I once believed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was something that only affected the brave men and women who risk their lives to protect our country. I now know different. I know this from personal experience because I am one of the (many) faces of PTSD.
During my marriage, my ex-husband strapped me into a financial roller coaster from hell. We lived a lifestyle that many dream of but to me it was a nightmare. I watched as he borrowed money from people that I cared about with no plans to re-pay them. I was silenced as he used and manipulated our employees who were often left unable to buy groceries due to bounced paychecks. I watched in horror as he used and stole from family members. My ex-husband ran us 1.6 million dollars in debt, much of which was done behind my back. To this day, I can’t even look at my checking account or pay a bill without anxiety and PTSD creeping in. During the divorce, finances once again became a way to abuse me. While the financial deceptions were significant and the emotional abuse from my marriage affects me to this day, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
I remember stepping foot into the Family Court system for the first time in September of 2009. I was naively hopeful because I believed that the court’s own words (“in the best interest of the child”) would be their guiding light. I was wrong. I quickly learned that there is a higher value placed on parental rights than there are on children’s rights. Walking through those courtroom doors today often requires me to be medicated. The courtroom became another avenue for my ex-husband to commit domestic violence (by proxy) and the family court professionals (commissioner, minor’s counsel, custody evaluators and CPS) were just pawns in his sick, twisted chess game.
During my six-year custody battle, I lived with constant triggers. I lived in the fight or flight mode. Sadly, this became my normal. A sound in the middle of the night would cause me to bolt upright and grab a hammer and mace which were conveniently kept under my pillow. Sleeping with a hammer in my bed became my normal. The reality was, I knew he would kill me. I could tell by the terrifying, rageful look in his eyes. To everyone else, he was charming and charismatic. He wore a three-piece suit and he made six-figures. He boasted about his family. He claimed that he wanted to be a dad but I knew the truth…my children were the only weapons he had left to use against me. While I knew he was capable of ending my life, saying that out loud in court would make me appear to be the crazy one.
For six years, I followed every court order. He didn’t yet there were minimal (if any) consequences for his behavior or violations. Each time the court ruled in his favor, my heart was crushed because as a mother, nature designed me to protect my young. My hands were tied by a broken system and I was forced to sit back and watch year after year as my children were emotionally and mentally tortured – emotional abuse leaves no marks so again, it was my word against his. While my children were vocal about what was happening to them, it was dismissed as hearsay. Let me be the first to tell you, my daughters have wounds and they are deep…even after four years of no contact. We are still healing and we continue to unpack the loads of baggage that we are left with.
I sat in court for years detailing the dysfunction within my ex-husband’s family. Namely, his brother, Jason Robert Porter. I fought tooth and nail to protect my daughters from an individual that I knew was incredibly dangerous and I painted a picture in court that should have caused every family court professional to take notice. Despite my best efforts, they didn’t take notice and they continued to be dismissive of my concerns. My ex-husband’s family appeared very polished and pretty on the outside yet I had been “behind the curtain” and knew what the reality was. My ex-husband’s mother was instrumental in undoing any progress I made in court to protect my children. She was known to swoop in during summer and Christmas vacations to clean up whatever mess my ex-husband made and she’d carefully rewrap it in a pretty package also known as court declarations. I often said that my battle was against her because left to his own, my ex-husband would have continued to dig himself deeper and deeper in the eyes of the court.
All of my fears were validated when my ex-brother-in-law was arrested in June of 2016 for child molestation and child pornography. This monster that I had warned family court professionals about for years has destroyed the lives of countless children in our community with charges so atrocious that he is now sitting behind bars facing life in prison. The vast majority of these crimes took place in the home he shared with my ex-mother-in-law and father-in-law who are both mandated reporters in the State of California. During my custody battle, they bragged about their many years of experience working with children and their esteemed careers in education yet they were living in a home with the biggest pedophile that San Luis Obispo County has ever seen.
My PTSD from this case and this family has soared to levels that I never knew possible. There have been PTSD episodes in the past year that left me unable to function and unable to work. I felt a sense of relief when I discovered that my ex-in-laws were leaving the country however, they are back to stay and have set up shop in my very small town. I have had to stop going to certain stores where they have been spotted and I now have a list of coffee shops they frequent which are “off limits” for me. Yesterday as I left the post office, they were parked right next to my car.
Many will tell me to “hold my head high” and “don’t let them affect you,” however, it isn’t that simple. PTSD doesn’t allow me to hold my head high. PTSD causes my mind to go blank and my body to tremble. PTSD causes me to shake so badly that I drop my coffee cup all over the floor of my office building. PTSD takes over my mind, body and spirit and robs me of the joyful person that I have always prided myself on being. PTSD causes me to avoid public places that I normally love. PTSD has made me fearful of being in crowds at Farmer’s Market, church or other gathering places. PTSD causes me to want to move out of the very town where my children were born…the place I’ve called, “home” for thirty-three years.
I am one of the fortunate ones in Family Court and for that I am eternally grateful. By all accounts, we have a happy ending: my children are safe and we have no contact with my ex-husband. I am remarried to an amazing man who has a great deal of patience and carefully navigates my PTSD landmines with love and compassion. The reality behind the curtain is that my “happily ever after” also means that I am left holding a bag that is filled (and some days, overflowing) with PTSD because of the trauma I’ve experienced in Family Court and as a result of this family.
Being that this is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am sharing my story with the hope of raising awareness and putting a face to this epidemic in our country and beyond. My name is Tina Swithin and I am a survivor of Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence by Proxy, a broken Family Court System and extreme PTSD.
One Mom’s Battle: Our mission at One Mom’s Battle is to increase awareness of Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder) and their impact upon shared parenting and the Family Court System which includes Judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad Litems (GAL), Parenting Coordinators (PC), Custody Evaluators, therapists and attorneys. Education on Cluster B disorders will allow these professionals to truly act in the best interest of the children. Interested in educating your judge or Family Court professional? Click here.
History of One Mom’s Battle: In 2009, One Mom’s Battle began with one mother, (Tina Swithin), navigating the choppy waters of a high-conflict divorce in the Family Court System. Since then, it has turned into a grassroots movement reaching the far corners of the Earth. Tina’s battle spanned from 2009 – 2014 during which time she acted as her own attorney. Ultimately, Tina was successful in protecting her daughters and her family has enjoyed complete peace since October 2014 when a Family Court commissioner called her ex-husband a “sociopath” and revoked his parenting time in a final custody order.
Tina Swithin: Tina Swithin’s books are available online at Amazon (print, Kindle or audio format). Each year, Tina offers life-changing weekends of camaraderie and healing at the Lemonade Power Retreat. Tina also offers one-on-one coaching services and a private, secure forum called, The Lemonade Club, for those enduring high-conflict custody battles.