by Lindsey Balensiefer
Trigger warnings: sexual and intimate partner violence
Names have been changed.
“Jason,” the marriage counselor said, “your wife is allowed to tell you no.”
Jason looked from the counselor to me, and back again before solidly stating, “I don’t agree with that. That’s not why I got married.”
How did we get here?
My first impression of Jason was that he was a jerk. Inflated, aggressive and wildly inappropriate, I made it a point to only interact with him when I had to. We worked for the same big box retailer when I was in college. Our coworkers seemed to flock to him like they were drawn by the challenge of receiving his approval, but I had no interest in what he was offering. Had you told me ten years ago that this man would envelop my life and leave me with shreds of myself to piece back together, I would have thought you were completely bonkers.
After seven years of building a life together – a marriage, a home, a baby – a confusing roller coaster of good, bad and really ugly, we found ourselves in marriage counseling. Not because of Jason – because of me. I finally stood up to him and was completely honest about how I felt like a doormat – over a small issue regarding plane tickets and an airport pickup. Jason was jerking my parents and me around about something minor and I’d finally told him that, more and more, I felt like a mouse to his cat and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Jason claimed I “wasn’t the woman he married,” and he suggested counseling. He picked the counselor and off we went.
We attended four complete sessions together with little progress. Jason’s only complaint was that I often wanted to step away from an argument when it got heated, and he didn’t think that was appropriate. The counselor suggested he try letting me push pause if I promised to pick up the conversation again when I was ready. Aside from that, we mostly spent $80 an hour to dance around reality.
It was during our fifth visit that I finally spoke truth. Since we really hadn’t been getting to the meat of things, the counselor got straight to the point. “Why are you here?”
Jason was the one who wanted us to do this, but he had little to say about what was “wrong” in our relationship. I hadn’t said much to that point, but then something in me broke, and I word vomited.
I explained that I didn’t feel respected by Jason, that I felt like no matter what I did, he would never be satisfied with me, I would never be enough for him. I said I felt like I never knew which way was up with him, or which Jason I would be dealing with at any given moment.
I said I felt like I was walking on eggshells with him, because he changed his mind and story so often that I never knew the truth with him, and I was put down and punished for speaking up about my needs. I spoke up about his demands and violence in the bedroom. He said sex was how he showed and felt love, but none of this felt like love to me. I felt dirty, I felt used and I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. I started to question my sexuality because the sheer thought of having sex with my husband disgusted me.
Jason was fuming. His counter response was that “we never had sex.” The counselor asked me how often we had sex. I said 2-3 times a week, on average. Jason confirmed that. When the counselor questioned his backward claim, he said, “I meant we would never have sex if I left it up to my wife.”
The counselor asked him, “Jason do you understand what you are saying?” He just stared back. To this day, I don’t know if Jason understood what the counselor was getting at. Consent did not matter to him.
“Jason, your wife is allowed to tell you no.”
Jason looked from the counselor to me, and back again before solidly stating, “I don’t agree with that. That’s not why I got married.”
I felt the air escape my lungs. To my husband, I was property.
It wasn’t always bad
I met Jason when I was in college, while we worked for the same big box retailer. We hung out in group scenarios from time to time, and it felt like he always took up the most space in the room. We spoke occasionally, but mostly he told me how terrible my boyfriend was and how I deserved much better. Also, his girlfriend hated me because he told her I had nice skin. That was about the extent of it.
I graduated during the recession and had to move back to my hometown with my parents to keep my student loans paid. Coincidentally, Jason moved there a few months prior for a promotion within the company. He somehow got my phone number and got in touch with me to hang out. I didn’t know many other people in town at the time and was feeling really down on myself about my lack of job prospects, so I welcomed the company.
We started spending a lot of time together, very quickly. I had always toed the straight and narrow, rarely breaking rules or making waves. On the flip side, Jason was a wild card. He was brash, unpredictable and the life of the party. He was everything I wasn’t.
