control

My favorite things denied

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Container Garden – Austin, Texas

I was a poor single mom before my husband and I decided to get married. Even though finances were tight, I allotted a small amount each month for buying books and plants.

I had an outdoor container garden, backyard vegetable garden and beautiful houseplants. I had a decent home library that my mom started for me when I was a teenager; I got books for Christmas and birthdays. That collection grew as I found mostly used books at thrift stores and Half-Price Books.

I had been married less than a year when I  started to worry that something wasn’t quite right. But as a good Christian woman, I hung in there and stood by my man. I stood up to him when he began to be abusive toward my son, but although he backed off, he used manipulation and control to get back at both of us.

As time went by, I found my previous life filled with “my favorite things” under attack. It was subtle, but my husband used religious “leadership” and finances to justify his control over what I read, did with my time, and enjoyed. I wasn’t allowed to buy books, one of my true loves. I wasn’t allowed to spend money on gardening or decorating. I didn’t spend money on clothing, visits to the hair salon, or anything that took me away from the house and his scrutiny.

His mantra of “don’t spend money” shut me down at every turn.

My husband didn’t care whether I enjoyed any aspect of life as long as he was in control.

This is the definition of financial abuse: asserting control over a partner or spouse by denying access to money or his/her ability to choose what to spend money on at any given time.

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Kids wearing thrift store finds. St. Petersburg, Florida

As our family grew, I bought clothing for my babies at the thrift store and still felt guilty for spending money. I purchased used toys and household goods. I bought used furniture, but was only allowed to do so after a fight (because he tried to go back on a promise to me that I could buy new furniture after we sold a rental home).

After two decades of marriage and the denial of “my favorite things” I had lost myself. I was nearly destroyed.

I had to be apart from my husband before I could begin to reconnect with who I really am: a nature-loving, book-devouring, independent woman. That is who I am.

The financial abuse continued during our long separation until my husband had a stroke. No, he didn’t see the light as he faced mortality. He got caught forging my signature on his tax returns for 4 years against my wishes and needed my signature on an old tax return that he had never filed. He felt justified by this behavior because he has been paying the mortgage and utilities on our home (where I live with our youngest son– he moved out of state and left us here with no way to move back near family) and gives me a small allowance with which I am supposed to buy food and pay for home maintenance, car insurance and repairs, cell phone, clothing,  and everything other expense that most people must cover.

He kept me and our youngest son in poverty. In four years, he had donated nearly $30k to churches while I had to go on food stamps so my son had enough to eat.

Abusers control finances in order to exert power over a partner or spouse.

And the only fix for this type of abuse is financial independence.

I tell all married women that I know that they should have their own bank accounts, retirement, savings, vehicles, credit cards, and their names on home deeds (this kept my husband from refinancing and taking out loans on our home–he needed my signature). You should own your own car — only your name on the title. Do not put your husband on your credit card accounts. Mine cancelled all my credit cards without notice to me (bank said he could do so because his name was on my account–I added him after we were married) and stopped the direct deposit of his paychecks into our joint checking account so I had no resources available and was completely dependent on him.

This advice goes for all women considering marriage, too. Plan ahead and maintain financial independence.

If you leave a job or career to take care of a family, put aside a set amount of money each month to cover what you would have in social security and/or retirement savings. Your goal should be to have at least $5,000 in savings (that is how much it costs to hire an attorney should you need to file for divorce) and a retirement account comparable to what you would have if you had continued working.

Continue to work even if it is 10 hours a week. Do something to maintain continuous employment.

And for goodness’ sake, do NOT give up your favorite things because your spouse complains or discourages your interests.

Take care of yourself, nurture your passions, and allow yourself to be a self and not just a spouse or marital appendage. You are your own person. Never forget that.

Happy Ending

I am back to loving books, nurturing my need to create and make beautiful things, enjoying digital photography,  and gardening, indoor and out, because I enjoy these activities.

Occasionally I even buy myself clothes and get my hair cut and styled. I enjoy a glass of my favorite wine, read a lot, and watch the movies and TV shows that I like. My bed is all mine. I don’t suffer sleep deprivation due to a snoring, restless bed partner (who refused to seek medical treatment).

Although I am still parenting a teenager, most of my life is on my terms. I will never give that up again.

I am committed to earning my bachelor’s degree and going on to graduate school because I want to. It is my desire, my dream.

I don’t have anyone telling me I am wasting my time or that I am wasting money on an education that I might never use. It is my dream and I am free to pursue it. That voice of control, denial and deprivation has no power over me anymore.

I am free to enjoy my favorite things.

 

 

 

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Hearing voices

obey submit conformI have heard a variety of voices from many different sources over my 53 years: growing up, into young adulthood and well into middle age. I admit that a majority of those voices have been denigrating and controlling. I have never had a cheerleader in my life, EVER. Until now, that is.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have developed relationships with individuals who are cheering me on. I don’t understand those voices’ motivations, but I gratefully accept their positive impact on my life.

Sadly, I had to dismiss all of the negative chatter in my life before I was open to hearing new, positive voices. I don’t know why an emotional disconnect was necessary, but it is a definitive truth for my own experience. I still guard my emotional ears, protecting myself from family and friends who, usually due to misguided allegiance to an impersonal religion or adherence to childhood labels, believe that conformity to a random norm is necessary for my life.

Growing up, religion didn’t play a part in the controlling negativity I was surrounded by most of the time. But, thinking about what I just wrote, I wonder if it did–religion that is.

One side of my family grew up in the Church of Christ, a denomination that believes legalistically that if something is not mentioned in the New Testament, then it is not allowed in any aspect of religious life. I don’t quite understand how they justify reading the Bible in English or using hymnals printed on a printing press, neither of which were available or used in the first century A.D., even, but that is the nature of legalism. It is man’s attempt to create some kind of order out of the apparently-confusing edict by Jesus Christ to love one another, one that seems completely disordered and impossible unless man builds a structure to contain it.

Love one another: Oh, that means I must tell you what you can wear if you are to be acceptable to God.

Love one another: No, a child born out of wedlock is not accepted by God.

Love one another: Musical instruments are not allowed in worship.

Huh?

Maybe some of the voices I heard growing up were influenced by religion after all. In young adulthood, I admit that I invited those voices in and allowed them to impose new, even stricter norms. And this is where I met my husband. Yikes!

Controllers, often referred to as co-dependents, cannot be satisfied with being the best person that THEY can be. No, they focus outwardly, attempting to create structure for themselves through the lives of others. Maybe someday I will research this idea. I know that my estranged husband cannot function within a family where he is not completely in control. He moved over 700 miles away. It is easier for him that way. He still controls as much as he can, not letting even a penny out of his cold hands unless it fits his narrow view of family and responsibility.

I pity people who need to control the lives of others. Some do it by gossiping. There is typically one member of each larger, extended family who keeps the failings of their loved ones up for discussion so everyone can ignore their own flaws. There might be a strong patriarch who controls the family fortune or heritage (my family refused to help me work on discovering my roots as punishment for not speaking to another family member when I was at my worst physically and emotionally). There may be a matriarch who rules by terror or the withholding of affection and approval. Controllers are miserable people who are not even the least bit happy unless everyone around them is equally miserable.

For those emerging from a life that is no longer acceptable to them, whether it was in an abusive relationship or merely the decision to seek a different, better life, determining which voices you hear is vital.

How can you find your own voice when all you hear are the voices of others?

Silence the voices of dissent and negativity.

Embrace the positive voices out there. If you can’t find them, then you have not successfully silenced the raucous clamor of negativity yet.

