We do it until we can’t do it anymore. Each of us has an internal barometer as to what we can and will take, and what and when we refuse to take anymore. It isn’t a snap decision, it’s a series of very small decisions; almost imperceptible measurements that build on each other. Little mental notes of ‘I can’t keep doing this’ to ‘this has to stop’. Denial and justifying give way to bargaining, negotiating ‘if this happens again I will…’ which gives way to ‘I can make it stop’ and ‘I can make it work’, which gives way to acceptance: ‘I have to leave’. But we aren’t done until we are done. No one can make us get there before we get there. Lots of crisis will, and maybe need to happen before we get there. Even when we arrive, it is not always final. The journey of deciding begins the first time the abuse occurs. We just don’t acknowledge the process until much later.
I believe there are people who complement us and bring out our best (or at least we want to be our best with them) and those whose personalities mix volatilely with our vulnerabilities. Those who peck and prick at us to the point both people go careening down a toxic road at warp speed. I think that was me and my husband. At some point he knew just how to look at me and I was fully negatively engaged. Sucked in with zero resistance, the master of surrender despite my desire to be detached. Afterward I would wonder how the hell I got there, bemoaning my lack of resolve to not roll around in the muck with him. He knew I would jump in and would provoke me until I did.
I like neatly defined black and white things. It is only in the last few years that the existence of a gray area of life has even occurred to me. That the abuser is sometimes the abused…abused or abuser. Who is the victim? Good, evil. Predator, prey. Right, wrong. Beginning, ending. Pain, healing. Knowledge and innocence. They become so interwoven and interdependent. What I once thought so obvious and clear is very blurry these days. We all have a role and play it. Knowingly or unknowingly. Assigned or taken on. It is neither wrong nor right. For every action there is a reaction. Even no reaction is a reaction.
Did I have a role in my shooting? I did not provoke him, incite him, or deserve it. That is not the point, nor do I want to in any way minimize the degree of dysfunction and insanity which made him feel the necessity to carry it out. I imagine my leaving with nothing but a suitcase might have felt provoking and justification to him. How dare I, after all he had done for me? I understood the danger so I tried to be careful. The prolonged ending might have felt I was inflicting pain on him as I wasn’t willing to leave the kids with him, until finally I let go of even that.
At one point I simply thought we would be better people apart. As much as I’d like to believe that, I know in my heart of hearts it would have ended the same. Maybe he’d have taken out a man I was with too. Maybe the kids in his pain. My black and whiteness has yielded to a grayer area that I believe it was born out of pain. It was not the pain I was causing him; it was the pain of his whole life. I don’t for a minute underestimate that. He brought with him, as we all do, his life experience. Just as our life together looked so right on the outside, so did his, when clearly both were chaotic and turbulent once revealed.
He had no empathy that it was also painful for me though, to leave. To love someone and know the only hope of sanity and peace in your and your children’s lives is separating from that person. It is very sad. I was not worth his life. Not at all. I’m worth no one’s life.
At first I fantasized about ways it could have ended differently. Now I try to focus on how I can do things differently. Revisiting it on different levels. Experiencing it where I am versus then gives me perspective which I could not have at that time. The acceptance that in the end our survival depends on our selfishness to take care of ourselves.
What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. C.S. Lewis