I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own

In all of the pain after my ex husband left, there is one pain that stands out as more acute than the rest. After being arrested for bigamy and bailing out of jail, my ex decided to overdose on sleeping pills. It appeared to be a sincere suicide attempt, but he made sure to cover his bases in case he survived.

He composed and emailed a suicide letter to both his new wife and to my mom. I read that email while sitting outside the DA’s office waiting to meet the victim advocate. He was recovering in the ICU.

I felt reality slipping away as I processed the words that distorted the world I knew. In the letter, he speaks of me being “impossible to live with” and “negative.” He talks about my irresponsible spending habits and how I “just had to have my way” and he “couldn’t tell me no.”  Our last trip together – that he initiated, planned and executed – was recast as my demand for a vacation. He spoke of my insistence on building a deck when he counseled that we couldn’t afford it. He tells my mom that she “would love [the other wife]” and that he hopes they get to meet.

His words hit like a punch to an unguarded gut. I spent hours dissecting them, talking them over with each of my parents in turn. I knew they weren’t true but they still caused me to doubt. I feared that others (including my mom) might think his words were genuine. It felt like a vicious, spiteful attack on my character. And it wasn’t even factual.

He was rejecting reality and substituting his own.

He was gaslighting – using deception and manipulation to cast himself as the sane and balanced one and to make me look unstable and vile.

And it wasn’t his first time.

He was a master at creating and convincing others of his own reality. And, as trusting of him as I was, I was easy to convince. When you’re being gaslighted and you are unaware of the sleight of mind tricks being applied, you feel crazy as you begin to doubt your own perceptions and conclusions. It’s disorienting as the friction between what you see and you’re told you see don’t quite line up, almost like the view through 3D glasses when you turn away from the screen.

For months, I hated that letter. Every reading caused me to feel ill, like I’d swallowed something that needed to be purged. I shared it only with my parents and the close friend I lived with that year, finding comfort in their assurances that his words were mere deflection and trickery.

But still I wondered.

You see, he had trained me well. I still struggled not to believe his words over my own memories.

I struggled, that is, until I rejected his reality and found my own.

I picked apart each of his claims and refuted them one by one with physical evidence:

I spend too much? Then why do I read library books while he spent over a hundred dollars a month on Kindle downloads as evidenced by the checking account registry. And why do I drive the old, paid for car (that I still have!) while he insisted on buying a new one that came complete with a $500 monthly payment. I made a list of his possessions vs mine. It wasn’t even a contest.

I demanded the vacation? I unearthed an email sent to my work address where he proposed the cruise and described its details.

I insisted upon the deck? I found a trail of emails that covered everything from the summer school income I earned being used to pay for the costs to his enthusiastic sharing of his deck designs.

As for me being difficult and negative, that was harder to disprove. But the fact that I had many friends offer to take me in that year told a different story. I bolstered their offers with the hundreds of notes I had received from students over the years, praising my passion and positivity.

And as for my mom wanting to meet the other wife? Well, that was just plain funny.

Eventually, the letter lost its sting as I saw it for what it really was – an attempt to save his image by destroying mine. I wavered over whether to include the letter in the book. I was afraid I would be seen as the hateful woman he described. I decided to include it, even at the risk of his words being believed by people who did not know me. I knew that many of the readers would relate to being controlled by lies and I wanted to share a rare physical manifestation of gaslighting. Because the most painful part of gaslighting and what makes it so effective is that the evidence usually disappears like smoke in the wind, leaving you with only doubts and questions.

Gaslighting is a subtle yet relentless abuse. It’s one person using power and manipulation to control another. The damage is hidden and persistent, the worm of uncertainty taking up residence and calling everything into question. The effects linger as memories collide with new understanding, the deceptions fighting for dominance over the truth.

Gaslighting is often paired with physical abuse or addiction, the repainting of reality used to keep the partner calm and in place. It is a favored tool of narcissists and sociopaths. Those that are adept at its use tend to be charismatic and intelligent, lending a believability to their assertions. It is deliberate and cruel and can be immensely damaging.

Recovering from gaslighting takes time. Even recognizing that you were gaslighted takes time.

No one should have the power to create your reality other than you.

And your trust in another should never be greater than your trust in yourself.

Gaslighting thrives on doubt.

Starve it by believing in yourself.

Why I Refuse to Call My Husband a Narcissist

Character Assassination

Covert Abuse

Advertisements

Labels

In the early months of the divorce, I was obsessed with labels. I needed to be able to classify everything, to make sense of the nonsensical.  It reminded me of a time when I was a kid.  My parents bought this little label maker that would print out stickers of what you typed.  I spent a day labeling everything in sight before the cost of the sticky paper brought my challenge to an end.