Our courtship was a whirlwind. In the beginning, he praised me, telling me how smart and funny and beautiful I was, always encouraging me to push myself further and believe in myself. He built up some confidence in me. He was spontaneous and adventurous, sometimes just telling me to hop in the car with no plan, only to end up at a zoo or go play carnival games. He would surprise me with little gifts. He kept my rickety car running while I was saving up for something more reliable. He cooked for me and introduced me to his friends. He took me nearly everywhere with him. At first, he seemed like he was too good to be true.
The slow rise to a boil
Have you ever heard the fable of the frog in boiling water? If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out because it knows it’s in danger. But, if you put a frog in tepid water and slowly bring it to a boil, by the time it realizes the danger, it’s too late. That’s an abusive relationship.
If you’ve ever wondered how anyone could be in an abusive relationship, just think of the frog. It never starts out bad. In fact, it’s usually amazing in the beginning. So amazing, that you’re overly eager to turn a blind eye to the red flags because you don’t want the honeymoon to end. Before you know it, you’re in over your head and trying to understand how you went from euphoria to terror.
We were in Kohl’s once, early in our relationship, and he wanted to buy me a pair of jeans. I said I wasn’t comfortable with him buying me clothes, and he insisted that he just wanted to “treat me right.” Taking pride in my independence, I was really not comfortable with it, but he kept pushing, even getting visibly upset and raising his voice – people were starting to stare. I finally conceded, confused by his pressure and embarrassed that the scenario even happened.
After that, if I wore any other jeans in front of him, he questioned me, “don’t you like the jeans I got you? I really like them, I wish you’d wear them more.” Eventually, Jason would purchase and dictate most of my wardrobe choices, with little input from me. It seems so small and innocent, but it was a tipping point. From there, the door was open for him to make decisions for me.
He was overtly rude to my friends, with no provocation. It got to the point that I stopped bringing him around them because he honestly embarrassed me, and none of them wanted him there. He would then get upset with me if I spent time with them and didn’t invite him, especially if there were men present, so I started making excuses to miss invites. He rarely had anything positive to say about my friends and family and was quick to point out their faults, to the extent that I started to accept what he was saying. Eventually, I lost touch with a lot of them, even family. Without even understanding what was happening, I’d been isolated and cut off from much of my support network. The worst part? I was an unknowing, but willing participant.
He was quick to apologize or make amends in the early days. If we fought, the next day he would have a gift or something special planned. Usually, it was presented in front of others. Not many people saw the negative, but he liked to have an audience for the positive. Once, I was getting ready to leave for a two week trip to Europe for work. Jason had kept me up late, knowing I had to be on a plane the next day, angry that I was leaving and “didn’t even invite him to come.” He couldn’t come. He was a felon and ineligible for a passport, so there was no point in inviting him. When I reminded him of that, he raged and accused me of “going off to God knows where to do God knows what with God knows who.”
He was accusing me of cheating – again. I was never unfaithful to him, and yet, more and more, he accused me of infidelity, asking, “who are you finger f***ing?” anytime I was just playing a game on my phone. At one point, I threw my phone at the wall next to him and wished him luck in finding what didn’t exist.
When I returned from Europe, he had a brand new iPhone all setup and ready for me, saying he checked with “all the ladies at work, and they said it was a great gift for my world traveler.” He never brought up the fight from the night before I left.
We had great sex – for a while. It was passionate, it was intense, it was adventurous – until it wasn’t. It crossed a line from mutual exploration to controlled and demeaning boundary pushing. Jason knew I was uncomfortable with some things, that I was a bit reserved. He said he wanted us to have a trusting and comfortable sexual relationship, that I should never feel embarrassed with him. One thing led to another and he started pushing more boundaries, getting more demanding and aggressive, crossing into violence. But there were also the times that he was sweet, attentive and deeply passionate. It always roped me back in, that temporary oxytocin high. And then before I knew it, I’d be bruised, sore and feeling used, embarrassed about what my body had been through, but being told by the man I loved that he was just a passionate lover.
