Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ongoing Trial

Trialling living together:

I am in two minds at the moment as to which is worse: the financial struggle, lack of support and time for yourself by doing it on your own as a solo-mother - or having a husband that loses his temper/yells at you every day. Things being good between us does not last - it's like he can't sustain it and has to have a go at me after taking offense at some small thing I have done. After having to tackle almost all the housework on my own now because he gets in such a mood if I ask him to help, I wonder if I was better off when I was on my own!? The only things I don't do (because I can't with being 38wks pregnant and very swollen feet etc), get left for days, sometimes weeks on end. Dishes can sit on the bench for 4 days. The lawns are constantly overgrown. Things that needed doing before the baby was born that he has been saying for months that he would do - I finally just did myself yesterday. He seemed to help me more when he was not living here.

I also worry about bringing up a baby amongst this kind of conflict - I know the effect it had on me when I was growing up living in an environment like that. His counselling and our marriage counselling do not seem to help him to take responsibility for his temper - instead he blames me for it. I have spoken with an Anger Management programme and they say that all the men that come into their programme start of like that: blaming their partners/wives for the reason they lose their temper and taking no responsibility. So I guess that is exactly where he is at. Often by the end of the course a good chunk of the men have learnt to take responsibility for their temper. Because I'm so close to baby's due date, I figure he may as well stay now at least until baby's first few weeks of life - give things a chance to improve as well (but I don't hold much hope for that because apart from the baby's arrival, nothing internal would have changed much in my husband). If they don't improve, I"m going to ask him to attend that 5mth Anger Management programme - last time I brought it up he got angry and refused to go. But if he refuses, I might just call it quits. It was, after all, one of the conditions I made about him continuing to live here right from the start. It was one of my boundaries, and I need to stick to it because of the effect it has on me and the effect it will have on our baby. Already I am starting to blame myself for his temper, and I am not to blame. I might make mistakes or do things wrong, but I am not responsible for the way he reacts. I have to keep reminding myself of that and not let him mess with my mind like he used to.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Just over three weeks to go till baby's due date! It feels like forever!! I am getting impatient, sick of being at home but too big and uncomfortable to get out and about too much. Eagerly awaiting our little boy's arrival.

My husband moved in two weeks ago. The first 7-10 days were rocky. Arguments/conflict every day, to the point where we'd almost both given up on our marriage and were about to call it quits. I felt so exhausted from the conflict and didn't feel I had enough energy to keep working on it. But lately, things have settled into a kind of rhythm. Perhaps it was just adjusting to living with one another again or perhaps we are just going through a kind of reprieve. Or perhaps we are just more aware of one another's needs. We are both attending individual counselling, and we have started marriage counselling, which has been helpful already after just one session.

I am beginning to feel more hopeful, beginning to feel like we are starting to work again as a married couple - as a team - beginning to enjoy him and love him again. My footing doesn't feel secure, because I know that things could turn sour again, and that is difficult. But I don't live my life in anxiety with the "what if's".

In the meantime, I continue with my support groups, Al-anon and regularly connect with my friends. I feel more supported and less lonely, and more prepared for this baby's arrival. Al-Anon brings me a tremendous amount of peace, a reminder of what I need to work on, and genuinely caring people who have become a wonderful support to me despite my highs and lows.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

33wks and Counting...

I am 33 wks pregnant tomorrow. Never mind that I am carrying the equivalent of a 37wk gestation baby!! He is our little rugby player - or, as we Palangi parents joke - our Tongan baby :)

It has been a long time since I last wrote in here. A lot has happened - the ups and downs of life and the ups and downs of being separated, dealing with issues that have come up regarding my mother (my counsellor says she feels that pregnancy has stirred those issues up) and being pregnant and on my own.

One of my goals was to ask for help, and I have done that. I've had to since I landed up in hospital overdoing things (really just trying to manage on my own) which sent my blood pressure through the roof. As a result, my husband has been coming down on a daily basis to help me with basic things like dishes and grocery shopping that I was really struggling with. My mother has FINALLY offered some help in her school holidays (she's a part-time teacher). My church seems to be slowly responding. And my friends have been visiting me and have said that they'd be there to help out when the baby arrives. It was hard to ask for help - I do feel ashamed at not being able to manage on my own (which comes from my past shame in relation to how I felt when my mother gave me anything). I would like to be independent - but being independent is quite lonely. And asking for help has made me feel loved and supported and like I am not alone in the world.

