I haven’t written about what I call my past life in much detail. I give hints and I allude to things, because it’s over, it’s done, why bring it up and hash it out when it is the past? I like to think that most things happen for a reason, whether it is a good reason or not is a whole other story. So I decided to write down a pretty condensed summary of my 16 years of eggshell waltzes and fight or flight exercises, in the event that it just might help someone realize that they are not alone, and they are not broken.
When I left home in small town Etna, CA to go to college in Sacramento, CA I had a plan. I was going to go to school until I turned 21, then I was going to serve a mission for my church, then when I got back I’d entertain the idea of getting married and having kids. I always tried to keep things flexible because I knew just how fast life could change. Halfway through my first semester at the university, I met the man that I would marry (we’ll call him DJ). I was painting a nature scene with a unicorn for my little sister. He came in with my two roommates that he was always taking out, and as he and I talked, he started to close up my paint bottles. I would re-open them so I could continue to use them as needed, and he would close them again. I don’t remember what we talked about, it was probably what type of paint etc I was using. I know he was surprised to find that there was a 3rd roommate. Apparently he thought my room was a closet.
Over the next few months my roommates started to use me as a buffer as he seemed more into them than they were into him. I didn’t mind because I thought they were using him. If they wanted to go out to eat, they’d call him because they knew he’d pay. If they needed to go shopping, they called him because he had a car and was always up for a drive. Eventually the roommate he was most interested in officially started dating another man (who would eventually be her husband). It took me almost a month to realize that he hadn’t been around. I had recently broke up with my boyfriend and DJ ended up taking me out on our first date; 3/31/98.The way he tells the story I come out sounding like a dumb country bumpkin. We ended up going to the drive in movies and watched a double feature of Wedding Singer and Grease. We stayed at the drive ins until about 4am just talking. There was snuggling, but nothing more than a lot of talking. He would later say that he knew after that first date that he wanted to marry me. Now I can’t help but wonder how many times DJ had used that line. For the next month or so we spent every waking hour that wasn’t part of class together. We went for drives, we went to dances, we went to the movies. We talked for hours and hours. How I managed to pass my classes I had no idea.
We broke up for about 48 hours. We had gone for a drive to San Francisco and went for a walk around the pond at the exploratorium and then a little hike in the dark onto a giant rock that jutted out and well above the waves. This is when I discovered exactly how terrified I was of heights. He thought it was cute and cuddled me close and made me feel safe. As we drove home though, the conversation started to take a turn to the serious and DJ started going on about how he knew I still cared about my ex. It was true, but I don’t think I was in love with my ex. DJ got so emotional going on about how he had been praying about what to do about me that he had to pull over and get out and find something to blow his nose, which ended up being a brown paper bag. We made it to the neighborhood where my apartment was and parked a few streets away. He said that he loved me and that he thought we shouldn’t see each other any more. I was stunned. I stammered “okay…” not sure what to think. He then took me home and I spent the next 48 hours trying to figure out what had happened and why I felt so heart broke. We ended up going with my roommates and a couple of guys to a cave two days later and there we had our first kiss and ended up back together. The next day we talked and ended up talking marriage and engagement. By mid May I had a ring and we were making plans.
I always wanted an autumn wedding, but with school that would have been hard. We set our date for Summer of 98. Then he started to make rules for our family. The main one that sticks out is that he wanted to ban all music in our home/cars unless it was classical or church music. This made me sick to my stomach because I love music of all kinds. There were a few other things that made me uneasy and eventually I went to talk to my Bishop for some guidance. I hadn’t felt like I was rushing, but as I talked to him, I felt like moving the wedding to a later date was a good move. I didn’t want to call it off. I still felt that he was the man for me, but I thought maybe more time would give us time to settle some of these weird ideas he had. The bishop had known DJ through two previous fiancee’s and they all seemed to come to him with similar issues and he pointed out that DJ had some different ideas and they just needed to be talked about. When DJ met me at my uncle’s house (where I was living at the time prior to the wedding) we sat and talked and as soon as I told him I’d talked to the bishop and that I wanted to move the wedding to 1999, he flipped out. He started pacing and waving his hands, cursing the bishop and yelling and spitting about all sorts of things that I don’t remember. I had NEVER been exposed to any behavior like this. I had already learned that he was a picky eater and he would snub anything he didn’t like no matter what effort I put into it, but this was a whole new animal. He eventually stormed off leaving me in tears. I called my oldest sister who lived an hour or so away. She was coming to be with me and then I called his mom. She explained to me that what I had just experienced was typical behavior for him and that after he stormed off and calmed down he’d come back and we’d be able to talk. She was sorry I had to experience it, but, that was just how he was. I also called my parents and it was decided that they would come and get me and I would spend the summer at home before moving back to Sacramento.