There was evidence of infidelity that was undeniable, but still, he didn’t take accountability. He had a dating profile the entire time we were together, that he regularly updated and checked messages from. There were Facebook messages and emails to ex-girlfriends and flings. Two of his co-workers contacted me separately to tell me he was involved with women at work. There were condoms missing from his nightstand. He would stay later and later at work. He would flirt with other women in front of me and then get mad when I wasn’t jealous. He proposed we have another woman move in with us and be our full-time nanny to our infant daughter. She was one of the women I’d been told he was involved with at work—she was also a heroin addict.
Any time I brought up my suspicions or discomfort, he was quick to turn it on me, accusing me of snooping and claiming it hurt him that I didn’t trust him. He also tried to say that if I didn’t trust him, it was probably because I was the guilty party. He never took accountability, and never had a solid answer for his actions. I was so confused after every one of these conversations, that I found it easier to just start ignoring the signs. Addressing them just hurt more.
The first time I dialed 911
Shortly after we got engaged, Jason’s youngest brother came to town and we went out to a local dive bar to celebrate Jason’s birthday. Jason had a lot of whiskey while we were out. Once in bed that night, Jason starting laying into me over a wedding guest about whom we were at odds. I said we could talk about it in the morning, but he was not letting up. I tried to leave the room to sleep on the couch. Jason blocked my way, grabbing my wrists and wrestling me to the bed. I started to panic. He’d tried to keep me from leaving before, but never with this level of intensity and physical contact. No matter what I tried, he was between me and the door, and he was beet red and fuming with rage. I even tried to get to the window at one point.
During a struggle, he stumbled and I was able to get out of the bedroom. Phone in hand, I ran to the living room dialing 911. He charged after me. I shrank to the floor and screamed that I was calling 911 if he didn’t leave me alone. He stopped, heaving. Turning to the wall, he crushed his fist into a picture frame of my beloved dog, Murphy, that Jason had hung on a stud in the wall. The frame shattered and Jason’s knuckles were split to the bone. It was only at this point that his brother came out and told us we “were being stupid.” He saw Jason’s hand and drove him to the ER. Nothing about what his brother was hearing seemed abnormal to him, just “stupid.” Was this normal for their family? Was this normal at all? Why was I the only one who seemed to think this was not ok?
I started packing all of my belongings throughout the night. The next day, both of our parents were coming over for lunch to talk about wedding plans. Jason begged me to unpack my things, apologizing profusely and promising to never let that happen again. I refused. I wanted our parents to see what our home had become. I wanted him to account for his behavior.
As our parents arrived, Jason was already spouting stories about the boxes around the house before anyone was even in the door – we were doing some decorating and needed to move some things. His knuckles? Oh, “his hand slipped while he was wrenching a nut on his car.” The lies flowed so freely from his lips, and no one bothered to question them, and his brother didn’t step in to correct him. I remember waiting for the opportunity to speak up and call him out, but I never found it. I never took it. After that, I think I feel like I’d lost my chance to speak up. If I didn’t have the courage to speak up then, were things really as bad as I thought? Did I remember the night before correctly? We had been drinking. And as Jason was always quick to remind me, “it’s not like I hit you.”
Throwing gasoline on a fire
Many of the very extreme incidents involved alcohol. It was a point I was quick to notice, and always ready to bring up. Jason always insisted that it was mutual, we BOTH participated, it wasn’t just him. And he never seemed to remember things that happened. Maybe if we took alcohol out of the equation, we wouldn’t have such extreme fights and we could focus on building more positive. So many times, I removed alcohol from our home, only to have Jason explode in a rage about how wasteful I was for dumping alcohol down the drain. He never saw his drinking as a problem but blamed my drinking. So, I quit. So many times, I said I was done drinking because he claimed that was the issue. And so many times, Jason was the one pouring me another drink.
When I got pregnant, I obviously was not drinking, but the fights still continued.
And still, he blamed me: my hormones, my neglect of him, my supposed affairs. Three times in my first trimester alone, he said: “that f***ing baby isn’t even mine.”