I have struggled over recent weeks with my relationship with my husband. He has not sought the help that I had asked him to find, or made enough of an effort (I felt) to show me that he took the situation seriously and wanted things to change so that we could trial his moving back home. When this dawned on me, I didn't "let go and let God" - more like I let rip!! Several weeks of not being up to going to Al-anon (in terms of health/fatigue) meant that I had lost my peace about the situation. And though I regret the way that I handled it, it eventually led to a discussion and some action on my husband's part. He has finally booked in for counselling starting next week. With my health in mind, we have agreed that this might also be the day he moves back in.

That last sentence fills me with trepidation! Ideally I had wanted him to have had sufficient time in counselling that things might have changed internally for him. Obviously just starting it next week won't have made one bit of difference, except to show me his commitment to getting help. Is a commitment to getting help enough or should I really be waiting for that counselling to make a difference in his life? Have I compromised too much? Will it be so premature that it sets us up for failure? Will counselling be sufficient - won't he also need AA and Anger Management? Will his motivation to attend either AA or Anger Management subside because I have allowed him to come home?

Suddenly I am full of anxiety for the future. Will my husband manage to keep his temper in check? His abuse? His manipulation? Will our arguments resurface and the yelling begin again?
Have I done the right thing? Made the right decision?

The circumstantial pressure has got to me a bit: my being heavily pregnant and not managing well on my own - especially with my recent health (high blood pressure) and our finances have taken a serious blow recently - and this has pushed the decision a bit.

Will it be wonderful to have him back again - or will it be a mistake? My anxiety is desperate for reassurance - all I can do is maintain my boundaries and hand the rest of it over to God. But have I compromised my boundaries on this occasion? Will I be able to maintain them when he's here?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Feeling Abandoned

In many ways, I have felt alone all my life. When I was growing up, my father (the one who was most abusive - at least verbally/psychologically and physically) was the one that gave me attention and affection. My mother seemed to provide for my physical needs.

By the time I was about 10 years old, after an argument between my mother and father about the way he was harshly "disciplining" the children, Dad announced that he was going to wash his hands of it then and wouldn't have anything to do with our discipline. He closed the door to their bedroom, and I barely saw him after that. His interaction with us was minimal, and he no longer wanted to be a part of the decision-making for our lives.

As I grew into my teenage years, and became troubled with the things I faced at that time - there was no one in the family that I could talk to. I could not talk to my mother or my father, confide in them, or rely on their guidance. They were not there for me emotionally. This was particularly difficult for me when I was around the age of 14, because at that time, I had started a new school, my "best friend" had decided to ditch me, and my remaining friendships were superficial. I was fortunate enough to have my sister-in-law to go to, which kept me sane, but did not stop all the stress-related illness I had at that time: migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, gastric reflux. I felt very anxious and depressed.

There have been moments in my life where I have experienced true friendship and support, but overall, I feel like my adult life has been spent surrounded by people, or involved in things where I was serving or giving to others, but not experiencing the kind of friendship or support where I truly felt people were there for me if I needed them.

I am going through something dreadful at this time: I am having enormous trouble in my relationship with my husband, we are separated after 6 months of marriage, and I am 24 weeks pregnant. All my siblings live overseas, but in any case 2/3 have not been in touch to see how I am, even though they know about the situation, and the remaining one I've had minimal contact with and the bare minimum discussion about it beyond my informing him what had happened. My father has been his usual unhelpful self, and my mother telephones me perhaps once a week to see how I am (in usual circumstances she might get in touch with me once every month or so - she usually does not make much of an effort!)

The few friends I do have that "care about me" don't call me to see how I am, don't drop by to see if there is anything they can do - I just arrange to meet up with them every now and then. The new church I joined prior to all of this happening has asked me to step down from leading a group of girls in a church homegroup (not because I was now a 'separated woman' but apparently for my own benefit so that I could concentrate on my marriage and getting over what had happened) and the brand new adult homegroup I had been attending just as a participant where I was hoping to gain friendship and Christian fellowship, has fizzled out - so that I feel no real sense of belonging or support from them. My circumstances (too complicated and mundane to explain) prevent me from joining a different homegroup - and I don't want to have to explain to them the same way as I explained to the last group why I was not attending the group with my husband. I don't want to have to explain to a bunch of strangers about my private life.

I feel abandoned by my family, abandoned by my friends, and abandoned by my church in my time of need. The weekly support I get are all agencies: Al Anon or support groups or counselling. They receive Government funding, or I pay them to give me support - or they are strangers to me. I feel alone as I have always felt alone - except when I had my husband's support - but sometimes even then. I don't have a lot of support in my life. Last time I had a great deal of stress and crises in my life, I became clinically depressed because of the nature of my relationship with my husband (then boyfriend) - he was drinking and had not attended rehab at that time - and did not have any support. Realistically, what has changed?

