three years

I talk about my first marriage if people ask, but typically I don’t share the worst details of it. It has been four years since I left my ex-husband and to this day I don’t think badly of him. He was (and is) a good person, but our marriage wasn’t good for me. And while there are numerous reasons for my divorce, the biggest reason will always be the emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of my ex-mother-in-law.

This morning, Facebook reminded me that it has been three years since my divorce hearing. That means it’s been three years since the last time I had any interaction with her. Three years is a long time. I’ve found my own identity in that time, fallen in love again, moved across the country and gotten married. In many ways, my life with that family is a distant memory and I rarely think about it. But, emotional abuse is tricky. When you least expect it, the trauma from your past rises up and you’re right back where you were years before.

It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I had been emotionally abused. I had no scars to show as a testament to my abuse. I wasn’t a weak person so there was no way this shrew could possibly have done anything to me. I wasn’t abused, I just had a shitty mother-in-law.

Except…

I was scared to answer my door for nearly two years and always checked the peephole first.
I avoided an entire city just to lessen the chance that I might run into her.
I agreed to divorce terms that were hardly fair just to settle my divorce faster.
I nearly threw up any time my ex would call or e-mail me, convinced that I would have to interact with her again.
I thought that I was a horrible wife and miserable person because she had said it for years.
I blamed myself for the demise of my marriage for a long time.
I wouldn’t leave my car if I was out somewhere and saw someone I thought might look like her.
I built up walls so thick and heavy that it took a very, very special person to breech them.

For the better part of a decade, a woman went out of her way to belittle, insult, demean and abuse me. Even now, even years after I escaped, I struggle with not writing “I let her abuse me.” Because when it is emotional abuse you feel as though you’ve allowed it to happen. That by staying in that marriage I was consenting to being treated in such a horrible way. I have been wary of my new in-laws, not because of who they are, but because I am convinced that at any moment they will pull me into a room and tell me at length why I am a bad wife and horrible person. I am certain that the lies will start up again and that I’ll be excluded from family functions all because of the words of one person.

For ten years that was my reality and it has taken everything I have to trust that I’m free.

People can be emotionally abused by friends, lovers and family members. It can happen to the strongest of us or the weakest. Unlike physical abuse, there are no outward signs that it’s happening. And it is so easy to write off emotional abusers as being bitches or assholes, but it’s more than that. Their treatment of their victims lives in the victim for years and those internal scars aren’t easy to heal.

I survived years of emotional abuse and that is why on this day every year I don’t remember my marriage ending. I remember the day I knew I was finally free from that woman and I remember the sensation of joy and unmistakable freedom I felt walking out of the courthouse and back to my car.