He’d always follow that up with a claim that it was a joke, and I needed to lighten up. When I asked him to stop drinking, he said he’d stop once the baby was born, so he was just enjoying his last bits of freedom while he could. His drinking increased dramatically during my pregnancy, and I was always expected to be his sober driver. If I wouldn’t pick him up, he usually woke me up by pounding on the front door because he’d forgotten his key. Then he’d scream at me for not being there for him, and usually accuse me of being with another man while he was out. After our daughter was born, the drinking didn’t stop. It didn’t even let up.
In early September of 2015, when our daughter was just six weeks old, Jason and I traveled with her to his hometown for his friend’s wedding. He spent the day with the wedding party and I met up with him later. When I arrived at the ceremony, he was so drunk, he couldn’t speak straight. He pulled my dress up to my waist at dinner, kept talking about how crazy it was that his best friend’s twin sister was getting a divorce, he picked a fight with her new boyfriend over his choice in music, and spilled more than his share of drinks. I enlisted his friends to help me get him out of there, and by the time he got to the car, his pants were soaked in his own urine. I didn’t want to bring him home, but I knew he had to work early in the morning and was afraid of his anger if I left him at his parents’ house. I just hoped he would sleep it off.
He screamed at me on the way home about how I “just won’t listen to him,” with our daughter asleep in the back seat, until he finally passed out. When we got home, he re-upped his tirade while I was nursing our daughter. He was wild, and nothing was going to slow him down. I tried to get out with our child, but he followed me to the top of the stairs. He wasn’t going to let me leave. He was wild, flailing his arm around and lunging at me. “Why are you leaving? Are you scared of me? What have I done? You can’t take my daughter from me!” I knew if I went any further, he could easily push us both down the stairs. I had to give up. I put our daughter in her crib and went to bed. Jason continued to mumble angrily at me until he passed out. I heard him leave just a few hours later to go to work. I called my dad crying, and told him what happened. I packed a few things and headed to their house.
I stayed there for a week. After several days of continued fighting and blame on my part, Jason took a new approach and agreed to stop drinking. I agreed to come home and started looking for a new job that wouldn’t require so much travel. I wasn’t comfortable leaving our child alone with Jason.
His sobriety lasted about two months, and then it was as if nothing changed, except he said he was done with whiskey. He was a “grown ass man, he could have a drink if he wanted to.” And then I found the half-empty bottle of Jim Beam in his sock drawer. He claimed he had no knowledge of it, and even accused me of setting him up. Alcohol wasn’t the cause of Jason’s abuse, but its effect was essentially like throwing gasoline on a fire.
By March of 2016, Jason had completely denounced any responsibility in our failing marriage and had set his targets on finding out how to “fix” me. He even scheduled an appointment with my doctor to have me screened for postpartum depression. He did this without my knowledge or consent and then was shocked that I canceled the appointment when they called me to confirm. He said if I didn’t go, then I wasn’t trying and was putting our child in danger. I’d been screened for PPD several times – I wasn’t depressed. I started to mention looking at separation, but he refused to consider it.
He always said “divorce isn’t an option,” and when I pressed that it was completely normal and would be healthier for us and our child if we were to separate, he said, “You’re never leaving. I’ll do whatever I have to to keep you.” Things were rapidly spiraling out of control and I worried it was only a matter of time before he physically took out his anger on me or our child.
What really started to drive me to leave was our daughter. He had no problem screaming at me and pushing me around in front of her. I couldn’t let her grow up looking to us as an example of what to expect from relationships. It would take another month of growing tension and abuse before I finally left.
The morning of April 23rd, I had a few appointments and sister had agreed to meet up with me for lunch. I wanted to open up to her about what was going on in my marriage and get her advice. I was going to have my parents watch our daughter, but Jason agreed to care for her while I was out and invited my dad over to talk about what was going on between us. He said he wanted some advice from the man who knew me best.
