Immediately after I divorced That Man, I continued to live in his house for awhile. He had magnanimously told me that I could stay as long as I needed to in order to get on my feet and move out.
Magnanimous indeed, since he knew that I had no job and I was pretty close to shutting down my business. I had no income. How was I going to leave?
In the meantime, my enforced captivity — and I was dependent on him for everything from the roof over my head to the car I drove back and forth to school every day — gave him every opportunity to punish me for divorcing him in all the passive-aggressive ways that came naturally to him.
This wasn’t new.
His covert hostility, for example, was the reason why I could never seem to get my business up to “the next level.” How? Very simple. He would do all kinds of irresponsible things with his money. He would find some way to blame me when we didn’t have enough money to pay bills or buy food. He would stay in untenable employment situations, even when they stopped paying him enough money to support his family.
And every single time, I would feel compelled to take the money I was intending to reinvest into my company so that I could grow my business and use it to bail out the household instead.
It hurt. I could probably have built my newsletter into a major concern because it was good. Frankly, in the space of about seven years, I had changed the content and the substance of the conversation about small businesses on Capitol Hill. I had been invited on more than one occasion to share my insights with members of Congress. I had been flown to Europe twice to speak at conferences about microbusinesses.
I was going places.
And yet, thanks to this passive-aggressive stuff I wasn’t recognizing, I found myself getting nowhere. After awhile, all the running in place started to negatively impact my confidence and I started to feel like I wasn’t as good at this stuff as I thought I was. And I knew my marriage was over at least three years before I filed for divorce but I didn’t leave because I couldn’t. I was broke, so I was trapped.
This is a kind of abuse that I had never even considered before I read this HuffPo article about economic abuse. I had spent a lot of time, in fact, trying to figure out what he did to me and how, and I couldn’t make any sense of it. Then I read this and the scales fell from my eyes.
In some ways, he never did manage to cow me into submission and I know it pissed him off. During the second semester of my freshman year, I scraped his car just a touch. He blew a gasket and threatened to stop letting me use his car. I was pretty sure he didn’t really mean it. The threat was supposed to make me beg; he knew how important it was to me by then to be able to get to my classes.
Only I didn’t beg. Instead, I took the loan refund I had just gotten and ran down to Philly that weekend to buy a used car from my nephew. When I got back, I gave him my set of his car keys and informed him that I would never lay a finger on his precious car again.
That was the kind of thing about me that really ticked him off. I don’t respond well to being threatened.
But it was only because he was taken into custody by the State of New York that I was able to finally escape. And, as frightened as I was about the money — I had to take a job at Walmart, working part-time so that I could stay in school and being forced to use all kinds of public services and benefits to make ends meet — I managed. I paid my rent and fed my kids and kept the lights turned on, all of which was better than he managed even though he had been making at least three times as much as I was making.
Looking back, I probably didn’t really have to stay as long as I did, except that I was afraid to leave.
One of the lovely things for me about being beyond the crucible now is the confidence I have earned when it comes to the delicate matter of being able to handle money and make a home for my family. That’s why I can contemplate going back to school without breaking a sweat, because I know that I can move us and go back to being a student and the all-kinds-of-broke that implies and still be alright.
The abuse I didn’t know I was suffering is over now. I am pretty sure I could recognize it again, if it came my way. And I have learned a few things, about economic abuse and about myself, too.
I have learned as well that no one is immune to abuse, years of psychotherapy notwithstanding. He never did cow me. He never managed to completely disempower me. But he did damage me badly … and it took me a very long time to figure out how.
Now, I celebrate my freedom. Every. Single. Day.