Usually in February, I do some kind of hat tip to my journey. It started in February. I forgot to do that this year (internet stalkers and all). So I’m going to post this version of this post that I rarely run. It’s very graphic, violent and I pulled it down years ago trying to be sensitive to my ex when he was sick. I have told the stoy many times with less detail. The retelling of the entire spectacle is not to upset or embarrass anyone. It’s to help people who are struggling. So this is the “full version” post that I wrote in February 2007 on my 20th anniversary of my escape…when the blog was about 3 months old and had few hundred readers and no book was even a remote thought in my brain. I rarely run it and will probably pull it in a few days, so read while the reading is good.
This is the long version in its original 2/10/07 form.
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.– Anonymous
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
February 7, 2007
On February 10, 1987 my life fell completely apart. I had separated from my husband on February 1st and February 9th was our wedding anniversary. Although he was unfaithful, controlling and abusive, after our separation I could not deal with the void that rushed in, the pain that engulfed me and the horrible feeling of abandonment. It was not him that I missed, but I did not know that. It was the pain of a lifetime that I had not dealt with which came home to roost upon our separation.
I had never fully grieved the fact that my birth mother had given me up…but she hadn’t “really” given me up for the first 7 years of my life…she had kept me frozen in the world of foster care where I had no idea where I belonged or what would become of me. I had to grieve being taken from my brothers. (update 2018: I have since found another brother… or he found me….what a peach my mother is).
Although I wasn’t really clear that I wanted to go home to my birth mother, I was clear I wanted to know my brothers and be with them. I thought of my brothers all my life and wished they were with me.
I had never grieved the uncertainty and fear that those 7 years brought.
I had never grieved being adopted into an abusive, alcoholic home where my parents marriage fell apart as soon as the adoption was final. Both my parents seemed to blame me for the marriage’s demise.
I had never fully dealt with the fact that all my relationships with boys and men were horribly abusive….verbally, mentally, physically…and that I blamed my self for not being “good enough.”
I had never grieved the fact that I had wanted to go to school and both my family and my boyfriends made fun of my higher aspirations, asking me who I thought I was and how self-centered I was to want to go to college.
I had never grieved leaving my hometown of New York City and how much I wanted to go back, all the time.
I lost my job in January and that was the first diversion to go. I had loved my job and the company folded. It was no one’s fault and no one could be to blame but it hurt and it was very upsetting. In addition, I now had way too much time on my hands.
I had wanted to leave in September and he talked me into staying. What about the holidays? Could we do a pre-holiday separation and inflict that on our 3 little boys? I fell for it and we went fah-la-la-ing along until New Years.
Then everything changed.
In January the place I had been working for 3 years had suddenly closed due to financial issues. Not only did I lose my job but all of us had been close friends.
The ex became even more overbearing and there was nothing I could do to please him. If I looked for work, I wasn’t home cleaning and cooking. If I was home cleaning and cooking, I wasn’t looking for work. If I looked for work and cleaned and cooked, I hadn’t taken the boys out (even when the 3 of them were on different schedules because one was in grade school, one in a separate school for private kindergarten and one not in school. Just dropping them off and picking them up took up hours of each day.
Then he started to come home and “inspect” the very large house. He was working a lot of doubles or second shifts and would get home around midnight. I didn’t think he was really working. He also told me he was taking classes but I found out, months later, he had dropped out long before January. He was, I was sure, busy on affair #3. But now he was here – it was midnight and he was on the warpath.
He would sweep through the first floor which was comprised of a foyer, formal living room, formal dining room, office, half bath and kitchen. He would race down to the basement. It was finished with half cordoned off for our television and sofa and the other half was the playroom. There was also a laundry room and another half bath. Upstairs, on the second floor, were 3 bedrooms and a full bath. Our room was the size of two bedrooms (12 x 24).
The house was spotless. Everything was shining. His dinner, cooked from scratch by me, was warming in the microwave as soon as I heard his car. He could find nothing. I was pretty sure.
But no. He managed to find a Fisher Price person wedged in the loveseat on the kids’ playroom side of the basement. Every toy was put away. The carpet was vacuumed after they went to bed. There was NOTHING out of place. And yet he plunged his hand into the seat and came up with a Fisher Price person. And his face turned red and he grimaced. I had no idea what he was going to do but I thought he was going to come after me.