He returned after my sister arrived and she sat inside the house ready to call the police while he and I talked out on the patio. I am pretty sure he apologized and after the conversation I felt that I had totally overreacted and that it hadn’t been that bad. I was still confused after he left. By the time my parents arrived the next day and picked me up at my sister’s, I was thoroughly convinced that it was all a misunderstanding and that I had completely blown it out of proportion. This would be something I’d often feel like over the years. Mom and Dad insisted I come home for a few weeks at least. I returned the engagement ring and called off the wedding. We went to his dad’s house where he was living to pick up stuff that I was storing there and even my dad felt sorry for his puppy dog eyes and tears.
He blurred my boundaries so much that I did not act like myself while I was home. I snuck behind my parents’ back to contact him. My boundaries were always very black and white and his were very much a large shade of gray. He had promised my parents to give me space and he broke that. I did go out with friends while I was home and I did have fun, but I still missed him terribly. I even made plans to go to San Francisco to go to culinary school as I always wanted to. In the conversations we had he convinced me even more that I had over reacted and that there was no reason not to get married in August still. By the time I finally returned to Sacramento I was so convinced that it was all going to be perfect, that I had my engagement ring back and a date set before I’d been back for three days.
We got married August 5th 1998. My family came even though they weren’t happy. My wedding, wedding night, and honeymoon were NOTHING like I had dreamed growing up. There was nothing romantic and it was not at all what I wanted, but it was what I got. Looking back now, I can see that the honeymoon set the stage for the rest of our marriage. Some things I can laugh at, like don’t’ stay with your in-laws when on your honeymoon, but others hit me with dread from the moment they happened. I also seen now that the reason why his mom and step dad didn’t leave us alone in the house, was probably because they didn’t want to leave me at his mercy. I remember our first “family scripture study” while we were on our honeymoon. He had me look up all the various scriptures about leaving your family and cleaving unto your spouse. His interpretation made me uncomfortable as I was very close with my family. I trust the scriptures, but wasn’t sure what to think of his interpretation. Then he started to nitpick my actions, my words, even my posture. He’d make fun of me because I never ate all my food at a restaurant. If we went out for a sandwich, he’d insist we share one and then get irritated that I was hungry a short while after.
When we returned to our apartment after the honeymoon he was mad all the time and hated being home. It was a tiny apartment but close to my school. Things were cluttered and I never had help with taking care of things. After the new year we moved to a larger apartment and things were a bit better, but not great. He had insisted on spending most of his savings on a classic muscle car that I hated. It was a lemon and we put more into after we bought it than it was worth. It was supposed to be his car, but I ended up driving it most of the time. When we sold the station-wagon, we got a Saturn. He hated the car. I tried to talk him into shopping around. I may not have ever bought a car, but I knew that you didn’t just buy the first car you look at. We ended up using my financial aid money for the down payment, which meant I had no money for my books other than credit cards. Later I would drop school every other semester to work. We wanted to buy a house, but needed more income and the credit cards started to pile up. By our second anniversary he wanted a divorce because he liked nothing about me. He said I couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation and I had no personality. He made me throw away my cassette tape collection because the single box was taking up too much room in the closet. He would try to get me involved in debates and philosophical topics that I had no interest in and that would then make him yell and when I wouldn’t participate in the argument he’d yell until I was in tears. Then he would yell more because I was crying. He would ask my opinion on things and when I told him, he’d then lecture me as to why I was wrong, and then lecture me to tears because I wasn’t changing my opinion with his logic that made no sense to me.
He made me read self help and self improvement books because I had no people skills and didn’t talk to people right. I knew this was a lie because without him, I had no problem communicating and as I read these books it made me wonder if HE ever even read them. Then he tried to cancel Christmas which he knew was my favorite holiday. He tried to make me disown my family. Things were to the point that I was ready to leave, I didn’t want to. I wanted it to work. I could see his potential and I knew if we both were all in, we could make it work. After I told him this, we never discussed divorce again for several years and things improved greatly. The 3rd-4th year of marriage were the best. We worked together and did everything together. Then he started to get jealous of my friendships with male coworkers. He started to get on me about the weight I had gained and how fat I was getting. I was still within my healthy weight range. He went on about how unattractive I was and every time I tried to make an improvement, he would sabotage it from interfering with my workouts, to messing with my food. I watched him devolve with anxiety and depression and fits of rage. He turned on me, his family, and people at work. I finished my degree and managed to graduate after being laid off from the job we had done together. I remember the day of graduation from CSUS, he bought me a soundtrack from a movie we both liked them music from. As we were driving to the graduation, he flipped out angry and furious about how the music on the cd wasn’t exactly like it had been in the movie. I didn’t mind. He yanked the cd out of the player, broke it with his bare hands and made me throw it away in a garbage can on the side of the road. He couldn’t figure out why I was upset. Later he would replace it for me as it was MINE and he had no right to break it. The next day we drove up to my grandmother’s house (about 5 hours away) for a family get together with my uncle and aunt and cousins that I hadn’t seen in years. Things were okay, but he demanded that we take our cat, Meowmer, with us. The lunch went fine, but then he flipped out on the cat who was freaked out by the strange people and place. I’m pretty sure he probably grabbed her around the neck and my whole family was appalled. After we rescued the cat, he went and sulked in the car. I ended up snuggling my mom and the cat for the rest of the day. I did not want to go back home with him, but all my things were in Sacramento and I was starting work the next day at a new job.
