Some Words to Remember as You Read This Story|
First and foremost, while the following discussion may show a lot of anger or
other "negative emotions", for any survivor reading this story, please remember
that as your loved one, we are going through this with you of our own free will.
It is our choice to endure what is sometimes a crazy, maddening, enraging
situation with you because we love you.
For those who may not know what it is like to live with and love a survivor, it is imperative that you understand that the behavior patterns that appear so hurtful and mean are the result of the abuse suffered as a child or of the rape they were forced to endure. They are survival skills and until the survivor is ready to face the very painful issues of the past, they literally cannot see what they are doing to those who love them. They are still in survival mode and they will do what they have to do to survive.
While the behaviors discussed below may seem extreme at times, please do not blame the survivor. Yes, many are now adults, but until they are able to recognize where their behavior patterns come from, the child that was so abused is actually in control of their behavior at times. At these times, while they are still responsible for their actions, they are not to blame. Those who abused them bear the blame, for without the abuse, the behavior patterns would not be necessary and would not have been formed. This is a very important thing to keep in mind as you read this story and any other story of survival.
My journey as the loved one of a survivor began in 1997 when a (now former) lover confided in me that she was a survivor. I never once doubted her story, but after the initial revelation, there was not much discussion of the issue. It really did not begin to impact my life on a daily basis until she moved in with me. Even then, I only recall the issue being discussed maybe twice, and then
very briefly. She was holding down a job and raising her child. Our relationship, while it had its ups and downs, didn't seem too different from other relationships. And given the fact that we were attempting to blend two families in a same sex relationship in a very conservative area, I felt we were doing better than most.
The initial euphoria of being together on a daily basis lasted for about a month. We eventually sat down as a family and had a meeting to discuss rules and consequences of breaking the rules, assign chores, etc. The kids (the oldest was hers plus my two boys) participated in the discussion and everything seemed to be going quite smoothly.
Then came the day when I actually had to enforce the rules that her child had broken. There was the usual sulking that any parent/step-parent gets when meting out the consequences of breaking a rule. So when my former lover (hereafter shortened to FL) came to me two days later and said her child had informed her that s/he was going to live with the father, I was floored. But what really jolted me was the almost immediate concession my FL had to the idea. Her comments ran along the lines of "D's mind is made up and that's that." There was very little effort on her part to talk to D and find out why.
I finally sat D down and explained why I thought s/he was leaving and knew simply by watching the expressions on D's face that I was right: D was mad at me and knew that the best way to get back at me was to hurt the mother because D could see how much I loved the mother. S/he was emotionally abusing the mother and attempting to emotionally manipulate me. When s/he was "caught", the situation was averted, D stayed here, but things didn't run smoothly at all.
In an effort to avoid a repeat of this threat to leave, my FL and I decided that from now on, she would handle D's discipline. I would simply note what had happened and inform her of it, then she would deal with it when she got home from work.
While I had been a bit upset at D's emotional outbursts before this incident, it was nothing compared to what followed later. Vicious name calling and ugly curses were shouted at my FL, slammed doors knocked things off the wall, things were thrown around the house. We lived in what had started off as a mobile home and one door was slammed so hard it actually came through into the hall the wrong way, knocking down the (albeit already flimsy) molding around the door.
It didn't take much to elicit one of these responses: simply asking if D had homework was enough to set one off. Each time it happened, especially the name calling and curses, I wondered why my FL put up with such disrespect. My FL and I discussed it the first few times it happened, and she explained that as a child, she had never been able to vent her anger and that she wanted D to have the chance to do so. I told her that I felt there was a difference between venting anger and being downright mean and that I viewed some of D's behavior as emotionally and verbally abusive. After several such discussions, I felt like I was banging my head on a brick wall and started to bite my tongue. In retrospect, that was probably the biggest mistake I ever made. But this kind of thinking is a great example of a very common survivor coping skill: seeing everything as black or white. Since my FL hadn't been able to speak her mind or vent her emotions, she allowed D to say anything, even when what was said was verbally and emotionally abusive. For my FL, any healthy boundaries were taking control from D and when control was taken from someone, they were being abused (because that is what happens when children are abused: they lose control, so they associate loss of control with abuse, which is why many (most?) survivors are also "control freaks".)
