relationships I Had No Idea My Husband Was Abusing Me

23:12  11 june  2018
23:12  11 june  2018 Source:   goodhousekeeping.com

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"But I 'm the one who hit him," I told my therapist. Then she said something that saved my life.

I had no idea what to think. I knew that I wasn’t being abused . He had never hit me , and I was strong. I Was an Abuse Counselor — With an Abusive Boyfriend. It Took a Decade to Escape My Abusive Marriage. I Survived My Husband 's Attacks — And Then a Flood.

a woman wearing a black dress: The author.© Allison Leonard The author. The following is an exclusive excerpt of Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival, a new memoir by Kelly Sundberg (available June 5). Here, Kelly describes how she found herself committing to Caleb - a man she thought was "funny, warm, and supportive" at first. But after the birth of their son, Reed, Caleb revealed a violent and dangerous dark side that, in addition to a lingering depression, was difficult for Kelly to grapple with - until a perceptive therapist helped her understand what was really going on in her own home.


The day the test came back with two blue stripes, I put on my jeans and The Flicks T-shirt - the one with Alfred Hitchcock on the back - and drove to work. The Flicks was an indie movie house, and I worked there with artsy types who had lines of poetry tattooed on their forearms, dyed hair, and Converse sneakers. We wanted to make art. Children were not a part of our collective plan.

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"But I 'm the one who hit him," I told my therapist. Then she said something that saved my life.

"But I 'm the one who hit him," I told my therapist. Then she said something that saved my life.

That morning I strode through the kitchen - past the assistant manager who was making curried sweet potato soup over the large gas range - stood before the espresso machine, turned the machine on to make a latte, and stopped.

I didn’t know if I could drink coffee. Coffee might be poison now. I listened to the whirring of the espresso grinder, the machine grinding the beans into fragments, and peered at my reflection in the brushed steel. I’m not ready, I mouthed.

A couple of weeks earlier, while we were sitting on my couch talking, my boyfriend Caleb’s face suddenly started to flush. He looked down and brushed his hand over his head, which I knew meant he was feeling nervous or insecure. He looked up quickly and blurted out, “Kelly, I want to marry you.”

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The idea of how stupid I 'd look after an investigation proved Howard's innocence stopped me . But I had to do something, so I got another copy of the paper More intriguing reads: My Mother and I Share the Same Husband . My Dad Was a Serial Killer. My Husband and I Are in a Four-Way Relationship.

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I sat stunned. It wasn’t a proposal as much as a declaration. We had only been together for five months, and because Caleb lived in the woods, we had only seen each other a few times a week. Twice, he had panicked and disappeared for a week or longer. The first time, I wrote his absence off to jitters. The second time, I called and left a message on his cell phone: “If you are interested in a relationship with me, you will call me today, and you will continue to call me on a regular basis. If not, then this is goodbye.”

He called almost immediately, and then showed up at my apartment that evening, his face and posture apologetic. He wasn’t willing to lose me, he said. He knew that now.

Our relationship hadn’t been idyllic or blissful, but in the moment after he had declared he wanted to marry me, all I could remember were the blissful parts. I looked into his wide blue eyes and remembered lying on that beige couch while he played his guitar and sang “Pale Blue Eyes.”

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I knew it wasn’t responsible. We barely knew each other. He wanted four kids. He wanted to move back home to West Virginia. These were not things I wanted. But I wanted him.

“Okay,” I blurted back, “but I’m not having four kids. I don’t even know if I want kids.”

He leaned back. “What about two kids?”

I could handle that. It was all theoretical, after all. “Okay,” I said. “Two kids.”

Only two weeks after the proposal, the test came back with two blue stripes. I went to work in the morning but left crying an hour later. I curled up in my bed and wept the entire day. Caleb was out fishing with a friend, but he came as soon as he got my message. He crawled into bed with me, his eyes crushed and vulnerable.

“Let’s have an abortion,” I whispered, pulling my knees into my chest.

