My childhood was one of abuse so frightening that I shut down emotionally to survive. When I was 17 years old, my mother agreed that I could be married to a man, four years older than me, who had been my boyfriend for a year. I wasn’t asked if the marriage was what I wanted, and I had never learned that I could actually have, or state, feelings about any situation relating to me.
Two days after the marriage my husband and I were sitting at home when he suddenly began screaming at me incoherently. Grabbing me by my hair he dragged me out of the room, still screaming at me, and threw me outside, shutting the door behind me. We were living with his father, which we did for the first nine years of our marriage, and it wasn’t until his father came home from work four hours later that anyone came to look for me. I had crawled into the back seat of the car in the carport and was completely numb emotionally, unable to formulate any decision as to what I could do. This set the pattern for our marriage.
As is often the case in such situations, my husband controlled who I could see, how much money I was given for the household needs and what was acceptable behaviour. Anytime I transgressed, the screaming and throwing out of the house, whatever the time of day or night, was repeated. I learned to walk on eggshells, saying little and doing nothing but what was needed to keep the family and house in reasonable order. In fact, the only thing I had any control over was how clean the house was and how I could stretch what little money I was given to cover food and clothing for myself and our three children. I also began living in my imagination. I made up a family and lived their lives instead of my own. During the day, with my children, I would be as present as I could manage, which was emotionally exhausting, and at night I would make myself stay awake, examining in great detail how the members of my imaginary family were dealing with each other. They fought and yelled and punched and got drunk, but I could make them look at why they did this and how it was affecting them.
I lived like this for 24 years until my children were adults, then I left. That was 30 years ago and it’s only now that I’m learning to believe that that was my life, and the problems I’m having with coping with my emotions are due to not allowing myself to feel them through that time.