My sister and I had some margaritas at lunch, so her fiance gave me a ride home just to be safe. Jason was acting really strange. I asked him how his talk with my dad went. ”Interesting. VERY interesting. He told me a lot. A lot about you, and your mom. He told me a lot that he said I’m not allowed to tell you.” He loved making people believe he had dirt on them and watch them squirm. I know my dad. This was 100% bullshit, and I called him out on it. He fumed, screaming at me about how he had sacrificed his entire day (it was early afternoon) to spend it with MY kid and MY dad, only to have his wife come home wasted and accusing him of lying. Again, he said he was the only one trying.
I reeled. I lost my temper and screamed at him to leave. Jason never left when I asked him to – except this time. He slowly grabbed his keys, never taking his eyes off me, and walked out the door without another word. He left the car, so I knew he wasn’t going far. I texted my cousin and let her know that things were really bad that week and that Jason’s behavior today had me concerned. I asked if I could call her later if I needed a place to stay. She said she and her fiance were on their way over with sushi and a bottle of wine.
We talked about what was going on, and they offered to let me stay with them if I needed to. We had some wine and told stories. We laughed. Jason was gone for a long time, with no attempts to contact me. Around midnight, I decided to head to bed. I was tired and I was feeling better about things after talking with Elizabeth and Will. I planned to call my dad in the morning and let him know what had been going on and see if I could stay with them for a while.
Before Elizabeth and Will left, I heard the front door slam shut and Jason yell, “What the f*** are you doing in my house?”
Will was in the living room at that point working on some classwork, while Elizabeth and I were back in the kitchen. I looked at Elizabeth, “This is not good.” Elizabeth went to intervene while I tried to call the police – I was forwarded to an answering machine. Jason came into the kitchen, seething. He was red-faced and reeked of whiskey. He was so scary in these moments, with pure hatred in his eyes. He never saw me for a person in these moments. He saw a challenge, an obstacle, and he needed to crush it. “Have you been telling people you’re afraid of me?”
I froze. Was there any way he could have seen my texts to Elizabeth? “Why would you think that?” I asked.
“I come home and find these motherf***ers in MY house. What are they doing here, Lindsey? This is my home, I didn’t invite them over. So, I’m going to ask you one more time: Have you been telling people you’re afraid of me?”
I asked him to leave again and told him I was calling the police. He left out the back door, towards the garage. Part of me was worried he would drive in that condition, but I was more afraid to go after him. I tried the police again – no answer.
Elizabeth had gone upstairs to calm down our daughter, who had woken up from the yelling and door slamming when Jason came back into the house. “I talked to the police outside, Lindsey. I met them in the alley. They know you’re full of shit. I also talked to your dad and he says you do this shit all the time. You need to stop this or I’m calling the police on you.” He left to go upstairs.
Had the police come? Why wouldn’t they check on me? I made the call. That couldn’t have been right, could it? And my dad? I knew that was a bold lie. I called my dad and headed upstairs when I heard his threats to Elizabeth, demanding she hand over our child.
When I got to the nursery door, he had our daughter on the changing table and was screaming at Elizabeth to get out of his house or she would learn what it felt like to leave in handcuffs. He threw a moderately damp diaper at her face and screamed, “that’s what a filthy diaper looks like! And that’s (pointing at me) what a drunk mother looks like!” I was begging him to leave our daughter out of it and calm down, but he just kept changing her diaper, muttering under his breath, “unbelievable. Un-f***ing-believable.” I begged him to let me care for our child and calm down, that we could talk about whatever he wanted, but just leave our daughter out of it. He looked at me and said, “If you want to leave so badly, then go. But I promise you, as soon as you walk out that door, you will never see your f***ing daughter again.”
He reached for the jar of Desitin, which I had apparently forgotten to recap. He grabbed it and rushed towards me, leaving our nine-month-old unattended on the changing table, and shoved it in my face, yelling, “where’s the F***ING CAP, Lindsey?!” Had I not moved in time, the jar would have connected and blackened my eye. He reared it back as if to hit me with it. I told him I was dialing 911. He stared at me, coldly. “You don’t have the balls.”