He ran past me and up to the boys’ room. My 4 year old (he had only just turned 4) and 5 year old were fast asleep. He slammed into their room, flipped on the lights and woke them up. I stood frozen watching them blink awake as he barked at them to get downstairs and put this away. I watched these two tousled-hair, sleepy tots in their warm footie pajamas, one in blue and one in yellow, rubbing their eyes, and looking disoriented as they rushed down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night to put away ONE Fisher Price toy.
The stairs were wood and freshly polished. I had not anticipated the boys having to come down them before morning and he was HUGE on polished wood throughout the house. I had tried to think of everything, even polishing the stairs to the second floor and now I may have made them in to a death trap for my innocent little babies.
I held my breath hearing the slippery bottoms of their pajama feet sliding on the stairs. I wanted to rush to them and pick them up and carry them down but that would have made this worse. He was always yelling that I was babying them.
I was paralyzed by, “How crazy is this?” I could not believe this was happening. The boys put the little plastic guy away and returned to bed as their father barked and yelled.
I had no idea what just happened but I turned off his dinner in the microwave and went to bed. I think he wanted a reaction out of me but I didn’t even know what to think or feel about this. He had been abusive to me and was a strict disciplinarian with the kids but he had never done anything like this before. It broke my heart. It also made me realize that we were all doomed. I was in some kind of shock as I fell asleep that night.
The next night I scoured every inch of the house. It was hard to believe anyone lived here, let alone 3 kids, a dog and a cat. Everything was spotless.
I don’t know what it was he found. He seemed to indicate that he found “something” and I knew – without a doubt – this was horse crap. I could not believe this guy was PLANTING EVIDENCE on a 4 and 5 year old. Excuse me, what?
He – again at midnight and again after surveying the family room – raced up to the boys’ room. I raced up right behind him, and as he started to open their door I grabbed the back of his shirt. He was much bigger than me but he spun around. Apparently this was the interaction he was looking for.
As he spun right, I went left and threw myself in front of their door. I wedged my feet on the bottom and my hands on the top and I said, hoping they couldn’t hear me, “No. You are NOT waking up these kids.” I was a foster kid when I was their ages. I had nightmares every single night. I remembered, vividly, what it was like at those ages and – when you’re 5 – no one can hear you scream. I slept with a nightlight all my life (until I met Michael) due to the trauma at those ages. He was NOT going to inflict trauma on my kids. NO NO NO.
He grabbed at me to pull me out of the way. I then realized I had forgotten to do what I usually did at this time – put the dog out. I knew the dog would defend me and I never wanted him to get it, or worse – for him to get rid of my dog (which he would have done). Max was a large red Doberman Pinscher that I had rescued when he was 8 months old, trained and he was a one-person dog and that person was me.
I detected Max behind us but I tried to not bring attention to him and still stay in the door frame of the boys’ room.
He pulled me out of the way and then pulled me down the hallway and down the stairs.
Our house was a turn of the century house with plenty of heavy wood and stained glass. He pulled me down the first stairs to the landing and I thought I was going to go right out the stained glass window that graced the landing. As he pulled to get me down the next set of steps, I held onto the banister, refusing to let go. He pulled and pulled at me and I heard Max barking furiously at him.
I could not maintain my grip on the banister and when he managed to pull me off, I swung around and my face hit the very large newell post that graced the banister. I felt it hit my cheek bone and something went pop. I turned around – seeing stars and pain shooting through my face – but I wanted to rush back up to the boys’ room if he was going back after them. I ran back up – blindly – feeling pain and dizziness. His version of this event, months later, was that I would not have gotten hurt if I hadn’t tried to hang onto the banister. It was, once again, as always, my fault.
He had not gone back to the boys’ room. Instead he had pulled off his belt and put it around Max’s neck and was dragging him down the stairs. I kept shaking my head – trying to shake off my disorientation, my pain and my confusion – to go save Max. I then ran DOWN the bottom of the stairs and grabbed his arm that had Max.
