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This is also posted in Share Your Story. The three installments are now posted in order there, and the board is now open to responses, but you may respond either here, or there, if you wish! As always, please heed the trigger warnings above - and thank you in advance for reading! Normal blogs will resume very soon, as my OCD self wanted these installments to be in order, without 'interruptions.' And so, without further ado: Installment Three: After It might make the most sense to say that this third installment began when I opened my eyes on the morning of October 5th in 1996. I’d gone to bed only hours earlier, but still hadn’t slept long. I still felt sore, my head still ached, and my eyes burned whenever I blinked. I needed the bathroom again but remember not wanting to get out of bed just yet. I was in my room, but scanning through all of my familiar surroundings and belongings only made me uneasy and made everything seem ominous. I didn’t know who I was, anymore. Everything that I knew – wasn’t the same. That realization sat with me all through the rest of the weekend, the rest of the month, the rest of the year of 1996. After the week of school that the ‘stomach bug’ caused me to miss, I’d gone back and auto-piloted my way through the rest of the semester. I went to class, sat quietly through lectures. If there was a break in between classes, I would get a meal at the cafeteria and find a quiet place to sit. That was a challenge, but I’d managed. Then, when it was time to go home, I went home and usually retreated into my room, only coming out to eat, drink or to use the shower or bathroom. My father, not a very emotionally present man, didn’t question anything, which I was glad for. My mother was a little more involved, but I’d managed to pull the wool over her eyes, too – something MUCH easier to do when there is minimal contact. I made my best (also minimal) efforts to stay afloat, and by the time 1997 had rolled around, I’d managed to finish my first semester of school with a solid 2.7 GPA. I don’t know if there was pity on the professor’s end, but I probably deserved to flunk at least half of my classes. Everything was half-assed. I did not participate in the in-class discussion, I really couldn’t focus too much on any of the reading without glazing over and eventually throwing the book aside. My papers were shorter than they should have been. Yet, I’m grateful for the C’s and D’s – they simply meant to me that I wouldn’t have to sit through these classes AGAIN! That was just one of many lucky breaks, though. I’d known that moving into my Dad’s house for college would make it very difficult to maintain my now long-distance relationship, but now, there was even more reason to avoid seeing Matt. The shame was too great; I couldn’t help but think of my ‘non-virginity’ whenever I’d see a photo of Matt and I together. His words would repeat in my mind, “we’ll do it on our wedding night, it will be SO special!” First, I wondered if I could hide it, could I just pretend that I still was a virgin? How even would Matt be able to tell? It wasn’t something that would come out in flashing lights…as soon as we’d done it. Everything in my brain, though, told me he would know, and images of him looking at me with disgust – took over. So, my responses to Matt’s emails (daily!) began to falter and shorten. Eventually, he began to ask when he could come see me, and my excuses that I was busy with classes only worked for a little while. He missed me, he said, and wanted to see me. He’d seen me for Christmas the month before, when I’d gone back to Mom’s for the holiday break – there were a couple of brief visits with Matt during my trips home, but I’d definitely been distant, and to avoid kissing him, I’d told him I was either sick, or I’d make sure we were only around a bunch of other people (his family, my family) so that there was NO opportunity for ‘alone time.’ I am sure Matt wondered what the reason was for my being distant, but he’d never pushed, either. In hindsight, I’m not even sure I would have wanted him to. There was some hand-holding, though, which was probably nice for him but uncomfortable for me, especially because of all the remaining guilt I was feeling. I felt unworthy of Matt’s love and affection – holding this HUGE secret. I knew that I needed to break up with him, and just didn’t have the heart to do it. I think, though, it was my hope that HE would be the one to walk away from me. He wasn’t budging, though. Despite my telling Matt not to make the 2.5-hour drive to my father’s house, he still decided to surprise me with a visit. My Dad was out when he showed up, holding flowers. When I’d gotten through with yelling at him for not telling me he was coming, I agreed to go for a drive with him. THAT’s when he pushed. We were eventually parked outside a restaurant and he’d been telling me about his own classes, his friends, his band that they were trying to form. I’d listened, done a lot of nodding, ‘hmm-hmm’s’ and had thrown in a few automated responses of ‘that’s nice.’ “Okay…what’s wrong?” He finally said. I PROBABLY could have broken down and told my boyfriend what had happened just a few short months earlier, but at that very moment, I literally SAW the walls rise up. It wasn’t safe. It was dangerous. Matt, who had NEVER raised his voice to me, NEVER touched me in any way that was not gentle, NEVER had gotten angry with me – Matt, the saint – now scared the hell out of me. It made NO sense, whatsoever, to want to run away from him, but I did. I think I remember vaguely, my hand clasping the car door handle when he began to say he’d noticed a change in me. I don’t even remember the half of it, even though the words and memories swirled…. I was caught completely off guard when Matt’s lips covered mine – it was one of those unexpected last-ditch effort at romance, I think – kinda like in one of those old films when the man grabs the woman and plants one on her in the heat of the moment. While I might have appreciated the sneak-attack kiss months earlier when Matt was the one who was keeping a distance, it didn’t sit well with me at the moment, and I shoved him away almost as quickly as the kiss had come on. He backed off, stunned, and just stared at me. And that’s when I told an incredulous Matt, without making eye contact, that I just didn’t love him anymore and that we needed to break up. Through the corner of my eye, though, I could see his heart break into a million pieces. He stared at me for at least a minute, which seemed more like several, before he began to plead. He asked me to look at him, which I couldn’t. He asked what he’d done – I couldn’t think of a single thing that he’d done wrong, but at the same time, I couldn’t explain that this wasn’t about him at all. I provided one-word answers, mostly, and let him bawl, I let him take my hand, thinking momentarily that maybe, just maybe, this could be fixed? Maybe the truth wouldn’t be as bad as I thought it would be – but still couldn’t get past the notion that it STILL might be seen as a betrayal. I’d already said what was hard enough to build up to saying, and there was no turning back, now. I finally asked him to take me back to my Dad’s house, and he put the car in gear and drove. He declined to come in when we got back to the house, and instead sped off – likely heading back home. I went inside, sat down, and cried, tears of relief, tears of shame, tears of self-hatred for having done what I’d done. Matt hadn’t deserved any of that. And here, I’d done a horrible thing and had sent him home upset – I HAD told him to let me know when he got home but was sure he’d be too angry to. I understood that, too, and was surprised to actually receive an email later on that evening – an email that I left unanswered because there had been more pleading, more ‘talk to me’s’ and more questions I couldn’t answer truthfully. I responded a few days later, with ‘glad you made it home safely, will talk to you soon.’ I gave him no hopes of us reconciling. Matt was too good for me, he deserved so much better than me. Eventually, he stopped emailing, and our breakup sank in – and the next time I’d see Matt was by running into him at Party City years later, where he and his fiancée were picking up their wedding invitations. I had my son in tow as I walked in, needing to buy paper products for a party his pre-kindergarten class was having. We’d locked eyes after not seeing each other for nearly a decade, and we’d exchanged a very, VERY awkward ‘oh, hi!’ before walking away from each other. No conversation. Perhaps it would have been different if we were both alone. There was a sigh of relief, I must say, for it was nice to see that Matt had found love again. At this point, I was married too, but my original plan (as well as Matt’s, as we were supposed to have married each other!) had been unfairly foiled. I still resented myself for not having been able to salvage what Matt and I had, but knowing that he’d found someone that he was soon to marry was relieving. At least he was happy. But was I happy? At the time, no. Probably not. I had a husband, three children (the youngest of the three being ours) that I was raising, a part-time job and a whole lot of baggage that LOVED to resurface from time to time. It was day-to-day, there were smiles whenever one of the kids did something wonderful, or during the occasional times my husband would smile…but genuine happiness? That remained a foreign concept. I suppose I should talk about the ‘BH’ (before husband) time period, though, before I delve into the rest of the issues that hold significance. It just seemed to make more sense to discuss Matt, first, as he was my first failed relationship, and the first example of what unreasonable decisions that the after-effects of trauma can drive a person to make. Although Matt’s and my breakup was my decision, it was a choice I’d made without fully considering what it all meant for me. Matt had been my anchor; the guy I’d been saving myself for. My not being able to tell him the truth (about how it had been TAKEN from me and that I’d not given it willingly) was a weak moment, built on fear – and moments like this are built up on even further as time goes on. One weak moment triggers the next. I don’t have any other explanation for the shameful subsequent behaviors that I’m going to be sharing next. Before I get into that, it should be noted that I felt, in a way, freed of my promise to Matt. There was nothing left to save, nothing holding me back, anymore, to the idea that Matt was my one and only. I wasn’t a virgin, anymore, and I’d had sex. The adult version of me can certainly say that virginity was MUCH more than physical; but the eighteen-year-old version of myself wasn’t able to form that conclusion. So, now that I was no longer ‘pure,’ a new perception of myself was born; a self-image that although inaccurate, proved to be the driving force behind the poor choices I’d make next. The men (I guess I can call them all ‘men’ as they, as well as I, were all over the age of 18 and considered ‘adults’) started out being close to my age, if not a year or two older than me. It was 1997, now, and it was around the time when AOL (America Online) was the hottest new thing. The internet, the world wide web, dial-up connecting with that familiar high-pitched screech at the end - was all brand-new, very exciting, and ALL people talked about. I was introduced to chat rooms rather quickly, mostly because I had a clunky desktop computer that my father had given to me for school use, and for some reason, the internet (by 'internet,' I mean primarily the world wide web 'searches') never worked properly for me. I got to exploring one evening and discovered that there were so many OTHER benefits to AOL than simply the ‘You’ve Got Mail!’ announcement upon log-in, and surfing the information superhighway – I don’t think I even knew how to do this until later. For the most part, my online visits were used for the purpose of sending emails back and forth, and for browsing the chat rooms that were themed. There was a teen chat, location-based chats, and, I was shocked to see, a Rape Survivors chat. When it came to the latter chat, I kept a distance for a while. I’d go in but for the most part, I’d just sit and observe. These were the days when instant messaging was insanely popular, and there were many, many conversations with men who were, sadly, visiting the chat room for the wrong reasons. I did very much want to share my story, to talk, to speak with someone who could relate, but AOL’s chat rooms were NOT monitored, and the members were WAY out of control. Questions were rude, and very few people actually spoke IN the chat room. Instead, everyone was pinging each other privately, asking for sordid details and hoping to ‘hook up.’ Each room held about 28 people at a time, and of the 28, perhaps a small handful were actually survivors. The rest, I believe now, were voyeurs or simply people who were curious or got their jollies from hearing of others’ pain or horror stories. As an adult, I know and understand now that people like this exist – but being an 18-year-old who wanted so much to talk, to make connections, to be listened to – it didn’t matter who a person was or what their curiosities were based upon. They were there, they were listening, and responding to me. See, offline, I had nobody to talk to. My parents remained oblivious, the very few friends I had in my classes only really knew the ‘me’ I was post-rape – so they really didn’t notice any ‘changes’ in me. In a way, it was nice to not have to explain what had become different. At that point in time, moving forward was important, and leaving things in the past, where they would be forgotten. (Yes, we can laugh at that thought – it wasn’t until much later that I’d realize that this kind of thing wasn’t able to be forgotten!) Now, I’m not saying everyone was like that. I’ve met and still am in contact with some very genuine people – people I’ve known for that long. Those were the lasting friendships. But while there are lasting friendships, there were other lasting impressions made, although not favorable ones. My first consensual encounter was with another deaf guy. It wasn’t even a good experience – it was more memorable simply because it was the first time I’d said ‘yes.’ And I remember thinking when it was over – wait, THIS was what all the hype was about???? Not only was it a little physically painful (whether it was due to body memories, or simply inexperience) but it was also over in seconds. And that night, I said to myself, ‘I’m not a virgin anymore.’ I guess there was more expectation of losing virginity than what I was seeing, though. Pre-trauma, I’d heard sex was supposed to bring pleasure. It was supposed to be special. It was supposed to be something people LIKED to do, something that kept people going for more. It was what my friends, (at least, the very few friends I had at the time) talked about doing with their boyfriends. All I had to show (or tell) for it was a ten-second experience that left me overall unimpressed and unsatisfied. It’d not occurred to me that this was something I had to build up to, something I had to be comfortable with in order for it to work – not now and not at this time. Instead, I became increasingly convinced that there was something wrong with me, and it had to be fixed. I continued to sign into AOL and to enter chat rooms. It was more so for the connections and wasn’t really for the purpose of finding in-person companionship, but I still got asked on dates by men in the location-based chat rooms. One was a boyfriend for about a month, before he decided that there was someone else he wanted to date. In hindsight, I recall seeing that as a rejection because I likely wasn’t an exciting date. Yes, there was sex, but there was also that inability of mine to invest emotionally. I wasn’t finding pleasure there, either. I guess there was MORE expected of me than sex, especially with someone who was a potential boyfriend, and relationship-wise, I just wasn’t measuring up to HIS expectation. Our breakup was quick, he was distant for a while and eventually sent me an email saying he wanted to remain friends. There was a lax ‘okay, that’s fine,’ response, and I never saw him again. I did eventually (MANY years later) Facebook-search him and saw he’d settled down with a girl who LOOKED as if she were more into him than I ever was. There was love in her eyes, there was joy. There had been NONE of that in mine when we’d dated. Oh, how could I blame him for turning elsewhere? Honestly, maybe that was the problem. Emotionally, my