Over the next few years he would be unemployed and blame me for people not liking him. He blamed me for things that his behavior caused. He often said I poisoned the water for him, but all I ever did was tell the truth when people would ask me what was wrong. He made me constantly feel that I was always over reacting and too sensitive. He would flip between loving and kind and mean and ornery. He would promise to do better and be nicer and we would start our family and then flip around to say that because I couldn’t keep the house 100% perfect while working a 40+hr a week job then I couldn’t handle being a mom. He wouldn’t help because he said I needed to be able to do it all on my own. Ignore the fact that he was home all the time and did nothing other than computers and video games. He wouldn’t even put away his own cloths after I had folded them on the bed for him.
In 2006 DJ started to work and eventually got a motorcycle that he’d always wanted. He also started on a downward spiral of depression and being super critical of everyone. December 2006 he was in a motorcycle accident that I am rather sure was a failed suicide attempt. A few weeks later our cat was killed in the apartment complex parking lot. He was devastated. By spring I was terrified and praying to know when to leave before my life and our other cats’ lives were at risk. Our bishop had told him in council that if he did not start taking ownership of his issues and seek help that he would eventually lose his job that he had worked so hard to get, and his wife. By spring of 07 he was fired from his job because of his actions. He swore he had no idea why they were turning on him and how people he thought were his friends were saying how he’d behaved. Because he hadn’t been a permanent employee for 90 days it was not seen as a firing and his staffing company got him a job at another business. His fits of rage were getting more frequent and I was learning how to repair drywall from where he kicked his foot through the entry wall into the bathroom. I was leaving my own job to go take care of broken glass when he flipped a chair at our glass top dining table. He had also made some not great decisions in regards to the handling of the bike that was damaged in the accident. He eventually got a lawyer and while they wouldn’t touch the issues we were having with the bike, because he was having other issues, neck and mental, that we could seek a case against the driver of the truck that hit him. This is the only reason he sought any treatment. He ended up getting on medications and they made a world of difference, but in the end, the side effects made it hard for him to function at work. He went out on disability and things were good until we could no longer afford the cobra insurance to keep his therapist. Then the case fell apart and the lawyers recommended we drop it.
We lost the therapist that he actually trusted, despite the doctor sending him inpatient for a week. He found a new psychiatrist and convinced him to ween him off the antidepressants. He promised me that if he started to have problems he’d go back on them. He said everything he could to get off them and any time I said anything that could mean he needed them he would get angry with me. He would tell me not to talk but the doctor would ask me questions and I would get yelled at in the car if I said anything that contradicted DJ’s words to the man. I hoped that the doctor could tell what I said was an understatement of the truth, but eventually DJ was off of all medication. He never wanted to accept the fact that because he wasn’t sad didn’t mean he wasn’t depressed. His fits of rage were just the way his body manifested them. He would take a Valium as needed whenever the paranoia and anxiety were too much.
Debt piled up due to his unemployment and he’d get angry any time I had to tell him no for anything. He would demand camping trips and late nights even though I had no time at home to take care of anything, much less myself. I was constantly worn out and mentally and emotionally exhausted. At one point he decided that when I said I wanted to go to nursing school, I really meant I wanted to be a pharmacist because they made more money. I tried to back out of it, but he wouldn’t let me. I had to take advanced math classes and I don’t do well in math. I made it to calculus and he told me if I didn’t pass the class then he wasn’t going to let me go to girls camp for church that summer. I did my best, but I was running on empty at every turn and still failed. Not only did he refuse to let me go to camp, but he locked me out of my computers. I couldn’t email anyone from home. Luckily I could still email from work. Before I had to come up with a reason to tell the leaders at church that I couldn’t go, because heaven forbid I say I didn’t pass a class and my husband wont let me go, I was in a car accident and ended up off work for six weeks recovering from whiplash.
