Written by Anonymous
When people ask about my past, I am overwhelmed by my inability to give an answer that they will understand. I am overwhelmed by the vastness, complexity, intensity and insanity of a story that I know in advance will sound illogical, inconceivable, even impossible, to the average mind. A familiar anxiety starts to rise in my stomach and throat with the knowledge that I can’t make people understand my truth – I can’t encapsulate for them in any meaningful or comprehensible way, that hellish place that my kids and I called home for so many years. Worse yet? When I have to explain that though the abuse during my marriage was beyond horrible, it was when we left and sought help that the real abuse began.
I was a perfectionistic child, and a high achiever in both school and sports. I was also highly empathetic and experienced life with the exuberance of a dreamer and the pain of being very sensitive to the highs and lows of others. I felt very connected to nature and animals at a young age, and it hurt me to see others hurting. I put the needs of others before my own, always rooted for the underdog, and wanted the people I loved to be happy. In other words, I was the perfect target for a narcissistic abuser.
In hindsight of course, I can see red flags that perhaps caused confusion when I met my abuser, but in no way did I see his full force and fury, or have any inkling of what was to come. In fact, I hardly even saw my alcoholic ex drink before we were married, but many things changed after we said, “I do.”
As is most often the case, the descent into full court press abuse was slow and insidious. I know that people get stuck on, “how could you stay?” or “why did you stay so long?” but unless you walk this road, you cannot possibly understand the many factors that compel a woman (or man) to remain in a marriage that they honored and felt a responsibility to preserve. I had three beautiful children, two sons and a daughter, and they were the lights of my life. With my nieces and nephews, I was the “fun aunt,” and ours was the house where the neighborhood kids gathered. Being their mother was pure joy for me, but my husband saw the kids as a distraction from his needs. I lived essentially as a single parent, even when we were married, and the kids preferred not to spend time with him. My ex was relentless in his bid to destroy my self-worth. When my physical and emotional breaking point had been reached, and I realized that I could no longer shield my children from their father’s increasing drunkenness and abuse, and when I worried that I may not wake up one morning, I filed for divorce.
Although he had established an environment of fear by smashing his fist through walls, yelling inches from my face, being “playfully” physically aggressive and twisting my neck, shoving and knocking hanging flower baskets off their hangers, the majority of his abuse was psychological torment. He was by measure both absent and possessive. I panicked that the mailman or male shop clerk would greet me with a pleasant hello, as punishing accusations about me having affairs would ensue. Of course, as is true for narcissists, this was merely a reflection of his serial cheating during our marriage, and the diseases that he passed on to me. He gaslighted like crazy, monitored my phone calls and alienated me from friends and family. Once caught cheating by my best friend and her husband, he begged them not to tell me and that he’d stop; he was so persuasive that they didn’t. I didn’t find this out until much later, and it still stings. He masterminded things to the point that no one dared come to my defense, or his charm allowed them to buy into his campaign of denigration.
When I went to my first attorney and told him my story, he dismissed me and said that if I mentioned abuse I would lose custody of my kids. My blood ran cold. I could not believe my ears. I asked a DV advocate to accompany me to another meeting, and afterward she told me with brutal honesty that it was true. That in the county in which we lived, it happened all the time, that she had recently had a case where an infant was turned over to the custody of an abuser. I still wonder about that child and what became of him/her. I wish they could know that someone somewhere knows their truth, and prays for them from afar.
I didn’t know what to do. Fresh out of divorce, I was bound to continue the court ordered visits, but without me as the prime target, my ex focused his abuse on my children, something I knew would happen. They were his means of punishing and controlling me now, and that is what drove him. I begged my attorney to not compel him to pay his full amount of child support as he was consumed by money and it would only make the abuse worse on my children if he had to pay, even his fair share. I told him I didn’t want anything, I just wanted peace for me and my children. I just wanted peace.
For two long, excruciating years my sweet, innocent children had to go on visitation, growing increasingly traumatized after every visit. When my oldest 11-year old began to speak of suicide and my middle son at eight years of age, told me one night before a visit when I tucked him in, that he didn’t want to wake up in the morning, I couldn’t take it any longer. I decided that no matter what anyone said, I would fight. Fight to the death for my children.