Then came one particularly nasty episode which led to a physical confrontation between my FL and D. I stepped in to break it up immediately, but by the end of the night, D was determined to move with the father and this time, I did nothing to stop it. By D's own admission, such behavior would not be tolerated in the father's home and D would not even try it for fear the father would hit D. I felt that some time with the father might do D some good and show how nice s/he had it here. So D packed and moved.
Knowing how close my FL and D were, I was somewhat surprised by how infrequently they spoke after the move. A call was made the day after the move to make sure that D had arrived safely, then there was no communication until more than a week later. By that time, D was already saying s/he wanted to come home. But before anything could be done about it, my FL was served with a restraining order by her ex-, and was given a week's notice that she had to appear in court half a continent away. My FL allowed me to read the paperwork from the courts and it was the first time I learned that things she had told me about in her past didn't happen quite the way she'd told me they happened. It should have been a red flag but I was too much in love and was blinded to the implications of those revelations.
The outcome of the court appearance was that D was permitted to come back with my FL. I had expected the experience to have some impact on D, but less than two days later, the same behaviors were back full force. I wrote D an email (the preferred method of discussion between the two of us at D's request) explaining how angry I was and asking if s/he knew what we had gone through to get D back home with us. When my FL found out about the email (I had sent her a BCC, but she said she didn't get it), she was very upset and angry and from that time on, anything to do with D's behavior was simply not a topic we could discuss. It still bothered me that my FL would tolerate such abuse (which is what I still see it as, although my FL did not) from her child, and looking back now, I see that this was the just another sign of how deeply my FL's abuse had affected her life.
It was shortly after D moved out that I began to notice a change in how my FL behaved towards me. There was a wall that had come between us. A wall I could feel growing almost daily. Whereas before we had always chatted on the computer together, reading over the other's shoulders or checking the other's email, there was now a demand for privacy. There were angry outbursts of "Do you always have to read over my shoulder?" when chatting on ICQ. (As an aside, long after my FL and I had broken up for good, I stumbled across some old ICQ chat files while clearing up some memory on the computer. I found all kinds of conversations she was having with other men and women— some of them very flirty and suggestive.) Screens were minimized when I walked into the room. New names started appearing on her ICQ contact list and online alerts for these new names chimed, whereas those for our old mutual friends did not.
There was a lack of trust that had not been apparent before. Passwords to log onto ICQ or to get into email accounts were changed and I wasn't told until I tried to get in as I'd always done. My motivations were constantly questioned. I was told that I was making her feel like some goddess on a pedestal, some perfect human being. In an effort to explain my feelings, I brought home a dozen roses with a note that said something to the effect of I wasn't worshiping her as a perfect human being, and if she felt she was on a pedestal, it was simply so I could admire the beauty I saw within her. This only made her angrier.
When a very good mutual friend visited at Christmas time, we all went out shopping. This friend complained for more than an hour about feeling like she was going to pass out. But she had to find a pair of work boots. In the process, she passed by a shirt that she wanted to get for me. She took it off the rack and we went back to the shoe department. After she'd found her boots, I insisted that we leave because she was looking pale and tired and I thought she would actually pass out on us. A day or two later, my FL confronted me, asking me why I had not wanted the friend to buy her a Christmas gift too. I was shocked— I hadn't even considered the gift when I had insisted we leave. I didn't even remember that the friend had bought it. But my FL assumed that my ONLY reason for insisting that we leave was so that the friend couldn't buy HER (my FL) a gift. I explained the reason for leaving when we did, but I could sense that my FL was still very hurt by the whole episode and didn't really believe me. This really drove home how much she expected the worst of me (another very common trait of survivors: if one expects the worst, one isn't as hurt (theoretically) if it happens.) A few days after the New Year, she said that she was looking for an apartment for her and D and they were going to move out.
I was devastated at this news, but she told me not to take it personally. Telling me that the house was just too small (and it was— only two bedrooms— D's "bedroom" was a day bed in the living room) and citing the pending custody suit her ex- had filed because of our relationship as reasons for leaving. Looking back now I see this was the continuation of her pulling away— of building that wall even higher.