We took a German class together. I didn’t feel I had time for it, but he basically made me so I’d be able to help him with his homework. The first semester went okay, even though I had a false positive pregnancy test, we still managed to hold it together. The next semester he dropped out because it was too much and I stuck it out and passed. It was about this time the he found out he could do a full ride to UC Davis because of our low income. Because he was now a student he was able to get a student job or two. We finally were able to start paying stuff off. He hated the classes though and as he had always struggled, he ended up dropping out second term and then lost his student jobs. I also ended up in a bike accident injuring my knee which put a limit on my activities and it made him made that I couldn’t do some things. Then our apartment complex sold and we had to move. He did nothing to really help get us a new place, and I just happened to find a place that worked. I got the pay out from my car accident and we were able to get moved. He did help with the move and packing. The new place had its issues, but we tried.
He continued to deprive me of sleep between keeping me awake with talking, yelling, making me play a video game with him (which I would fall asleep sitting up while playing), or sitting by him while he read his emails because he was afraid there would be something stressful in there. I no longer enjoyed my job, or my home life. I would come home from an 8-10 hour shift and he would want dinner right away and would expect again, that I would have the house completely tidy. He was home all day on the computer, working out, or playing video games. Sometimes he would wake me up because I was breathing too loud, not snoring, just breathing too loud. Sometimes he would wake me up to scoop the litter boxes or because he didn’t think I’d brushed my teeth.
I eventually had my knee surgery and he was going to do everything for me. From the first day after we got home, he refused to go to the pharmacy and get my pain medication because they had given me a refill on my blood-pressure medicine when we were there initially. If I was hungry he’d get me food when ever he got around to it, so I ended up on my feet/crutches more than I should have been. He did wash my hair for me, but for the most part, he left me alone down stairs and kept to himself upstairs. I was okay with that. He wasn’t thrilled that my orthopedist didn’t think I should be doing squats or lunges for awhile or that he didn’t think I should get clips for my bike pedals.
That year, for my birthday, his dad got us a hotel room so we could spend the day with him in Livermore for my day. That night was fine. We went to dinner and made plans for breakfast in the morning then we’d plan to just hang out and tour the town and just have fun spending time together. Near lunch the next day the topic of DJ’s job hunting difficulties came up. His dad went on to tell him he had an attitude problem and he needed to get rid of the chip on his shoulder. This made DJ livid. He shut down and smoldered in the back seat and gave us the silent treatment. After his dad and I got back to the car after getting lunch, he demanded that we go back to the house where we’d left our car. His dad tried to talk him down, but he was too livid. I got lectured most of the drive home about how I should have stood up for him and defended him. I am pretty sure I told him that I agreed with his dad on several points. I also pointed out that this was MY birthday and that no matter what he should have just sucked it up because it was MY DAY, not his, and that he should have just let it go. I got the silent treatment for the rest of the drive home and once we got to the house he went up stairs and slammed the door and went to bed. I ended up going out to dinner with a friend from church and after I got home, researched Sacramento County Divorce process. The next few days didn’t improve and I was ready to walk out. In a fit of frustration I applied to a job for him. I had taken up doing that because he had stopped applying ages before.
He ended up getting that job with UCDavis Vet Training Hospital and why they hired him I’m not sure. I know he was good at his job, but he walked out and no-showed a couple of times because he didn’t like it. He eventually settled in and found his niche and started to make friends. Some days he’d ask me to bring him lunch (my shift often got over at his lunch time or I had the day off) and it would be a coin toss on whether or not he’d act like my husband or he’d act like a stranger. He ended up signing me up for a motorcycle class because we had the money and I got my license and he got a new bike. I didn’t really care for it, but the pressure to get a bike was very strong. Some fights just weren’t worth it and so we got a bike for me. We resold it a few weeks later and in August I wanted to go see my family up north as my 2nd oldest sister and her family were visiting. He wouldn’t let me unless I got a motorcycle and we rode up together. We got my cruiser bike the night before we left. I as so mad but in the end we made the trip. I had never been on the freeway on a bike before and was terrified. He would pull over and wait for me periodically and then berate me for driving so slow. By the time we got to Dunsmuir he was ready to turn around. I pleaded with him not to abandon me but I wasn’t going to turn back now. I managed to head to my parents and he did follow me. The return trip was better as we had set meeting points for along the way to reconnect and each go at our own pace.
I avoided riding my bike as much as I could as I wasn’t really fond of it beyond going straight. My favorite thing we did was both riding on my bike to go for little drives and out to dinner. He did get a ticket for speeding and lost his license for a few months.