I got a new attorney, and though he gave me the same warning that if I mentioned abuse I would lose custody or the kids could be ordered increased visitation with their abuser, I persisted. Our truth had to be stronger than that. It just had to be! And my children deserved to have their once in a lifetime childhood be safe and free from fear. I devoted 24/7 to their well-being and the battle of our lives, giving them my full attention and nurturing during the day, and researching cases late into the night on my computer. Parental Alienation Syndrome, enmeshment – these became pertinent topics as my case progressed. I began to understand that this was a dark and frightening world. There was no justice. There was no safeguarding vulnerable children. We dropped off the cliff.
The first order of business was that my ex was ordered to have an alcohol evaluation, and I remember being relieved that this issue was being addressed as he’d had two DUI’s and his abuse of alcohol had added incendiary fuel to his narcissistic and sociopathic behavior. The report came back that he was seriously addicted to alcohol, and should not have the children on overnight visits until he completed treatment. It was also determined that there were issues with the father/children relationship that needed attention. Those early assessments were the first and last moments of truth for the next three years.
When my ex’s lawyer and the family court got wind of the fact that I was a mother willing to fight for her children, we dropped into a pit so deep and dark that it defied comprehension, and so began the insidious battle to denigrate, demean and destroy me, and to force the children to spend increasing time with their father. Why? Money. Children are a commodity to be bought and sold in the family courts, and the extensive inter-referring to “court approved” professionals is lucrative. When I finally came to understand this reality, I was physically sick. Everything I believed to be true about the world, about organizations and services that were there to protect people, about justice, crumbled to dust. This is something I will never come to terms with. This is something I can never forget.
Unlike many of these cases, my ex did not even want custody of the children – they would have been a major inconvenience in his life of narcissistic excess. Instead, he petitioned the court to remove the children from my custody and send them to military school or some form of boarding school. My three precious, innocent, beautiful children, at the ages of 4, 8 and 11. My brain raced to understand this reality – to put it into some kind of framework that I could comprehend, but there is no way to understand that evil. When people would ask about my situation, I didn’t know what to say, how to describe something that I knew would seem preposterous to an outsider? That my children could be taken away from me, removed from their safe and loving home and thrown to the wolves, all for the satisfaction of punishing a mother who dared to protect her children, and to pad the bank accounts of these corrupt agents of the court? The isolation and despair at living in this private hell was overwhelming.
We were all ordered to have weekly counseling sessions with court appointed counselors – me separately, my oldest son with his own counselor (he was determined to be a threat to the court’s agenda, as he was developing his voice and was very protective of his siblings), and my two youngest together. All of this I had to pay for. My ex was also ordered counseling, but did not comply, and the Guardian ad Litem that was appointed to us looked the other way. Conversely, he closely monitored our every move to try to catch us in a missed appointment or some other violation. Their mission was to find me in contempt, and my every word, every blink, or sigh, was seized upon to try and establish alienation.
My kids were far too traumatized to attend public school, and so I had started homeschooling them post divorce, but prior to the beginning of our legal battle. They needed to have some sense of safety and security – a place where it was okay to have their emotions, and still have the joy of learning unfettered by the chaos around them. They thrived academically, and we escaped often to the mountains and sea, which were only a few hours from us, to scream to the wind and feel, even for a moment, free from the abuse that crowded around us from all sides. I had no money, but we camped and hiked, splashed in the ocean and stood in awe of mountain peaks that spoke another story – one of loving acceptance, rejuvenation and peace. We just wanted peace.
The GAL came to our house only once in three years, for his initial visit and spent 20 minutes total with all three children. My home was a beautiful old craftsman with ¾ acre, that had been in my family for nearly 100 years and overlooked the sea. I cared for it lovingly and made it our safe and peaceful refuge. He reported that my oldest son, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, was a “lost cause,” and that the children were “enmeshed” with their mother to the point that a relationship with their father was impossible. He believed my ex-husband’s lies that he was no longer drinking, and that my requests for the court to persuade my ex to get help, were the rantings of a crazy, unbalanced mother who sought to destroy the father/child relationship.
