We explained what our marriage looked like. Him with his ego flaring, rigid back, business casual attire, and powerful stance. Me with my cowering posture, slumped shoulders, piece-meal clothing, and brokenness. Him, well kempt and exuding confidence. Me, barely holding on.
In that moment, our marriage counselor saw it clearly enough that he laid out the Abuse Cycle before us. He drew pictures and charts and mapped out what had been happening in our marriage for years. I don’t recall if he ever used the word abuse. I largely do not think so. In fact, there is no way he could have because he knew it wouldn’t be accepted. But for the first time in my entire relationship with my monster, it finally made some sense. This cycle was my entire life. When he said “Tensions Building” phase, I could put exact memories to it. The confusion, worry, strain. When he said “Incident” phase, I could recall the taste of the bile in my throat. The fear, helplessness, frustration. I could grasp exactly what the “Calm/Reconciliation” phase looked like because I had lived it a million times over. His smile would be back, the surprise kisses in the hallway, the promises. So many promises. And I’d look at him and think, “I have to do better this time. I have to be better this time. I have to be more aware.” And I’d teach him that the way he had treated me was okay and I let another piece of myself slip away.
Before my great sadness hit us like a wave of destruction, this cycle would occur with regularity. Each time the stakes got higher, the repercussions got a little worse, I’d crawl into myself a little further, he’d bolster a little more, and round and around we would go.
We’d be doing life then I’d notice he was acting a little distant. He’d get snappier. He’d touch me less and less. I’d rack my brain for what had gone wrong. He’d go quiet in person but had no problem making demands via text/email. I’d try to be more than perfect to make the world turn right again. He’d get meaner. I’d get frustrated. He’d get ugly. I’d sleep on the couch or with the kids. He’d remove any touch going as far as to press his body up against the wall if he met me in the hallway to avoid my skin. I’d feel repulsive, lost, hurt, angry. I’d reach out to him and he would shut me down with harsh words, criticisms, or the silent treatment. I’d come up with a list of a million reasons, none of which made sense. I’d withdraw. He’d attack.
Always late at night. Always well after my eyes were heavy with exhaustion and my body felt depleted. Always when I was at my weakest. This is when he’d pull me out of bed or catch me right before and sit me down and the fight would begin. He’d yell. I’d cry. He’d cuss. I’d beg him not to say such horrible things to me. I’d make a good point. He’d pull us off into a whole other direction that had nothing to do with the current fight. I’d become irrational. He was already there. We’d be caught in a storm of words that never penetrated our ears but always stabbed my heart. No good ever came of this. The accusations would come. He’d threaten. I’d beg. Hours. This sounds like an exaggeration but it is not. It would be hours and my already exhausted eyes would be bloodshot with fatigue. My face splotchy from all the tears. My head pounding with the insanity of it all. So confused. So disconcerted. So muddled. And the words I’d always hear, “You’re either stupid or choosing not to understand why I’m upset here and we both know you aren’t stupid”. Yet I never could wrap my brain around his anger. Never could understand. And so I’d apologize. Even if I didn’t know why. I’d apologize to make it stop. I’d say the sky was orange and the grass was purple just to make it fucking stop already.
And then he’d be happy. So I’d be happy. He set the tone on a daily basis for how our family would react. If dad came home angry, we’d all tiptoe and keep quiet. If he came home jovial, we’d laugh and cuddle and wrestle and play. In these times, I’d be so relieved the storm had passed that I wouldn’t revisit it to understand it never should have come in the first place. I’d beat myself up for being so stupid because I could not understand how I obviously upset him. I’d make him his favorite meals and plan a surprise date and tidy up the house even more than usual. We’d tell jokes and laugh. Life was great. Life was good. The world was righted.
My mother once told me, “your normal is abnormal but you don’t even know it”. She was so right. Looking back at this cycle and how I’d help him execute it so flawlessly breaks my heart. I’d hand him the proverbial knife in which to stab me and I’d thank him for the slits and the blood and the pain.
After my great sadness hit us like a wave of destruction, the cycle continued but at a faster and much more violent pace. All the veils were lifted. There was nothing left to hide behind. He felt like he had every right to come at me in the most evil and violent of ways. And truth be told, in my shame, I felt like he had every right to come at me in the most evil and violent of ways. This time it wasn’t unclear to me why he was angry. It was all too real. All to vivid. All too damning.
And it was clear to our marriage counselor. Enough to point it out and walk us through it. Enough to make it a focal point. And for the next few weeks, we watched it unfold again and again but this time with clarity. And this time, without the silence I’d so long lived in. As the Incidents occurred, I told. I told this counselor everything. After one particularly horrific night where the abuse was far more than just hours of verbal assault, I made an emergency appointment the next morning. I went in bruised and scared and begging for someone to help save me. And he agreed it was unsafe and time to get me out. We devised a plan and how we would present it to my monster and for the first time in a long time, I felt hope.
Hope that was shattered while I sat in that office a few days later as the counselor laid the plan out and my monster lost control. And rather than stand up to my monster, the counselor cowered. My mouth dropped open as his tune changed, my freedom slipped out the door, my monster won, and fear filled my bones with little drops of dread. Slowly eeking in. I began to shake. I was escorted out of that office that day, into my home, and punished for betraying my monster. Screw the abuse cycle, it was gone. Replaced with constant Tensions and Incidents. Long forgotten was the Calm and Reconciliation.
But because the veil was lifted and what I was enduring was no longer a secret, I was being educated on all sides on what was truly happening. I began to be able to put words and clinical terms to the events happening at the hands of my monster and within my home. I gained recognition. Little A-ha moments. And slowly, I began to build strength. I began to stand up to him little by little. I began to shut down the cycles and the nonsensical circular conversations and the bogus accusations. I began to take notes, scribbling ferociously in little notebooks so that I could combat the gaslighting. Go back and look at what I had written when he’d say I was making things up or exaggerating. Trying to make my reality make sense. It was slow. I’d fail in my attempts to bring it to a halt. But now I was a jagged cog in the wheel and it wasn’t running smoothly anymore. He was losing control and it scared him. And though my mind was incredibly weak and my body ached, my small voice was beginning to make itself known.