Why has this not changed for me? It's not for lack of reaching out... Is it that I reach out to the wrong people? And don't reach out to the right people? Is it that it is hard to make friendships when you are in your 30's or in a big city? Is it that I attract the wrong people to become friends with? Or that I put people off somehow? Do people just want to know about the good things happening in my life and not the crappy stuff? Are people not good at being a friend to someone else anymore? Am I not a good friend to others? Why hasn't this situation changed for me?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Do I Let Go And Let God?

Though it is no doubt part of the human condition, perhaps it is even more difficult for the partner, relative or friend of an alcoholic to "Let Go and Let God". Prior to attending Al-Anon, I had thought the statement was such a cliche and would roll my eyes in response - considered it a "pat answer" to a no-doubt complicated issue. But I have come to learn that these slogans are there to help us - to remind us and guide us.

My husband and I have reached the point of an agreement. If he gets help, then we will have a trial period of living together for two weeks around the time the baby is due to be born (that's about 4 months away). During those two weeks, if there is any arguing (not simply disagreeing but the kind of arguing where there is shouting or swearing or criticising etc.), he would have to leave again. He has assured me - perhaps for the millionth time - that he is very motivated to get help. And perhaps for the millionth time, I believe him. He is so genuine, and I know that he is trying so hard at other areas in his life to be responsible and a good father to his son and provide for him and so on. It's commendable. I wish he would make that much effort on the issues that prevent us from being a family. My husband's time is in a world of its own, however. Forget Island time - this is a whole new league of its own! In the meantime, I must be on New York time where everything couldn't be done fast enough for me.

I like to have plans, lists and to know the future in advance. To see evidence of it unfolding in front of me. And I like to make it happen - do everything in my power to ensure that it does - make every effort that is open to me.. and to force it open if it's not. I am a determined, driven personality when my will is involved, and there is a lot at stake. Where my husband sits back and perhaps ponders things month after month with no action to speak of - I would have taken action 20 times over. It seems obvious that this equation might lead to my becoming over-responsible in so many areas of our lives. Or becoming a frustrated, nagging and critical wife - demanding change or action in my time - bending him to my will and way of things.

So I made a plan with my husband - something we could work towards. It is reminiscent of our courtship where, after two years of dating and him saying "yes I do want to marry you..." I gave him a deadline to make a decision one way or the other - because I was tired of putting my life on hold while he figured it out - I was 33 years of age at that time and I felt I had given him all the time I had left to give. He finally proposed shortly after the "deadline" had come and gone.

In this case, leaving it to the last minute may be too late. With a little baby involved, there is so much at stake.

My relief of having made some semblance of a plan was short-lived. Sometimes making plans gives us a sense of security even though we really don' t know how things are going to pan out. The following day, my relief had transformed into anxiety. My husband was busy today. Would he contact CADS as he said he would or would he say he didn't have time? Would he just talk about getting help, or would he get it? And if he got help, would he really make the effort required to make any progress?

I think what is most difficult for partners (friends/family) of alcoholics is the absolute powerlessness we experience. Alcoholics Anonymous Step 1 in their program states the need for the alcoholic to "admit powerlessness" over their addiction, and to admit their lives had "become unmanageable." In Al-Anon, we too practise Step 1 by admitting our powerlessness. Others may disagree, but the difference to me is that an alcoholic still has the ability to get help, and therefore, has the ability to change his/her circumstance. In contrast, a partner (or friend/family member) of an alcoholic cannot force their alcoholic to change or get help - they can only get help for themselves. This may mean that their circumstance does not change at all. The partner has only the power to choose whether to live with it or whether to leave.

At this time, at this early stage of my own "recovery", I am struggling with how it can be possible to find serenity when experiencing powerlessness. I understand that the key is learning to let it go into God's hands and trust Him with it. But even God will not intervene in a way that takes away the alcoholic's steps towards recovery - the alcoholic must learn to make an effort in his recovery - to be proactive and to reach out for help. He won't take away our free will and our choices - someone once said to me that God wants us to grow up, not remain as babies forever dependent on Him in a way that stunts our own growth.

