On Locks

I stopped locking the door after I left my husband. I was living in the house alone with our small son and our little dog, and I stopped locking the door. This behavior seemed counterintuitive, I know. The counselor at the domestic violence shelter told me to change the locks, but for some reason that I couldn’t explain to myself, I felt safer without the locks at all.

I told myself that it was because I was now fearless, that it was because the worst had already happened to me, that if a robber came into my home and attacked me, I would either survive or I would die, and what was the difference?

In the past years, I have told myself many things to explain away the mysteries of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The elusiveness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is that it doesn’t always make itself apparent. It’s not always obvious that a certain behavior comes from the disorder and not from reality. Sometimes, it’s difficult to separate illusion from reality.

I left my locks unlocked because, for some reason, that behavior gave me the illusion of feeling safe.

But safety isn’t a feeling. Safety is a state of being, and by giving myself the feeling of safety, I was actually creating a state of being that was unsafe.

Last night, I was working in this workbook on healing the trauma of domestic violence. Outside of my therapist and my friends, it has been the best resource for my continued recovery. I was reading a section on being rational–on perceived vs. real safety–and the authors used an example of two women in a battered women’s shelter. One woman only felt safe with the door locked because a man had broken into her apartment and sexually assaulted her. Another woman only felt safe with the door unlocked. Can you guess what had happened to that woman who only felt safe with the door unlocked?

She was severely beaten as she tried to get out of her apartment but couldn’t escape because the door was locked.

I am crying as I type this because that is what happened to me too. It happened so many times.

The thud of the lock slipping into place meant that I was trapped.

And, so, for the past year and a half, I have been leaving my door unlocked because it made me feel safer. Because like so many women, for so many years, it was what was inside the house that was dangerous.

I remember locking myself in the bathroom during his rages. He had a bobby pin that he had bent to pick the lock. I knew I was only buying myself time by barricading myself in the bathroom. I would sit with my back to the door, my feet propped against the sink, and hear the click of the lock when he connected with the pin. Then the banging would begin. He would shove himself against the door. If I used my legs, I could hold out for maybe a minute or so, but then, because he was skinny but strong, he would always break through. My body would slide to the side. The door would open.

And there he was.

He left that bobby pin resting on top of the door frame. When I would go to the bathroom–even on a good day–always, that bobby pin looked down on me from its watchtower above the door. Like a sentry letting me know that there was no safe place.

It is the unknowable that makes things so hard, that reaches out and grabs me in moments I don’t expect. The sight of a bobby pin, my heart accelerates. The sound of a lock, I want to throw up.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night afraid. “What if someone breaks in?” I thought. This was a rational fear, not likely, but rational. I had left the door open again, even after reading the chapter in my workbook.

It was time for me to realize the danger was no longer inside of my home. I got up and locked the door. The sound of the lock slipping into place brought relief.

On Regrets

I kissed another man when I was dating my husband. He was a man who I had seen around town many times. I thought he was handsome. He had eyes that gave me shivers, and he looked at me in a way that made me feel special. I had been dating Caleb for a few months, and we had decided that we would not date other people, but Caleb was at his sister’s wedding in West Virginia, and I went out with my friends. I saw that man, and he looked at me in the same way, but this time, he came over and said hello. We talked for a long time, and I said nothing about Caleb.

I let him walk me home. I let him come inside my apartment. We listened to Bright Eyes on my stereo and talked for an hour, then he kissed me. I had wanted that moment for so long, and suddenly, it was happening, but the time was no longer right. I pulled away and told him that I was sorry, but I was seeing someone. He was so kind. He said that he appreciated my honesty, that he wished he had approached me sooner. He then told me that relationships don’t always last forever, and if mine didn’t, he hoped I would call him.

My relationship didn’t last forever, but it lasted too long for me to call that man. And I regret that. I regret that missed opportunity.

I have so many regrets.

I regret picking my husband up from the airport the next day. I regret telling him about the kiss. I wanted to be honest. I made myself vulnerable, and he forgave me, but what I didn’t know was that he was forgiving because, while he was in West Virginia, he had been having sex with another woman. He did not tell me about this woman, and he did not tell her about me. He also had sex with many other women while we were together, but he did not tell me that either.

I regret not being smarter when he told me that, while on a drunken road trip to Nevada with a friend who was a married man, Caleb had taken a “tour” of a brothel while his friend disappeared into another room with a prostitute. Later, while hanging out with some of his friends, one of them asked me if I knew about the brothel, and I said that it was fine, that he had just taken a tour. I regret not knowing what their silence meant. I regret not knowing why they were looking at each other as though they felt sorry for me.

I regret that, when my best friend came to me and said that one of Caleb’s professors had told her he didn’t think I should marry Caleb, I didn’t listen. The professor thought that I didn’t know Caleb. He thought that Caleb was misrepresenting himself to me. He was right, but I chose to believe Caleb over the professor, and I regret that.

I regret pushing Caleb to tell me the truth when the sick feeling in my gut started to overwhelm me. I regret pushing him to tell me the truth because he did, but he didn’t tell me all of it. He only told me bits and pieces of the truth, and I was left trying to piece together the rest of the puzzle. I was going slowly crazy, so I regret ever seeking the truth. I still don’t have it, but I have all of that pain of trying to find it.

I regret asking him for the truth because that pressure is what made him crack. When I started to see the real Caleb, instead of the Caleb he wanted to be, he cracked. And he hated himself. And he hated me. And maybe hitting me was the only thing that made him feel better. When the lies started to unravel, the blows started.

I regret staying with him when he made all of his promises–when he went to Sex Addicts Anonymous (that wasn’t the problem), when he went to Alcoholics Anonymous (that wasn’t the problem), when he went to Anger Management (that wasn’t the problem), when he took medication (that wasn’t the problem). Each of those promises was just another Hail Mary in his quest to keep me from leaving him, and I fell for them. I regret that.

