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When the #metoo campaign started, I was confused to feel a mix of relief and utter despair. Though horrifying to see how many women I knew had endured some form of harassment, there was also a sense of solidarity and survival. However, there were many voices missing from this choir of brave women due to the fact that some “me too’s” occur in committed relationships and over many years.
In my case, it continues long after the relationship has ended.
As I sat at my desk while my ex-husband’s bizarrely altered voice squeaked out of my speakers, my jaw slowly dropped to the floor. It had started innocently enough, a simple Google search to procrastinate my work and to (hopefully) confirm that he had moved out of the city. The usual results lined up until the fourth title caught my eye, a comedy podcast about divorce in which he was the guest. It had been recorded over six months ago, but had managed to slip under my radar. I immediately texted it to my best friend, and we both clicked “play” at the same time. There he was, in all his self-deprecating glory, laughing about his two failed marriages and revealing the insanely coincidental reason both of his wives had left him: they had both cheated and run off with his friends.
The 30 minute interview continued with a barrage of lies. How I ruined our wedding night. How I probably cheated the entire marriage, and how understanding he would have been. How his former wife was “insane.” Our “great” sex life. How the entire divorce came from “out of the blue” and how quickly I ran off with his best friend. The moral of the sordid story arose at the 31 minute mark. The abuse endured from picking the wrong women has made him a more resilient and better person. A person who is able to give advice to others going through such horrible events. A person who is able to laugh at his past and move forward. A person who is able to go on a podcast and hide the fact that it was he who emotionally and verbally abused his second wife to the point that she now cannot hear his voice without remembering it calling her “stupid” or a “bitch.”
According to my ex, I was simply “not there” at our wedding reception. The podcast hosts exploded in laughter as he stated I was probably with his friend I later “ran off” with or grinding on the dance floor with other men. The truth is, our wedding night was a nightmare I had blocked from my mind until I saw a particularly poignant scene in the last season of Transparent. In the scene, Sarah is having a panic attack in the bathroom at her own wedding reception. Watching this, I was quickly transported back to the bathroom of my own perfect, expensive, hipster barn reception where my best friend was shoveling pills into my mouth to remedy the worst migraine I had ever experienced. It was crippling. I explained to my new husband what was happening and, as the drinks kept coming, he appeared less concerned with my health and more angry that I wasn’t being his perfect bride. Post reception, we went to the after party where I was promptly ushered into the bathroom by concerned friends. I threw up for a half hour while someone waited for me outside the door, making sure I was okay. The same friend then found my husband, placed our hands together, and said, “She’s your wife now, and you have to take care of her.” I wish I had clung to my friend for dear life that night. My husband’s idea of “taking care of me” was to grab my arm, drag me up to our room, throw me inside and growl, “You have forever ruined this night. I will never forget it.” He then promptly returned to the after party, leaving me crying, alone, and in searing pain until I managed to fall asleep. The next morning, he acted as though nothing happened and everything was fine. This all flooded back to me in stark contrast to his hilarious quips on the podcast about his overly flirtatious wife being with everyone else except him at our wedding.
My wedding night was the beginning of a long set of expectations that were impossible to meet. When they weren’t, the abuse was rampant. Later, I realized they were designed for me to fail so that I would be guilted into taking blame and continue walking on eggshells around him, hoping to please.
One particular evening, at a friends’ wedding, we were having a lovely time until we were one chair shy at our table. My ex had found out someone had taken his chair and instead of simply asking for another, he decided this was yet another assault in a lifelong pattern of people warring against him. An altercation took place with the unassuming stranger and I promptly ushered my ex outside so as not to ruin my friends’ wedding. There, on the streets of Long Island City, I found myself on the receiving end of every insult you could imagine, ending with him sneering, “Fuck you” repeatedly, an inch away from my face. In sheer defense and fear, I slapped him. This would turn the blame back on me for future fights. Nothing could ever be his fault, and he was never wrong. My act of defiance and self-defense came with such awful repercussions that I would not stand up to him again for years to come.
