Note: This post was going to be submitted for the Carnival Against Child Abuse, but it became more about trying to peel off another layer of scar material that was caused by the marriage. It could be triggering, please read with care.
There was once a little girl who got hurt by the people who should have taken care of her. This experience taught her about keeping secrets, packing the bad things into containers inside her head and to forget about most of the bad things altogether. She became good at playing the parts and emotions that were acceptable to those around her. Compartmentalisation and dissociation became her way of life.
As this girl grew, the dissociative walls became higher and more entrenched. Her core beliefs were that she was a nuisance, stupid and ugly. But she wasn’t a victim. Oh no, she knew that bad stuff had happened, but she believed that it happened to every little girl, and no one else seemed to be complaining. So when the girl became a woman and met a nice man, she didn’t tell him about the bad stuff; instead she listened to his stories of being abused by his sister when he was a boy. She didn’t understand how that could have happened to this seemingly big, strong man. It made him cry and she comforted him.
So began, what would become 8 years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse for that woman – us.
In many ways, the man came into the relationship more honest and open than we did. He said he’d been abused, we didn’t. We got so caught up in his past that we didn’t say anything about ours – we didn’t really consider it that bad or worthy of talking about anyway. Abuse was what we had come to expect. So when he raped us for the first time, we dissociated it away and considered it normal. Besides, he was good to us – he gave us flowers, cooked for us and treated us with a form of delicate care (when in front of other people) we’d never experienced before.
A pattern developed over time, he would have a crisis of some sort and we would save him. He needed us to be strong, so we were. We were hardly innocent within this scenario. The woman at work used to feel sorry for him as we appeared to pick on him and order him around. I can understand why they would get this impression – he needed to be saved and we needed to be a saviour. The weaker he became within his work and mental health, the stronger we had to be, and the more he would abuse us when no one was looking. The strength we showed to the world was one of us organising our world to gain some control. When we got behind closed doors there would be a dissociative switch to one who enjoyed the pain that he inflicted sexually and physically. He became good at triggering our switches, so we built the walls inside our internal house higher and stronger.
About four years into the relationship, we were in a side impact car accident. We sustained a mild concussion. In that one instant, our lives changed forever. Our coping mechanisms fell apart. Suddenly we were weak. Suddenly he had to be strong, but he wasn’t able.
He had been intermittently seeing different therapists over the years, but had never seen one for more than three sessions. They were always useless or changing their fees or playing games… We realised we were in trouble and started counselling again. He began to self-injure, often in front of us or because of us. He was fired from his job for assaulting a supervisor. We tried to be strong, but were slowly falling apart.
He got a job as a security officer – a job where he could “get some respect”. We also changed jobs. But nothing fixed the things that were happening in each of our heads or in that house. We were two people who had serious mental health issues crashing into each other. We became suicidal and were regularly assessed for danger, always to be released back into the care of the strong man who was now our husband.
On the 9th of February 2008, we attempted suicide. It wasn’t our most serious attempt, but it landed us in A&E and then the secure psychiatric ward. On the 10th of February 2008, the strong man took us home. What followed is blurry, but I know M made a smart arse remark to him about how he needed to grow up. He then showed us how strong he was by trying to kill us. His level of violence scared him and he called our mother, screaming that he’d done it this time and it was all over. The mother thought he’d killed us. When she talked to us, she asked if we wanted someone to come up to be with us. Sophie said “yes”. With our family there, he couldn’t cope with what had happened, so left the house on the 14th of February 2008.
Looking back, I can see how our different issues collided to cause what happened. If he’d married someone who wasn’t dissociative, this probably wouldn’t have happened. We were so conditioned for abuse, if it hadn’t been him, it would’ve been someone very similar. Could we have ever made it work? I doubt it. He was not interested in healing. He paid lip-service to therapy, but wasn’t prepared to invest the time and energy. I was too defensive and in deep denial. I wasn’t prepared to heal myself, instead I was so caught up in his problems that he was all I could see. My life became about fixing him. He has refused to attend the court ordered counselling as part of the Protection Order, so I don’t think he’ll ever heal. I hope he does and proves me wrong…
The following clip is one we did a year ago to try to work through the events surrounding the marriage. It may trigger.