Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helping Someone Who Can't Help Themselves

As with most of the time this blog goes quiet I am either really busy at work or really deep in thought thinking about something I want to write. This week it is a little of both.

Before I post this I just want to give you a brief disclaimer. I do not claim to speak for all women in my situation. Sometimes when I write I refer to us as a group but I can only give you reasoning for my actions and my thoughts and feelings and no one else's. So please, if you have been in this situation and your experience was different from mine feel free to leave me a comment.

Moving on, a week ago my friend Jess wrote a post on Gift of Gab about staying in a marriage. Well, the point of her post was more about using your vows as an excuse not to get out of a marriage but it got a little off that topic in the comments.

As anyone who has known me a while or been reading here a while knows this is a hot button issue for me. I am one of the women who stayed. One of the ones who has been close to hell and back a few times and still said the I Love You's and played the part of the happy wife.

During the commenting stage of the posting an anonymous commenter asked me:

Is there anything someone could've said to you that would've opened your eyes sooner to the situation you were in to try to handle it sooner than you did?

I told that person that I would think about it and write a post here. (Or rather I posted a comment to that affect since I don't know who they are I'm just hoping they stop back by) And think about it I have. For one solid week I have thought about it and dreamed about it and cried about it.

What no one tells you right away is that when you are in a situation like this you do not necessarily process all of your feelings and emotions at that time. In fact it takes people asking questions like this and me really taking a hard look at things for me to really feel a lot of the things I should have felt back then. Even today with all I have told people and all I have written here I am not sure that there is anyone besides me who really knows my whole story. This makes it hard to truly answer this question without giving a little bit of background detail so excuse me if this post rambles a bit.

As for the question, I have come to one and only one conclusion.

No. Not if I didn't want out.

Every scenario that I came up with had me, playing the role in an opposite scenario. I was away from Jake at one point for four months. I left, he left, but we never stayed gone. There was something in my brain that just didn't "get it" so to speak. People told me he's doing drugs, I made excuses. People told me he's cheating, I made excuses. I found out for sure he was cheating and we broke up but he always said how sorry he was and I always believed him.

I can't put into words eloquently enough the way it feels to need someone. Or think that you need them but for me this is what it was for us. Something inside of me felt like he was a good person and that he needed me to help him and I needed him to make me whole. Somewhere, some how my thinking became so distorted that I didn't see the relationship for what it was, instead I saw it for what I thought it could be.

So, short of duck taping my hands and feet, throwing me in a car truck and locking me away for 6 months, I'm not sure there was anything anyone could have done. It is a lot like what was done with Jake. He was addicted to drugs and we had to put him in handcuffs and lock him up for six months. I was addicted to him and the only way I would have really been able to escape the relationship was to be away from it and start to find myself.

However, it is really hard to get away from it when it is all you know. I had locked myself in my own prison where no one knew what was going on in our lives so I didn't have anyone I could turn to for help. When I tried to mention little things to people around me they blew me off. I was over reacting, I needed to lighten up. They said these things because they didn't know the whole story. They didn't know the whole story because if they had they may have just locked me in that car trunk.

Which dives us head on into the real question: why? Why would someone stay? Unfortunately that one is much harder to answer.

Another Anonymous poster suggested that it was fear:

If you've never been there, it's hard to discribe. For some women, they're afraid to leave. Flat out. Some women are afraid they'll be killed.

This, is a very real reason why some women stay but for me, the fear was not necessarily of him injuring ME so much as it was that if I called 911 he would be arrested. If he was arrested someone would have to bail him out of jail and most likely that someone would be me. I knew myself well enough to know that I might be really mad at him at the moment, even a little scared of him, but in the end, I would forgive him. In spite of myself and then I would be mad that I had to pay court costs and lawyer fees so I just didn't go there. (I told you... distorted thinking.)

Intuitively I know that he could hurt me, I'm not stupid. I even started a journal that I kept on my computer. I would write down all of the things that happened, all of the things I couldn't tell anyone else. In the back of my mind I was thinking that if he killed me perhaps someone like my mom or my boss would find it and read it and realize that whatever happened might in some way be his fault.

I'm sure at this moment you are thinking if you knew this why didn't you just leave? I don't know. Even now, I don't. Somehow when you are in that situation you don't tend to feel the fear. It has been almost 18 months since Jake got clean and I am just NOW starting to really feel it. I have been up for the past week with nightmares of being chased and running from something. The fear that I feel in those dreams is greater than anything that I ever felt in all the times that my life was truly in danger. Sometimes when you are in it so far your emotions sort of shut down.

I think in a lot of ways fear is a reaction to something that you think might happen. You're afraid of heights because you know you could fall, you're afraid of spiders because you know they could bite you. With me, in that moment, I didn't feel any fear because I didn't REALLY know what could have happened. Now, when I think about it, especially the parts about Zack I am overcome with fear and emotion. Now I KNOW what could have happened and it scares me to death. But when you are in it, you are just as sick as they are and you tend to feel nothing, just numbness.

