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What are the first signs of an abusive relationship? Who is at a greater risk to marry an abuser? What can you do if you see your friend or family member stuck in a cycle of abuse? A story of one battered wife.
The ringing of the phone on the nightstand finally pulled her out of her sleep. She automatically reached for the receiver.
It was Brad, her husband’s boss, inquiring whether Lionel was planing to show up at work today. She looked at the clock. 5:30 in the morning. Strange. She distinctly remembered seeing her husband in his milk delivery uniform leaving the bedroom two hours ago…
Suddenly, she felt wide awake.
Quietly, not to wake up her one year old son and his nanny, she went downstairs to check whether Lionel was still at home. The house was dark and silent. She came back up, worried and not quite sure what to think, when she looked out of the living room window.
There was Lionel, pulling a large object out of his van and tucking it under his heavy winter parka, before he turned around and started walking towards the house in the most bizarre and erratic fashion as if heavily drunk.
She froze. Her heart started racing as she recalled the previous night.
It has been a queer day with Lionel being in a strange mood. When they were about to go to bed, she tried to comfort him with a hug. He threw off her arm and said with venom in his voice, “There are two loaded guns in the house and I am going to blow your ugly head off!”
Was he carrying a gun?
She was rooted to the floor when her husband entered the house. He took off his coat holding a carton of cigarettes he was carrying underneath. His left eye was black and blue, and his shirt had a noticeable blood stain on the pocket.
“What did you do?”, she asked. Lionel grinned. “What did you do?”, she shouted with desperation, “What did you do?”
“I shot myself”, he answered in a garbled voice. His mouth was full of blood.
She called 911. The door bell rang minutes later. What happened next could have been a scene from a movie.
There was a fire truck, an ambulance and a SWAT team in their drive way, and an armed policeman on the porch, asking whether her husband had a gun. She said he did, but she didn’t know where.
Several men entered the house and found Lionel sipping his coffee and having a cigarette in the living room. She couldn’t believe her eyes when he saw him cheerfully chatting with paramedics, as if he was having his buddies over.
One of the men asked her to come down to the basement. With an uneasy feeling in her stomach and shaking knees, she followed him down the stairs and almost passed out. Blood. Blood running down the freshly plastered wall, and in the middle of the room – a big red puddle with Lionel’s 22 in it.
She went to the hospital with the ambulance, feeling guilty, thinking she must have done something to make Lionel do such a horrible thing.
Apparently, Lionel had shot himself in the mouth and had blown a hole up to his brain. There were hundreds of bullet fragments lodged there that doctors could do nothing about. He needed to be transferred to a hospital in a larger city, have the hole repaired and his sinuses reconstructed.
She walked into the emergency room and saw Lionel on a stretcher, surrounded by doctors and nurses slightly bent over him. When she touched his hand he opened his mouth and stared up at her. What he said next made all the staff jump back in unison. “Don’t worry, you aren’t a rich widow yet, you f*** bitch!”
She got a divorced before he was discharged from the hospital, and received full custody over their son. It wasn’t over yet, but, scared for her life and the life of her baby, she finally found the courage to make the first step towards freedom.
I wish I could tell you that I made it all up, that it has never happened and that I’m just practising my writing for a criminal series on TV. But unfortunately, this is a true story. In fact, it’s happening every day in different variations to different people across the world.
Abusive relationships, or domestic violence (another word for this).
According to U.S. Department of Justice, 25% of women in U.S. have experienced domestic violence. In 2014, the estimated number of domestic violence incidents per year reached 960,000. You can only guess how much higher these numbers are in the countries where women are less empowered. Yet, we would often spend years in one office with a colleague and won’t even guess that she is suffering from abuse.
How many women in an abusive relationship, currently or in the past, are not afraid or ashamed to openly talk about it?
Well, I’m honoured to know one. Meet Trudy Grossman, a teacher and a childcare supervisor in retirement and a former battered wife.
When Trudy reached out to me with her story, I couldn’t believe it. I knew her well from my Google+ community. An intelligent, strong woman with a huge heart.
Full Name: Trudy (Waltraud) Henrietta Grossman
Occupation: Teacher and Childcare Supervisor in retirement. Currently, full-time caregiver for her parents and self-employed seamstress
Hobbies: Photography, reading, writing, sewing, gardening, walking
Favorite Quote: “Be true to yourself”
Follow Trudy on: Google+
She and an abusive relationship of almost a decade? No way!
“No way!”, said her mother when Trudy finally found the courage to tell her how bad it was after two years of marriage.
And this is another problem. How many of us are able to listen, to believe and not to pass judgement?
