According to him I always took too long in any store, especially the grocery store. He would fuss and say he was going off to pick up other things on the list so we could get out quicker. When it was time to check out I wouldn’t be able to find him. The conversation in my head would be something like: “Do I try to find him or do I wait in line and see if he’ll meet me here? I’m next in line, I don’t have enough money for all these groceries because I pay other household bills and our agreement is he pays for groceries. Do I just walk away?”
Finally I pay and hope he will put money in my checking account to cover it (he insists on separate accounts because I am ‘bad with money’). All the while I am wondering will he once again tell me that I never have funds in my checking account, use this as an opportunity to emotionally beat me up, or say we didn’t need the items I’ve purchased and refuse to pay me back for them knowing another bill will go unpaid to cover the unexpected expense. At which time he will tell me how irresponsible I am that I can’t pay my bills and why should he ‘help’ someone who is so careless and irresponsible with their finances.
Many times I would get to the car and he would already be there, furious he had to wait, with none of the items he said he went off to get. Each time I’d try to be quicker and quicker so I could make it to the checkout line before he did. Sometimes I would be the one to run and get items while he got the produce. When our daughter was a few months old I went off to grab a few things across the store and came back to find her in the cart and him nowhere in sight. I was frightened and angry he had left her unaccompanied. For years he’d ridicule me for being afraid someone would take her from the grocery store – ‘watch out, somebody’s going to steal your baby’ as though I was somehow wrong to be concerned.
I eventually convinced him of the benefit of my going to the store alone by reminding him how slow I was. I was not really alone as most times he would refuse to ‘babysit’ and I took the children with me. It was still far more peaceful with just the three of us.
That was years ago. I am now visiting a friend. When he picks me up from the airport he has an errand in town to run. Tired from travel, in an unfamiliar place I am caught off guard and I panic at the prospect of going into a store with him so I wait in the car.
Later in the visit he makes plans to cook dinner and I realize we are going to the grocery store together. Nervous about it, I want to decline going. Intellectually I understand it is a grocery store and even if I am left I can find my way. I always have. But there is a pull stronger than my intellect and I have a difficult time staying in the present moment as we drive through the little town where he lives and I see the store. It is not huge like ours. As though to reassure myself I will be okay I say aloud ‘it is so small!’ which seems odd to both of us.
It is the first time I have been in a store with a man for many years and my anxiety level is high. My heart races as we approach and by the time we enter and are in the produce section I realize I am having a panic attack. I want to leave immediately but I am more afraid to be separated from my friend. I don’t want him to know how I’m feeling because I am embarrassed and who could possibly understand this? On the verge of tears I soldier through like glue on his heels with his every step. I try to be casual and browse but I continually look over my shoulder to gauge where he is and move quickly to rejoin him. I tell myself over and over this man would not leave me in a store in a town I am unfamiliar with, and has no reason to find fault with me. I am relieved to finally get outside. Though I am adept at appearing very composed, I want to collapse.
This experience bothers me. I think that I am healing and doing so well, and then in the most mundane of experiences I fall apart. I feel like it is hopeless, fear I will continue to have these insane experiences which almost paralyze me emotionally when I never reacted those years ago; didn’t skip a beat and certainly didn’t shed a tear over nor process it with anything more lingering than annoyance at the time.
It makes sense I am still spooked by loud noises, guns, sirens, and being surprised by someone. I will likely always avoid being in a room without clear access to an exit and be uncomfortable in a room with a closed door. I don’t know how to explain the challenges these seeming everyday things are for me which to someone else are inconsequential. To experience everyday tasks on such high emotional alert is very difficult. My confidence is shattered and in that, I am also disheartened. My ‘I can do this’ turns to doubt and my fighting spirit surrenders to darker thoughts as I question this newest chapter in my experience.
One thing that is clear is those who have lived with the daily barrage of crazy making thinking in abusive relationships will have to work a little harder at things than someone who hasn’t experienced what we’ve been through. The ordinary, the mundane that most take for granted has to be relearned, and our minds and bodies reprogrammed to not react in anticipation of a pending attack. It is true…“Ongoing survival requires relentless attention.” Laurence Gonzales
I’ve heard it can take up to 5 years to lose some of the dysfunctional habits we developed living. Like this. Funny one thing I had to learn shopping with my new guy was to stay quiet when he purchased expensive or name brand items. I had so little to spend on groceries it became an obsession to be as thrifty as possible. Anything more would have been wasteful or excessive. My guy has been so patient with me though.
I had an experience something like that. The first time when I went out on a date with a new guy. After being emotionally abused by my ex for 20. I didn’t know how to act when the bill came. My date had takin me to a very nice expensive place, and I just started asking him. Would you like me to help pay or at least leave the tip, can I help in anyway. Even though I didn’t have much money in that old purse any ways. My date got real quite, in all my hysteria lookin for some money to come up with, I never noticed he was starring at me in shear horror! When I looked up he placed his hand on mine, to stop me from further digging in my purse. He looked me in the eyes and said. It’s ok hon, I’ve got this. Then I heard him mumble something to himself kinda. Which said. My god that guy really must have done a number on her! Right there and then, I relized how damaged I was! I had been treated so poorly for so long, I had forgotten what it felt like to be valued like a lady!
Thank you for this piece.
Washing the dishes is one of my struggles. Old hubby used to promise to help. Most times he broke his promise. Sometimes he kept it. Most times he would yell at me for asking him his intent. Some times he didn’t. Most times I would go to bed to his promise to wash dishes before he went to bed only to find them stacked up and dirty in the morning so I had to clean them before I made breakfast for the kids.
Should I ask for help? Should I just do it myself? I was exhausted doing the work and exhausted guessing what his reaction might be on any particular night and exhausted trying to come up with the “best” way to ask for his help.
I wonder now, as our teenage daughter struggles with depression, how his behavior and mine behavoir affected her.
He is still with us, a changing man thanks to anger management therapy that he is dedicated to accomplishing.
Everyone is working on healing. Pain still happens. Not as much. Not as confusing, because now I know what is going on and I can find the words to tell him that he stumbled or I struggled and he is open to hearing them.
I am grateful for his healing and the difference it is making in my life and his life and our family. Thank you, Universe, I will take more please!!!
I want my daughter to find healing, lots of delicious yummy feel-good-about-herself-and-her-life healing.
Thank you for listening.
To someone ‘outside’ it doesn’t seem like grocery stores or dishes or paying for meals is any big deal. But when it is combined with a pattern of unpredictability designed to keep you emotionally off balance it is very destructive to our sense of security, our boundaries and our self care. Indeed the behavior is intended to do just that; to reorganize our priorities to center around the partner rather than having our own needs, and those of our children, met. All motivations stem from the partner’s focus on himself – from those that seem genuine and kind to angry interchanges when we’ve called attention to the partner’s inappropriate behavior which somehow end up twisted around to us being at fault for asking for help with the dishes.
Anger management is an entire emotional shift requiring a consistent sustained commitment to not fall back into old habits. I applaud you for taking care of yourself and your daughter and letting your husband take responsibility for his actions or inaction. I hope you will continue to hold him accountable.
I was very uncomfortable about this post, more so than others. I am so very grateful for the affirmation in all the comments. We tend to think it must just be me that experiences these things. In reading “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft I have also found an enormous amount of reconciliation in making sense of these bizarre interchanges abusers perpetuate. I highly recommend it to all.