that maybe, just maybe, he was right, and I was wrong to run away.

I am a terribly lucky person to have come across someone who happens to be responsible, caretaking, naturally dominant and not in the least psychotic. Additionally, he hung around despite my craziness (maybe because of it, who knows) and my emotional basketcasedness. He's never raised a hand to me in anger and I can count on one hand the number of times he's raised his voice. He's good to me. I'm very lucky.

Because all those personality traits are still there. All that interpersonal style is still there. The way I relate to people and the way I see myself in relation to them has not changed. If he were not here, and I was getting into a relationship, I would probably make all the same mistakes I did before.

Patrick M said...

Rocky, Jenn, Beth: Thanks. The scary part is that the relationship lasted 6 months after this. It was only because I was forced to choose that I was able to break away.

The anonymous post above highlights exactly how psychological the abuse really is, even when there are no fists flying. And though I have almost nothing in common in my story with hers, the signs are the same. Excuses are made, problems are rationalized, and blame is taken upon oneself.

In short, I place the blame not on the victim, who may be predisposed to attract the abusers, but the abusers alone. And that goes double if they don't learn from their mistakes and continue the behavior.