Trudy Grossman is not afraid anymore. She decided to openly tell her story hoping it will help others who are suffering in an abusive relationship, or even better, prevent them from getting in such a relationship in the first place.
What are the first signs of an abusive relationship? Who is at a greater risk to marry an abuser?
Why is it so hard to get out of such a relationship? Which steps you need to take if you finally found the strength to leave?
What can you do if you see your friend or family member stuck in a cycle of abuse?
These are some of the things Trudy and I talked about.
Gill: Have you ever asked your husband why he shot himself?
Trudy: I didn’t have to. I knew he didn’t mean to kill himself but only to injure bad enough so that I’d stay and look after him out of guilt, as he knew I was leaving him.
Two days before he was asking about an incident my sister had dealt with as a nurse. A young lady had rigged a 22 rifle to shoot into her mouth. The suicide attempt failed, she survived and ended up paralyzed, unable to speak.
And since a loaded shotgun was found later in the basement, which he could have used if he was really trying to commit suicide, his motives were clear to me.
Gill: Was your husband ever diagnosed with a mental condition?
Trudy: After he shot himself, the psychiatrist who interviewed him after the incident phoned and asked for my opinion, as he couldn’t diagnose Lionel with a mental illness. He told me Lionel wasn’t depressed and actually seemed happy about the results of the shooting.
I told him I didn’t consider my husband mentally ill. Based on my observations and what I studied on the subject, at university and my own reading, I considered him a psychopath, which is a personality disorder that can’t be treated.
Gill: You married Lionel when you were 26 and you stayed married for 8 years. When did you first notice the signs of him being… not quite normal?
Trudy: On our wedding day. During the reception, he said something cruel and vulgar under his breath, so no one else would hear.
I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest. I realized I had made a big mistake!
But we had just bought a new house and were supposed to move in the next day. Lionel had already quit his job to move there. Everything was arranged. I just didn’t know what to do.
Our honeymoon was a Caribbean cruise and also a nightmare. I could write volumes on that alone.
Gill: Was it only emotional abuse or was your husband also physically violent?
Trudy: It was mostly emotional abuse on a daily basis. I knew that whatever I cooked wouldn’t be good enough. I have had pots of food thrown at me, ice cream pails crushed on my head.
I was supposed to lose weight, he even put me on a diet on our honeymoon. He would call me a cow, drag me upstairs by force, hurting me, to make me get on the weight scale. He would humiliate me in social situations.
But he would also get physically violent. Once he hit me when I told him I was helping my sister financially. Another time he drove really fast on a highway trip, opened my door and tried to push me out. And there are many more examples.
I would avoid coming home as long as possible from work. When his job (he delivered milk products in a truck to country stores) would have him stay overnight and not come home, it was like a vacation to me. I started to even fantasize that he would have an accident and not come back.
If someone tells you they are being abused, don’t put them in a situation of immediate action.
Gill: Did your parents or friends know about your situation?
Trudy: I told my mom how bad it was after 2 years of marriage, and that I wanted a divorce. The next time Lionel and I were over for coffee, Mom said in front of everyone, “Kids, try to make it work. Don’t get a divorce.”
When she said that, I felt physical pain. I felt humiliated and betrayed.
My sister kept telling me to get out. My friends were supportive, but they were also afraid of Lionel.
Gill: Is there anything one can do if a friend or a relative is an abusive relationship?
First of all, battered women often keep it a secret, and everyone – neighbors, friends, family – are in shock when they find out the whole truth. Or, as in my case, people simply don’t believe it is as bad as you say.
If someone does tell you they are abused, don’t put them in a situation of immediate action, but slowly convince them that they are not alone, and that there are professionals that can help them.
I had a friend in university that confided in me about how horrible her husband was. I suggested she get a divorce. She did not see that as an option though, so confronting her ended our friendship. Now I understand her position completely.
After my own experience, I did help several co-workers by sharing my story and slowly convincing them that they needed help.
Unfortunately, many battered women are too afraid to get help and end up crippled or murdered instead.
Watch how he treats his mother and other women. This is an indication of how you will be treated.
Gill: What are the (first) signs of an abusive relationship, apart from the obvious – the physical violence?
Trudy: Actually, there can be red flags even before you start a relationship. Watch how he treats his mother and other women. This is an indication as to how you will be treated.
While in the relationship, if it seems too good to be true, if your partner goes overboard with attention, lavishing gifts on you, placing you upon a pedestal – that is the first red flag!
Another warning sign is if you end up constantly on the phone, and that person becomes the focus of your life.
