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.

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