He dropped the belt and Max ran into a corner and I ran over to put my body between them. I stood in front of Max who seemed to be shaking. I had never seen Max back down or be afraid and I was sick with fear that he had pulled the belt so tight around his neck, that my poor doggie was dying. In that moment, thinking of the kids being marched down the stairs, thinking of Max being dragged down the stairs, I honestly felt that if I had a gun, I could have killed him. Right there. Right then. No remorse.
His father was a huge gun advocate and believed everyone should have one. Well, one of us would not have survived that month had either of us had one.
He gave up after several punches and slaps did not dissuade me from my post in front of Max. After he stormed out of the room and then out of the house, I pulled the belt from Max’s neck and sat with him for hours until he stopped shaking. I cried and cried.
I’m sure he had gone to the house of the woman he worked with, the one he was having an affair. I thought affairs were supposed to make you happy but he was so wretched every time he had one. A few months later I would find a note from her to him saying how I didn’t appreciate him and how cute he was (yes, she was almost 30 and sounded like a besotted teenager….). Yes, this night was full of cuteness and under appreciation.
In the morning my face was twice its size and I had a black eye of the like I have never had before. And I’d been in more than one abusive relationship so this was certainly not my first black eye. I was in relationship with a man who had been, on the whole, MORE violent and blackened both my eyes at once more than once, but this one was definitely the worst I’d ever gotten. It was a sit-up-and-take-notice shiner.
A friend of mine looked at my face and said, “I think you’ve damaged your eye.” It was completely shut.
She convinced me to let her take me to the ER where a doctor grilled me. Back then there was no mandatory reporting. I told him I fell down the stairs and hit the newell post. I sorta did. I definitely hit the newell post. He did not believe me. There was a level of frustration in his voice that I understand NOW, but didn’t then.
This life could not continue.
I had been in abusive relationships only. I believed that they were my fault. Everything that went wrong and “caused” someone to hit me, was my fault.
Okay, I got that. But now it was spilling over to the kids and the dog. I had become so used to his dramatics that he was now attacking a 4 year old and a 5 year old and a dog to get responses out of me. This I could not accept.
I had a duty to my children and my pets. I could not allow this – not now, not ever. They were innocent and they needed me to protect them. I had a responsibility to do that.
The time had come. the calendar said February. As I ripped off the month of January from the kitchen calendar I realized that had I left in September, as I had wanted, me and the kids would have been spared all this crap. I couldn’t let it go on another month, another week, another day.
I packed a box of his things and left them on the table. When he came home (working days for once), I pointed to it and said, “Get out.” No explanation, no argument. He was furious at the size of the box, “This is it? This is what I get?” I just nodded and said he could get his clothes when he needed them. He grabbed the box and left. I thought that was way too easy.
It was. For days he would swing by and threaten, yell, argue. One night he tried to do the same “marching the kids down” routine that had ended things for me. I said, oh no no no. We argued.
I realized he was going to keep doing this. Keep coming in. Keep coming back.
Hastily I raced around the house throwing mine and the kids’ clothes into garbage bags (we had suitcases, I just had no idea where they were). Then I scooped up the 3 boys and put them in the back seat of the car with the garbage bags in the trunk.
He was SCREAMING at me as the kids were confused and just scrambling into the car as I commanded them to. He was screaming, “You’re not taking my kids anywhere!” He tried to get them to go back into the house. As afraid of him as they were, it was obvious that NONE of them wanted to stay with him. In a very uncharacteristic move, they didn’t listen. They stayed put in the back seat.
I raced around to the driver’s side. I had to back out of the driveway. Backing up is not a skill of mine. I pretty much suck at it. And he knew it. I also drove a manual transmission so jerky movements would stall it, giving him time to stop me.
I slammed the driver’s door. I could see him standing behind the car, face red and angry – yelling. He was punching the trunk and every punch made the boys jump. I had to get the hell out of there before they were too traumatized.
And then I gunned it. I looked up just in time to see him diving into the side yard bushes. it looked comical but I wouldn’t laugh about it until years later.
I drove around and around. I had no job, no money and 3 very upset kids. When, in his upset, my middle son threw up into my oldest son’s lap and my oldest started screeching, I went to my mother’s house. We did not get along. We could NEVER co-exist under one roof but I knew he wouldn’t pull crap at her house. He was’t afraid of many people, but he was afraid of her.