Or if you are controlled in all that you do by the other person and can’t spend your money on yourself or the household as you wish. I used to hide new shoes in the closet of my sewing room.
The abusive person doesn’t like your friends or family and tries to isolate you from them.
A very alarming sign is if you go out of your way to please him changing your hair, your make-up, engaging in the activities you wouldn’t even think of before, basically, changing your personality.
You start believing it is your fault that you are treated this way. “If only I was thinner (as in my case), he would love me like before. Pretty soon you feel bad all the time, thinking you are completely worthless.
If you fear that your relationship is becoming an abusive one, read about the battered women’s syndrome and see if it applies to you.
Gill: What is “battered woman’s syndrome”?
Trudy: “Battered woman’s syndrome” is a pattern of physical and psychological symptoms which women in the abusive relationship suffer from. These symptoms are the reason why they can’t get out of these relationships, even after they’ve realized they are being abused.
As a battered woman, you believe that the act of violence was your fault, that you provoked your partner and caused the incident.
You fear for your life and/or the life of the loved ones whom the abuser might harm. You believe that your abuser is everywhere and knows your every move and thought. He becomes your personal terrorist.
This situation erodes your self-confidence, slowly but surely, until you have none.
You have no energy and go through your life like a robot.
You no longer have feelings. Anger would be a good motivator to change the situation, but by then you have given up and no longer care about yourself or even your children.
These symptoms are being reinforced by the so called “domestic violence cycle”.
First, the tension builds up. Then a violent incident happens where abuser releases the tension, after which in so called “honeymoon” phase the abuser apologizes, or often puts the blame for the incident on you, or makes it sound not so bad, and tries to make up.
But as nothing really changes in its core, this cycle will repeat itself again soon enough. Also, the violence tends to escalate. You are punished for making the abuser look bad. The cycle time shortens and becomes less predictable.
Higher education or economic status does not prevent domestic violence. That is where your upbringing plays the main role.
Gill: To be honest, I still don’t understand how such an intelligent and well-educated woman as you had stayed in an abusive relationship for so many years. Why did you let your husband treat you like this for so long and haven’t left him sooner?
Trudy: Higher education or economic status does not prevent domestic violence. In fact, many of these men prey on women of means because they like to show off what they have, with you becoming one of their possessions.
They gravitate towards women in caring professions, like teachers or nurses for example. They crave sympathy.
It doesn’t matter how successful you are in your professional life, you may still allow someone to abuse you if you lack self-esteem, self-respect and confidence. That is where your upbringing plays the main role.
I did leave Lionel once after 5 years for 8 months, before my son was born. He convinced me he had changed, and I took him back. I was also still in denial that Lionel was an alcoholic.
I did love him. Correction, I loved him at his charming best. I was stuck in the abuse cycle sucked in by its “honeymoon phase”. He would sense when I had enough of his abuse and become the exciting, doting man I fell in love with. To me, being treated bad was “normal”.
I am a sensitive, caring person. Because I was subjected to abuse in childhood and as a teenager, I developed a low opinion of myself despite excelling academically.
I didn’t leave sooner because I wanted to make things work. I really believed I did something wrong to provoke my husband and that his rage was my fault.
Gill: Now, when you look at the situation in retrospective, when do you think you should have left him?
Trudy: I should have left him straight on our wedding day, regardless of all the arrangements we’ve made already. No house or other processions are worth your life.
It’s hard to get the fact that some people are not capable of love, especially if it’s your family.
Gill: What was it like living with your parents while growing up?
Trudy: My parents had a codependent relationship. My father was abusive to my mother. She spent 66 years of her life trying to please him and keep him in a good mood, which was mission impossible.
We kids also had to be constantly vigilant to not make our dad angry. Check that our shoes were lined up perfectly at the back door, no threads on the carpet – any small thing that might set him off when he came home from work. We often hid in our rooms to avoid confrontation.
My mother put up with it because in those days divorce was not an option, considered a disgrace to the family.
Gill: You say your father was abusive to you and your mother, but you also say he loved you. Doesn’t one exclude another? How can you love somebody but still abuse them?
Trudy: As a child, you cling to the times when your dad is kind and fun to be around. Somehow, despite my dad having done horrific things to me, such as breaking my nose, I still believed he loved me.
He had a bad temper, and I believed it was my fault that he lost it. My mother never said anything about any of these incidents and behaved as if nothing had happened
This type of family life sets you up for getting into an abusive relationship. If someone says they are sorry, you end up forgiving them. It is hard to “get” the fact some people are not capable of love.
Gill: Did your son have contact to his father after the divorce?