heart perhaps still belonged to Matt – or it possibly just didn’t belong to anyone. It makes sense to assume it was just being kept to myself, it was chained up, and to solidify it, there was a brick wall in front of it. I’m sure this was another after-effect of the rape – but it wasn’t something I was working on at the moment, either. Not with therapy, not with counseling, nothing beyond browsing the self-help section at the bookstore because I’d heard ‘The Courage To Heal’ workbook was worth buying. I had a block in place when it came to interacting with others about my trauma and my reasons behind this particular wall – because I simply didn’t want to, I didn’t want to have to un-barricade my heart and make it privy to being broken again. And so, I chose to just not care, moving forward. I made horrible choices. I didn’t care about my personal safety. I met man after man online, and I’d end up meeting and sleeping with most of them. They weren’t in it for the emotional connection. They just wanted sex. And being that I was avoiding emotional attachments at the time, I usually obliged – even if one seemed to want a date first – we’d almost always end up in bed, in a hotel room, in the back seat of a car, and it was the same thing, every time. They’d initiate sexual activity, and I’d allow it to go as far as they wished. I didn’t care if they used condoms, I didn’t ask them to. Most times, they did, but sometimes they didn’t. I didn’t stop to consider STDs, pregnancy, none of those things mattered. I wanted to feel SOMETHING, even if it was occasional pain. It was all a part of my self-destructive plan. I felt numb during the actual sexual activity – there was a bit of shame after the fact, but it wasn’t enough to make me cease behaviors. It instead fed into my desire to feel something…ANYTHING…even if it wasn’t favorable. Over time, my depression got deeper and my behaviors became more risky. I drank heavily, with the goal of being too drunk to feel anything afterwards, should things become physical. It was now an expectation, for all of these random men (and women) were the opposite of Matt and always were ready to go. Perhaps I wasn’t admitting it to myself, but I would secretly hope one of these several partners of mine would finish the job that my rapist seemed to have started. The job of just ending my life. In a way, they were, I was just dying slower than I wanted to. The guy who was into bondage…would he just kill me when he was done? The older, fifty-something car salesman – would he take his enjoyment of rough sex a little further and finish with snapping my neck? The sex itself wasn’t painful most of the time – and even if something were being done that I didn’t especially enjoy, I still kept my mouth shut and allowed them to finish, to satisfy themselves. There were a couple of ‘generous’ partners who wanted to reciprocate, and I’d end up faking it because it wasn’t happening for me, and I was honestly ready for it to be finished. Truthfully, when they were done, I’d be too disappointed that I was still alive and feeling no satisfaction. Just more numbness, more shame, more self-disgust. And these feelings were what drove me down a very dark path consisting of self-injury and more recklessness. I wasn’t in a safe place with all of these thoughts – and it scared me to realize that I’d be disappointed time after time again when none of these men wanted to kill me – they were GETTING what they wanted, which was an easy lay. I was getting absolutely nothing. Yet, the behavior continued – I’d meet people, we’d hook up, and 95% of the time, there would be a sexual encounter. Not all of them were the same, but I’m fairly positive that some were questionable as far as consent was involved, but because I wasn’t the one to initiate, I was also the one who never actually said ‘no,’ either. When things didn’t feel right, I still allowed them to happen. There was almost ALWAYS that memory of what had happened the last time I DID say ‘no.’ It wouldn’t be until MUCH later in life that I’d understand that being silent doesn’t equal consent. At this time, though, I viewed my actually being there, in whatever situation it was, and willingly – as consent. It didn’t matter if it started out comfortable and finished with my feeling the need to hurt myself in some way in the near future – I was there, and I’d let it all happen. It was very, VERY rarely that any of my partners would stop and ask me if I was okay – most all of them were simply too caught up in the moment. This was behavior I was used to when the wasband (if you’re a follower of my blogs, you know that this is how I refer to my ex-husband) entered my life for the first time. He was 29, I was 20. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend who knew a little bit of my depression – she realized that he and I lived 20 minutes away from each other and thought that since he was a police officer, he would be a good resource and someone who could find me ‘help.’ We talked online for several weeks before agreeing to meet. He’d been told of my self-injury tendencies (by our mutual friend) and he did know a little bit more about my past by the time we’d planned to meet at a small corner diner near where he worked. The plan was to have dinner and get to know each other. I remember the first time seeing him – he was pudgy, had a rounded, boyish face, he had hair on his head – although thinning. He was in the middle of a separation with his wife. He had a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, that I wouldn’t meet until a bit later. I’m not even sure what it was about him when we first met. He wasn’t without flaws, but then again – neither was I. He was a heavy smoker, something that I KNEW my father would despise. By this point in my life, I’d tried occasional cigarette smoking and never really liked it enough to form a habit. He listened. He talked to me. He didn’t judge anything. He would notice the scratches, bruises, burns on my arms, and ask about them. In a way, it’s a good thing that our mutual friend had supplied him with some background information – I don’t think I could ever FULLY explain to a non-survivor the reasons behind these self-inflicted injuries. He seemed to understand, though, and eventually disclosed that he, too, was a survivor – not of sexual abuse, but of neglect and physical abuse at the hands of his parents. His mother was a drug user. His father was both into drugs and alcohol, and the wasband had left home at the tender age of 15 – he’d moved in with a grandparent and then straight after High School, he’d joined the army. He was someone with a tough façade, but, for a while, (likely for as long as we were still in the ‘dating stages,’) his interior was smooshy. He held my hand when we went for walks, he was gentle, he was kind. He didn’t judge me for any of the marks I’d made on myself. And I think this is what made some of those walls begin to lower – but he was the very first man (since Matt) who held my hands in his and asked my permission to kiss me. I granted him permission, and from that point on, he asked for permission to proceed any further. We didn’t sleep together right away – it wasn’t until we’d been seeing one another for at least a month. This was new to me. While I was ‘getting to know’ the wasband, I had stopped entering chat rooms. I would just talk to him, day in and day out – while he was at work and I was in school, I’d write him letters to give him when I saw him, even if it was going to be later that same day. He became someone I looked forward to seeing, connecting with, sharing with. Kissing. I was starting to enjoy it. I was feeling something. Physically, also, there was a connection that I’d not felt before – not even with Matt, because I’d simply not gotten that far with Matt. While I’d gotten that far (and sometimes further, if that’s even possible) with complete strangers, this was all new to me – this was with someone who seemingly WANTED for me to feel safe with him. He took things slowly, he took his time, he was patient when I needed to stop. It’s possible that what I was feeling wasn’t accurate, though. Because I was now dating the wasband, I was no longer ‘hooking up’ with anybody else. I wasn’t putting myself into risky situations any longer. I was now with ONE guy, who seemingly cared about me, about