October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I write this fourth post about my life as a victim of spousal abuse and my survival to hopefully help and encourage someone else. You can read the first three posts to give you the background on how our marriage began to crumble.
Once I realized things were not as they should be, I didn’t know what to do. Taking our son away from his father didn’t seem fair to them. After one too many major yelling matches, I told my husband that I thought about leaving him. He reminded me of how he had found a confused and distraught friend in New Orleans once and commented he could find me too.
I did not then nor now read any threats of danger into his words. But he was letting me know that escaping would be futile. After all in my mind he was so much “smarter” than I was.
A beacon in the darkness
Finally after about fifteen years one friend suggested that I read, “Women Who Run With Wolves” By Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. As I read the book, I felt empowered and realized how I had given away my self and everything that made me strong, independent and “me.” I began to see that I was not stupid; that we all have abilities and gifts that help us deal with our lives. I finally realized that I was stronger and smarter than I ever knew.
A bit of clarification
I want to clarify here. By this time I had been a nurse for 13 years. Probably the last 8 years of that part of my career I worked as a Critical Care nurse. I handled all kinds of stressful situations and cared for very sick, dying, or injured people with monitors, and intravenous medicines that could kill them if I made a mistake. I worked with many doctors and got along with them. I was also one of only three in my unit who passed the Critical Care Registered Nurse certification! I was and am intelligent!!
My metamorphosis began
One day a doctor with a long history of rudeness and impatience incorrectly accused me in front of our patient of doing something wrong. I did not respond until we got back to the desk and I informed him he was misjudging the situation and should not have made a scene in front of my patient!
Wow! Then I asked myself, “If I could stand up for myself to this doctor, hold a Critical Care Unit position for many years, why couldn’t I stand up to my husband! Why did I think I was stupid!!??”
I chose my battles
Finally I began to “draw the line in the sand.” I chose my responses to my husbands accusations more times and chose to “duck” on minor things. But as my confidence and self assurance began to grow, I ducked less and less. I was striving for my self esteem!!
My husband’s physical problems
Around the time of this incident with the doctor, my husband had a disc in his back literally explode when he caught a piano falling off of its moving dolly. The next day he was in excruciating pain so I drove him to the hospital.
When his blood work was drawn it was found that his blood sugar was over 800!! (70-100 is normal). While working in ICU I cared for patients with 400-500 blood sugar who were on Insulin drips.
Diabetes enters the picture
The doctor attributed the high blood sugar to the severe pain. (My husband had had normal fasting blood sugars in the past.) But it was several years later that he was actually diagnosed and put on insulin!
Years later over an 8 or 9 year period he suffered another back surgery, a major stroke, complications from a small part of his colon being removed. He recovered and went back to work after each event! Finally he collapsed at work from severe heart failure. He died six days later at the age of 58, after 36 years of marriage.
A phenomenal tolerance to high blood sugar
Blood sugars may rise temporarily to around 500 in normal people due to severe pain or stress. My doctor told me that with his high blood sugar, to have been 800 and for him not to be comatose, he probably had had rising glucose levels for about 10 years before being diagnosed with diabetes!
Well, 10 years before was about when the problems worsened. We had been living in New Orleans then for about 4 years into our marriage. He drank 2 two liter bottles of sugary soft drinks/day because the water tasted bad.
Long term high blood sugars can cause many kinds of problems, including poor mental behavior by making the blood thicker, thus slowing the circulation of blood. He tried at first to adhere to the diabetic diet but soon he was eating like he always had.
Poorly controlled diabetes caused him to have severe needle like pains in his feet (diabetic neuropathy), high blood pressure, diabetic retinopathy which slowed and made his reading more difficult, even after the laser surgery in both eyes. He also had calf cramps and sleep apnea.
My vision became clearer
Now in retrospect I see that from the beginning he was Obsessive Compulsive about a lot of things and it worsened over the years. Issues with his father, from what he told me, had caused emotional pain.
I am not excusing all of his behaviors because of toxic levels of glucose or possibly PTSD. I only want to understand the “why” of the changes. But I did not deserve any abuse! No matter what the cause he had no right to treat me the way he did. But at last I understood why.
More physical problems
Another factor we discovered after the MRI for his major stroke was that he had had old mini strokes before the big one that showed up in the frontal lobes of his brain, which affected his personality and behavior.
After all of these discoveries and really even long before his death I knew something was wrong. I always tried to understand why he behaved like he did. Being a nurse I tried to be patient. Later I found great peace and understanding from this new knowledge.
I feel that I lost my husband a little at a time over the years. The changes were so insidious and gradual that I just adapted to each one as it arose at great personal cost. Regardless of physical problems of an abusive spouse, you must protect yourself and your children if you are in danger.
What matters is he had no right to treat me abusively. I needed to learn to love and respect myself so I could stand my ground about his behavior. But again, none of this was my fault!
He was not evil
There were plenty of times that he was fun to be with. There were plenty of times he thanked me for helping him through school and supporting him emotionally and financially, and dedicated his dissertation to me. He truly appreciated how I cared for him through each of the physical disasters he lived through. He asked my forgiveness on his deathbed too and told me he loved me.
I am a new woman
I feel like a new woman, taking charge of my life. Healing is ongoing. I now know that I was strong all along to have endured and survived emotionally and mentally all that I went through. Now is my time to heal and to live for me.
I will write blogs later to tell how and what I learned about abuse and its effects on me as I healed.