Did I mention that I listened to music every waking moment of my day for at least a year after my second, permanent marital separation? Music was essential to silencing many of the voices that tormented me, voices that spoke to me even when they weren’t present. This was one of my favorites from that time:


 

Stupid Boy by Keith Urban

Well, she was precious like a flower.
She grew wild, wild but innocent.
A perfect prayer in a desperate hour;
She was everything beautiful, and different.
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in.
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind.
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands.
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans.
She never even knew she even had a choice,
And that’s what happens when the only
Voice she hears is telling her she can’t.
You stupid boy, you always had to be right.
And now you’ve lost the only thing
That ever made you feel alive.

This song tells a sacred story: little girls are precious, beautiful and a gift to mankind. They are not put on this earth to fulfill man’s idea of womanhood. If man is created in the image of God, male and female He created them, then that girl, that woman, that mother, that sister, that daughter is a sacred being to be treasured, respected, and honored.

I was born a spirited, sensitive, barefooted, exploring child who loved life. When I got married, I opened myself up to another person, loved and trusted like I had never done before in my life, only to be criticized and rejected for who I was as a person, all with the goal of making me submit before God to some ethereal model of religious womanhood. I was crushed and nearly destroyed before I tore myself away from that path and put myself on a new path to self-determination, one in which my personhood was paramount and my voice valid. Anyone or anything that does not respect who I am and who I want to be is not welcome in my life. Period.

What voices do you hear?

Choices: Self-Determination for Women

For a woman, self-determination is a subconscious desire. When men identify, acknowledge and validate this primal need, everyone is happier. Wise men acknowledge this basic need and work it into their relationships with women. Not controllers. Controllers end up driving away the women in their lives, or killing them, sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically. When one person needs to exert control over the life of another, the end result will be either subjection or rejection.
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Subjecting another to one’s will might seem desirous if one feels he or she is correctly oriented and the object of subjection is incorrectly oriented. What right does any person have to determine another person’s life? More importantly, how does a man earn the superior position of “head” or relational boss over a woman? Because the Bible says it’s so? I reject that position. It doesn’t fit my right to equality and my desire for freedom from oppression. That doctrine does not fit my belief that I have a right to self-determination.

Rejection is my final choice. If I refuse a life of subjection to the will of a man, then I must reject his doctrine. I have stated previously that a controller cannot function within a relationship in which he does not have control. He flounders, struggles, becomes completely depressed and eventually lost. Without external control over others, he cannot find any kind of internal control over himself. In my case, I must reject the man. He cannot love; he can only control. I do not need to be controlled; I need to be loved. With no understanding of this basic concept, there is no viable relationship. So I must choose.

Choices . . . I have made many of my life choices based on ideological concepts. Although living this way often causes hardship for me and my children, I cannot live any other way. I chose to keep my first pregnancy (against the sage advice of some resulting in judgment and rejection of me), lived as a single mom for nine years before remarrying, and then chose someone that I felt would share my life goals. I look back, as only those who have reached my age can, and see many mistakes I have made. I do not, however, regret any of my choices. I am who I am today because of every one of those choices.
dothisMy choices have, however, unwittingly caused my family emotional difficulty. My family cannot understand why I choose as I do because I am not in possession of their experiences and their values, ones that are more calculated to the results than the perceived right and wrong of the situation. Again, I tend to be an idealist. It is hard being an idealist. Oh, that is an entirely different post, one which I must explore separately. I have made many choices based on wrongly idealistic concepts. But they were mine. I believed thus and acted on that belief. I own those choices.

I celebrate that I can make tough decisions separate from the expressed desires of my extended family. On the other hand, I mourn that I haven’t received more respect and support from my family–do I have a right to expect this when I reject their advice? We all do this to some degree, I think. Some more boldly than others. I am lucky that I don’t care what people think as much as some. Not caring gives me a certain amount of freedom. Deep down inside, though, is that little girl still waiting for someone to notice her, delight in her, and celebrate her as their precious little girl. I never felt this and mourn this lack. This (lacking approval) has been a motivator for many of my choices. It has given me much freedom to make choices apart from a desire for approval and acceptance while deep down yearning for approval and acceptance. Oh, the conflict.

Choices . . . I will continue to make them based on my value system even as that system shifts. I do try very hard to understand the motivations and values of others in dealing with them. I cannot allow myself to be subjected to the values and beliefs of others, though. I am struggling with the age-old need for self-determination. I have given up a lot to gain this right. A lot. When I am 85 years old, I wonder if I will think it was worth it all. For now, it is what I must do. I can live no other way.

Self-Determination

According to Self-Determination Theory, the following is believed to be true:

“Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience, such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally.”
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In a system where self-determination is disallowed, I believe moral and behavioral standards are threatened and personalities become twisted to some degree. We all acknowledge that overly controlling parents often raise a rebellious child. A man who attempts to control his wife often ends up with a wife who runs away or sneaks around. If the controllers had been less controlling, would the children and wife have developed differently, been able to be true to a moral standard of obedience for the children and faithfulness in the wife? Can we blame the wrong behavior of one person on the oppressive behavior of another? In some cases I believe we can.

What happens when a people are faced with a dictatorial ruler? A black market emerges. A resistance is formed. Lawbreakers are created either way. When prohibition was in effect in the United States, we all agree that it was a factor in the development of organized crime. Many believe the same situation has emerged because of the war on drugs. And now we have hundreds of thousands of new felons in Connecticut because of their refusal to register their legally-purchased and possessed long guns and high-capacity magazines. We can see what Stalin did in Russia when he declared the private ownership of land void and that the product of personal effort belonged to the state. Riots, rebellion and millions of deaths as Stalin endeavored to eliminate any threats to his plan for collectivism and Communism.

On a personal level, when one person oppresses or controls another, the results are often perceived immorality. For myself, I had to reject my church, my husband, and my extended family to some degree in my quest to be free from an emotionally-abusive marriage. I had to do what is considered taboo in America. Women just don’t leave their faithful husbands here. He didn’t deserve that. I have been told over and over again that he loves me and wants me back. Control is not love.

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And yet, in my quest for self-determination, freedom from oppression and rejection of subjection, I am true to myself. I suffer a lot for this choice as any woman does who fights to escape an abusive marriage. I risk financial devastation, potential loss of my children, and even death for standing up to a controlling, abusive husband. A woman is most at risk when she is fleeing an abusive husband. I know women who had to leave their children behind with an abusive husband to preserve their own lives. What horrible choices abused women face.

The good news is that here in America, a woman is free to seek escape from an abusive marriage. The courts support her right to be free from emotional and physical abuse. The police will enforce orders of protection, and when necessary, a woman can protect herself legally by owning a gun. I don’t care what you believe about gun control, a woman does not stand a chance physically against a man in hand-to-hand battle; a gun equalizes her chances of survival in many cases. I chose not to purchase a gun for protection when I was fearful but appreciate that I had the choice.

Self-determination is a basic human right, one that has been denied to women for thousands of years; it is a right that continues to be threatened by religious doctrines and controlling men even today. I celebrate my right to make choices for my life. I celebrate that I am free to make good and bad choices, and acknowledge that I will live with the consequences. Someday, maybe, women will feel even more empowered to reject male domination in our culture (entertainment, advertising, consumerism, career choices, politics, education). Controlling men are weak men (another blog post). Women who shake off control are strong women who pay a high price for their freedom and for their right to self-determination.

May we all be free to make choices about our own lives!

Out of control

TMI alert! If you don’t like to read about female reproductive issues, don’t read any further. Click off, so to speak, to a less graphic place.

TMI

One theme that I am focused on in my life is self-determination. I want the ability and resources to make decisions for my own life without the requisite campaigning, begging, cajoling, and typical refusal I see as normality for me. I am sick of it.

So what in the *#@$ does my body think it is doing? I am 53 years old. That means stuff is going on that is new for me. I was fairly comfortable with the typical insanity of monthly menstruation. It has been mostly painless, though never regular. Well, that isn’t completely true. For years I had a 45-day cycle. That is a blessing unless you need to calculate due dates for pregnancies. Then it gets a little challenging (and doctors tend to tell you that a birth is early when it isn’t). Aside from that, the secondary infertility I suffered for a few years, and the years of very heavy flow after the birth of my second-to-the-last son, my reproductive issues have been minimal. Compared to what I am dealing with now, that was all a walk in the park (oh, the joy of time blurring memories).

The Change of Life: Really?

Now I am going through “the change,” in the throes of peri-menopause, seeing a new season of life ushered in and an old season coming to a close. Good grief, I am so sick of the euphemisms used to describe the living hell that women go through because they are child bearers. We bleed, we hurt, we have mood swings, we cry, we laugh, we make our families flee in terror, we need wine, we need chocolate, we need pain relievers and hormones. And dammit, we bleed!

Let that sink in for a minute. We bleed, over and over and over for years and years, decades, sometimes half a century.

While we are in the midst of childbearing, desiring offspring, loving being a mommy, looking forward to another pregnancy, and understand the nature of the reproductive system, it is all okay, most of the time. A lot of the time we grin and bear it because out of it we sometimes get babies. Oftentimes, not. I have lost four pregnancies, four little ones that never took a breath or felt my embrace. They are gone forever. Then there are the times when I hoped for a pregnancy and month after month it was a no go. I bled. My hopes bled, too. Sometimes I felt like my soul was bleeding, hemorrhaging, getting weaker, becoming ghost-like.

And then I was done. I knew the second my youngest was born that I was done. He was born after two losses. I held him in my arms, and I knew he was the last. I was completely comfortable with that. I was so done.

Thirteen years later, I am still done but apparently my body didn’t get the memo. Now I feel as though I am being punished for having allowed my body to be used in such a brutal way — yes, reproduction is brutal on a woman’s body. I know: babies are a blessing. They are. But pregnancy is a bitch. Postpartum is a bitch. Sore nipples are a bitch. But we love our children, so it is just one part of the picture. But there is the bleeding: before pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and after pregnancy. Always the bleeding.

And now I am still bleeding. A lot! At a time when I want to have SOME control over my life, I feel as though my body is my worst enemy, rebelling against the notion that I might ever have control over anything. It is thumbing its nose at me, laughing, smirking, and betraying me. I want it to stop.

I did have a brief respite. After an eight-week flow, some of it scary heavy, it stopped after I was given some powerful drugs. God bless drugs.

It was almost three months since that flow stopped, and I was celebrating because I thought I might be through the wasteland of peri-menopause, the field laid with razor wire, the haunted forest, the Dead Marshes. Then it happened. My body laughed at me AGAIN!

I wonder if control, self-determination, are mere illusions? Is such a thing ever possible for a woman, man or any human being? Am I tilting at windmills by fighting for independence? Am I seeking the unseekable, or the unfindable? Oh, the philosophical questions that all sentient beings ask. Oh, the frustrations that women face. I cannot comprehend the frustrations of men because I am not one. But I can say, from firsthand experience, that being a woman sure can be really rough physically, emotionally, hormonally, and any other -ly you can think of. So today I just want my body to stop pouring itself out for nothing. I am tired. I need a break.

Out of control and not liking it one bit.

Cover yourself up! I don’t think so.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I grew up in Miami. I spent a lot of time walking around beaches in nothing but a bikini from the time I was 12. All the girls did this. I did not feel ashamed or insecure. I was just walking around. I never thought about how my body could cause a man to sin. It just wasn’t a part of my upbringing. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini today (to the relief of all other human beings on the planet) not because I am more modest but because I don’t want to wear one. And that is the key. Self-determination. Choice.

As I read of girls and women around the world, such as in theocratic Iran, who are required to wear head scarves by law and burqas in some extremely conservative cultures, I am so very, very thankful that I was born, raised (mostly) and live in the United States, in a western culture.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons


And this brings me to the dangers of a theocracy, the very thing that our Founding Fathers worked hard to bar from taking root and growing here. I believe in the free expression of religion. I do NOT believe in the right of any person in this country to require any kind of religious expression from me. Do you see the difference? The wearing of head scarves is just a means of controlling women, marking and labeling them.

