48: Perspective

48: Perspective

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Perspective

Live the way you want and believe in what you want and never let anyone make you think any different.

The one in control of your life is you.

~Nishan Panwar

As my two-year-old twins chased each other up and down the hallway before their bath, I stared into the water rising in the tub. It was then, inside a beautiful house on a lake, living a lifestyle that looked ideal to the outside world, that I accepted the ugly truth: my ten-year marriage was going to end. It had to.

Our parents lived on opposite coasts. Little by little, my husband had driven most of my friends away. Isolated on a rural property away from everything but him and the kids, I found myself alone, exhausted and increasingly worried for my own health and sanity. Now, instead of one demanding husband, I also had two demanding children and my energies were being spread dangerously thin. And, as was typical, his demands only increased as my energy levels decreased.

Prior to children, of course, my focus had always been on him. Now with kids, he had competition. From his perspective, I thought about them too much. I coddled them too much. I paid them too much attention. What this all really meant was simple: I paid too little attention to him.

From my perspective, there were two helpless infants and one grown-up man all endlessly vying for my attention. There was a fourth person, of course, who also needed attention, but that person was the easiest to shut up: me.

Anyone who has taken care of even one baby knows that infant care can be exhausting, thankless and mind-numbing even under the most loving circumstances. I had two babies and no outside support. We did not belong to any outside organization, church or group to at least allow me something different to look at other than the walls of our home. I would suggest such a thing and be told, “What, your family isn’t good enough for you?” I asked to take part in a women’s golf group or to ride a bike in the mornings before the kids got up. I was told that I was selfish, and anyway, if I went biking, he might have to change his schedule.

I tried for space on the weekends for a while as well. A few hours. Even an hour. Just to get away and breathe and not have someone needing me. My body simply ached with exhaustion. My mind was dull and sad. I desperately needed to rejuvenate somehow, but without support to do so, there wasn’t any escape. And the guilt trips he would lay on me when I asked to even walk to the mailbox on my own made fighting for my sanity hardly worth the effort.

According to him, I didn’t love my family. I didn’t love him. I was a bad mother. I was selfish. I was self-involved. His mother never needed space, so why should I? Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.

That is one thing they will tell you about controlling, manipulative men. They are acutely aware of your weak spots. My weak spot was being called “selfish.” People who haven’t experienced an emotionally abusive relationship might ask, “Why would you put up with that?” It’s a question that makes sense only when you aren’t involved in the terrorism that is a controlling spouse.

And the answer is pretty simple actually: because to fight back is to expend the little energy you do have left, only to dig yourself a deeper hole. A hundred pounds of flesh extracted for disagreement is worse than the ten pounds of flesh normally taken. It becomes about pure mathematics.

So, on that day sitting at the edge of the bath, two years into being a mom to beautiful kids, but ten years into being a wife to a controlling manipulator, I shook the basket of their little foam letters into the water and wondered how I would escape. Many times, he had threatened to kill me if I ever left him. He worked at home and was nearly always there. I was truly a prisoner in my own house.

Moreover, he controlled all of the finances and I knew that if I left he would make every attempt to destroy me and leave me penniless. He couldn’t even lose at a board game without becoming furious. Leaving a man like him was opening Pandora’s box. I would be willingly placing an enormous target on my forehead. What would he do to us if we left?

But more to the point: What would he do to us if we stayed?

My soul, year after year, had shriveled by degrees into almost nothing. His existence had nearly snuffed out mine. And now I looked at my little children and envisioned what a household with the four of us in it would look like during their upbringing. No empathy. Constant, unreasonable demands. Disrespect for their thoughts and their feelings. The role model of me as his emotional punching bag.

The kids were wondering if the bath was ready. They ran to me, throwing themselves at me full force for a big, raucous hug; their little chubby arms holding me tight, their sweet-smelling heads nestled in close. I hugged back, feeling the tears well in my eyes at their pure, unadulterated love. This is how it should be, I thought.

Reaching over to turn off the faucet, my glance down at the water was My Moment. There, floating among the boats and the squirt toys, were three little foam letters that had gathered together by the drain: J-O-Y.

Joy.

It was ours for the taking.

~Heidi FitzGerald

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