My ex had a growing list of criminal behavior, and all this was ignored. He was, in fact, the darling of the court, and when he objected to my homeschooling of the children, a 3-day trial ensued. I had a homeschooling expert from out of state come to examine the kids and their schoolwork and level of accomplishment, and he testified in court as to their academic success. I knew I would not fail my children – that I would give them a quality education and expose them to all sorts of life experiences through field trips, volunteer experiences, etc., and it served them well. A counselor from the local public school met with us several times and told me that my kids were getting too far ahead and would be bored when I put them back in public school, and so to slow our pace. I just stared at her. When I put them back in school? I decided then and there that that would never happen. I wanted my kids to have wings in spite of their cages. I wanted them to be released from their chains, not be bound by them. (As a side note, I homeschooled my two boys until they started Running Start at the local community college, where they were on the Dean’s List, and then went on to college where they excelled academically and their compassion compelled them to be involved in social justice causes. My daughter continued homeschooling through high school, recently graduated and started a business, a social enterprise with me that is impacting environmental issues in our state. Do not doubt a mama bear intent on giving her children the world. Do not doubt her!)
There was no way for the court to prove that I was failing my children with the expert testimony, so they took the approach that my kids were going to be socially inept because of the homeschooling. The judge (a woman, who fully supported the non-compliance of my ex) ordered that each child must participate in two extracurricular activities. We were an active family and I had always made it a point for the kids to do an outside activity. We also engaged in volunteer work, but that was not enough for the court, so in addition to the weekly counseling sessions, each child had to have two scheduled activities on the calendar, again, all of which I had to pay for and transport them to. My kids were so stressed out by the trauma of visitation, that it was agonizing for them to pretend to be happy with their peers on a soccer team or at ballet class, but we did it anyway. My daughter had begun to vomit on visits, or in stressful situations, but we did it anyway. We did it because they were trying to schedule an impossible life that would break any family, and we were not going to be broken.
The GAL watched us like a hawk, looking for any opening to prove my non-compliance, but we never gave it to him. Conversely, he allowed my ex to skip out on any counseling or parenting classes, and to lie his way to a short exit through an alcohol program. I proved later by having my ex’s grocery store club card records subpoenaed, that he was in fact still purchasing and consuming large amounts of alcohol (something the children repeatedly told their counselor, but she consistently denied). This was a pivotal moment in my case, but still (and after a third DUI during the course of our case), the children’s counselor was adamant that their father still be allowed to transport the children in his car. By his time, he had an ignition interlock device on his vehicle, but he was petitioning to have it removed as it proved embarrassing if he had to transport clients from work, a situation for which the court had great sympathy.
My two younger children’s counselor was a darling of the court and it became apparent to me that she craved respect and approval in this esteemed position. In a suspicious and unconventional move, the judge had this counselor determine the visitation schedule. She was in a word, evil. I can come to no other way of describing her actions, her deceit with the children, her support of their abuser. She saw my advocacy for my children as a threat and was quite taken by my ex. She recommended that visitation be increased more and more (immersion therapy – by increasing the children’s exposure to the thing they feared, it would improve the father/children relationship, she said).
It was also determined that my oldest son was no longer to be allowed on visitation with his younger brother and sister, as his protectiveness was a barrier to establishing a relationship with their father. This was beyond devastating for my son, who both feared for his siblings and agonized that he could not be there to protect them. This was an unforgivable burden to place on so young a boy, and it also instilled a powerlessness that caused him great despair. My middle son became his sister’s protector, and he was courageous in standing his ground with the counselor one day when she tricked them at a session where they thought it was going to be counseling, but she locked the door and had their father waiting to take them.
They were calm, but strong. They kept speaking their truth and would not be persuaded by her tactics. They had learned, at an unbearably young age, that just because someone is older does not mean they are trustworthy or would protect them. They fought for their safety, and this of course, enraged the counselor. Their incredible maturity, self-control, composure and courage at such young and tender ages, still bring tears to my eyes after all these years. They did the impossible. But they just wanted peace.