What does covering a part of our female bodies do to us as people? It labels us as subjugated, oppressed, controlled beings who must apologize for the core of our nature: being female. This kind of law or tenet places women in a place of shame. Shame, control, oppression…

These are all characteristics of an abusive relationship. If a religion is abusive, then it needs to be discredited. These organizations are not just religious, they are cults. The very nature of a cult is control and abuse.

When is religion cultish? I personally believe cult behavior occurs when an individual or organization requires something of followers that did not originate from followers’ own personal convictions, from their own relationship with God for only themselves. Does this make sense?

Indian Widows have been in the news lately. This Inter Press News article describes the nature of the problem:

“The women were married off at a very young age – some were just five or six. Their husbands, who were much older, married several times. When they died, they left dozens of young widows behind, said Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International.

“These young girls were forced to shave off their hair, dress only in the coarsest white clothes, eat once a day and were barred from all social events as they were considered ill-omened.”

The practice of treating women who have been subjugated by men, treated like trash, thrown out as though they have no use anymore without their husbands is the nature of misogynistic culture and religion.

If I feel that I want to engage in any religious practice, i.e., cover my own head out of respect for God, not because anyone told me to do it and not because all of the other women cover their heads, that is one thing (I must admit that I despise the practice in strongly patriarchal religions that requires women to dress in ugly sacks and put stiff bonnets on their heads thinking that somehow that makes them more acceptable to God). But for a man to tell me that I should cover my head for any reason, I reject that. Why do I need to cover my femininity? I am not talking about nudity or walking around topless in a city or on a beach. I am talking about requiring that I cover myself, my hair, my arms, my legs, my female form because it is somehow shameful and might cause a man to stumble.

Do you see this misguided casting of blame on women for the sins of men? It is her fault if a man lusts after her. It is her fault if she is raped. It is her fault for being female, a shameful, disgusting, substandard human form.
 
shame
This is the very nature of the abusive man’s arsenal of controlling behavior: shame and blame.

The bottom line is that here in the United States women are free to reject control. Although for some it is very dangerous and even life-threatening to challenge religious abuse and control, women have legal rights and can request protection from abusers/controllers.

I recently saw an ad in a local newspaper showing a woman wearing a veil offering “instruction” in Islam. The ad included a picture of a woman wearing long, flowing clothes and a veil — she was smiling and looked so happy. Really??? Yes, I can’t wait to subject myself to male control over my female form. Really??? I think this kind of proselytizing is very dangerous. Actually, isn’t any kind of proselytizing to be abhorred? I know that if you went to Egypt and tried to talk to a Muslim about Jesus you could easily end up in prison; it is against the law there. Here in the United States, the awful, horrible, disgusting United States it is legal because of our Constitution. That is because we celebrate freedom of religion here.

You are welcome to tell me about your Hindu religion and I am welcome to accept or reject it for me. I am free to talk about how I am disillusioned with the man-made parts of the Christian religion that hurt people; you are welcome to argue with me. Men and women are welcome to freely express their belief in Islam and to share it with others, even engage in proselytizing. That is the kind of country that we are resulting in the good, the bad, and the ugly. That is what freedom looks like.

The really awesome part about this country is that I am free to reject Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, atheism, deism, and any other “-ism” I feel like rejecting. As a woman, I am not required to subject myself to the religious demands of any man (or woman). As much as we hate a lot that is going on in the United States, I completely and absolutely celebrate this freedom. Yes, I do.

For those of us who love to refer to original sources, here is the wording of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, although I despise proselytizing of any kind, it is protected by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. That Muslim woman is free to place an advertisement offering “instruction” in Islam because she is in a country that celebrates freedom of religion — the free expression of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. I just hope, at some point, that she realizes that she is also free to cast off the veil and just be a person.

Celebrating freedom today!