There are many more stories like this, none of which were discussed on the podcast, of course. As I was being painted as a common whore who left her loving husband, all I could think of was my own memories of the abuse. The night he threatened to throw hot soup in my face. The night I was so sick I couldn’t speak, yet I was drunkenly berated for over an hour for not waiting to eat with him after he came home from a bar. Being called “selfish” constantly, though I was working four jobs, supporting him through school. The time I went out with a friend to talk about a tragedy she had just endured only to return home to be called “stupid” repeatedly for not returning texts in a timely manner. His constant attempts at isolating me from my family and friends by saying how awful they were and how poorly they treated me. One night, I confronted him about buying too many drinks and sticking me with the bill. He proceeded to run away, darting into the street, forcing me to chase him in a cab to make sure he was safe. While trying to persuade him to get into the car so I could get us home, he started a fight with a knife wielding homeless man, putting both of us in danger. I had to diffuse the situation and protect him. He would often turn these violent outbursts on himself. When frustrated, he would hit himself in the face, sometimes with objects, sometimes with his own hands, and I would be forced to physically intervene though I was always afraid for my own safety. He knew this caused me immense pain, but he continued this form of abuse when others proved unsuccessful.
In addition, my ex-husband exerted complete control over my work as a songwriter, acting as my manager in order to access every aspect of my life. I laughed along with the podcast hosts as my ex alluded to the fact that I probably cheated on him while touring with my band, but that he wouldn’t have cared because he “understands” that kind of thing happens. This would have been quite impossible as he was physically present every step of the way on tour. Each show, every recording, every writing session, my ex was there, not only giving his input, but completely
disregarding my ideas as inferior to his own. I not only had limited opportunity to cheat on him, I was never allowed any freedom to even entertain the idea. One tour, in particular, I was chastised for not FaceTiming him within 30 minutes of our scheduled phone date. Even when he was not physically present, his control loomed over me.
My ex-husband’s final and most vicious lie on the podcast recounts his version of how his best friend and I ran off together, taking all of our friends with us, leaving him alone and desolate. The truth is, for nearly half a year, our sex life had been in disarray, mainly because my ex had “needs” that I refused to meet. These needs required involving other people. What I had thought was a fantasy slowly devolved into texts and conversations behind my back; invitations to others that I was completely unaware of. In addition to emotional and verbal abuse, my ex would frequently use sex as a weapon. He was so obsessed with sex, in fact, that I later found out he would lie about our sex life to my friends and use it as a tool to degrade and embarrass me. Even across the airwaves, on the podcast, he continues this behavior.
I finally asked for a separation and sought the advice of my family, friends and a mental health professional. The decision was unanimous: I had been through enough, and what I had been through was the term I was avoiding all this time. I had to Google “emotional abuse” to truly grasp what was being done to me. It’s not a common topic of conversation, nor does it leave the identifiable marks of physical abuse. When I asked for a divorce, my ex asked for alimony. The final insult. I traded that for full rights to everything I had ever written and the agreement that we would never speak again.
His version of the divorce is, “…she said she just didn’t want to try anymore.”
My version is this: I tried to change his behavior, then I tried to change myself to stop his behavior. Neither worked. You cannot change the people who abuse you. They lack the emotional tools that should prevent them from abusing you in the first place. You can only recognize it and then survive by whatever means possible. I left my ex-husband, filed for divorce, and gave him nearly everything we owned plus alimony so I could start my life over. I rented the tiniest apartment in Brooklyn and lived by myself for a year, relying on kickboxing, yoga, therapy, and the support of my family and friends.
At the end of the podcast, to my surprise, my ex actually revealed the truth about one thing. Off-handedly, he mentioned all of our friends abandoned him and supported me during the divorce. The hosts were shocked. How could they have sided with the “cheating wife?” He answered, “Well, you’re getting my side of the story. Maybe I wasn’t the best husband. Maybe I’m just a shitty person.”
After listening to this, my therapist said, “Isn’t that the exact definition of ‘gas lighting’?” Yes, it is. My ex managed to manipulate two people in an interview for a half hour with unbelievable tales of heartbreak and trauma, only to unravel the entire thing with one truthful sentence. Now, they will never be certain whether this is the redemptive ending they desired, or if they just listened to 30 minutes of lies. I was gas lit for eight years, so I empathize with their confusion.
I had been struggling to write a piece like this for quite some time. It’s easy to veil metaphors in song lyrics, not so easy to be completely and truthfully exposed. I held onto many fears: not being believed, being thought of as weak, having people think it was my fault for staying. I
continue to struggle with my self-esteem, but I’m working on it. I continue to strengthen the bonds my ex tried to break between myself and those closest to me. I continue to re-write my story from the perspective of a victim to that of a survivor. It is my greatest hope that someone needing a voice will read this and find one. All we can do is live to tell our story in the hope that it will impact and help others.
I stayed silent for a long time, but hearing my ex-husband brazenly lie on a podcast gave me renewed armor. Buddhism states you should “thank your enemies, for they are your greatest teachers.” While I now know what love is, my ex taught me what love is not. So, thank you, I suppose. But I’m not going to stay silent anymore.
None of us should.