what she feared most came upon her
GUEST POST by L
“What you have feared over all those years has come upon you (divorce). You can wallow in it and become a sour and bitter old woman or you can do something about it.” …T
…imagine being 17 with a heart full of hope for the future; a heart that longs for love, a life-long love, embodying security, happiness and a bunch of kids; a happy, satisfying future with a man who would be your best friend, your soul-mate, your most loyal supporter; someone you felt completely safe and at-ease with; someone with whom to share your heart…Lay beside that hope a fearful heart; one scarred by the divorce of parents at the age of 12; one that lacked confidence; one that was certain in her deepest being that no man would ever love her enough to stay the distance in that hoped-for dream.
This describes me as a just-17-year-old. I was a rather rebellious teen, dabbling in smoking, binge-drinking, some drug use and sneaking out at night. My mum sent me to live with my dad when she had had enough. This meant moving from a small country town where I knew almost everyone and had been at school with many of my friends since pre-school, to a city where I knew only my dad and his new wife and her young kids.
Looking back my dad did a good job, helping me get my first job, in a bank, and offering any support I needed. His wife actually tried hard too, although I’m pretty sure she would rather I wasn’t there.
After a few months I chucked my job and went on the dole, found the ‘pay’ too low, so found another one selling door-to-door. Enter my supervisor, T. He was attractive, confident and rather exotic to my small-town experience with a foreign accent and foreign ways. He asked me out on my first day and I moved in with him a week later, much to my dad’s disappointment and my step-mother’s rage.
We moved to another city and our first few months seemed ideal. I was well on my path to future happiness. A little brusqueness now and then didn’t dampen my zeal; I just determined to be the nicest I could be. The brusqueness eventually exploded into a 2 hour angry rant about my untidiness, etc. I objected, hating conflict, which led to more arguments and the conclusion that we needed help if this relationship was going to work.
T’s mother had just visited from overseas and she was a ‘born-again’ Christian and, even though they didn’t speak English in their conversations I could tell she was a huge influence on his thinking. We decided to ‘try’ church and, after seeing a newspaper article about a local surfing minister we visited that church and were in hook, line and sinker.
Our church/faith journey was probably typical of the times. We started in a fairly liberal church, got swept up in the charismatic movement, went to Bible College and moved on to a Pentecostal church. Next came Mary Pride and the search for a church/denomination that ‘actually practiced what the Bible taught’, like head-coverings and women not speaking in church. This led us, of course to the Plain churches, and we females were promptly uglified and our heads covered. This journey was over a period of about 13 years. Along with this, of course came wifely submission and, as I had come to the conclusion that being a better wife and trying harder in everything I did would hold T’s anger at bay, an attitude of submission to the head of the home seemed an essential component of my survival.
By this stage we had 6 children. T’s role seemed to be to make sure everyone did what he wanted, how he wanted and when he wanted (with the right attitude of course), and to make sure he was disturbed as little as possible. So I tried harder. I was home-schooling, home-baking, home-haircutting, producing home-made clothes and penny-pinching to the nth degree. T was working a few hours a week and read books the rest of the time.
Having children didn’t disturb T’s lifestyle unduly. He didn’t play with them, fix their bikes or do anything much of what they wanted, but he did enjoy displaying well-behaved and hospitable children to guests. He very rarely attended to a baby at night and on the few occasions he did the baby and I regretted it. He was very impatient and expected babies to sleep at night. Any sports and family outings were things of his choosing. If things didn’t go his way he would sulk, chuck tantrums, boycott situations or humiliate people. I was always the mediator and the one who smoothed things over.
He was a master of manipulation, such that I always thought any trouble was caused by me and my incompetence. Behind closed doors he criticized most things I did, saying I he could do it better. In front of others he praised me as the perfect wife. The problem was that he was nice often enough for me to convince myself that the good times were frequent and the bad minimal, when actually it was the other way around. I clung to the hope that things would get better and made excuses for him to the children. We all walked on eggshells and I tried even harder.
I was so entrenched in the idea that marriage was for life; that I needed to be faithful. It never crossed my mind that there was an alternative to the way I was living. It was my job to make this work. The problem was that I was enabling his abuse by co-operating with it. His bad behavior always had the desired effect and I would usually apologise for whatever had set him off. I thought I was being obedient to God and that all the suffering would cause inner growth. I am sure it was God that gave me the inner strength to endure his behavior without going crazy.
