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When my oldest was about six months old, I was holding her on my hip on the stairs when he punched me in the face. I pushed his shoulder to get him out of my way as I ran down the stairs, clutching my baby with tears running down my face. I was screaming. Everything happened so fast. I knew he had taken it too far this time.
I grabbed the house phone, trembling so bad I couldn’t even dial 9-1-1. When I finally dial “9,” my fiancé ran to the bathroom. I could hear bottles being thrown against the wall. Panicked, I ran in there to see what was happening. “I’m going to kill myself!” I don’t know if it was his regret for punching me in the face, or the fact I was going to call 911, but he was in despair. I approached him cautiously, a pleading hand out, as if to say “please. don’t. put it down.” He set the bottle of pills down and then leaves the house. I don’t know where he went. I didn’t want him to get in trouble–I loved him.
I didn’t call 911. Instead, I called his parents who live about 15 minutes away. They came over right away, and his parents asked me what I did. W-w-wait. What? What I did?
Eventually he showed up. I still don’t know where he went or what he did. His dad said, “We didn’t raise you that way.” But still, the contents of the conversation made it sound like I provoked him. Like this had been a single, isolated incident and I deserved it. Only it wasn’t. He was incredibly emotionally abusive. He would stonewall me, control who I talked to or where I went, call me names, and humiliate me. He would walk in front of me, never next to me. Slowly, he became more aggressive. There were times where he would come up to me from behind and hold me–I couldn’t get loose. I’d try wriggling free, kicking, biting, try to spit at him. Eventually he’d let me go, taunting me like a bully. I’d often say, “I wonder how you’d treat somebody you don’t like?” We’d go to Iowa Football games and if someone would call him out for constantly talking crap about the team during a game, he’d get in their face and threaten them. I was often very embarrassed. Just before I met him he had gotten an OWI (or DUI…I never know the difference) and an assault charge the same night.
We went to counseling and for the most part, the physical violence stopped and the verbal and emotional abuse wasn’t as bad. We got married, and things were still up and down. I confided in a few close friends, and I’d always hear the same thing. “Why don’t you just leave?” It was kind of a slap in the face every time. They just didn’t understand. I stopped confiding. I never told anyone again.
I fell into a very deep depression. I would cry all the time, and slept a lot. I began to have crippling panic attacks. I started missing a lot of work. I sought help, and was originally diagnosed as bipolar. What, me bipolar??? I used to work in a mental health facility…taking care of people with bipolar. That can’t be! I took a ridiculous amount of medications for my bipolar and didn’t seem to be getting better. I eventually sought inpatient treatment because I had suicidal ideations. I wanted to get better and I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. It was scary, and I had two beautiful little girls who need their mommy!
My psychiatrist filled out FMLA paperwork for me so I wouldn’t get in trouble at work for missing so much. There were times I had panic attacks just dialing the automated phone system to call into work. I had gone to inpatient treatment two other times. I then started intensive outpatient group therapy five days a week for half a day at the hospital. I started to tell people about what happens at home. There I gained the courage to get out.
I came home one night and told my husband I was leaving him. At first he was crying, promising things were going to be better. In fact, for several months he had been better and had been exactly who I needed him to be the entire time…but it was just too late. My heart wasn’t in it anymore. Besides, how long was that going to last? I didn’t wait to find out. Once he realized I was serious, he got in my head and convinced me that because of my mental illness, I would never see my kids again. I believed him. I didn’t want to die, I wanted the pain to stop.
I told my kids I love them, and then went into the bedroom and took 32 prescription sleeping pills.
My husband called 9-1-1 and the next thing I remember is waking up in ICU. There I learn that my husband then had me institutionally committed. Once they determined I was going to be okay, I was sent downstairs as a mental health inpatient. I spent nine days there, participating in every single group therapy session. They told me if I participated, that I could see my kids during visiting time. During my stay, I was given a new prescription called Affexor. Immediately, I started to feel funny. I walked up to the nurses station just in time to say, “I feel…” when I pass out from low blood pressure. That night, I spiked a very high fever in the middle of the night. It was an allergic reaction from the prescription.
By 8am, my fever was gone, my makeup and hair were done, and I was in our group counseling session. Afterwards, the psychiatrist I had seen during my stay was gone and I had to meet with one of the child psychiatrists. He reviewed my file, and noticed I had been on countless pills as a child. You were diagnosed as AD/HD as a kid? Yes, I’d respond, cooperating. Were you sexually abused as a child? Yes, I said, avoiding eye contact almost as if I were shameful.
You don’t have AD/HD, and you’re not bipolar. You have PTSD, and this explains your behavior your entire life.
I sat in his office and cried. He explained to me each symptom and behavior and how it correlated. My entire life started to make sense at that moment. I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The psychiatrist explained how my abusive marriage had perpetuated my PTSD.
When I was released, I found out my insurance company denied my stay. They said based on my behavior they didn’t feel I was a threat to myself any longer, and that I didn’t need to be there nine days. Because I was committed though, I didn’t have to pay for the stay, thankfully.
My decision that day was the worst decision I’ve ever made. I hurt my kids and my family. Never again will I put them through that.
I moved in with a friend from group therapy for a few weeks until I could find a place on my own that I could afford. I found a one-bedroom apartment for just $310/month. We divorced, and I eventually remarried a man of strong faith. You can read our story here. I’ve been medication-free for four years now, and haven’t had a panic attack in over three years. My ex-husband and I are court-ordered to attend parental counseling and things are much better between us.
Maybe you’re in a similar situation and don’t know where to turn.
Here’s what to look for in an abusive relationship:
- Telling you that you can never do anything right
- Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
- Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
- Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
- Controlling every penny spent in the household
- Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
- Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
- Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
- Preventing you from making your own decisions
- Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
- Preventing you from working or attending school
- Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
- Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
- Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
If you need help, there is hope. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: