Sunday, July 31, 2011

Love Wins

Two weeks have passed in a whirlwind of stress and work. Friday, July 29th, was the date of the preliminary hearing for the violation of my standing order of protection. There’s no need to belabor the point I made in my last post; suffice it to say that I spent most of the past three weeks in a dazed state of anxiety mixed with apprehension. Less than five hours of sleep a night for more than twenty days has really taken its toll. By Friday morning, I was a mess. Getting up, getting ready, heading out the door and to a place where I would potentially have to sit for hours in the same small room with my abuser was extremely difficult. I prayed for months that this would not happen again. I prayed that he would just keep his silence…keep his distance.

Seeing him again on Friday left me shaking; having to stand at the front of the courtroom less than ten feet away from him was hellish. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I’m still so frightened of him, but then I think back to that time of my life and the rage, violence, and instability that was the daily norm, and I remember…there is good reason for the fear I feel.

My attorney was unable to be present with me, so I requested an extension and a new court date. The judge was happy to grant that request; he remembered having heard my case last year. My abuser’s attorney also requested an extension, in order to “review some new evidentiary information” and “possibly reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion outside court.” Does that mean that they are going to request another mutual restraining order? I’m not agreeing to that. A mutual restraining order assumes a level playing field, as though I did something as horrible to him as he did to me. I never hit him. I never threatened to kill him. I never forced him to have sex with me. I never threatened to harm his children. There was no level playing field, and there would be no safety in agreeing to a mutual restraining order.

I am left feeling ambiguous about the outcome of the day. Sure, I got my extension, and my order of protection is in effect until the next hearing. But I also have to go on anticipating another day in court, another day of questioning. I can’t imagine what kind of “evidentiary information” they could have come up with. I haven’t had contact with my abuser since last year in court. I have not tried to find out anything about him - except to make sure he was not living in the neighborhood where I recently bought a home - and though occasionally people tell me rumors about him, I don't perpetuate those rumors. I am left wondering what kind of ridiculous allegations my abuser and his lawyer are going to make about me, and how I can possibly counter those accusations. My mind is racing and I can’t turn it off. Right now, around 36 hours after the hearing, I am exhausted. My emotions are raw, but I can’t get my mental wheels to stop turning. I have been pushing myself to the point of collapse physically just to be able to get six hours of sleep. I’m not sure how long I can cope.

On Friday morning, as I was showering and getting dressed for court, a song that I never sing or even think of popped into my head. It was an old hymn, and one I don’t particularly like – “God Will Take Care of You”. Only the chorus played through my mind, and as the morning wore on, I heard those words over and over, unbidden – God will take care of you; through every day; o’er all the way…he will take care of you; God will take care of you. And though normally this kind of ear-worm would have driven me crazy, I found myself listening and holding onto that thought, that no matter what happened, God would take care of me. No, I didn’t expect the heavenly hosts to ride in on white chargers and chariots of fire, and I didn’t expect a rousing defeat of my adversary. But I did – and do – believe that whatever happened, God would be there. And even though I hated every minute of the two and a half hours I spent in my abuser’s presence, I felt assured that I was not alone.

Tonight, as I write this, I am almost too tired to feel afraid. My eyelids are heavy and my fingers are clumsy – I am moving slowly and it is almost time for sleep. In the pit of my stomach there is a cold knot that tightens whenever I think of what is coming, but my heart is warm with the knowledge and surety of God’s loving grace. Fear is the opposite of love, and I know that ultimately, no matter what the outcome of the next hearing, love will win. God will take care of me – maybe not in the way I hope or expect, but that’s okay.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Violation

Last week I wrote about my abuser having broken the order of protection I’ve had against him for the past year. Today is July 13, the final day that order is in effect. However, I’ve filed for another order of protection against him, based on the obvious proof that he is already beginning the same obsessive, stalking behavior that caused me to seek relief from the court last year. I would have preferred an extension on the current order, but in order to get an extension, the application must be filed, served, and heard in a civil or family court before the current order runs out. That was impossible in my case – there wasn’t enough time.

At the courthouse, the clerk told me she could not advise me about what to do but that she could tell me what my options were. She laid them out very clearly – I could file for an extension, which wouldn’t work for reasons already enumerated above, or I could file for a new order of protection, which would mean another hearing. She also told me that I could file a violation of the order of protection, either using the new case number – which would help me prove that I needed the order, or the old case number, which would allow the court to prosecute him to whatever extent the judge decided. With the help of my legal aid attorney and paralegal, I decided to file for a new order of protection but to file the violation of the order under the old case number, which would allow the judge to decide what, if any, consequences would follow. It took three days to process all the paperwork, and four trips to the courthouse, but it’s finally done.

Now it’s after 6 pm, and I’m sitting in a quiet house, trying to relax. My left hand is twitching, which is something it has done periodically since the first time he hit me. My chest feels tight and it is hard to get a deep breath. My stomach hurts. My heart races and then slows…races and then slows… I am exhausted from this constant hypervigilance, but I am afraid to stop looking over my shoulder.

The order is up at midnight. The new temporary order is in effect but may not have been served yet. I have no way of knowing, and probably won’t know until the day before court. I wonder what my abuser is thinking, what he is planning. I hate thinking about him, because that leads to memories that are incredibly painful – the way he counseled and supported me in the beginning as my pastor; the way he slowly began to make the sessions more about his problems and needs than about mine; the way he continually assured me there was no way to salvage my marriage and I should just give up and file for divorce. Those memories hurt, because they remind me of how much I depended on him. As my pastor, he was my spiritual leader, my mentor. He was powerful and I trusted him. I believed that he had my best interests at heart. I did not suspect that he was using my problems and the things I told him so that he could edge his way into my life and my emotions. I didn’t know that he would exploit the love I felt and use me so harshly. On the one hand, I feel stupid and incredibly na├»ve for having allowed it to happen, and on the other, I feel outraged that a pastor with years of training and experience would do what he did, and what he continues to do. At this point, I want him to leave me alone. I don’t want to have to think about him or wonder what’s going to happen next. I want this to be over. After all, it has been over a year now. That is plenty of time to let go, to move on, to have a life – for both of us.

Instead, I will go to bed tonight wondering what I’ll wake up to tomorrow. Damaged tires? Destroyed property? Will he set fire to the house – he’s threatened it in the past. Will he show up at work, with the excuse of checking on that resume he faxed over? And if he doesn’t show up, I will still be facing the dreadful prospect of the hearing – having to be in the same room with him, to feel his eyes on me, to feel his rage growing. I will have to face the questions about why I stayed, why I did the things I did, why I “let” him hurt me. I will have to give intimate, humiliating details to people I don’t know. Last time, being examined by his lawyer felt like being raped all over again. The knowledge that this is what is coming leaves me feeling sick and shaking. I want to go to sleep, but when I do I have nightmares and I wake up breathless and terrified. There isn’t a fragment of my life this hasn’t changed. There's a reason why they call what he did a "violation" - that's how I feel, as if the sanctity of my life has been violated by the threat of his obsession.

Last year, a friend of mine asked me how I was coping with the hearing and the stalking. I said I needed to find some way to live around the fear. That’s what I need now, a way to live in spite of the dread and anxiety that are my constant companions. I need a way to find peace.



Survivors Speak

Today I am the featured contributor on Heal My PTSD, an online magazine and resource for anyone who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Check it out: http://healmyptsd.com/2011/07/ptsd-survivors-speak-surviving-sexual-assault.html

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Full Circle


A couple of years ago, I blogged about irony and defined it as the poignant contrast between what you want and what you get. The reason for writing that post was because my husband and I had just had our family portraits made; the first and only ones we had during eighteen years of marriage. That was in April of 2009. By May of that year we were in the process of divorcing. The picture we had taken shows a happy family, but the reality was that we were coming apart at the seams. At this stage of my life, I have that family portrait hanging on the wall outside my bedroom door. It is a precious reminder to me that even though our marriage didn’t work out, my ex-husband and I along with our daughters are still a family.
Today, I’m thinking again about irony, but for a very different reason. July 13th is the day that the protective order against my abusive ex-partner runs out. That is six days from now. Since he had stayed away from me after having dropped his appeal last August and because there had been no further damage to my property, I had planned on letting the matter drop. He was leaving me alone – that was all I ever wanted. To all appearances he was going on with his life, and I have been doing the same. I did not know where he was and was content not to know. But then, on July 5th, he changed everything when he broke the no-contact portion of the protective order by faxing a job-application for a non-existing position to my workplace. I went to work on Wednesday morning, July 6th, and it was lying on my desk – all applications come across my desk; this is something he knows very well, since he knows I’m the administrative assistant.
Seeing his name, reading his writing – and there is no doubt that it is his; I’d recognize that grammar and syntax anywhere – was like taking another hit to the side of the skull. The fear was immediate and left me physically ill and shaking, but after that came the realization that it didn’t matter how much I wanted to let things drop, he is never going to allow that to happen. I can’t fathom the kind of person who would make such an ill-considered decision. But then again, I can’t fathom the kind of person who would tell a woman that he loved her, and then beat her, and then want to hold her to make up for it. I can’t fathom the kind of person who would threaten to commit suicide, drive drunk, or go out and find someone to rape if his girlfriend would not give in and have sex. I can’t understand that kind of mentality. Thank God I can’t. My only question is: why? What’s the point? What in the world is he trying to prove? Doesn’t he realize that he is forcing my hand? I wanted to let it go, to forgive, to move on. Obviously, he is not going to allow that to happen.
So here we are – same place we were last year; we’ve come full-circle. I am in the same situation, except so far there are no nails in my tires and my mailbox is intact. I am left with no alternative but to legally pursue my own protection. It is not what I wanted. It is not what I hoped for. But that’s irony - the tragic gap between what you want and what you get.


Monday, July 4, 2011

A Lesson Well-Learned

On May 28th 2010, I filed for an order of protection against the man who had abused me. The day of the hearing was July 13th, about six weeks after the date of file. My ex-boyfriend hired a private detective to dig into my past and a cut-throat lawyer to “tear me apart” on the witness stand – the attorney’s words when he spoke with my legal-aid representative. I blogged about the process last year, and anyone who is interested can go to those entries and read them for more details – there’s no reason to repeat them here.

Earlier today, I was looking back through my personal journal and reading what I wrote during the months of June and July. During the time preceding the hearing, I was in constant fear. Every day was spent looking over my shoulder, watching –waiting – wondering what was going to happen next. During the time between when I filed for the order of protection from my abuser and the hearing date I had five nails removed from my tires, the flowerpots on my porch were kicked around and overturned, my front door locks were tampered with and damaged, and my mailbox was destroyed. I spent my days in a state of heightened vigilance. My heart raced every time I saw a black car or a dark-haired man. I had a hard time sleeping and when I slept I had nightmares. I was afraid to go forward with the hearing and I was afraid to let the matter drop. If I lost, I knew his anger would be profound. And if I won, I believed he wouldn’t have anything left to lose in coming after me.

I went through with the hearing, and I won. About a month afterward, I ended up needing treatment for my PTSD, and I chose to go into counseling. It was a good choice. Being able to talk to someone made my feelings and the stress easier to deal with. I began to practice exposure therapy to get past my triggers, and that made the general act of living much easier, though I do still have trouble sometimes. After I left my abuser, I wasted five months trying to decide whether I should take action against him. Honestly, if he had just stayed away instead of continually coming around I probably would have let the matter drop. I did not want to take action, but he left me with no choice. On May 28th last year, it took all my strength to walk into the courthouse and describe what had happened to me. It took all my courage to sign those papers, knowing that he would read them and that I would again be the target of his rage. I was caught between two terrible fears – what would he do to me if I went through with it? What would he do to me if I didn’t? It was torture. For a long time after I won, I still looked over my shoulder, watching - waiting - wondering. Then I realized that the only thing that can ensure my protection is me.

The protective order runs out in nine days, but it doesn't really matter. It is only a piece of paper anyway, not some magic shield that means the difference between security and danger. Its best function was to help me understand that I deserve to be safe and that it was okay for me to take steps to ensure my own protection. Today, I am much stronger. It wouldn’t take me five months to decide if I was worth defending. It is a lesson well-learned, and I won't forget it, no matter what the future brings.