I regret thinking that I could fix him.

I regret thinking that, if I fixed myself in some way, it would fix him.

I regret loving him even after I had seen the darkness inside of him.

I regret marrying him even though I sobbed on my mother’s shoulder the night before the wedding. I regret chalking my tears up to nerves instead of intuition.

When I think back on my life, I mark events as B.C. (Before Caleb) and A.C. (After Caleb):

A.C. Kelly still dreams about the look in his eyes, the one he had right before he was going to explode.

A.C. Kelly can’t make Spaghetti Carbonara because she remembers him throwing the hot bowl of spaghetti on the kitchen floor. She remembers knowing that she was next.

A.C. Kelly can’t listen to Bright Eyes because it reminds her of that period in her life when everything seemed bright, right before it all fell apart.

A.C. Kelly can’t have long hair. She cut it all off so that no man could ever rip it out again.

A.C. Kelly cries when she watches How I Met Your Mother because the marriage between Lily and Marshall is so sweet and respectful, and she knows she’ll never have a Marshall.

A.C. Kelly fears that Marshalls don’t really exist, but she knows that Calebs do.

B.C. Kelly was this girl:

A.C. Kelly misses that girl. That girl didn’t know what was coming.

On Hope

In this blog, I have focused primarily on my struggle. Recovering from domestic violence has been a struggle unlike any other that I have ever encountered. It is a daily struggle to combat the memories, to fight against his voice that remains in my head, to tell myself that I am good enough, worthy enough, strong enough, lovable enough, that I am “enough” of anything.
I haven’t spoken much about where I am today because there are many days where I feel that I am not far enough along on this journey to offer any hope or consolation about what this journey has to offer, but in the past week, I had an experience that put things into perspective, and I have realized that I am enough.
I may not be enough for him, but I am enough for myself.
Last week, I went to Seattle for a writer’s conference. Last year, at this time, I went to the same conference in Boston. When I look back at this past year, I can’t necessarily pinpoint how I felt at a certain time. I can’t say “I felt this way in February,” but this major event gave me the opportunity to compare. And I can say, in all honesty, that last year at the conference, I felt much, much worse than I felt this year.
When I saw my roommates this year—who I hadn’t seen since last year—they both commented on how much better I look, how much happier I seem, how much stronger I seem. And I am. I am all of those things.
I am happy. And strong. And better.
Last year, at this time, I felt hopeless. Like most people, I have struggled with sadness in my lifetime, but I had never felt hopeless before that point. Hopelessness is terrible. If I hadn’t had my son who I needed to be strong for, I don’t know if I would have survived that feeling. I kept waking up in the mornings for him, but I would have preferred to stay in bed, to never wake up again.
I remember my counselor asking me what were the things that I enjoyed doing? I paused. “I enjoy writing,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Writing is your work,” she said. “What are the things you like to do for fun?” I couldn’t answer that question. I didn’t know how to answer that question. There was nothing in my life that I thought was enjoyable.
But, in the past week, I had so much fun. I went to Seattle. (I find travel enjoyable.) I presented as part of a panel on publishing nonfiction. (I find my career enjoyable.) I spent time with my friends. (I find my friends enjoyable.) I went shopping. (I find shopping enjoyable.) I went to good restaurants. (I find dining out enjoyable.) I went to Pike Place Market. (I find sightseeing enjoyable.) I returned home and spent time with my parents and my son. (I find my family enjoyable.) I went for a walk on campus with my parents. (I find walking enjoyable.) I cuddled up on the couch with my son. (I find cuddling with my son enjoyable.)
My life is enjoyable.
When I look back at this time last year, things were so different. At this conference, I inevitably run into friends of my ex-husband. Last year, at this time, I was still covering for him, still hiding what had happened when I ran into his friends. This year, again, I saw some friends of his. It was awkward. I don’t know where those friends stand on this issue, and I have realized that I have no desire to be friends with people who are willing to prop up an abuser. If you are still friends with my abuser, then I don’t want to be friends with you. It is that simple. Still, even though it was awkward, I could handle it. I have lots of friends. I don’t need any more. I don’t need to grieve the loss of people who make excuses for abusive men because my life is full of people who don’t. My life is full of amazing, loving people who are willing to take a stand, and I feel blessed every day with those people. 
In the past year, I have reached out to my friends when I have felt hopeless. I have reconnected with people who I had lost touch with, and I have sought out new friendships. I have not dated. I have chosen to place myself first, and that choice has freed me from my hopelessness.
When I look at the life my ex-husband is living, it feels almost ungenerous to compare our situations. He is living a solitary, lonely existence. He, too, wants to be a writer, but like most abusive men, he struggles with a compulsion for violent pornography. I hesitate to use the word addiction because the jury is still out on whether pornography can be an addiction, but if looking at violent porn for twelve hours at a time constitutes an addiction, then the word addiction might be more appropriate.  I don’t know; I just know that he has been unable to write for a long time because he can’t spend time on the computer without getting distracted. I feel compassion for him about this. I genuinely feel that it is out of his control. When we were married, I didn’t feel compassion about this subject. I felt betrayed and angry, but moving into a state of compassion has freed me from that bitterness, and bitterness feels, well….yucky. I no longer feel yucky in that way.

 I also know that, for a long time, I held myself back from my own writing because I was concerned about hurting him. I didn’t want to have success because that would affect his self-esteem, and he was my priority. He once said that his number one resentment was “other people’s success,” and I felt that acutely. I chose not to be a success because I didn’t want to be another source of his resentment. But now, I can be a success. I can write anything I want to write. I can publish anywhere I want to publish. I can be anything I want to be. And I find that enjoyable.