And I have to actually question my motives for "desperately wanting him to change". Certainly, there is an element of concern for my alcoholic and the consequences of his life choices and how that may hurt him. There is also the fact that I have a baby on the way, and all the hopes I have for him and how much I want the best for him, and therefore - the best father he can have. And there is the effect this has on my life as (currently) a pregnant, married woman living alone and perhaps facing solo-motherhood. Ultimately I want a peaceful and happy home that benefits all of us. But perhaps there is something else there as well. Perhaps some of my high standards and expectations and desire for things to be perfect, controlled, neat and tidy, all boxes checked - are not being satisfied. When will he be enough? When will he be good enough for me to accept him as he is? Or will he never be good enough - never feel accepted in my sight, never measuring up to my standards that I set for him? I recognize that this driving need and expectation that I am perfect and that others are perfect too, makes life miserable for all concerned. Because I can never measure up - it's a losing battle. I can never be perfect. And neither can those around me.

A fellow Al-Anon member recently referred to her focus on Detachment from the alcoholic. There were three things she mentioned, and I wish I could recall all three. But the two that I remember, she said she focused on Detachment from Worry and Detachment from Judgment.

Over the next little while - especially these coming months, I too feel that I need to focus on Detachment, and how to "Let Go and Let God" and find Serenity.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships
as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did,
this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make
all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just for Today

just for today

Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Just for today I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my "luck" as it comes, and fit myself to it.

Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.

Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn, and not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count. I will do at least two things I don't want to do - just for exercise. I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won't find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anybody but myself.

Just for today I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. During this half hour, sometime, I will try to get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Double Mindedness

It seems that every day just in itself is an enormous journey. A journey of events, a journey of thoughts and a journey of emotions. So even in these last few days since I last posted, I feel I have walked quite a distance.

I have stopped crying 20 times a day. Now, it's once or twice a day. But my emotions range from relishing my newfound peace that rules in the house (instead of tension, fighting, shouting, anxiety, fear, agitation) and feeling very down or desperately lonely. I realise that I am in grief: mourning the loss of my husband and my dreams and so many other things that I haven't quite intellectualised yet, but feel on a deeper level. This grief is a journey all of its own.

My husband has been to see me every day since we separated, even when I ask him not to come - though he has given back the key. He has, of course, been relatively kind and caring -the side of him that I love and miss. And my mind can easily seek the safety of denial that perhaps that traumatic night never happened, and this man standing in front of me is actually what is true and reality. And here is where the battle begins inside me.

One voice says: "Did he really hurt me or was he trying to protect me from getting out of the car into heavy traffic as he suggested?" The other voice argues, "He had lost control of his anger and he was being violent as a result. Even if he was trying to restrain me - the violence he used to do it was totally unnecessary. And he could have stopped the car or communicated that he would as a response to my request."

The first voice then says with enormous doubt, "Am I doing the right thing, leaving him?" followed by reminiscing about a good memory or a longing for cuddles that I'm beginning to miss, or the pain of being alone, or thinking of something that happened in my day that I would like to share with him. Then the second voice reminds me of the traumatic incident and the daily shouting (along with criticisms, swearing and name-calling), and that protecting my child is paramount.

One voice accuses me, the other cares for me.

Well, tonight I have to say that all I wanted to do was to pick up the phone and ask my husband to come and stay the night with me. Instead, I forced myself through a few hours before I went off to some elders from my church for their advice. One of the elders that I spoke to (a married couple) is an Alcohol and Drug Counsellor, so you can imagine, that was very helpful. I'm so appreciative of their help and support. Through our conversation tonight, my mind cleared considerably and I was able to realise my position, what I needed to do, and what I needed to say to my husband.

As this couple asked me questions, I learnt something about myself. First, they asked me about my reaction on that night in the car, whether I had perhaps experienced something like that when I was a child. After considering this briefly, I realised that when I was a child and growing up, whenever there were arguments, shouting, excessive criticism or abuse, I would feel trapped in the house - or wherever we happened to be - and helpless against anything that was happening around me or to me. It took me right into my adulthood, where I mentally had to say to myself "you can leave!" So when I felt trapped in the car with my husband shouting at me and saying hurtful things, I immediately wanted to get out.

Another question they asked me was what I feared the most. I realised that what I feared the most was being alone. My family are not close or very supportive, and I always felt alone as a child and growing up. And I still experience the loss of that support to this day, and could not shake that feeling until I met my husband, who would give the shirt off his back to his family. Believe it or not, he is there for me and completely supportive (when he is not in conflict with me). That is something I had not experienced and was missing inside me before I met my husband. The pain of being alone has driven me into the arms of abuse, and I need to work on that so that I do not choose the pain of abuse in preference to the pain of being alone. Quite how I shake the alone girl that grew up, I don't know, as I've never been able to so far - but this is a journey and I'm only at the beginning of it. And although in the past I have been afraid to be real to others because I have been judged, I am now finding support because I am willing to be open and real and ask for help. This brings me support and love instead of isolation.