That same Anonymous person also suggested that perhaps people stayed for love:

Some, and this is the hard one, seriously no matter what love their husbands. You'll never believe what you're about to hear-- I too have a cousin who literally gets beaten constantly. [......] When I was young, he was arrested 6 times in one year for abuse. She always dropped the charges the next day because she missed him, loved him, and wanted her home. [....]

I think this is a REALLY common misunderstanding between those of us who are in this situation and those of you who are not. It is not love, it is a distorted type of loyalty. When you are in the situation it is easy to say, but I love him. But deep down inside we know it is not love. At least not what we see as love on TV. Perhaps, if the woman was abused as a child this is the only type of "love" she knows. But it is still not love. As I was flying across the room or being tackled on the front lawn or staring down the barrel of a shotgun I knew it was not what love was supposed to be.

Yet, I stayed. And if anyone were to ask me, I probably would have told them that I loved him. Really, I just didn't know anything BUT him. Some men take control of women and some women just give the control to the men but either way it is a need I seemed to have for him. Something inside me that just wouldn't let me let go. Something that kept convincing me that he loved me, that he would get better, that things would be different this time because he promised that they would be.

All of this and more are the reasons that women stay. For me, my thinking became distorted. I did CRAZY things and got sucked so far into his disease that I became just as sick as he was. In a way I was addicted to that life and to him and I needed help, even though at the time I would have told you just the opposite.

It is very had to know what to tell people when they want to help someone in this situation because the truth is that unless they want your help offering it to them over and over will just cause them to shut you out. Really the best thing you can do is listen and DON'T be judgemental. I would have defended Jake to the moon and back and come up with a million and one excuses for him. I didn't tell people about what was going on because I knew that they would try to tell me how to handle it and I didn't want that. I just wanted someone to listen.

I wanted to be able to tell them this is how it is in my house and it really sucks and NOT have to listen to them tell me than get out. Why don't you leave him? Here's a pamphlet for whatever they can help you... etc.

I was also afraid that if I told them the truth that they would be mad at him. If they were mad at him then they wouldn't want to do anything with us and then I would REALLY be stuck alone in my own little prison. I think that is a HUGE mistake that people make. They stop talking to the woman or the man because of what is going on. In affect that cuts her off even more and gives her an even less chance of getting out because she has no one to call for help and no where to go.

So after all of that rambling I guess perhaps I have come to my answer.

What could someone have said or done for me that would have opened my eyes sooner? Listened and not given advice and not judged. Shown up, even though they were not happy with the choices in my life. Never given up on me because I stayed.

In the end, I didn't give the people in my life the choice to do these things because I didn't tell them what was going on. I was afraid of how they would react and so I just shut them out. But if you know someone in a situation like this and they let you in to their life, please know that they stay because they are sick and someday they might feel like getting better and when that day comes they will need you more than you can ever imagine. So as hard as it is, just listen and be there for them.

7 comments:

kbreints said...

That is an amazing post. You are a very good writer-- and I can see that this would have taken a lot for you to pull out of yourself-- I mean you must have done a lot of soul searching to come to that answer.

I am sure that some day this will all come full circle and you will need to help someone that is in the situation that you had found yourself in.

I know that you will be up for all of the listening -- but could you really, knowing what you know now, not give them any advice?

Heather said...

Katie-

Great question. I don't have a choice. It's part of Al-anon. We are not allowed to give advice, just to listen and give support. We can tell them of the choices that we have made but because of this very reason we are not supposed to tell them what to do. It makes the meetings a safe place to be where you don't feel judged, just listened to.

Believe me... it has been VERY hard for me to keep my mouth shut on more thn one occasion. But I do it because I know that if I were in the other person's shoes I would want someone to do it for me.

Aunt Becky said...

Like you, I never give advice either. Two alcoholic parents and subsequent AA stuff has taught me to keep my damn mouth shut.

Anyway, loved your post and I'm sure you're glad to have written it. I'm certainly glad to have read it.

Anonymous said...

I too have been a similar situation and I don't at all look at it like a sickness, it's a lack of respect and wisedom. I still to this day love this person more than anyone in the world (just writing this and even thinking it makes my heart pump and flutter like a first kiss all over again)but at some point you have to love yourself and your family enough to do the right thing and walk away. This doesn't mean you ever have to stop loving that person or feel alone... they are always a part of you. It is ok to love someone and not be w them, most of all when it comes to you and your family's safety and welfare.

Lauren said...

I really appreciate that you take the time to write out your thoughts and feelings. I have never been where you are but I know people who have and there's always questions you want to ask, but don't ever. I appreciate your honesty.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just...wow. You are amazing. You could show Dr Phil a thing or two! I think you're a great writer, and as time has gone on you've discovered (and let us see) how you've analyzed things more and more...you've broken down the info and turned it over and looked at it and talked about it and each time you do, you uncover something new and good to share. Your insights are really getting strong. Keep analyzing this topic. I think you are helping more people than you think. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this, it was very honest, insightful, and interesting.