His mom and dad had given us money to buy a house but he set his standards so high for something that wasn’t really attainable for first time home buyers. Then our tom cat was killed by a car and I fell apart. He was my comforter and while I loved my other cats, he was special. I had my antidepressant increased and ended up taking as much medical leave as I could to not have to deal with work. I felt guilty because I was researching apartments and divorce but I just didn’t know if I could deal with DJ any more without losing myself.
I finally got a new job even though it was seasonal. I got laid off after the holidays and was finally able to be the house wife that we had agreed on me being when we first got married. For the first time in over 10 years I had no job and I was working hard to be the house keeper and wife I wanted to be and heal as much stress as I could. The house we were trying to buy ended up getting auctioned off and we didn’t match it. I was okay with not getting it as I didn’t really want it anyway.
Now I was under no illusion that our marriage was healthy. What sort of m an threatens to leave his wife because she couldn’t keep up with him on a bike ride, or because she didn’t haggle a sale’s price on a pair of boots, or because she wouldn’t jump off a big bolder into a river that she couldn’t see the bottom of? Or who threatens to abandon her in San Francisco while celebrating their 11th anniversary because she wouldn’t coast down a freaking steep hill that had a sign saying no coasting? Or who does actually drive off and leave their wife at Walmart 15 miles from home for no reason and then refuses to take her call or text? No, at this point I knew it wasn’t good, but I still had hope,it was small but it was there. Even when he tried to remove his name from the records of the church, he did change his mind and that was a sign of hope.
But that didn’t change the fact that I was slowly coming undone. I resented him. So many promises broken for false. Fifteen years and then some on a roller coaster that spiraled downward. Curse words thought and muttered in his direction were not my normal thoughts. I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be. I cherished my alone time where I wasn’t criticized for how I did things. He made it so I could never offer opinions without being accused of always trying to prove him wrong.
One Friday afternoon at the end of March 2014, I realized how sad I was that it was Friday and that I would have to deal with him for the weekend, even though it was the anniversary of our first date. I dreaded being alone with him. The man who demanded that we become vegan. The man that at one time tried to make me disown my family and change my name. I was done lying for him, making up excuses for him. I was done.
I had been done so m any times before, but this was the first time I felt that someone was telling me that I was done. That this was not the way marriage was supposed to be and that he had failed to live up to the promises he made. That the next time he asked for a divorce I should just go with it.
That night for the first time in 15 ½ years, he brought it up without yelling. There was no threatening. He simply said, “Sarah, I’m not happy.”
The chill of dread that usually consumed me when he said that didn’t come, but a feeling of peace. I apologized because I always did and told him I was trying to do better with the house keeping and such. I will never forget what he said to me. “It’s not you. You have always, always been there for me. When I think of what is best for you, it is not me.”
He said more, but those phrases will stick with me forever. For the first time in all the years we had been together, he was taking ownership for his failures and not putting them on me. We spoke a bit longer and I knew he was shocked that I wasn’t going to argue with him as I had many times before to give it one more try. At almost 16 years, there wasn’t much else to try. I was heart broke, I had promised him eternity and he recanted. He promised that our children (which never happened) would always know that their father loved their mother. It was over. I went down stairs and called my sister after texting to see if she was even still awake. Then I emailed mom to make sure I could come home with cats. The next morning I talked to mom and she assured me that yes I could come home and asked if I wanted them to come help. I told them no because they had just got back from dad’s dr appointment in Eugene and I knew they had to be tired. A bit later I was emailed saying that Dad said they were on their way and they’d see me in a few hours.
DJ was livid. He didn’t want them coming because he thought they were going to attack him or something. I still don’t know why he was afraid because my parents were never the kind to attack or be mean. He took me out to celebrate our first date, got boxes for me to pack and he had a couple friends come support him when my folks arrived. Within 24 hours of the conversation I was gone.
As I drove away the song “Let it Go” was playing and I cried. I returned a couple more times for things, to file the divorce, and to take the remaining two cats that he tried to keep, but found too stressful to manage.
The hardest thing I ever did after leaving,was telling him that while I wanted to think we could still be friends after 16 years of marriage (by the time the divorce was final), I couldn’t be one he turned to when he needed to vent about stress etc because no matter how the conversation started, it always ended up turning on me and I got blamed and berated for whatever the problem was.
We haven’t spoke in almost 4 years.
It took 2 years for me to accept the fact that I was a victim of emotional and verbal abuse.
I am still healing.
There are memories that pop up that may be good or may be bad, but I need to accept them and move on. I’ve swallowed them for too long.