Through my conversation with this couple, I realised how important it was for me to set a firm boundary that while he was not admitting his problems and actively getting help for them and while I could not trust him or feel safe around him, I would not live with him. Their reassurance that this was a good and right decision for me, for the baby and for my husband was a huge relief. They made it clear that taking him back was doing him no favours, but was in fact, making the problem worse. It was a bit of a shock to realise that by not putting up any boundaries, I was enabling his problems to perpetuate and get worse. They encouraged me to make this boundary very clear - to be careful about the frequency that I saw him, and to keep a clear message that we were apart and not drifting back together until those changes in him had taken place. They also encouraged me to communicate that should my husband assault me in any way again, that I would call the police.

So I dragged up the courage and said this to him (the police thing), and he was defensive and a bit rude but not too bad - not angry and going off his head at me like I imagined him to be - though it might have been different if I had said it to him in person, or if I'd said it in my usual manner! Instead, I approached him humbly, but I was firm with what I said. I'm not angry, not bitter, not resentful.

It felt good to maintain this boundary - a boundary that puts my safety and my wellbeing first, and not at his expense, but at his benefit. Though this consequence hurts him, it is truly for his good.

When this couple prayed for me tonight, they gave me words of encouragement. One was that "love does not demand its way." I wondered whether that was for me or for my husband, because so often I demand my way, and immediately my mind wondered whether I was to blame?

Later, one of them mentioned to me that this double-mindedness, confusion, doubt, guilt, blame I am experiencing is part of the result of being an alcoholic's wife and a taste of the "battered wife syndrome." Even when she said that to me, doubts plagued my mind - this had just happened to me once, surely I wouldn't have that issue?

Divorcenet describes "Battered Wife Syndrome" like this:

To understand battered woman's syndrome, one must first understand how someone becomes a "battered woman". According to Dr. Lenore E. Walker, the nation's most prominent expert on battered women, a woman must experience at least two complete battering cycles before she can be labeled a "battered woman". The cycle has three distinct phases. First is the tension-building phase, followed by the explosion or acute battering incident, culminating in a calm, loving respite - often referred to as the honeymoon phase. Walker, L., The Battered Woman (1979).

It is also important to understand why battered women stay in abusive relationships. The Court in People v. Aris, 215 Cal App 3d 1194, 264 Cal Rptr 167, 178 (1989) stated that "battered women tend to stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons." Among those reasons: women are still positively reinforced during the honeymoon phase; women tend to be the peacekeepers in relationships - the ones responsible for making the marriage work; adverse economic consequences; it is more dangerous to leave than to stay; prior threats by batterer to kill self, or children; or to abscond with children; lost self-esteem; and no psychological energy to leave - resulting in a learned helplessness or psychological paralysis.

"Battered woman syndrome describes a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in women living in battering relationships." People v. Romero, 13 Cal Rptr 2d 332, 336 (Cal App 2d Dist. 1992); See Walker, L., The Battered Woman Syndrome (1984) p. 95-97. There are four general characteristics of the syndrome:

1. The woman believes that the violence was her fault.2. The woman has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.3. The woman fears for her life and/or her children's lives.4. The woman has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

I relate to a few things above - the struggle to place the blame for the violence where it belongs, some loss in self-esteem, the cycle of tension-explosion-calm (usually just an explosion of anger rather than violence except recently) and feeling supported and reassured during that 'calm phase', having a strong desire and sense of responsibility to make the marriage work, economic struggles associated with separating, concern for his safety (eg. suicidal tendencies that have been there in the past) resulting in my staying with him despite his behaviour. But I do realise that I am only beginning to feel the effects of such a syndrome, and how the longer a wife/partner stays in these circumstances, the more entrenched it becomes and the harder it is to get out. The Alcohol Drug counsellor this evening said that I needed to concentrate on becoming strong enough to stand on my own without depending on my husband - and I see now that the longer I stay in this situation, the more dependent and unable to leave I will become.

I am left with the beautiful words of a song the couple felt God had wanted to communicate to me. The words go like this:

O Lord you're beautiful,
your face is all I see
for when your eyes are on this child
your grace abounds to me.

I felt so reassured by these words. They reminded me of when I was standing in church on Sunday amongst beautiful worship - singing to God, our Creator - and my mind could not resist the love and grace that I felt God had for me. His eyes are on me, His child - even when I don't feel that I can reach out to Him: He is with me, He is watching me, He cares and He loves me no matter what I think of myself.