I went back and got my dog and cat a few nights later. The two younger boys were downstairs and the first night my mother went to tuck them in, Max leapt up on the bed, laid across them and growled at her, baring his teeth. She was taken aback as she always thought he was the sweetest dog (“for a Doberman” she would say).
We had been through a lot and Max wasn’t taking crap from anyone.
Then it was quiet. Too quiet.
I went back to my now-empty house (well, all my furniture and worldly possessions were there. We were going to have to sell it. I sighed. We bought our first house at the age of 23. We had to evict the deadbeat tenants living there, but we managed to do that, fix the place up and sell it at a huge profit. Now, 7 years later I had no job and wouldn’t get a mortgage. I started to slip…
Not only was it too quiet but the quiet was broken only by my “Oh my God, what will become of me?” That is when the fear of abandonment kicked in. I didn’t yet know that term, but it’s what happened.
All of my historical issues and many others rushed in to fill the void where the drama and chaos had been. People with deep sense of abandonment and so much unresolved issues stay in chaotic relationships to keep the focus on the outside so they don’t need to deal with what is broken – and they don’t know how to repair – on the inside.
So there I was — left alone with my fear of abandonment, my unresolved losses, my low self-esteem, my feeling of unworthiness and the aching thought that no one would ever want me again. No wonder I had stayed in bad relationships for so long…over and over again…one after the other. To not be in those relationships, to not be distracted by all that drama, would bring me face to face with feeling as bad as I really felt.
On February 10, 1987 I felt as bad as I really felt. I had been feeling that way for almost days and in the face of the mounting horror, I had begged my abusive, cheating ex husband to come back.
Despite the drama that went on right before we split. Despite the fact that I knew I could not put my kids or dog back into the situation, some part of me thought if I started to “engage” him in talks about couples counseling (we had been twice already), I could FIX this all and keep me and the kids and the dog safe.
I needed to think about that. I needed to refocus my thoughts. The relationship had always been so chaotic and kept me from the deep despair. I needed him back simply as something to stem the tide of loss and sorrow that was engulfing me. I needed the distraction and the diversion back in my life. I wanted him to come back for our anniversary on February 9th. I wanted to start anew.
I had a plan. I would refocus and re-engage with him, but the kids and dog and cat were NOT coming home until we worked on this mess and he promised the midnight raids were not going to happen. He didn’t have to promise to not cheat (honestly I was furiously bargaining with myself) or even not to hit me (he’d promised that before and never kept it) but he would have to promise to leave the kids and dog alone.
So there I was. If he was SO sad about his family moving out, he would play ball.
Well apparently his Einstein girlfriend who thought he was so cute and under-appreciated had been stroking his ego (and lord knows what else) and he was now strutting his “I don’t need you…” style. Wait. What?
He told me no.
He told me no.
And I was off to the races. I was hysterical that night. I kept calling him in some out-of-control, unable-to-switch-gears obsessive melodrama. I kept putting myself in the way of his emotional battering. Every time I called him he had something new and devastating to say about me and how everything was my fault. I cried, I begged him to come back, I freaked out over and over again. It was an insane and painful night. I barely slept and I didn’t eat. Where had my chips gone? Where had my edge gone? I thought I had an edge by removing the kids (he wailed, “my boys! my boys!”…what a load of crap that was).
On February 10th I got up and got the kids to school. Then I went to the house, feeling empty and horrible and started to clean the kitchen. My ex was critical about my house cleaning efforts and I had become used to rushing home to make sure the house was clean. For him it was never clean enough.
There I was that morning after my meltdown, sponging down the kitchen counter. I was using a yellow sponge and I kept repeating the same swipes over and over again. My husband had always accused me of “half-assing” the housekeeping. I worked so hard for many years to keep the house in tip top order and it was never good enough. Now he was gone and I had no idea who I was wiping the counter down for.
Did I care if it was clean?
How clean did it have to be?
Was this clean enough?
Was it good enough?
If he came over and the house was “clean enough” would he want to come back?
When was it ever clean enough?