This continued as the weeks passed until she told me one day that my calling her as often as I did (which was not nearly as often as I wanted to) made her feel like I was invading her space. The final step was taken two months later when she ended our romantic involvement. The real irony of the situation is that in the weeks immediately following that official ending, we saw more of each
other, laughed more, talked more than we had in the last five months.
Before I go any further, I want to say that not all the problems we had in our relationship stemmed from the past abuse she had suffered or from her child's behavior. I have my own issues to deal with regarding a failed marriage and my own issues from childhood, although abuse is not one of them. Many times I did not express my emotions out of fear of driving her away. I'd let them build up until all it took was a minor incident to set off my anger and my overreaction to something small I'm sure had to be frightening, although I did not ever get physically violent, I do tend to raise my voice when angry. Being 8" taller than she is and somewhat bulkier, I'm sure she felt threatened by my anger and feared that I would get physical.
There were also problems between my children, especially my oldest, and her child. My kids had seen their parent's marriage break up and less than two months after telling them we were getting a divorce, their father was telling them he was getting married again. They never had the time to mourn the death of the marriage before being thrown into a step-family relationship again. Now with my FL and her child moving in, my oldest went from being the oldest to being a middle child and her child went from being virtually an only child to being the oldest of three. My youngest made the transition easiest because he was still the youngest of a multi-child family.
Towards the end of May, something happened in my life that would change both of our lives. I am polyamorous (briefly, I believe it's possible to love more than one person with all your heart at the same time and to act on that love in romantic relationship) and I fell in love with another woman. I was reluctant to tell my FL (who I still considered my lifemate even though we were no longer romantically involved...I had not stopped loving her or wanting her back in my life as my lover) for fear that I would lose even her friendship, which was all I had left of our relationship. I wasn't ready to let go of that just yet.
I did ask her what issues we were allowed to discuss the day I realized I had these feelings for this woman. (I had not yet admitted to myself that it was indeed love.) She said she would think about it and I let it go at that. After a few days went by, I was torn about asking her again, fearing that she would see my repeated question as some sort of invasion of her privacy. Yet I felt so guilty keeping these new feelings from her. (The lady I'd fallen in love with was made aware from the beginning that I would always welcome my FL back into my life is she ever chose to come back— or at least that's what she was told at the time because that's what I felt at that time. Now, I have no desire to have my FL back in my life because of choices she has made about who she wants to be. I respect those choices, and I still love her as someone would love a spouse who died unexpectedly.)
When I finally got up the nerve to ask her again (very late on Friday night/early Saturday morning), she came right out and asked me what it was I wanted to discuss. When I told her, she said she was happy for me and actually felt somewhat relieved because she'd been feeling a bit guilty about me "hanging on" when she didn't know if she would ever want to be romantically involved again. I was very relieved and passed on her best wishes to the new lady in my life. Later that Saturday night, I went over to see my lifemate, who had received some disturbing news earlier in the day. We talked and sat up watching movies until all hours of the morning. I had also given her a ring that I knew she had been looking for and I had found one in my travels that afternoon. When I finally left to go home, things were very good between us. No animosity, no anger, no bad feelings. Which left me totally unprepared for the message I received the following morning.
Sometime during the night, she began to question how I could come over there and give her a ring while only hours before I had told her I loved someone else too. She was angry and hurt and felt I had betrayed her since I had told her that I would always be there for her. She felt I had moved on and left her behind even knowing that she was going through some very confusing emotions regarding our relationship. My response was that I WAS still there for her, that the love I felt for this other woman had nothing to do with the love I felt for her. That I still wanted her back as my lover, but that I now also loved another. That she had been aware that I was poly from the start of our relationship and that I had believed that she too was poly.
This was the beginning of a six month emotional roller coaster in which we got back together and broke up on an almost weekly, sometimes daily basis. I had started to read up on abuse after she had moved out and had become much more aware of the behavior patterns that many survivors follow. I had looked back over the time she had lived there and could see those patterns although they were very subtle at the time. Now these patterns were very clear and emotions were very intensified. I had to prove my love to her on a daily basis, my motivations were always questioned and when there was a question in her mind as to why I had done something or what I would do, the worst was always expected of me.