The dispatcher told me to move to another room from him as she asked questions. Was there a weapon in the house? Did he hit me? Did he hit our child? Where is he now? I met two officers at the front door and they asked me similar questions. They called Jason down the stairs and asked him to hand over our daughter. Only after police intervention did he hand over our child. One of them led him outside, while I stayed inside to speak to the other officer, with my daughter in my arms, and Elizabeth and Will by my side.
I explained what was happening, and the officer said he couldn’t remove Jason from the home because I was stating that he hadn’t hit me. He hadn’t. That was the stipulation. He was held to no accountability for any of his actions because he hadn’t hit me.
They said they would detain him for a few moments while I got out. I could hear him on the front porch, “Tell her to take the f***ing kid and get the f*** out of my house.” Jason rarely ever referred to our child by her name, she was always “the kid” or “the baby.” And it was always “his” house. Never our house.
At around 2:00 am on April 24, 2016, my daughter and I left that home with little more than the pajamas we were wearing.
Picking up the pieces
We lived that way with my parents for five months. I went back to the house a few times when I knew Jason would be gone to grab some additional clothes and my dog, Murphy, but for the most part, we had very little of our own belongings. Jason refused to let me move out or have any of my possessions. He was furious when he found that I’d come into HIS house without him present. He stole my jewelry and emptied a savings account we had that contained the gift money from our wedding – nearly $5,000. He wouldn’t even let me have our daughter’s crib – she slept in a pack and play for five months. He insisted that I could have my belongings when I moved back home. He smeared my name to anyone who would listen, claiming I “went crazy and took his daughter,” that all he ever did was try to help me.
He refused to pay any support or provide financially for our child. He blamed everyone but himself for my departure: my mental health, our child, my sister, my cousin, my parents. He accused me of being abusive, but never backed his claims. He sent me multiple emails, letters, cards and text messages condemning me for destroying our family and our child’s life, but then praising me for being such a great wife and mom, and begging me to come home so that he can “help me get better.” He refused to accept that we were over, and made sure I—and anyone who would listen—knew that everything was my fault and all he ever did was treat me like a queen. He claimed that the events of April 24th never happened – that I’d made the whole thing up. In spite of all of this, I had to pick up my pieces and put my life back together.
The day after my 29th birthday, I was sitting in a lawyer’s office, wearing borrowed clothes and self-consciously aware of how much my hands were shaking as I told her my story. I needed help undoing my marriage. She suggested I get an order of protection before we proceeded with anything. I didn’t even know what that meant. She put me in contact with the domestic violence advocate for my county, who walked me through the process and stood by me in court when I petitioned the judge. It was granted, set to expire May 17, 2018.
Jason would spend the next 20 months trying to get me to drop the order, or break it. At first, he tried to pay me to drop it and the divorce. Then he tried telling me that if I dropped it, he promised he would stay away from me, he was just “embarrassed” by it. Then he tried getting me to meet with him but keep the order in place, saying we could “meet and not tell anyone, that way you’ll still feel protected, and our daughter won’t have to wait until she’s almost three to see her parents together.” He said that a lot, that our daughter shouldn’t have to wait until she’s three to see us together. He seemed to believe that as soon as the PO expired, he would be granted full access to my life again, that we would be a family again. It’s like he thought this was just some time out.
I started seeing his car quite frequently, following behind me on my way home, racing through a parking lot to get behind me, parked across the street from my therapist’s office when I was leaving. How was he everywhere that I was? Then I remembered the iPhone he had all set up for me when I returned from Europe. I got a new phone as soon as I could afford it.
When his invitations for ice cream and lunch dates didn’t work, he reverted to coercion and bargaining. When that didn’t work, he tried manipulating our parenting time schedule and force me to meet with him for exchanges of our child. When I refused to meet him personally and came up with numerous other options, he had his lawyer call me and threaten me with contempt.