It ever had been clean enough.
And what about me?
Did I care if it was clean?
Why was I cleaning this?
What did I like?
What did I consider clean?
I had to admit I had no idea. I had been reacting to him all these years and had no idea what I thought or felt about anything.
I stopped sponging and slid down to the floor. On the kitchen floor I sat and cried and cried. I had no idea who I was or what would become of me. I was plunged headlong into the snakepit of despair, of grief and loss and sorrow of a depth and a breadth I had never known. My questions had opened the floodgates and they would not close. No matter how much I tried, it would not stop…the feelings would not abate.
In the weeks to follow, I became a physical wreck…I wasn’t eating or sleeping. My hands shook all the time and I felt like my heart was going to pound right through my chest. I cried nonstop and felt as if ever fiber of my being was on fire and that I could not keep a simple thought in my head. I felt as if I was going crazier than crazy. The urge to throw myself off a cliff or in front of a bus grew very strong at times. I just wanted to stop the engulfing madness in my head.
The days and nights were endless. I couldn’t interview for jobs because I was a mess. I couldn’t go out with friends because I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t listen to music or watch movies or even TV. Everything reminded me of everything and I was rendered a useless mess.
Later I would realize that this complete stripping down of my life was necessary. Without it I would have found somehow and some way to continue on the path I had been on for too many years. If nothing changed, nothing would change.
I was powerless to change anything but me. I was powerless to get my job back or my husband back. I was powerless to get my house back. I was powerless to give my kids two happily married parents. I was powerless to keep someone else from moving in with my husband. I had no power.
The only thing I could do anything about was me. I could only change myself. It didn’t matter who he was sleeping with or what he blamed me for. It didn’t matter. What mattered was me. And that I had THREE KIDS to raise and they were boys. I refused to unleash 3 abusers into the world. We have enough of those. I’m was not adding to the issues.
In the beginning of my “new” life, I felt defeated but felt like I had to stop going crazy. I had to start finding solutions. It was hard, very hard, but I started going to therapy where, at first, the entire focus was on putting my marriage back together. I read every book I could get my hands on, again with the focus, at first, being on putting my marriage back together. I went to seminars and retreats and conferences. I joined several support groups and started journaling every night. I still paced and cried but now I threw a lot of my energy into finding out about me and what had gone wrong and how to make it right.
I felt worse before I felt better but after a while I started to notice that I was changing. I stopped reacting in the same old ways to my husband’s manipulations and control and criticism. I started to change almost against my will and learned to step out of the crazy dance I had been doing with him and my family.
In July Mr. Cute wanted to come back. I gave it some airtime as we had 3 kids. But his old nuttiness showed itself very shortly and I had already been experiencing positive effects from my therapy and support groups. I was done with nonsense.
In September he came over to the house and because I did not say hello to him, he smacked me in the face. I went to court, I got a restraining order. He tried to frighten and intimidate me. He opposed the permanent restraining order and he subpoena’d my mother, my friends, my co-workers to get me to “back down.” I was NOT backing down.
As frightened as I was, I went to court and I testified.
As I came off the exit to the courthouse, my leg was shaking so badly I couldn’t hold the clutch in. The car jerked and sputtered and balked all the way down the street. People passing by looked at me as if I was just learning to drive a stick. When I opened the door I got sick. As I walked up the stairs to the courthouse I had to grab hold of the railing as my legs were buckling.
When they called me, to testify in open court, I was almost hyperventilating. I looked down at him, sitting at the defense table and he was furious. He was so angry at me. His face was contorted with anger. I almost ran out of the courthouse. I’m sure he was banking on that.
At first, my voice was barely audile as As I told the stories of abuse. Then it all started coming back to me and I had enough. I thought of the words of my therapist, “no one has the right to put his hands on you.” It was something I had to be TAUGHT. I didn’t know.
As I thought about it, I realized I had enough and my voice grew stronger and louder. I suddenly hit my stride and I stared right back at him. This is NOT the same person you were with 7 short months ago. I have changed and no one is going to abuse me again, Mr. Man. No no no.
