women

Breaking free(r)

I am the last person who should be writing about breaking free.

I have been separated from my abusive husband for nearly 7 years now, and I am just now taking a huge step to break free(r).

I did kick him out of the house years ago which took a lot of courage. This worked only because I knew he wouldn’t hire a lawyer. I had no legal right to kick him out of his own house, even though he promised he would leave any time I wanted to separate (which was a lie–I asked; he refused).

This weekend I am leaving this house, this town and this state to move near family (and away from snowy winters that isolate me further). I will be near my adult children and three grandchildren.

I will be mere hours away from my very sick mother and wonderful stepdad.

I will be only months away from enrolling in a 4-year college or university so I can finish my bachelor’s degree.

I will have access to unconditional love from my grandchildren (oh, the hugs they can give). My teenager will spend his last two years of high school surrounded by family (he is going to be one popular uncle).

This weekend I load up a truck with those belongings that I consider most precious:

  • kitchen stuff
  • personal library
  • knitting and quilting stuff
  • computer
  • my bed

Strange list, I know.

I have a well-equipped kitchen with old, functional small appliances: bread machine, flour mill, large Villaware toaster oven, 1950s Sunbeam Mixmaster, food processor and my cast iron and stainless cookware. I also have a decent supply of baking pans and dishes. I hope to regain enough strength to bake and cook once again.

Oh, my personal library. We have been separated for years. I packed up my books and put them away years ago because I have been waiting to move for years (and I had difficulty reading anyway — see below). I look forward to the day when all of my books are on shelves (that I picked out) where I can access them whenever I like. The joy!

I knit a LOT! It is something that I can do right now with limited strength and chronic pain. Knitting doesn’t hurt. I am keeping my quilting stuff, again with hopes that I will regain enough strength to make all of my grandchildren quilts.

My computer has been my connection to the outside world. Being isolated for years, the internet kept me sane when I was living in a nightmare world of a marriage to a mean, hateful man. When I got sick in 2006 with Lyme disease and then did not recover, I couldn’t even compose and type an email. I couldn’t write a sentence. I couldn’t read a paragraph.

My computer saved me. I joined an online gaming community. I started to reconnect with other people, nice people. I typed in chat occasionally (and used voice chat a lot).

I started by using my laptop while I lay on the couch (too tired to sit up).

After a few months, I was able to sit at my computer desk. I bought myself an inexpensive desktop computer. I kept hand weights on the desk and gained strength.

Eventually, my doctor ordered physical therapy which got me mobile again. I continued the exercises on my own and regained more strength.

A couple of years later, I found a Lyme-literate doctor who treated my chronic Lyme with antibiotics and supplements. She discovered B-12 and D deficiencies. After a few months on amoxicillin (which keeps my pain at bay but doesn’t seem to help me gain ground), she put me on clarithromycin (Biaxin). After 6 months, I had recovered my hearing, pain was minimal, I could walk without looking drunk, I lost 30 pounds, and I began walking 5-6 days a week. I recovered to about 60% of normal. This was a huge improvement. It was college coursework that helped my brain to heal.

My bed. I know that is a weird thing to put on a list of precious belongings, but there is a reason.

Months before the final separation from my husband, I had moved to the couch to sleep. He moved all night long (restless leg syndrome) and snored so badly that I could not sleep well. I wasn’t missing much. The bed we slept in was a freebie he had gotten from a coworker in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was at least 20 years old. It was bad.

What was really hard was near the end my husband had stopped coming home from work. He said he was going to the church to pray every night, often not getting home until 11 p.m. and even as late as midnight. He would then come home, stomp up the stairs (raised ranch), do his burping thing (he always burped when he came home and walked up the stairs), and wake me up because I was sleeping on the couch. He never offered to give me the bedroom so I could get one good night’s sleep. Not ever.

After my husband was gone, it took me a few months, but I finally made myself clean out our bedroom (with my sons doing the heavy lifting). I got rid of everything that had been ours. I threw away his broken, plastic headboard that he insisted we keep. I threw away that old, disgusting mattress. I got rid of every piece of furniture.

I went to IKEA and bought myself a bed of my choosing. I bought myself a NEW mattress. It was an act of rebellion against the husband-imposed poverty that I had lived in for nearly 20 years.

So, yeah, my bed is precious. It is mine. I picked it out and it is my restful sleeping place. [Amazingly, I began to recover even more of my health when I could get a full night’s sleep without interruption. Go figure.]

Of course, there is room on this truck for my teenager’s computer desk, his books, instruments, computer and clothes. He will get a new bed when we move into our new place.

The only other furniture we are taking is the kitchen table and chairs, the outdoor table and chairs, two IKEA chairs, an ottoman, a Singer parlor cabinet (treadle that I use for all my sewing machine heads – motorized and people-powered), and my coffee table.

Everything else in this house is either cheap, in bad shape or not worth bringing.

This move signals the recovery of a different kind of power: power over my own future.

I am so stressed that I am not sleeping well. I wake up all night long with adrenaline dumps, heart pounding. But I must do this.

I am moving out of a place that has been comfortable in some small part because it is known to a place full of unknowns. Yes, I am scared.

I am moving toward freedom to be myself in my own space.

I am moving.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

My favorite things: reading

 

girl-reading-book-in-treeReading came easily to me in the first grade on an Army base in Italy. But I didn’t experience reading for pleasure until the summer I turned ten.

The Dade County (Florida) public library system had finally provided a real public library in the shopping mall for its bookmobile patrons, and I remember going in every Saturday morning, scouring the shelves for interesting fiction and going to the checkout area with my stack of 4-5 books.