I was not allowed to wait in the waiting room for them when I took them to counseling. Then I was not allowed to wait in the car for them, while they had their sessions. But they refused more and more to get out of the car for their counseling, and things became frightening. The counselor told them I would be sent to jail if they did not cooperate, which was true, but was a brutal thing to say to young children. I told them to not worry about me, but to protect themselves and to speak their truth. I worried every day for two years that my children would be taken from me, as it was a constant threat by the court. Every single day I knew that my life as I knew it, and the people I loved more than anything in the world, could be removed from my home forever. This realization took an immense toll on me, and I lost too much weight, and began to lose my hair. Panic and anxiety were constant forces to be reckoned with, and my children were crumbling due to the stress. We were frantic. We didn’t even want my ex punished, we just wanted peace.
As lengthy as this is, there is still so much more to tell. So much unbearable, unbelievable corruption that fills a huge bin with legal paperwork that is hidden away in a storage locker. I don’t want it in my house, but though it’s been ten years, I still feel I need to keep it, just in case.
After three years of my ex being allowed to ignore the directives of the court, and with the exposure of his lying about the alcohol and other things, it was getting harder for the judge to defend him. I decided to appeal my case to a higher court, and in an unexpected moment in the courtroom, he capitulated. He gave up his rights to the children in a last-ditch effort to save himself from possible jail time. I was stunned, and after all that time, I didn’t believe it. I was so traumatized that I couldn’t even feel relief. I had lost trust in everyone and every person of authority, and I waited for the other shoe to drop. By some miracle, it didn’t, and we were finally free. There was no celebration, no party to mark the occasion of our release. We just quietly and carefully tried to understand what life could look like, and slowly began to rebuild. There is no victory when there has been so much loss.
The approach of weekends were tough for a long time. Most people looked forward to weekends, but for us they held a certain doom, and even without visitation, it took years to calm our nerves as we counted the days of the week. I had to change the ringer on my cell phone, as it caused us to jump when we heard that familiar tone; it had often been the counselor calling to change the schedule and demand overnights, often at the last minute.
There were heroes too. There was one counselor who was on the “court approved” list, which he was aghast to find out. He knew of no such list, but understood well the workings of our county’s family court system, and was a courageous advocate for me and my children. He heard us, believed us, and allowed us to sit in silence or cry together. He fought to have my children’s session notes kept private, as my ex wanted all counseling notes to be turned over to the court. Without him, we might not have made it. He said I was a hero for succeeding in my efforts to protect my children, as it rarely happened. I have never felt like a hero – just a mother who could do no less. A mother who lost everything except what mattered most. A mother who just wanted peace.
It has been 10 years since our case ended. We lost everything in the battle, and had to sell our house and moved closer to my mother. In spite of this, my children have grown up to be amazing and successful young people, and we are connected by a bond that can never be broken. In the ensuing years, we never felt an absence in our family – there is no one missing. We have been whole and happy and grateful for each other, and we celebrate life’s milestones with gusto. The trauma of that time has made my children strong and unflappable – a source of strength, compassion and support for their friends. They are wise beyond their years, from battles fought that were well beyond what anyone should endure. Though my heart will always be broken by what they had to bear, the pain has been replaced by immeasurable pride and awe. And intense, indescribable gratitude.
I wish I could say that our story ends there, but my ex recently showed up at an event my daughter and I were working for our business, and made a beeline for us. Fortunately, my daughter saw him first and we left our booth to find help. We had a protection order that we believed did not expire (the wording said it was “ongoing,”) but we have been informed that since it was attached to my parenting plan and it is no longer in effect, no court will uphold it. I was crushed by this information, as I had been under the impression that it did not expire, but the police department in our new city has been much more responsive and for the first time, we have been advocated for. It’s hard to imagine that this is again part of our story, but my children have aged out of the system now, and in that way their father is no longer a threat. Though our lives may be marked by this interruption, and we must again be cautious, we will keep fighting to preserve our safety, our peace. We just want peace.