An electronic label maker, depicting buttons, ...
Image via Wikipedia

Most of my labeling energies went towards my ex.  Was he a narcissist, indifferent to those around him, viewing me as merely an object.  Was he an addict, as we found out after he left that he had been hiding alcohol consumption.  Perhaps he could be a sociopath, devoid of any sense of right or wrong.  Maybe he was depressive, and unable to make clear decisions. Of course,  he could just be a jerk.  Each of these labels had evidence to support their application, but there was also evidence against it.  I went round and round, sure that if I just knew what to call it, I would find understanding.

I fought against the labels that may have been applied to me by my psychiatrist.  Each visit, biweekly at first, she would ask me if I was suicidal.  I bristled at the thought that she contemplated applying that label to me.  Each visit, I denied it vehemently, hoping that my insistence would keep that word from my file.

Even the divorce itself had labels.  I was the one to file, as he just planned to run away.  Originally, I was going to do a divorce by publication, as we did not know where he was.  That progressed to a no-fault divorce once I found him, but before we knew of the bigamy.  The bigamy changed the label again to a fault divorce.

None of these labels mattered.  My ex is who he is, regardless of what I call him.  My psychiatrist supported me with the medication I needed no matter the words she wrote on my file.  And divorce is horrendous, despite the category it falls under.  Just like those sticky labels I applied as a kid, labels can be applied, removed, and reapplied without changing the object beneath.  Apart from a little residue, that is.

Where Is He Now?

When I share my story, one of the most frequent questions I get is, “Where is he now?”  I don’t know the answer to that question. Here is what I do know.

From the day he left in July of 2009 until the divorce in 2010, I kept tabs on him.  I had my ways.   From this, I learned that his wife, who left him upon his arrest, elected to take him back (I even knew when she had dental work done).  I knew he spent time at his parent’s house in our hometown.  He visited his wife’s family.  I knew the newlyweds went to Uganda in February of 2010.  If you’re looking for a laugh, try telling your divorce attorney that your husband is in Africa with his wife (showering with monkeys, according to her blog) weeks before his court date.  Based upon the look on her face, I don’t think she gets that one much…  I kept up with him over those months because his actions still affected me.  He still could harm me financially; his presence in court could change the outcome, and I was still afraid of running into him.

The last day I checked on his where-a-bouts was the day after the divorce.  I figure at this point, his story is no longer tied to mine, and I don’t want to live my life trying to figure out what he is doing.  This decision has not always been easy.  He has not upheld his financial or legal obligations in the divorce, with the IRS, or in the felony bigamy charge.  There are times that I am so angry, that I want to find him and try to make him face these issues.  The reality is that I don’t want to be his bounty hunter, even if it means I never get the money owed me.

There are also times that curiosity tries to get the best of me.  Is he alive or dead?  In the country or an ex-pat?  Still with the wife?  Living in the same area where I might run into him? These are just questions that I really don’t need to know the answer to.  Right now, all I have is the hope that wherever he is, he is not lying, manipulating, and devastating anyone else.  The only place he exists for me is in my memories and that is where I want him to stay.

More Information: Who Is He?

Update: A Strange Place to Be

Update April 2013: Facing the Dragon

To read the rest of the story, click here.

How It Began

My own divorce story began in 2009 when I received a surprise text after 10 years of marriage that my husband was leaving.  That text was the last contact I ever had from him.  Over the next few weeks and months, I struggled to make sense of what happened.  It turned out that the reality was even stranger and more horrific than I could have ever imagined.  I found evidence of years of lies and deception, found empty bank accounts and overfilled unknown credit cards, and I saw evidence of another woman.  Further sleuthing uncovered the shocking revelation that he married this other woman 6 days after he left me, thus committing felony bigamy.  I found myself catapulted into a world of police, lawyers, psychiatrists, and media, trying to find my bearings.  One of the worst aspects of those early days was the feeling that he had stolen my voice my refusing to communicate with me.  I will be silent no more.

My marriage began with vows, vows to love and cherish him.  My marriage also ended with vows, vows made to myself.  I promised to thrive despite the pain, I committed to working to find balance in my life, I vowed to move beyond anger and revenge, and I pledged to use my voice to help others find wellness after trauma.

I have learned many lessons from the end of my marriage, and I am still learning.

You can read my entire story in my book Lessons From the End of a Marriage, available on Amazon.

The Day the Marriage Died

Where is He Now?

The First Tears of the New Year

When is a Phone More Than a Phone?

Wanted: The Ronald McDonald House for the Recently Separated

Dear Ms. Manners: The etiquette of Bigamy

If You’re Going to Get married Illegally, Be Sure to Pay the Band

Two Years Ago Today