While this mistrust was painful, I understood why she felt that way because I knew of the abuse. But every time I attempted to explain to her how heavily that abuse was still impacting her life now, how it was clouding her perception of my actions, she would get very angry and defensive (the defensive part is another survivor behavior pattern). I explained that her expectations of me were based on what others had done to her in the past and that I was not one of those who abused her and deserved the benefit of the doubt.
I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to be there for her on her healing journey, but it was a journey she was not yet ready to begin and I knew I could not force her to begin before she was ready. I know that most of the time, she was not even aware that she was expecting the worst of me, that she was violating my privacy when she guarded hers so closely, that she was holding me to a higher standard than she held herself. Yet when I pointed it out to her as kindly and as gently as I knew how, she would get angry and defensive. So I would not say anything, only to be told that she was feeling shut out because I would not share my emotions. Things eventually reached a point where I had to withdraw. Put some space between us, for my own sanity and protection. I had to replenish my own emotional coffers before I could begin to help her on her journey, yet my distancing myself was seen as yet another betrayal.
We had a long talk one day, and many things were discussed. But the most important thing was that she had finally realized just how much her past was influencing her present. How the pain she suffered in the past, and hid so well for so long, was finally coming to the surface and refusing to be buried again. We made an appointment for couple's counseling and we were both very well aware that this was just the first step on a very long and difficult path. But it was a path that we were going to walk together because I knew in the depths of my soul that she and I belonged together.
There had also be a marked change for the better in my relationship with D. We had some long heart to heart talks, and had a much better understanding of each other now. None of us felt the time was right to move back in together, but we hoped that day would get here eventually. Because of what my own children were going through with regards to the divorce, and knowing now what I know about abuse and how it impacts the entire family, I can see why D behaved the way s/he did. And that behavior changed as D was made more and more aware of alternative ways of dealing with anger and frustration and disappointment.
At the same time as my relationship with my FL was improving, my relationship with the new lady in my life was falling to pieces. She had initially accepted that my FL was always going to be in my life. But that was when my FL and I were no longer romantically involved. Now that my FL and I were back together, she was having a hard time dealing with that, especially since she lived 1500 miles away and my FL lived less than a mile from me. So she ended our relationship to try to connect with someone closer to her. Someone she had met online who lived in her area. She said she'd always love me, but she couldn't deal with sharing me. And she didn't want to be the reason that my FL and I couldn't make our relationship work.
In July, 1998, she flew out here for the second annual CBQ— as my friend. It was so very hard for me to treat her as just a friend, when I still loved her with all my heart. The first time that she met my FL, it was a very awkward moment, and my FL made sure that she was always around me so that I had no time alone with this new lady, who wasn't even my lady anymore. She even asked me to take D to the airport to pick up this new lady and D later told me she was told to report back everything that happened.
I can't recall the exact circumstances that led to my FL storming into my bedroom at 5:30 the Sunday morning after the CBQ and throwing all the rings I had given her back in my face, and storming out of the house again, but that's what happened. I was unsure what to do. I tried to talk to her through a mutual friend, but she would have nothing to do with me. That night, she came over to my house in her van. I won't go into the details, but it got very ugly.
By the time she left, I was physically shaking and it was then that I realized that I had become a survivor of my FL's emotional and mental abuse. The realization was sobering and left me shaken for some time. My other lady left the next evening, which brought with it a whole new revelation— that the other lady she had met in her area was not even a real person. It was someone made up just to lure her away from me— and what was completely devastating to me was the my FL was the one who made her up.
The times she had to leave here during the CBQ to go home, she went home with the express purpose of sending fake emails to my other lady. I had begun to suspect her when my other lady showed me some of the emails her new love interest had sent to her. The way they were phrased, the way some words were capitalized in the middle of sentences, and quite a few other things made me suspect what was ultimately revealed. What hurt me the most was that I made many strong "hints" to my FL that I knew what was going on. I was hoping that she'd "come clean". I made sure I told her that I'd still love her anyway. But she remained silent until I finally asked her for the truth. She didn't bother denying it. She said she didn't mean for it to go that far, and I believed her. Again.
