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.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hitting Rock Bottom

I don't even know if anyone reads this blog! If anyone is out there reading this, please encourage me and send me a comment!

I think I had imagined that perhaps this blog might be about my personal growth as someone married to an alcoholic. I suppose I thought it might be an encouragement - something positive. I never imagined the trauma or depths that life could sink to.

My hope has changed - at least at this stage in my life. My hope is that this blog might reach out to others who have some similar experiences and where I might find friendships in a virtual community of sharing. That is my hope. So if that is you - please write to me here. I need the encouragement and support and friendship. I am just going to pour out my heart as it is, without trying to figure out what's right - perhaps you can help me with that - some of my thoughts need correcting. I am at the beginning of a long journey and have a lot to learn. Maybe you can help me?

It's been two weeks since I attended Al-Anon because I have taken up part-time work and it interfered with my attendance to my usual group (I have to go to a different group now). So in all honesty, I don't know how well I was doing not reacting to my husband's behaviour (or trying not to) and so on, and trying not to provoke him. Probably not very well. Which makes me feel responsible for what has happened - even though somewhere in my brain there is another voice saying that perhaps it is not my fault. The perhaps part is the battle - and I can't quite find the truth.

Yesterday an argument (where I told my husband what I thought which was quite confrontational and made him very angry) broke out while at his family's place, and I asked him to take me home. His anger continued in the car - thumping the window with his elbow and raising his voice. Finally saying things like "the only good thing you've ever given me is this baby" (I'm 21 weeks pregnant), and "I hate you. I hated you a week after we got married."

I have to say that I have been building up emotionally for a long, long time. And being pregnant, I am extra emotional. The hurt that I felt when he said those things to me was instant, and I burst into tears - his reaction was to tell me to shut up (from memory) and I told him (while crying) to let me out of the car. He refused several times (we were fairly close to home by this point but it was dark and night time). So I got hysterical: I felt trapped in the car with this man who was angry and saying hurtful things to me that I couldn't bear, and I felt powerless and at his mercy. And I'm quite sure the pregnancy hormones made me very irrational. I started screaming at him to let me out, but he refused. So I opened my car door, screaming at him to stop - he started calling me a selfish b&$%# and that I was going to kill the baby... but I had totally lost rational thought. I just wanted out. Finally, he turned into a side street and parked the car, but not without pulling my head and face over to his driver's side and then yanking my hair hard enough that he could drag me up the street with it. I got out of the car and walked home, and by this time he had driven back and was there before I was, packing up the car with his things. He told me that our marriage was over (he has said that many times before) and "I will never forgive you for what you did."

I was astonished that he showed no remorse, not one word of sorry for hurting me physically. Can't blame it on the drink (he was sober)... And today when he came by to demand money from me, he was still angry.

I am thoroughly devastated. It was one thing to have the husband that I loved to shout at me and to call me names - but to physically injure me is too painful. And if I had the power and ability, I would will this away so that it had never happened and I could carry on living with this alcoholic man with a bad temper.. but I can't pretend that it didn't happen - even though my mind can't even recall the memory fully because it just felt so traumatic at the time. My face is still bruised when I touch it and my scalp still hurts, and I had to take panadol today for the headache I had from him pulling my head and my face. But much more than that, my heart is totally broken and my life is shattered.

7 months ago I married this man I loved - and it was the fairytale wedding followed by the fairytale pregnancy and long-awaited baby on its way! All my dreams have shattered and instead I face pregnancy and parenting alone. My dreams of living and working in an orphanage in Romania seem shattered because how could I take my son away from his father? My Romanian dream that I had put on hold while he studied - 17 years of longing to work overseas in that kind of capacity, just gone.

And who would think that I could long for a man that treated me like this? But what is most painful at this moment is that I have lost him - my friend and companion and lover and husband and partner in life. Yet the moment he hurt me like that, my trust in him was gone, and I felt afraid when he came through the door today to confront me. Afraid of this man I had chosen to love all my life. And in that moment that he hurt me, I feel like it took the decision (about whether to leave him or stay with him) away from me. I couldn't excuse this one - much as I want to find a way to (and I know that if I call him he will find a way to convince me that I am to blame and he is justified in his actions - and perhaps it wasn't that bad!?). As a few have mentioned to me, with any kind of violence in a relationship, it tends to get progressively worse - and just one push or blow to my stomach and my baby could be severly damaged, perhaps even killed.

My heart is broken for me, and for my baby. My baby who never deserved a start to his life like this one. Who deserves a loving family and two parents, is now going to be born to one solo-mother and all the effects that go along with that, including being a child of an alcoholic. I didn't want this for him or for me, and I feel stupid at the decisions I have made and the consequences that has to my little boy and to me. I wanted my husband to be OK, and I thought I could love him despite his issues - but I had no idea that he was capable of this. The man I married is swallowed up by anger and he has become someone I don't know.

When you marry a person, your love for them is so strong it's built to weather many storms - and it's hard to separate from someone who you have that kind of love for. And of course, the only memories you have as you sit alone in your house with only pain for company, are good, beautiful memories of your time together. Like torture.

Perhaps there is in part the co-dependent in me that hates so much to be alone and will do anything to stop the pain of it. But then there's just the real human part of that too - we were not built to be alone. The battle in me to pick up the phone and connect with him just to relieve the pain of being alone and loneliness is very strong - to connect with a man that would hurt me emotionally and physically. It makes no sense - but that's how it is.

My life opens up like an enormous, overwhelming, yawning hole. As big as a canyon. And in that canyon are my fears for the future: Will I have to move in order to be able to survive? Will I have to live with someone just to make ends meet? How will I be able to afford my rent/bills/expenses? What will happen when I have to give up work - how will I get by? How will I manage a newborn baby all on my own? After three or more years of being in this relationship, suddenly I see (and remember) the loneliness of being single - years of it opening up in front of me, except this time with a baby. And who will be my birthing partner now? Will it be this man? This one that hurt me? Will I be stuck in New Zealand for the rest of my life - tied to this man because of my baby? The future looks unbearable to me. Just full of broken dreams and pain and loneliness.

I am full of guilt - that somehow this is my fault - and so I can't face God. I need God so much because I am so lonely and feel so vulnerable and so full of pain, but I'm scared that He is so disappointed with me. That I have failed as a wife in my marriage. Failed my husband, failed my baby, failed God. I feel so responsible.