“Let’s get married,” he said, smoothing his hand over his head.

“I’m not ready,” I said. “For any of this.”

He looked at me for a long time and then said, “Kelly, I think that if you have an abortion, our relationship won’t survive that. We’ll have to break up. I don’t want that to happen, do you?”

I didn’t want to break up. I felt so connected to him.

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On Tuesday, October 6, 2009, I spent the day calling my husband 's cell phone. Howard and I had been married six years and owned a business together in Pueblo, Colorado.

My husband is mentally abusive to me and an alcoholic. I lost my job 5 months ago and I have no real savings. I have no idea where to go from here. My son is on the Autism Spectrum and has anxiety issues. I sometimes believe it's from witnessing the abuse .

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll keep the baby.”

“And we can get married? I don’t want my child to be raised without married parents.”

I nodded, but felt no joy. Only fear.


That fall, we moved to Boise. It was a clean little house on a tidy street in an orderly neighbourhood with a large fenced yard and a garden. It was the kind of house where a family could be happy.

But we were in a different part of town from our friends, and I grew lonely. I rode my bike through residential neighbourhoods to a nearby river trail where I continued the three miles to campus. That bike ride along the calm Boise River was the highlight of my days. While I was on that bike, I felt a freedom that I didn’t feel at home. The heaviness lifted, and sunlight glittered on the water.

By then, the heaviness had become a part of my body. Even sunlight felt heavy. Our son Reed continued to be a joy, but beyond that, I felt so little. As the summer turned to autumn, the sunlight grew heavier and heavier. I could feel its weight on my skin. I did everything that I could to find more energy. I knew that exercise was important, so I would put Reed in the jogging stroller and jog or walk around our neighbourhood. I always asked if Caleb wanted to go with me, and he almost always said no. The distance between us was growing, and I was lonelier in that marriage than I had ever been before.

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Sometimes I cried when he said no, and he would yell at me, “Quit crying. You want me to do everything with you. You don’t respect my writing time.”

Sometimes I would lie in bed and cry for no reason at all, and he would stand in the door and scream at me, “Quit crying. What are you crying about?” I would only cry more, then, and say, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I just don’t know.”

By then we were arguing more, and I was beginning to feel afraid of him. He would back me into corners while he yelled at me, and I felt so helpless. Once he pushed me against the wall and pinned me. I panicked, lashing out and hitting him in the face.

The wire on his glasses broke, and the lens fell out. He pulled back, the lens in his hand, and I stared in horror. What had I done? I begged him to forgive me, and he did, scooping me into his arms and telling me that it was okay, that he understood.

a person sitting at a table with a plate of food: Reed, who is now 12 years old.© Courtesy of Kelly Sundberg Reed, who is now 12 years old.

I was so grateful for his forgiveness. He taped his lens back into his glasses, then offered to go for a walk with me. We walked the stroller to the river and took Reed out. Reed toddled to the banks and threw rocks into the water, while Caleb held on to the back of his shirt to keep him from jumping in. As I watched the way that Caleb protected Reed, again, the heaviness lifted, replaced with tenderness. Caleb held my hand on the way home, and when we got home, he put Reed to bed, made me dinner, and then tucked my head into his chest. The loneliness abated. Neither of us was perfect but we shared an intimacy. We were all that we had.

October came, and the light continued to have this quality of intensity and dimness at the same time. I was no longer trying to be happy; I was only trying to be not-depressed.

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I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We got along just fine at first. “The wife has no authority over her own body but yields it to her husband …” [ I Cor 7:4] My own mother always pointed out that Sarah called Abraham “lord.”

I had no idea . I just — maybe it would have been easier to see the clues if we had been doing drugs or were raging alcoholics or something more that was obviously harmful to the human body… but this?! We both came away that day from the health exam my husband ’s work offers a little…surprised.