When he finally agreed to co-parenting counseling to address this continual issue of trying to meet with me, he insisted that it would not be successful unless we were in joint sessions. When the counselor told him that wouldn’t happen, and that I never had to agree to meet with him, even without a PO, he never came back and sent the counselor a letter telling her she was unprofessional and did not have our child’s best interests in mind.
He was not giving up his quest for access to me.
It’s still not over
In February 2018, shortly after our brief and failed attempt at co-parenting counseling, Jason’s child support did not come through. It was automatically withdrawn, so that could only mean one thing: Jason was no longer working for the company he’d been with for nearly 20 years. I asked him to let me know where he was working so that I could avoid it, and he never responded.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I would learn that Jason had quit his previous job and had taken a part-time job working for a non-profit organization in which his abusive behavior should have been an obvious red flag against his employment. When he made that transition, that organization moved into the one location Jason knew I would be that wasn’t covered on the protection order: our child’s daycare. He was in the same building as me, nearly every day. Daycare staff spoke with him in the building, as did the police. They all said he was just sitting alone in a dark room above the entrance I walked through – he said he got there “several hours early to avoid running into me.” In emails with me, he denied his presence there entirely and refused to even discuss changing our child’s daycare. We had joint custody. If I moved her daycare without his agreement, he could hold me in contempt. In a few months, the protection order would expire, and he could follow on my heels through the building, and there would be nothing I could do about it. He had gone to extremes to set it up so my hands were tied.
My lawyer got involved and conversations were had with Jason’s new boss. He said he had expressly told Jason to stay out of the building and would be firing him immediately for his actions. Instead of firing him, they devised to hide Jason’s car and sneak him in another door, so that I would no longer have notice or proof of his presence in the building. This man knew Jason had an active order of protection, knew our situation, and yet still placed him in this position, ignoring the organization’s code of ethics and the impact this had on me. This man helped to facilitate my abuser’s further torment of me. I’ve since learned that the organization moved back to its original location after I was able to remove myself and our child from the situation. I find it hard to believe that’s coincidental.
Jason’s change in employment was a catalyst of sorts. I knew I needed to start making changes in my life to ensure I could financially support our child if he stopped paying support, and I decided it was time that I make my long-awaited move to the Indianapolis area. My support network was larger there, and there was a much larger job market. Jason was fully aware of my plans to move for a long time and claimed he would never fight it. When I took a new job and petitioned the courts to move, Jason responded with a petition to place a permanent order preventing me from ever moving outside of Tippecanoe county. When I look back on our relationship, I can’t think of a single time Jason has kept his word, except his promise to “do whatever he has to to keep me.”
Since we have a daughter together, I can’t completely cut off communication. Our co-parenting relationship has been nothing short of rocky, and that’s putting it mildly. He uses our child as his only avenue to still maintain control. He holds us to very different standards as co-parents, demanding a lot from me, and giving very little. I’ve just had to accept that my daughter’s life away from me is mostly a mystery and focus on giving her the best home and support that I can. I have no control over his home or decisions, but I have complete control over the stability I can provide her – and that’s where my focus is with her.
I’m still afraid of him. I wish I could say that I’m not, but it’s just not true. During our divorce proceedings, Jason successfully expunged the felonies from his record and—with an active order of protection in place—obtained a lifetime license to carry a firearm. He always wanted a gun, and now he has nothing stopping him. I did a MOSAIC Threat Assessment on Jason – he scored an eight out of ten. A man like that has no business with a gun and no place at my table.
Sharing my story is scary. There’s always judgment when people hear about my past, so I’ve been fairly selective in sharing up to this point. And Jason will see it, and he will be angry—he doesn’t like people to think of him in any other way than he dictates. He has admitted he was abusive, but casually brushes it off, minimizing it to “some things that happened a long time ago and shouldn’t even matter anymore.”
I don’t believe he fully accepts responsibility for his actions nor does he understand the impact they have. Either that, or he does understand and just enjoys causing people pain. All I can do is keep hope and stay vigilant.