how I felt. There was no longer a need to find these things elsewhere – it felt NICE to gain this sense of security that I’d never felt before. Then he proposed – we were out for coffee – at a coffee shop that no longer exists today. He presented me with a ring – and asked me to be his wife. I accepted immediately. I’m not sure if it was love, though, that prompted me to say yes – perhaps it was the idea of prolonged security – a safer path to be on than the one I PROBABLY would end up back on if this didn’t work out. And it wasn’t a bad alternative path, not at this point. Here was a guy who seemed to genuinely care about me – a guy who was considerate, a guy who had his own faults that I knew I could accept….he was, after all, accepting of mine. It meant I would become a step-mother. I’d met his children at this point and had such love for them, for spending time with him and the two of them. Despite my mother’s hissy fit when she learned of my plans to move in with him, I left home at 20. She’d never liked the wasband. At least, not in the beginning. “He’s been married before,” she’d say, “why did he break up with his first wife? What went wrong?” (I’d not be able to truthfully answer this until MUCH later, but these were questions my mother had thrown at me, since the day I came home with the announcement that we’d gotten engaged.) I told her that I loved him and was moving on with my plans to live with and marry him. Shortly after moving in with him into his apartment and going to school from a new ‘home,’ things began to change. The changes were slow and gradual, though – in ways that were too minuscule to really make a big deal out of, and I was not seeing the waving red flags. First, it was the small things – he’d take notice of the fact that I didn’t really know how to make coffee. Or how to do laundry. My parents had always done those things, I’d never been on my own. He’d already been married once, had experienced married life once – he’d had a partner in which to run a household, parent children with – things I had absolutely NO experience in. I seriously lacked in life skills – but what I DID have, though, was credit. His debt piled up on MY credit cards, from the very beginning. There was always the promise that he’d pay this bill when he got paid, that one next month, etc. I didn’t think much of it, because really, they were for US. For things we needed. Food, stuff for the apartment, clothes, gas, etc. I paid no attention to the charges – as long as there was a ring on my finger, whatever was mine was his, too. His responsibilities were now also mine – and I thought nothing of putting things onto my credit cards. This, in hindsight, was another HUGE mistake, as it made me file bankruptcy before I was 25. There was one day he’d asked me to wash one of his shirts for work – and I’d had to admit that I didn’t know how. Not one of my finer moments, no, but the look on his face then, DID make me feel about two inches tall. But then we’d both gone down to the laundry room and he’d shown me how to operate the machines – how much change to use, how much detergent, the works. But, now, this became MY job. I did ALL of the laundry, from that point on. I was to ensure he had clean shirts for work – if he didn’t have one, it was my fault. There were times he’d say he loved me, but it still felt as if we were worlds apart – he’d experienced so much more in the course of his nearly 30 years – he’d seen combat and I’d only seen the inside of a classroom. He’d been married before, had children – I’d just left my parents’ house. There were no deal-breakers at this point but it was clear he wanted me to step up, to step in where his first wife had failed to do so. He wanted me to grow up, wanted me to skip ahead, catch up, be where he was in life. He didn’t say so using exact words, but there were little actions of his – little looks, little comments. Including one day, when I’d just gotten out of the shower, “I’d like to have a child with you, soon.” Make no mistake about this – our son was NOT unwanted. He was perhaps rushed, but never unwanted. I was still in school, with two years or so to go – and when the wasband had mentioned having a baby, there WAS a part of me that felt that although I DID want my own child one day, if I didn’t agree to it now, it would become something else that he would view as further resistance toward the life he wanted me to share with him. We were already engaged to be married – there was already commitment, there was job security on his part, there was no real reason not to agree to having a child with him – at least not one good enough to present to him. It would make him happy, after all. He’d said he would let me think about it, and there were a few more sexual encounters in between my ‘nod.’ See, it hadn’t been discussed beyond that day in the bathroom, I’d not thought about what having a child at 21 would mean for me – I thought nothing other than how happy it would make him. I didn’t think I’d be entirely unhappy with having my own child, either. I’d worry about being a mother – I was already becoming a stepmother, but being a mother to my own biological child was a terrifying thought. It was a thought, though, that I was sure plenty of other women shared, at least, until they had their first baby. There were also thoughts of what any baby the wasband and I made together would look like…and that was admittedly nice. Girl or boy? Maybe they’d have his blond hair? Maybe they’d have my freckles. He already had an adorable little girl who looked just like him – and son….would our child look like his or her siblings?? So, that night in October, he’d paused during an intimate moment – a sign that he was ready to finish - and I knew. He was again, asking permission. I didn’t want to spend too much more time over-thinking, over-analyzing, so I gave the nod. When we were finished, he kissed me, and said, “you’re pregnant.” I don’t remember saying anything. I do remember thinking, though – HOW? Was it really this easy? I didn’t know too much about my ovulation cycle at all – I’d also had a LOT of sex – although mostly protected, there was ALWAYS that possibility that it hadn’t worked. Maybe this, too, would take a little time? I did already know from hearing others talk, that sometimes it took a while…maybe this, too, would take several tries? But, sure enough, I WAS pregnant. Whether it was that night, or the within the few times afterwards, I conceived VERY quickly. The wasband, to this day, jokes that our son was a ‘one shot, one kill’ deal. At the time I’m writing this, he’s fathered five, in total. Perhaps there are others from his military era – but there are currently five biological children that we know of. My mother, several years later, would joke that the wasband could get a piece of furniture pregnant. And if furniture could reproduce – that would be true. Our son was born in 2000 and instantly became the love of my life. Any doubts I’d had before – gone. The Son, however, was NOT an easy baby and challenged me in every single way – he was colicky, he had a lactose intolerance, he had to be in my arms CONSTANTLY, which was never an issue for me as much as it was for the wasband – I loved holding my child. This perfect little extension of the wasband and me. He had soft golden hair, beautiful brown eyes, rosy cheeks, tiny little lips and ears that stuck out in an adorable Yoda-like way. He was most peaceful whenever sleeping, and I could stare at this image of perfection for hours on end. Sleep was already hard for me, but now even harder, as the Son VERY rarely slept when he was not in my arms. MANY nights were spent in our living room recliner – for any time a transfer from the arms to the crib was attempted, he’d wake up and scream for the next amount of time it took to get him back to sleep. I was sleep deprived fairly soon – and there was absolutely NO help from the wasband during the day – he worked within walking distance from the house, but rarely came home for lunch. My days were spent tending to not just our son, but also to his daughter and son from wife #1. They needed picking up and dropping off from school. The stepdaughter was sick EVERY other week – it was like clockwork and continued until she was eleven and had her tonsils removed. But she needed to frequently be picked up and brought to the pediatrician, with both boys usually in tow. Their mother usually wasn’t able to take them to the doctor, which, to this day, STILL irritates me – it was enough that my husband was expecting me to take care of his children in his absence, but you’d think that the real mother of these kids would step up whenever needed – especially since I now had an infant. I made the mistake of complaining to the wasband ONCE when the stepdaughter needed to be brought to the doctor in the middle of the day and the baby was napping – it was actually more of a vent than anything, but something to the tune of, ‘why can’t her mother take her?’ I was now ‘lazy.’ I’m sure he had more reasons built up to call me lazy. Time went on and raising three children who had NO concept of tidiness, the housework piled up. The laundry was delayed. Dinner was NEVER ready when he got home. We were now married – we’d tied the knot when the Son was nine months old. I was a horrible wife when it came to keeping everything running smoothly. I was in my very early 20s, and EXHAUSTED. I was ending up doing emergency loads of laundry in the middle of the night, with the Son, who still wasn’t sleeping like a normal child, in the Snuggli thingy that you wear on your torso. You know what they say about exhaustion bringing forth additional stressors, and I was no different. I began to see my husband in a different way than I had a year earlier. Especially when the nightmares, the restless nights, the stray memories started up, again – likely around my traumaversary-time. He was very rarely kind to me anymore – whether that was because now he viewed me as lazy or it was because he was stressed out, too – either way, he was not the man he used to be. He was more critical than he was pleasant, he would joke around (and not about the typical things worthy of joking around – his jokes were hurtful, mean and of the bullying sort) and when his jokes weren’t taken well, he’d shoot me the look of disgust – why couldn’t I take a joke? I had no sense of humor, I guess, and was constantly made to feel badly about it. My depression sank in again. I gained weight, and this was yet another thing that he would chastise me for. I began to spend more time online again – not for the same purpose of my previous online encounters, of course, but more so for friendship, for conversation where I didn’t have to be judged for whatever I might be feeling. For the kindness that I was no longer receiving at home. For connection, for there was none of that, either. For commonality, for I now felt alone in a house FILLED with people. I was an army of one, the ONLY one who knew what I was dealing with, and the only one who cared, too. Although I was not entirely verbal about these things, a LOT of time was spent within the confines of my own mind, while I tried to balance everything else. The wasband was NOT pleased with my being online, though. He’d read over my shoulder, question me about whomever I was speaking with. I’d made the mistake of telling him that one of the people I was speaking with was also a rape survivor and that we were talking about things that had helped her deal/cope. You WOULD have thought I’d told him I was having an illicit affair. He said some pretty hurtful, disgusting things, and pretty much accused me of everything in the book. “Why are you trying to make other people feel sorry for you?” “Your sharing stuff of such a personal nature can be viewed as an emotional affair.” “Nobody wants to hear about these things.” “These personal things need to stay private. It’s not anyone else’s business.” And my favorite: “You’re supposed to talk to ME about these things. Not strangers.” Okay. Fair enough, on the last one. Yes, perhaps he was the one I needed to go to for support, but he wasn’t providing it. Maybe, though, NOW he would ‘step up’ and into a more actively supportive role? Now that I was seeking it elsewhere? You see, I never shut him out. I WOULD tell him about how I was feeling. I HAD. I’d told him a few things while we were still in our dating stages, and he’d been supportive and kind. The problem here, I think, is that he felt this ‘support’ he had given was a one-time thing. It was not something that should continue beyond the initial giving of support. I should now be over this. I should NOT be letting this consume me, anymore. I should be focused on being his wife, being a mother, our home. To him, it was frustrating that I couldn’t do this easily, and to me, it felt as if I was truly broken because of my inability to ‘move on.’ At one point, I suggested going to a therapist, and he’d made this face – one that my daughter, to this day, calls ‘the Trump face.’ Eyes narrow, lip curled upwards. Even better when he’d say, ‘Therapy??’ and refer to it in a tone that was nothing short of belittling – of both me and of the idea of my taking my issues to a therapist. It was enough to make me decide against it entirely; and further paved the way toward option number three – which was to completely withdraw and self-isolate. I stopped reaching out for support, whether it was online or it was offline. I still maintained ‘platonic’ friendships (people from my bowling league, online friendships) but made sure to keep walls up - it seemed to make him the happiest when I did that. He’d ask how I was doing, and my response, if not ‘fine,’ would be met with the ‘you don’t need therapy, do you?’ I became increasingly miserable, but tried to focus on remaining as engaged with his and my children’s lives as possible. I carried on this way, for years. I ignored whatever uncomfortable triggers might have arose along the way – during everyday life, during the night when the nightmares would revisit, during every October that would come and go, during sex with him, which while it wasn’t forceful, it WAS almost ALWAYS initiated by him, emotionless, and devoid of feeling. He had his ‘bedroom routines,’ that I cared nothing for, but like with anything else I didn’t particularly agree with, it became yet another thing for me to remain silent about – even if it was just for the sake of avoiding an unnecessary argument. He was a man that needed consistency in the bedroom – and while I could honestly go for weeks without sex, this NEVER would have flown for him. I never refused him, though I would feel HORRIBLE afterwards – dirty, disgusting, tainted. It didn’t seem to be the right way to feel after sex with your spouse – but like anything else, I ignored these feelings, too. I chose to keep my mouth shut and shoved ANY negative feelings down almost as quickly as they’d surface, because I felt that if he saw me struggling with any of it, there would be MORE looks of disgust, MORE criticism, MORE comments on why I’d not moved on. MORE reason for him to not see me as the perfect wife he’d THOUGHT I’d be on the night he proposed. There was just NO sparkle in his eyes, anymore. In me, there was only emptiness and a yearning for more, for something that seemed impossible to find. And I’d doomed myself to all of it, I’d chosen to adopt his mindset, even if I didn’t necessarily feel there was anything ‘right’ about it. We had our daughter in 2006. I’d have liked to have her sooner, but after how difficult a baby the son was, the wasband had always said he didn’t want any more children. (Yes, laughable now, that he’s got six – five of his own and one belonging to his current wife!) I’m not sure if he’d sensed my overall unhappiness and that was what changed his mind, but he did eventually ask if we should try again. Thinking this would make a difference; even the smallest bit of a difference, I agreed to it. I DID want more of my own children. Where there was a VERY noticeable void with HIM, there was never one when it came to my son. He had unconditional love, he cared nothing about what I might be struggling with, he’d just climb into my lap and I’d instantly feel comforted. I loved NO ONE as much as I loved him. And the idea of having someone else to love, to nurture, was certainly appealing. I DID want a little girl, and knew that whe opportunity likely wouldn’t present again if I’d passed on it now. It took three months of trying before we conceived the daughter. There were times where he was overly loving and sad to say, it’s likely because I was pregnant. He was more gentle with his words and his touch. He did some stuff around the house, mostly when I’d hit my third trimester. He’d barked at the rest of the kids to clean up their rooms, their toys off the floor so that ‘your mother doesn’t step on them and hurt herself or the baby.’ I knew this change in him was likely temporary – and that what had happened after the son was born, would likely happen again after I’d had the daughter. I was right. The daughter was not as difficult as the son was. She was not colicky, she was fine with being put down into a swing or a rocker, she was content with being placed in front of the television while I went about normal chores. But, now, I had FOUR children and a husband who worked from seven in the morning until five in the evening – and his expectation that I’d have to (flawlessly) hold down the fort, remained the same. With three out of four being school-aged, there was ALWAYS the chance one would have to be picked up, one would be home sick and have to be taken to the doctor’s office, one would forget a science project was due until the NIGHT before…there was absolutely NO help from him when he got home. He’d have his dinner and retreat into the living room and sit in his recliner for the rest of the night. He’d complain (from his chair) that the house was untidy, there were dishes in the sink, dinner wasn’t ready, laundry was piled up, kids’ rooms were a shambles, the floor hadn’t been swept, vacuumed, etc. There was that occasional ‘what did you even DO around here, all day long?’ I’d shoot back, ‘taking care of a baby is a full-time job!’ He’d scoff and rattle off a list of things he’d gotten accomplished before noon – and top it off with, ‘I bust my ass all day long, so when I come home, I want to not have to handle anything at home.’ Yes, he actually thinks that’s how a household is run. That duties are separate. The man goes to work and the woman does everything at home. So, because he works most of the day, (and let’s not forget, he gets MOST of his heavy work done before noon!) anything having to do with the house and with the kids, is on me. Where’s the partnership, here? Are we forgetting that two of these kids aren’t even biologically mine? And don’t get me wrong – I NEVER treated his elder son and daughter any differently than I treated my own. I even LOVED them as if they were my own. Whenever I told anyone about my kids, I never said I had two children – I said had four. There was just ALWAYS a shred of existing resentment, toward him and toward their mother – for not stepping in when things were noticeably overwhelming. Knowing that I was not only taking care of what was REQUIRED for me to take care of, but also going above and beyond that to make sure HIS elder two children had stability and security in their lives, even if it meant compromising my own happiness. What did I want? A thank-you? No. That’s not what I wanted. A little recognition would have been nice, though. I did it all without a complaint. These kids shouldn’t have to suffer because their mother was stupid and and their father preferred for ME to be the more attentive parent. I wouldn’t have minded it so much, either, if he would have just occasionally said, “I appreciate all you do for my kids, for me.” Those words NEVER came. Instead, the criticism came. The put-downs, the consistent mention of where I would fall short. He also NEVER had my back in any of it – he would undermine me – CONSTANTLY – and in front of the kids, too. If I complained that one didn’t clean their room properly, his response would be, ‘that’s where you have to step in and supervise.’ These kids could do NOTHING wrong – it was always MY fault if they didn’t do what they needed to do. Even his eldest, who at the time was 12-13 years old – whenever I complained to him that she wasn’t doing what was asked of her, his response was, I’m too hard on her, I’m not willing to help her. At 13, my mother was NOT helping me clean my room, or perform simple chores. I was doing that, myself, and when asked. My mother did do me an injustice by not making me do my own laundry – but that wasn’t even what he was complaining about. And this was just plain bullshit – I was to drop everything else I had to deal with during the course of a day, and help a pre-teen clean her room? I didn’t make the mess. I shouldn’t have to assist anyone over the age of six in the cleaning and tidying of their bedroom. But I did – and this push was now coming from the man who stated that I had absolutely no life skills? What favors was he now doing his children? His children, who, currently and in present day, now have absolutely no life skills??? (and YES, this includes my two, who, over time, have become lazy slobs!) Rather than things improving with the arrival of our daughter, they seemingly became worse. He’d come home in a cranky mood, EVERY day. There was less frequently a smiling moment. We were both miserable, despite sharing four children, having a (very small and cramped) home and our physical health intact. We rarely spoke to one another, and when he DID speak to me, it was not usually gently. I began to ‘rebel,’ in very small ways. I waited until he left for work in the mornings, and I’d boot up the computer. Again, I felt the need for connection, for friendship, to feel less alone. While I didn’t care too much about what he wanted, as far as reaching out ‘beyond the home,’ I was still careful to NOT allow him to see what I was doing online. My internet browser history was promply deleted as soon as his car pulled into the driveway. Anyone I spoke to through messengers, was informed that my husband could not ‘see’ us speaking, so if it was later in the day, they knew to let me make the first contact. There was absolutely NOTHING inappropriate about my conversations – I was never unfaithful to the wasband. I, however, knew that It would make him angry to learn that I’d 1) started talking about my past trauma again, meaning I wasn’t 'over it,' yet, and 2) it was with people that ‘had no business knowing about my personal life.’ In hindsight, I do wonder if a small part of him feared being pegged as the one who was unreasonable and irrational – but I suppose that’s something I’ll never know the answer to. I knew there was absolutely nothing that I should be ashamed of, but there was always that fear of being MADE to feel as if I were doing him an injustice by spending my time the way I wanted to spend it. I didn’t want him questioning my conversations or online activity – so I made sure to hide it all. It was simply the path of least resistance. While I didn’t fear any physical blowback, should he ever discover how I was spending my days, it was the emotional response that scared me more. My husband NEVER struck me in anger – let that be known. He, however, had a way of battering someone with his words and his often unreasonably strong opinions. Regardless of my ‘rebellion,’ I still tended to my baby/toddler. I balanced the cleaning and childcare and dubbed the half-hour before his arrival home the ‘crunch time’ and would scurry through the house, making it look as if I HAD done some cleaning. It was SIMPLY just a matter of there being clothes on the floor, or stuff on the table that needed to be put away, or a quick sweep of the kitchen floor. I began to put in as much effort as he’d previously said I was. Why not, right? I might as well REALLY be the fat, lazy wife he’d always said I was. It was, in fact, a spring day in 2007 when I found After Silence. I’d been conversing with someone else, a fellow survivor that I’d told the wasband that was a parent of a child with a hearing and speech impairment (because THAT commonality was okay to have) and it was she who provided me the link to AS – saying, ‘try this place.’ I registered an account with AS and began to look around. The interactions between the members, the staff – it all was so wonderful to see. I quickly felt compelled to become a part of all of it. And so, every day, in between feedings, diaper changes, housework and errands, I was browsing AS and making the connections I’d been denied for so many years. As time went on, I felt MUCH less alone and I cared less and less about what he’d think about the whole thing. I carried on with my ‘plan’ and he was none the wiser. I made friends here, and looked forward to spending time on the site. It was a Godsend to me – a home away from home. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he, after a while, came home from work and asked me while I was preparing dinner – ‘what do we have in common other than the kids?’ For the life of me, I couldn’t answer. I thought about it for a full minute, though. We didn’t like the same TV shows. We didn’t share views. Well, we WOULD – mine would be ‘stupid,’ while his was right. Every time. We didn’t see eye to eye on ANYTHING. He might’ve thought we did because whenever there was a heated debate, he’d turn to me and ask, ‘am I wrong?’ and for the sake of avoiding an argument, I’d shake my head in silence. Even if yes, he was wrong. Even if none of it made sense. Even if it meant that something I believed to be right would be dismissed. There was NOTHING in common in the bedroom. He liked things I despised. He was hard, I was too sensitive. When I’d come to the conclusion that the only thing we likely both equally enjoyed were certain foods. “I don’t know,” I finally told him. “I was thinking, maybe we should get a divorce,” he said. I don’t know whether he expected to hear that we REALLY had nothing in common or he’d expected me to surprise him with my answer. “Okay,” I shrugged. Perhaps I’d answered too quickly and surprised us both. Either way, it was an out…and one I needed to take. An opportunity. I’d been imprisoned within this loveless marriage for FAR too long, and I was NOT seeing any ways that this would change. Not anytime soon. He’d never change. He’d remain this horrible bully that I’d grown to despise, despite being married to him. He nodded and retreated into the living room and I sobbed silently as I continued to prepare dinner. Not because I was upset over this marriage ending – but because this, like everything else – was on HIS terms. Although it was best, and I knew it – I still wouldn’t have left him first. I was loyal, to the end. I cried for my children, who loved us both equally…especially the son, whom I knew would take this news especially hard. And he did. Days later, we sat him down and explained to him that Mommy and Daddy were getting a divorce. We were, however, both still going to remain a constant in his life and that he’d be spending an equal amount of time with us both, and that we’d still be ‘together but separate.’ The wasband did most of the talking – I was unable to do much other than nod in agreement. This was all just so surreal. He had become a different man. At first, I suspected he knew he’d been the one to turn my life upside down, and he was the one who was going to be walking away. So when I told him, yet, again, that I wanted to go see a therapist, he surprisingly agreed. ‘Go ahead,’ he said, ‘I think it’s a good idea.’ Two weeks went by. Now that we had a ‘plan,’ he said very little about my therapy, my online activity, or even about the housework not being done. I questioned that, honestly, especially for the first few weeks following his request to get divorced. It all made sense when he casually mentioned that there was a woman that he’d like to begin to get to know. He’d met her online, playing poker. She lived an hour or so away from us, and was a single mother, having just gone through her own divorce. THREE weeks after he’d told me he wanted a divorce, he was wanting my blessing to go see someone else? He did add, ‘If you’re not okay with it, I won’t.’ We hadn’t even gotten OUR paperwork started. I wasn’t okay with it, no, but I wasn’t going to hold him back, either. Especially if it meant he would be around less. And even more especially if he’d been seeing this woman for a little while already. That’s what my gut instinct was telling me – THIS was why he asked me for a divorce. He’d already proven he couldn’t be alone, couldn’t do his own laundry, couldn’t do his own cooking or cleaning. So he’d waited until he had his third wife (she’d eventually become his third wife) lined up before asking me to grant him the divorce. He was going to make sure HE was all set. Of course, if I were to ask him today, he’d deny that. He’d deny ALL of it. Upon my ‘do what you want,’ he began to see her, and spend a lot of time with her. I did put my foot down, though, and made it clear to him that this woman would NOT be meeting my kids – not anytime soon. He agreed, although reluctantly. He would come home after work, spend a few hours with the kids, and then sometimes drive an hour away to where she lived – sometimes he’d spend the night there and go to work from there in the morning. He’d made plans to move out, but eventually realized that he couldn’t afford first, last and security. So he approached me again, and asked if he could stay at home a little bit longer, until he was able to come up with a little extra money for an apartment. As is, he was only ‘home’ a few nights a week. I told him that was fine, but he’d have to sleep on the couch. You’d have thought I told him he had to bathe in his own shit. “I work every day. You’re going to kick me out of my bed and make me sleep on the couch? I’m the one who should be more comfortable.” I looked at him. There he was, again, looking down at me, with that narrow-eyed look of disgust. I was, once again, completely wrong. What I’d said to him was appalling. So, like always, I’d backed down. “Fine,” I told him, “You can sleep in the same bed. But we are NOT having sex.” “Why not?” He smirked. “We’re still married, after all.” I just looked at him for a minute before walking away with no response. For a while, he adhered to my wishes. He’d come home from seeing her, or on nights he wasn’t seeing her, and he’d go to bed on his own, usually after me. I was even more exhausted those days, more so than when I was when I was a teen. I was spending more time on AS, too, for he now no longer asked any questions about what I was doing with my free time. He no longer cared – as long as he was free to do with himself what he wanted. I’d secured a staff position by then, on AS, as a chat room moderator. It was where I spent most days and nights – it was where I felt happiest, most wanted, most needed, most valuable. I was still cautious, especially on the nights that he did come home. I didn’t want him to know much anything about AS, so whenever he was around, I kept my distance from the site. There was that one night when he’d came home late from being out with her. I was already three-quarters of the way asleep. Nearly down for the count, but not enough that I didn’t feel him get into bed as he normally did. Moments later, he was on top of me, and was having sex with me. I didn’t protest, I didn’t say no. I, for the moment, felt that the best course of action was to do nothing. A sense of familiarity sank in. This was the father of my children, we were still legally married, even though he was no longer ‘with’ me. Maybe I WAS being ridiculous, after all. Even though none of this felt right, it felt a little too familiar to be considered wrong. He was not rough, nor did he move to reciprocate – when he was finished, he simply rolled over and went to sleep. The following morning, he had a smile on his face. I want to say this was likely a weekend – for the kids were home, and I remember being in the kitchen. “You know – I can still see us doing what. Ten years from now. Even if we’re with other people.” Again, there were no words. I simply stared at him. I’m not sure if I was expecting him to say he’d made a mistake, that he no longer wanted his other woman, he wanted me – he didn’t want a separation, that he wanted us to go to counseling, to fix this, fix whatever had gone wrong in our marriage. At that point, I’m not sure if I’d have agreed to it, but it was, at least, something to hope for, even in the slightest bit, the morning after sex – something different than what I was getting from him now. But no, here he was, basically saying he wanted his cake, and he wanted to eat it, too. He was now cheating on his mistress – with his wife. Imagine that? When I’d finally managed to ask him what she’d think of it, his response was, ‘she won’t know...she’d kill me if she did know. You won’t tell her, right?’ I sat on that for a couple weeks. He’d not tried again to have sex with me – I think I feigned a period in order to keep him at bay for a few days, but then there was a time where opportunity simply didn’t present, or I’d kept my distance. He was now in the process of LOOKING for an apartment – but likely wasn’t going to find one that would allow for his specific needs – he was a heavy smoker, he wanted his dog with him, his credit was shit, he needed extra space for when the kids came to visit. Although I wanted him gone, so that I could move on with my own life, I still felt that I owed it to the kids to ensure that their father wasn’t homeless. If I were paying anything toward the house, the bills, I certainly had more leverage in order to eject him – but I didn’t have a penny to my name. I had absolutely nothing. There was one additional time when he was in the shower, and called me in. Thinking he needed a towel or toilet paper, I poked my head in asking what he needed. He whipped open the curtain and asked me to join him. Saying no seemed to take too long. I remember staring at him, thinking to myself – what is wrong with him? Doesn’t he SEE that this is wrong? Doesn’t he see what this is doing to me? CLEARLY, I’m not into it and I’d said nothing to allude to wanting any of it to continue. But – the words did escape my lips – somehow. “No. I can’t.” With that, I left him in the bathroom and locked the door from the inside behind me so that I couldn’t get back in, should he call me again. I then went and tended to the kids – half proud of myself for having done what I did, and half terrified. Was he going to yell at me, was he going to verbally harass me for having told him no? In the eight years we’d been married, I NEVER told him ‘no.’ Never. Whatever he wanted, I agreed to. Whatever he asked, I did without question. Whatever he believed, even if it seemed a bit unreasonable, I said I believed, too – even if I didn’t. I didn’t want him angry with me, I didn’t want there to be an argument, I didn’t want him to continue to tell me how lazy or stupid or fat or otherwise undesirable I was. Imagine my surprise when he came out, fully dressed, and pulled me aside. He leaned in and said, “thanks for keeping me honest.” Another silent nod on my part. I’m glad to say he never again approached me for sex. While this was a good thing, it was also VERY damaging – and I’ll explain why. You see – it was the one time that I had the nerve to say no to him. A time where it WOULD have been easier, although equally as damaging, to give in and do whatever it was that he was asking. And now he was okay with my response? He wasn’t going to treat this like any of the other arguments we’d had in the past, and resort to nastiness and belittlement? Were all of the past issues I’d had with him – now my fault? Had I said no to him in the beginning, would I still be in this position? Would a ‘no’ any other time have been listened to, as this one was? What about that other night? Would he have stopped if I said ‘no’ to him? Was ALL of this entirely my doing?? The mind is a relentless, vicious machine when it wants to be – and for a while, I allowed it to continue to run, to allow myself to self-blame, rather than shut it down. He was still living at home, I didn’t feel safe enough to ‘shut down’ this machine, yet. And so, I carried on as I normally would, while he began to spend less and less time at home. Around this time, was when J entered my life. You all know J from my previous posts, my blogs. She’s my better half, my best friend, my lover, the one I trust the most, the one who is my everything. And at the time of this posting, she is my partner of ten years. I had met her here on AS – and we were friends first and foremost. After talking with her daily for a while, I realized how much we had in common. There was much more to our friendship, and we were both beginning to slowly realize it. I’d never been with someone who had similar trauma in her past. There was a connection here that I’d never felt before. I found myself talking about things I’d never discussed before – and felt safe doing so. This, too, was new. I felt understood, I felt validated. I did worry about what the wasband would say when I found myself becoming attracted to her – but surprisingly, he said nothing negative…unless you count, ‘you were always a lesbian,’ negative. He instead smiled, and said, ‘it is what it is.’ Granted, it was probably because he now had his new woman, and was glad to see me considering ‘moving on.’ And, so, I did. I suppose there’s more to the story relating to my marriage and after it ended, but I’ve now reached the point where fast-forwarding is a little bit easier. Perhaps installment three will be due a re-do in a few years from now (or 12?) but, for now, there SEEMS to be further processing to do. I thought I'd be finished at the end of this installment, but as I sit here day after day, I'm realizing that it's not as easy to reflect upon these things, and my writing is not as 'flowy' as the previous two installments. I am getting stuck more often than I want to, and I'm feeling more need to put it away. In the beginning, I was putting this away for days. Now, I've realized that I've put it away for weeks - and if I don't finish it now, it'll likely be forgotten for another decade. To summarize what I've been up to lately: I’ve restarted therapy, after several years, as there are now things that have come up more recently for me – things I know I’ve not had the time or even the desire to deal with. At least, properly. I know that I’ve recognized that I am a victim of not only CSA and of rape – but also of domestic violence. I’d always thought of DV as the beatings, the punching, the broken bones, the visits to the hospital…this is not what was happening to me. My ex’s abuse of me was not physical – it was emotional. It was verbal. It was mental. Before returning to AS after a lengthy hiatus, I didn’t even KNOW what gaslighting was. I do now, because that was, also, what happened. This realization has floored me - because I'd been so blind to it. All of it. I've come to realize that I'm not completely free of his grasp; of his influence. There IS still difficulty saying ‘no' to him. There is still that fear of letting others in – because that was once not allowed, or acceptable. I am not, by any means, where I want to be. Not yet. In some ways, not all of the puppet strings have successfully been severed and I'd be lying if I said I was 'healed' from this. Safe to say, though, that this is a healing process that I've restarted and have been diligently working on, especially recently. I'm starting school one week from today - after taking a 20-year-long vacation...a break that HE encouraged me to prolong. I can't entirely blame this on him as I did agree to have our son and the desire to go back never really presented itself - but even after I'd married him and born him children, he'd made sure I was too busy to focus on anything other than him, the house, the kids. I never came first. It NEVER mattered what I wanted - THIS was my purpose in life. I was secondary to everyone else, and I believed that this is how it should be. I don't believe it, anymore, though. Going back to school is just one of the first steps toward my getting to where I want and need to be. I think it is safe to say that I am where I am now because of the events of the previous installments, and that recognizing this has been yet another step in the right direction. I don't know where I'll be in three years, and I know that question has been asked...but I CAN say that I am a little closer to answering that than I was a year ago. So, perhaps, this is why I should end on the note that I’m still healing, and why I must admit that I still have quite a bit of work to do. But for now – I want this to be where installment three ends – and hopefully there won’t be a fourth installment to write, but instead a more confident ending could be added to this one. Let's just say, for argument's sake, that my next installment is simply yet to be lived and experienced. And it'll all be shared via blogs! In closing, I'd like to thank you all for reading each of these installments. I've unlocked this board to responses, and do hope to hear from anyone that can relate, that understands, that can validate who I am, and the reasons for being who I am. I am sending my love to each and every one of you - I've so much appreciation for those who choose to walk this path alongside me. There is indeed strength in numbers. I believe this, 100%. - Capulet