Trudy: In the divorce settlement I had full custody of my son. I didn’t want child support and visitation was supervised by myself or Lionel’s mother.
Until my son was two years old, I took him once a week to the hotel his dad was living in. Lionel had sold the house and was living off the money. The hotel smelled like vomit and urine. My son had to witness his dad throwing up into a paper bag in front of him.
I stopped bringing my son to see his dad because he no longer wanted to see Lionel. It broke my heart since at the time I still felt sorry for my ex-husband. When I stopped bringing my son to see him, Lionel started stalking me. I had to move several times, but he knew where I worked.
Gill: What impact did these years in abusive relationship have on your future life?
Trudy: After the divorce, I worked full-time teaching as a single parent for 2 years until I had a mental breakdown. I constantly fantasized about committing suicide. I got little sleep, developed chronic bronchitis.
The students started to take advantage and treat me poorly, especially the boys. One day I just walked out and didn’t come back. I remained on long-term disability for 2 years.
Then I met someone through my church and moved in with him. That was about 300 km from where I had been living. We were planning to get married. On my ex-husband’s birthday, we went to the city so that he could see my son.
On the way back, we got in a car accident, and my fiancé was killed. At that point, I had no job and was in the hospital for several months with both legs broken.
My family moved me from the new home I had bought, without my knowledge, and I ended up living with my parents for over 2 years. At that time I weighed 214 pounds, and I am only 5 feet tall.
So my life was pretty much ruined. Everyone told me I couldn’t walk again or hold a job, but I proved them wrong.
I do have a strong belief system and feel that it is a miracle that I am alive, that I was able to overcome all the difficulties in my life. It has made me stronger, more loving and kind, a survivor.
Hesitating to leave your abusive spouse? Read about the battered women’s syndrome.
Gill: What would be your advice to someone who is in an abusive relationship but doesn’t have a courage to leave?
Trudy: First of all, whatever you do, don’t tell your spouse that you are planning to leave.
If you get second thoughts about leaving, read about battered women’s syndrome to understand that you are stuck in the cycle of abuse, that it’s not your fault and that the situation is not going to change unless you leave.
Make a plan and find a safe place to go, such as a women’s shelter, for example. Do not go somewhere obvious such as a place of a friend or a relative. You may be putting them at risk, especially if your spouse has threatened to kill you.
Talk to the women that run the women’s shelters. You can look up the contacts online or in the phone book under community services, emergency number list.
Be prepared to leave everything behind if you have to. I had to quit my teaching job and relocate to keep myself and my son safe.
Even if you get a restraining order, do not stay in the same house. Many women end up murdered, because the husband comes back to the house and kills them. You have to move and go into hiding to be safe.
Gill: How are you doing right now?
Trudy: I am a full-time caregiver for my elderly Mom, 92. My dad recently passed away at the age of 90 from the complications of pneumonia. He had a total of 3 strokes prior to being hospitalized, but was still somewhat mobile using a walker.
Dad suffered from left-neglect and depression. I cared for him for over 3 years, and it was a tough time for me physically and mentally. I was always worried about dad falling, which happened frequently. Shortly before his birthday he received a big gash on the back of his head from a fall, which required several stitches. I marveled how tough and strong my dad was for his age. Even then, with a severe head injury, he didn’t want to go to the hospital.
I was able to look after my parents because I have been able to put the past behind me. My parents helped me a lot throughout the years, especially after my car accident. I will still look after my mom as long as I can.
I am now married to a caring man who shares my beliefs and values.
My son is a plumber/gas-fitter journeyman and works hard. He recently purchased my house and is busy renovating it. I am happy that he is successful despite having to grow up without a dad. His dad passed away 3 years ago. My son had seen him once since the car accident.
I have a blog “Trudy’s Insights” but I haven’t written any posts recently because I had to look after my dad. I would like to start a new blog involving my mom where we cook appetizing, nutritious meals for seniors together.
Mom’s dementia worsened after being hospitalized herself with pneumonia and influenza. With the proper nutrition, a more active lifestyle and a consistent routine, I am confident my mom’s memory will improve.
Someone that truly loves you will accept you the way you are, not expect you to make changes to be “good enough”.
Gill: If you could address every woman and give her one piece of advice on how not to end up in an abusive relationship, what would it be?
Trudy: You must have heard that you have to love yourself first before you can love someone else. This is true of any relationship.
If all the work in and on a relationship is on your part, if you are not treated with respect, if you lack freedom to be yourself, this is not a healthy relationship.
Someone that truly loves you will accept you the way you are, not expecting you to make changes to be “good enough”.