With the revelation that my other lady's other lady wasn't real, my other lady decided that she was actually relieved because she had been using her other lady to give her what she wanted from me. She decided that she and I were once again a couple (to which I agreed, of course) and that she was going to move here to be closer to me. The three of us even talked about finding a triplex somewhere that we could all rent— each have our own place, and yet be under the same roof.
Then some very ugly things were said by my FL about my new lady— and my FL and I were once again not a couple. When, a few weeks later, things had calmed down and my FL was once again talking about "us", it was I who put the brakes on. I set some boundaries— not to control her behavior, but for my own protection. There would be no more "us" until I felt safe enough that I wasn't going to be abused yet again and that she was serious about the three of us learning to be live peacefully under the same roof.
But that was never to happen. The week before my other lady flew out here to look for a job, my FL gave me an ultimatum— it had to be one or the other. I could not choose. So she did. She left me and within a few weeks was dating another woman. She rarely spoke to me, but I made sure that she and D both knew I was still there if they needed me. In fact, one night after my new lady (who is now my wife of more than 7 years as I update this (January, 2006)) had been here about 5 months, D called at 11:30 at night— s/he was stranded and needed a ride home. My wife and I went to pick D up and I think that D finally realized that yes, I did love D and my FL.
From then on, D would stop by to visit my wife and I and even after they moved out of state, D continued to write to us via email. We had a much better relationship after my FL and I were completely finished than we ever did when we had been together. In fact, D turned to me when my FL's abuser in turn abused D. Unfortunately, my FL felt it in D's best interest that I have no contact with D, so I'm not sure how D is doing now. D is now 21 or 22 and I keep hoping to hear from D, but it's been more than 3 years now since our last contact.
Loving a survivor is not an easy road to walk. I'm still walking it, because there is another survivor in my life now...but out of respect for their privacy, I will not discuss that relationship here. If anyone who reads this needs someone to talk to, you can email me and I'll try to point you in the right direction to find a support group in your area. They're out there— they're not easy to find because most of the focus has been on the survivor. But we "secondary survivors" need our own support too.
I hope by reading the above that you don't come away with the impression that I hate my FL. I don't. She did what she had to do to survive. I bear her no animosity, although I often feel that if I could just have half an hour for some final words to her, I'd be more at peace. But I also know that that is an illusionary feeling. That the peace has to come from within myself. Whether she hears my words or not, I have to make my OWN peace. For a long time, there were some days that were hard for me to get through— but as with anyone who is mourning the loss of a loved one (for in my eyes and in my heart, the woman I loved is gone forever), time has healed the wounds.
In closing, my words are for my beautiful wife, should she happen to read this page. I love you. Forever and a day. You're not my "second choice" or my "consolation prize". I got what I wanted— you.
August, 2013: I'm in the process of updating all my pages and I came across this. Sadly, my wife is now my ex-wife. And the behavior patterns I saw in my FL I also saw in my wife. Still see, although just as my FL, she does not see them. Or perhaps a better way to put that is that she does not see anything wrong with them. My recovery from this break-up was much smoother and much easier. Not because I loved my wife any less (although if she reads this, that will probably be what she thinks because she too expects the worst motivation behind anything I say), but because I had experienced it before and because of the growth of my spiritual beliefs over the years.
I've had several therapists question if I'm actually looking for survivors to get into a relationship with, but truth of the matter is that both have been Love at first "sight" and I had no idea before I fell in Love that either was a survivor. So the answer to that is no. And although I don't believe you can choose who you fall in Love with, I do believe you can choose whether to act on it or not. And I will think carefully before getting involved with another survivor in an intimate relationship. That said, I don't regret one moment I spent with my survivors and, even knowing the outcome, I'd do it all again if given the chance.
There are three songs by the Indigo Girls that I believe had to be written about survivors of childhood abuse: "Hope Alone", "Come on Home" and "Ghost". Listen to all three (they're beautiful songs, with haunting lyrics and melodies) and read the lyrics...they describe the last 17 years of my life in the romance department. My ex-wife and I had a plaque hanging on our bedroom wall above the bed. It read "And they lived happily ever after..." When she moved out, I asked her if she wanted it and she said, "No, because it's not true." But it doesn't say "And they lived happily ever after together..." As I said, I have no regrets. And I wish my FL, D and my ex-wife all the best. And I still Love them unconditionally.