His specialty was still the long, angry lectures, so much so that I feared getting in the car with him because then there was no way to escape. He would keep me up at night until the ‘problem’ was solved to his satisfaction even if I was sick or had been up to babies or toddlers a few times. Now he had begun to extend his tantrum chucking to ‘leaving’ me. He would pack his bags, sit the children down and tell them that he and I didn’t get on so he was going to live somewhere else. He was aware of my fear of being abandoned, of being a single parent just like my mother. He would leave for a few hours and then come back. This, of course was very painful and confusing for the children.
It was also the beginning of T’s downfall. When I turned 40 something began to stir inside of me. I couldn’t have named it then, but I know that is when it started. An embryonic self-assurance was conceived. Funnily enough it was T himself that watered it. He had become very interested in self-improvement books and loved to ‘share’ his latest read. Also he had come to rely on me heavily for all sorts of practical things (managing a house of 10 home-schooled kids and helping to run a business). I slowly became aware of my competence.
He started a university course, mainly so he didn’t have to work and because of his difficulties with written English I would edit his assignments and discuss them with him. He would go away at times for a week long course and I realized I liked it when he wasn’t there. We all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. This made me feel a bit guilty and I tried to squash the thought but it welled up, seemingly of its own accord.
For some obscure reason T suggested I do a uni course, too. I was suspicious that he thought it would make him look good – a wife with all the above-mentioned skills AND working on a uni degree. It goes without saying that he strongly influenced the course I chose. He had no idea where this would lead to eventually. I jumped at the chance with excitement and was amazed that I could do it, and get good marks. Being flung into the world of uni students was an eye-opener after being closeted away for 15 years, but I enjoyed their company and was fascinated by their outlandish topics of conversation.
As my confidence in myself grew so did the murmurings of the older kids at home. Dad was difficult, unfair, unkind, mean to little kids, he expected everyone to always agree with his point of view. I found I now had to start to face up to this and agree that it was true. We started to use the word ‘abusive’ out of his hearing, which was a very scary thing to verbalise. We knew what effect it would have on him if he even heard a whisper of it. I carefully approached him about some of our complaints. He didn’t like it, of course and I think he began to see he was losing his grip on us. He said he would be nicer; his behavior got worse.
Things went on like this for about 2 years. I got braver and he got more cunning and more determined in his manipulation. My staunch friend, Dragonfly, was an amazing support through all this. Kind and strong and always sensible, I know I would have crumbled without her support. T ‘left’ me a couple more times not realizing that his threat was a bit like a child threatening to tidy his room if his mum didn’t let him have his way. “Yes!” I would say on the inside, “And don’t come back!”
The next step was like a miracle unfolding before my eyes. The day of our long-planned family holiday arrived. He chucked a tantrum on the first morning and it was the final straw for me. He threatened to leave and go home and I made no effort to talk him out of it. I was sorely tempted, but something inside me said, “No, enough.” The kids and I relaxed and stayed out the week without him, happy campers at last. I lay awake at night planning my next move, but not sure if I could pull it off.
When we got home I told him I was too tired to talk (totally out of character as I would give in to what he wanted ALWAYS) and went to bed. The next morning I told him my plans. He spent the whole day stomping around the house, packing his things and every now and then trying to talk me into changing my mind. It was like a switch had flipped inside me and I refused to be drawn in. I spent most of the day ignoring him.
By the evening he had been drinking and getting angrier and angrier. He phoned the adult children and said ‘goodbye’, then set about staging a suicide attempt. Two of the adult kids called the police who took him away for the night. It was the chance I needed, so the next day I refused to let him come back.
We are now living out my plan. The kids and I packed the house up, had a huge garage sale, found a house and moved 6 hours drive away from him. The kids are in school, I am doing a teaching degree at uni and we are learning to be normal. He has tried many times to talk me into reconciliation both nicely and nastily, but I take the advice of one of my girls, “Don’t go and talk to him, Mum. He always changes your mind.”
When difficult things happen I am tempted to fall apart, and I usually have a cry. But these tears have gone from 4 hour, heart wrenching sobs down to half our weeps. There is a surge of positive energy, like a fountain, inside of me that urges me on and reminds me to keep on going. Give it a name if you like. It could be the Girl Cell, it could be Jesus-in-me, it could be just my own inner strength, but one thing I am certain of…
…what I feared most has come upon me….and I embrace it with joy and excitement!