I read propped up in my favorite tree, on the porch roof, on my bed, and reclined on one of our matching couches. I read a LOT.

That was the summer after my parents’ divorce became official. Reading was my escape.

It continued to be my escape as I read classics, also checked out from the public library in Austin, Texas all through my 20s.

One consistency, throughout all my years of reading, has been my love of the YA section. If reading is my escape, I don’t necessarily want to only read dark, gritty works that leave me feeling disturbed. Young adult fiction provides a nice selection of interesting books without many of the harsher elements found in adult works.

I see, feel and read about the reality of our world every day as a Twitter addict and news junkie. Again, reading is an escape for me. I am unapologetic about that.

I am drawn to fiction written for adults with dark themes such as murder, kidnapping and crime. I love stories with strong female protagonists struggling against oppression or difficulty. I despise romances.

After reading nonfiction and fiction written for adults for a few months, I will take a break and dive into some YA fiction for a time to decompress. It helps me find my happy place.

I love words. I love thoughts and ideas elegantly expressed in beautiful, well-written prose. I love an exciting story filled with characters that bring me along for the ride as long as they have substance. I don’t like too much fluff (literary junk food, as I call it).

I also love poetry written by women, and some men, who have suffered (another whole blog post).

This leads me to one of my prejudices: I prefer women authors to men because I do not believe a man can truly know what it means to be a girl or woman. I admit to this prejudice. I own it.

And so as I finish up the Harry Potter series of books today, I look for my next series of detective stories, murder mysteries, or fantasies, the kind not filled with profanity and graphic sex (I have to be in the mood for those kinds of books, and do read them, just not when I am reading to escape life’s dark times).

I will read nonfiction books about nature, wildflowers, permaculture, gardening, cooking, home renovation, Texas and other parts of the U.S. I will continue to spend hours each day reading news and articles about our world. And when I become disheartened, I will pick up a work of fiction or book of poetry and escape for a time until my soul quiets.

Sharing Literature

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At the Providence airport.

The first night my four-year-old granddaughter was here for a visit, I pulled out this huge tome of poetry with the goal of reading her to sleep. Laying in the special inflatable bed I bought for her when she was a baby (looks like a life raft), snug beneath a sherpa-lined blanket with her sweet-smelling long-blonde hair spread out on her brand new pillow and pillowcase, she was wiggly to say the least.

I held the heavy book beneath a desk lamp perched on the edge of my 20-year-old son’s desk (he gave up his room to his older sister and niece) and looked for poems that had funny themes and lots of onomatopoeias. I easily found one that set Charlotte giggling.

Each time she would try to sit up, I would stop reading and tell her I will continue when her head is on her pillow. She loved the poems so much that she willingly complied.

When she asked to see the pictures, I told her she had to make them in her head.

In less than 10 minutes, little Charlotte was asleep.

When I returned to the living room with this news, my daughter said she had never gone to sleep that easily in her life. Well, I did attribute it to a day spent in airports and on airplanes, but she loved hearing the poetry Grandma was reading to her from the “red book.”

When I think about girls in some cultures being kept from getting an education because of male dominance and/or religious doctrine, I see red. Every girl deserves an education, but most of all, each one should experience the joys of being able to read about a world beyond her own, and to escape her culture and reality when she wants. Girls have it quite hard in many parts of the world. We Americans often forget that.

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I will make sure my granddaughter learns to read well and is surrounded by literature even if I have to teach her to read myself (one of my superpowers, by the way).

And so I read because it gives me great pleasure and helps me escape the harsh realities of life. It is certainly one of my favorite things.

What will make you happy?

Sharing an heirloom variety nasturtium flower from my vegetable garden with my granddaughter brought me great joy!

Sharing an heirloom variety nasturtium flower from my vegetable garden with my granddaughter brought me great joy!

My daughter is in town for two weddings. One has occurred, the vows spoken, the first dance danced, and the couple away on their new life. The other is this weekend.

In a quiet moment, I asked my daughter if she was happy. I was sad at the response I got but we talked about what to do to pursue that happiness.

Women have been slaves to the institution of marriage and family for thousands of years. The biggest change that has occurred in the past century is that women can examine their lives and ask themselves, or let someone else ask them, if they are happy.

If the answer is in the negative, women have the power and opportunity to change the course of their lives in pursuit of happiness.

There is nothing selfish or ugly about asking yourself if you are happy. If you are, wonderful! If you are doing exactly what you want to be doing, or are content being where you are, excellent!

But, if you are not sure, if you are feeling discontented, unhappy, or are in an abusive situation, it is time to ask the question and then honestly evaluate the answer.

I will not say that women have a right to be happy. We all know that is a pipe dream. Happiness is a fleeting feeling, one that eludes most of us most of the time. Yet, if we are not happy, women have the right to pursue happiness just like our beloved Founding Fathers expressed in the Declaration of Independence. They were so forward thinking that they didn’t even realize that that document included women and minorities. But it did. Just like the Bible speaking to and of man means mankind, male and female, equally.

Women are masters at martyrdom. We know how to suck it up, do what’s right, and meet needs right and left. We care for others, put the needs of others before our own, and neglect ourselves in droves. We are so good at it that we don’t even realize that we are unhappy.

What makes me happy? College makes me happy. Spending time with my kids helping them find their voices makes me happy. Nature photography and gardening make me happy. Having control over my own life makes me very, very happy. So I focus on those things. They are all challenging, which is a big part of the happiness factor in them. I paid a high price for the right and ability to engage in these activities. It was well worth it.

What makes you happy?