As I continued to recount the abuse I had suffered with him, his attorney stood up – half way through my testimony and they revoked the opposition to the permanent restraining order. They never called a witness. They never cross -examined me. It was over. It was all over. And from that day to this one, no one has abused me mentally, physically, emotionally, verbally or any other kind of way. I was done with that.
After that day, I had a new freedom. I learned to calm down and observe my life and the people in it. I learned to stop being a whirlwind of emotion at every turn and I started to learn patience and later, trust.
I don’t know when it was but eventually I stopped going to therapy and support groups and reading book with the idea of putting my marriage together. I started to only care about putting ME back together. Or me for the first time. I was a WRECK as a child. I had never been put together. No one ever cared about me. No one ever wanted me. I had been running from that brutal – cold, hard fact – all my life and accepting crumbs from the table of life.
My therapist asked me if I had ever been loved unconditionally and I cried because I had no idea what that was. Every person who had ever CLAIMED to care about me definitely cared in a conditional way. It could be taken back at any time and they would blame me for it.
Eventually I learned what unconditional love was…to give and to get. Eventually I learned to gravitate to the right people and steer clear of the wrong ones. I learned to make myself a priority in my life and find good and healthy ways of interacting and relating.
I broke the cycle of abuse in my family. Had I stayed with my ex, goodness knows what my boys would be like today. They are good, loving, standup guys. Not abusers. They do not call names, they do not hurt anyone. They are not their father.
I stayed alone for a long time. I dated but did not bring men home. I was not desperate for love and I learned to build a life I loved.
I brought only two very loving, honest, stand-up men into their lives. The first one was a nice guy…really nice. He was great to my kids and my dog. The two youngest were little when we were dating and he would read them the Berenstain Bear books at night. He was an only child, didn’t have any kids and hadn’t been with anyone else who had kids. For him to read those books to my kids, every night, warmed my heart SO MUCH. I can’t say I was ever in love with him, but I loved him. For what he did for my kids and my dog. When we broke up after almost 5 years together, it was a tough time for me and for him but it was the right thing at the right time.
My wonderful husband Michael came along later and he, too, treated the boys like they were his own. Both men taught my boys that there is no reason to raise your voice, call someone names or act like a lunatic. Both men taught them how to respect women. Both men taught them to be healthy men. And if I was not healthy, these men would not have come into my life.
I declined a lot of men who wanted to date me if they had kids. My kids were competing (and losing) against the step kids of their fathers. I did not want them to compete with anyone else. I knew a very nice man who had a boy named Nicholas, the same age as my Nicholas. I crushed on him and he on me but I couldn’t…and wouldn’t…bring anyone with kids into their lives. It was hard and that was the hardest for me, but my kids deserved NO COMPETITION. They deserved a man who would read the Berenstain Bears and take them to flea markets on Sunday mornings and buy them dirt bikes. And I held out until that man came along.
Long story a little bit shorter, I changed everything because I changed everything. Everything changed when I changed everything. The past became solidly in the past and didn’t play itself out in all my present situations.
On February 10th 1987 the gates of heaven did not open and let me in, but the gates of hell opened and let me OUT. The best thing my ex-husband ever said to me was NO. He wasn’t the brass ring and I deserved so much better. And got it.
Twenty years later I am happy in life and in love. I am a valuable and productive member of society with three plus jobs. I am educated and affluent. I am a woman of grace and dignity.
Twenty years ago I didn’t have enough faith in myself to sponge down the kitchen counter correctly. Today I am the master of my life and feel as if I can do and accomplish anything. I know who I am and what I like and why I like it and don’t care about what anyone thinks about anything I do. I matter to me and that is what matters.
People always ask me why a successful attorney teaches motivational seminars and does public speaking and writing on these topics. My answer is simple…I truly believe that there are people who were hurting like I was and who need to know it can be done. I spend time each week writing my blog so that people who are in pain and who have come to a crossroad know that there is hope and that life, wonderful and abundant, is waiting for you.
It CAN happen. It WILL happen for you. I need to be there to let people know, the way people were there for me, that it IS possible. Please so not give up if you are in your grief and everything hurts. IT CAN HAPPEN. Do not give up the day before the miracle happens.
The change in me was very simple…just change everything and everything will change.
Susan J. Elliott 2/10/07
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