The silver lining
I take away three major positives from my experiences with Jason:
- My daughter. I sometimes think that this had to happen because of her. She was the ultimate result, and that without Jason and I together, she would have never happened. Call it fate, or God, or whatever you want, but I truly believe that she was meant to be in my life, just as she is, and that if my life had gone any differently she wouldn’t be here. She’s the best part of every day, and I know that it’s because of her that I can push through the hard days and stay focused on what matters: her.
- I’m stronger. I hate that I had to go through this to realize my strength, but it has been a real eye-opener of what I am capable of every day. Each day is different, and with our roller coaster co-parenting relationship, nothing is ever certain for long. But I know I can get through it.
- I’m finding myself again. I really lost myself in this relationship and was kept so off balance for so many years that I honestly didn’t even know who I was. All of my plans were made for me, all of my music, clothing, friends, food – everything was picked for me. I didn’t know how to make decisions on my own anymore and I had to pick up the shreds of me that were left and relearn who I am. I’ve learned that I’m not half bad at painting, and I’ve taught myself to knit. I like traveling alone. I hate hard liquor. I like Celtic folk music. I’m trying new things and pushing my own boundaries. I’m learning to trust my gut and stand my ground. I’m learning to forgive myself.
Why I decided to (finally) participate
I’ve debated participating in Race Away from Domestic Violence for the past three years and have always chickened out. What if Jason saw and took personal offense? What if it gave him the opportunity to be in the same place at the same time? But I’ve wanted to get involved and do something to make a difference, even if it’s small. When I got out, I was able to do it before I ended up in the E.R., and I was able to stay out because I had family, friends and resources to support me. Even then, I almost got pulled back in at one point. Not everyone has a support group close by, or they’ve been fully isolated from their contacts, and it makes it incredibly hard to escape and recover without support.
ICADV’s presence throughout the state makes it possible for more people to get the help they need. Domestic violence advocates to help coordinate protection orders and develop a safety plan, legal advocacy, shelters, cell phones, group therapy and more – they have support from a variety of functions available. But they need the funding to continue to make it available.
I didn’t even know about these programs until I needed assistance from them, so there’s also the awareness factor. If more people know these resources are available, maybe we can get more victims and their families to safety sooner. I still work with advocates when things get scary again to come up with a safety plan and make sure I’m prepared.
Domestic violence is more prevalent than anyone is aware. It doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone, at any time. And just getting out isn’t enough – there’s recovery and rebuilding, and in many cases—especially when children are involved—victims have to stay in contact with their abusers and risk further abuse. We need to be able to talk about this. The shame and fear associated with speaking about it prevents its prevalence from being known, and thus prevents its eradication.
The day my divorce was finalized, my best friend sent me an article a former roommate of hers had written. It detailed her own abuse experience, and I was shaking as I read it. So much of it was so similar to my experiences with Jason, that it felt like I could have written it. I wondered if I’d read that sooner, would I have gotten out sooner or not felt so alone?
My hope is that someone reads this and it gives them the courage to get out, to know that they are not alone in this fight and that they have options. You’re not crazy. This is not ok. You deserve better. No one should be afraid in their own home or afraid of the person they love.
I’ve also decided it’s time to stop hiding. I’ve been so focused on not drawing attention to myself for the past three years, that I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot. Even though we’re not together anymore, Jason was still exerting power over my life and happiness. Stepping out of the shadows is terrifying. It makes it that much easier for him to track and find me if he wants to. I just can’t live in the shadows anymore.
I celebrate my liberation day every April 24th. On that day, I do whatever I want—because I can. I make decisions about my life now, not someone else. This year, I celebrated by signing up and raising funds for Race Away from Domestic Violence. I want more people to know that they can celebrate their liberation, too. Until we can talk about this, too many people will be stuck in the shadows, unable to enjoy life. It’s time to start talking, take away the power from abusers, and really start living.
To donate to Lindsey’s First Giving page, click here.