I took Reed for long walks, and felt myself teetering on a razor’s edge. On one side of that edge was beauty, and on the other side of that edge was despair.

As Reed and I walked alongside the river, I could see into the yards of fancy homes. I wondered what their families were like. Did they, too, feel that something was missing? I finally went to the student health center and told the doctor that I had been feeling depressed. She gave me a depression screening, and after I finished answering the questions, she left the room and then came back. “We cannot let you go on like this,” she said. “Do you think about suicide?”

“Yes,” I answered, “but I would never do it. I only fantasize about it.”

“How often do you fantasize about it?” she asked.

“Every day,” I said.

I left her office with a prescription for Prozac. I wasn’t particularly interested in saving myself, but I hoped that I had finally found the way to save my marriage.

I continued to see my therapist and continued to tell her about how unhappy I was in my marriage. The Prozac had only achieved a manageable state of numbness for me. I wanted her to teach me how to be happy. Occasionally I would bring Caleb in to see her with me, and he would always talk about how critical I was of him, and how frustrated he felt living with me. After one session she gave us an activity: We were to take a week off from criticism. No matter what, we could not criticize each other. The first couple of days were wonderful. I enjoyed not criticizing him. I enjoyed letting things slide.

Soon, though, he was criticizing me. “That’s criticism,” I would say. “Oh wow, you’re right,” he would say, and then we would both laugh. It had become a game for us, but at the end of the week, we both realized that I was not the one in the marriage who was prone to criticism. We went back in to my therapist’s office and sat side by side on the couch. “What did you realize this week?” she asked.

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Caleb didn’t pause. “I realized that I am actually very critical of Kelly,” he said, “and that I am too hard on her.” I was so proud of him for being honest with her. I reached over and squeezed his hand.

a close up of a sign: Kelly’s memoir, Goodbye, Sweet Girl, debuts on June 5.© HarpersCollins Publishers Kelly’s memoir, Goodbye, Sweet Girl, debuts on June 5.

She seemed surprised. “Wow,” she said. “I hadn’t expected that. How did that make you feel, Kelly?”

I paused, and then said, “I was surprised, too, but I feel better now. I think that we’re better now.”

Caleb and I went home that day and congratulated ourselves. We had done what needed to be done. We had gotten therapy. I had started taking medication. We were working on not arguing so much. We were going to be okay. I knew it.

The following week, we fought again, and again I went to see my therapist. She was obviously disappointed to hear that we were still struggling. “When things get that tense,” she said, “you need to go somewhere. You need to exit the situation.”

“But I can’t,” I said. “He won’t let me.”

“What do you mean, he won’t let you?”

“I mean, he will get in front of me, or back me into the corner. Once he even held me to the wall. I panicked and hit him in the face, so that he would let me leave.” She sat back, her face concerned. “Kelly, that is domestic violence. What he is doing to you is domestic violence.”

I was confused. “But he has never hit me,” I said. “I’m the one who hit him.”

“Yes,” she said, “but hitting someone to escape is not the same thing as hitting someone to control them, and when he is pinning you to the wall or backing you into a corner, then that is physical intimidation, and that is a method of control.It is part of a pattern of violence.”

She reached into her filing cabinet. “I am going to give you this flyer,” she said. “It is for the domestic violence shelter, and I want you to keep it for if you need it.” She pulled out a purple paper and handed it to me.

I stared at the paper. I had no idea what to think. I knew that I wasn’t being abused. He had never hit me, and I was strong. I was independent. I was not someone who would be abused. I tucked the paper into my bag and then rode my bike home.

Kelly and Caleb were married for 10 years, but eventually she was able to leave him. Since then, she's earned a Ph.D. in creative nonfiction from Ohio University and is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the same university.

If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to thehotline.org.

From the book: GOODBYE, SWEET GIRL by Kelly Sundberg. Copyright © 2018 by KellySundberg. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

© Allison Leonard/Ilona McCarty I Had No Idea My Husband Was Abusing Me

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