From Abuse to Peace: This Mama's Story

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I left because I was being abused.

This post has been a long time coming.

I try to be a green, natural mama. I try to rationally and peacefully deal with my children. And when that doesn’t work, I fantasize about selling them to the circus.

But here I am, with two young boys, starting over as a single mama.

I left because I was being abused.

I was silent about it for too long. And I stayed for too long. I could fault myself for those things, but instead, I’m opening up about it. Because if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.

I’ve considered myself a feminist for as long as I knew what the word meant. I helped friends get out of bad relationships and I thought that I knew the signs. I’m also the “mother-earth” type to some of my friends. Yeah, I’m crunchy, but I face the trials of parenting with a mix of peace and humor.

I never expected to end up with a man like this. But abusers don’t come with warning lights. And they should.

I met him when my older son, Little L, was 6 months old. We met through mutual friends, people whose opinions I respected. People he’d known for a long time. They didn’t know this about him either.

We started dating about a year after I met him. He had me: single dad, working hard to provide a good life for his daughters.

Now, 3 months have passed since I ran. And in that time, I’ve learned more about him and his past than I ever knew in the 3 years we were together.

I wish someone would have warned me. But I know now that he hid this side of him, that it was a part of him that no one can see until they’re much too close, until they’re much too afraid to do anything but plan. He’s done this to others, and I had no idea. It’s not something you talk about.

It started with awful arguments. When I was pregnant with our son, Baby E, there were screaming matches because I wanted to keep my boy intact. Once he even went so far as to say,

I wish you’d had an abortion and then we’d never have to fight about circumcision.

(Yes, the logic on that one is wonderful; “If you don’t cut off part of our baby’s body at birth, I’d rather he was aborted.”)

Then, after the birth, I was screamed at any time I questioned anything, especially regarding our joint parenting. Real peaceful, there.

The first time I was really frightened, he threw a computer I was sitting at. He was yelling at me, and I wanted to escape the argument, so I walked into the office to sit down and ignore him for a bit. He followed me and because I wouldn’t fight back, he threw the computer off the desk, somehow ripping out my earring in the process. I have the split earlobe to show now.

Other times, it was busting through locked doors, screaming at me while I tried to sleep or read or not participate. And often I did participate. I take full responsibility for arguing back, for the tension in our household during and after these storms.

But no one deserves to be abused.

No one deserves to be pushed into a wall.

No one deserves to have a window punched out near them.

No one deserves to be pinned by the neck.

No one deserves to watch doors get ripped off the hinges.

No one deserves to have their head repeatedly slammed into the headboard of the bed while breastfeeding their son.

No one deserves dirty name-calling and threats.

I didn’t deserve any of it, no matter my faults as a human being. So I left.

Because as hard and as scary as leaving was, I knew I had to. I had a job as a mother.

I will raise my boys to be kind and gentle and peaceful. I will raise them to treat women with respect, to be their equal partners. And if I was not showing them that I deserved that, how could I expect they would learn any differently?

Since leaving 3 months ago, I have had so much peace in my life. My boys adjusted well, and now we are in a small city. We have a great support system in the form of amazing friends.

Without my ex, I am a better mother. I have more patience. I have less daily tension.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect that will happen anytime soon, but I am free. And being free of fear and accusations and drama is a huge first step.

Follow me on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I don’t know what else to say other than hugs :) You did a brave thing and what is right for you and your family. A very brave post, honest and just hopeful.

  2. I am glad that you are out, and I am glad that you are free. And I am especially glad that you are sharing your story. I hope that it helps someone who needs that help.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is important that we all share our stores so that we can learn and grow. I am terribly sorry that you went through the ordeal but I am so glad to learn that you are at peace now – and free.

  4. Thankfully you had the bravery to leave. It sounds like a horrible nightmare.

  5. You make several really good points in this “confession”… you don’t choose to be with an abuser and it can happen to a feminist. I also consider myself a feminist but that does not seem to make an abusive relationship obvious when your in one. I had a nasty one and did not even realize it for what it was until other people started talking about what was happening. Then it hit me… this is what they are talking about, those women support groups and battered wives organizations. It is wonderful you got out and Good Luck in your fresh start!

  6. How brave of you to share such pain. By sharing, others are willing to draw from your strength and make decisions similar to leave.

    I held my breath as you recounted all the horrible things he did. I am glad you ran and are free of his demons.

    Again, thanks for sharing and much happiness in your new life with your boys.

  7. Hi there

    we have chatted on Twitter. I think about you often.

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story.

    Best wishes to you and your boy

  8. Cate,

    You are very brave to share this. I know how painful this is – unfortunately, my father abused my mother. My mother left my father when I was 5-years-old.

    To this day, it is very difficult to understand his actions.

    I would just encourage you to remove the reference to the abortion because some day your child might read this and it would cause great pain. I know right now it might seem impossible, but in time your ex might develop close and positive relations with your children, and yes, even mellow over time. Not that this will change your feelings – and it shouldn’t – but the relationship with the children is complex and at the end of the day, he is still your youngest’s father. I hope this helps and I’m happy to chat more off-line.

    Best wishes to you.

  9. Cate Nelson says:

    Thank you all for your kind, thoughtful comments. I feel like I was silent for so long, and that was never who I was. I couldn’t let him change me forever.

    @Lynn: I did debate that same thing, and before long, I will remove that quote. It’s hardly the worst he ever said to me, just one of the more nonsensical tidbits.

    I will say this: I have a 2-year protective order against him, which is somewhat rare when there are children shared and no documented instances of abuse (i.e. police involvement).

    We’re fighting for custody right now. But he does see the kids. Even though I’m angry for what he did to me, surprisingly, he was never abusive to the children (though one could argue that seeing him abuse Mom is abusive to them!). So until all of this is sorted out, judge’s orders are that he’s allowed to see them.

    And I hope that he someday becomes a good, kind man. His children need that of him. It’s not the case right now, sadly.

  10. Cate, it’s true that we often don’t really know people until we are in a close relationship with them. We see sides to them that their friends and family may have never known about. How many times have we seen on TV friends and neighbors of violent criminals saying they had no idea the person was like this or that they can’t believe it.

    I’m glad you got out. I’m glad you saw the situation for what it was. I’m glad that you were able to trust your own instincts instead of allowing him to define who you are. Bravo. And thanks for sharing your story with us.

  11. I’m glad you got out. I’m glad you saw the situation for what it was. I’m glad that you were able to trust your own instincts instead of allowing him to define who you are. Bravo. And thanks for sharing your story with us.

  12. You are a brave woman and mother. So many women in your situation may have stayed, seeing the difficult road ahead being a single parent. You did the right thing for yourself and your children. I’m glad you are safe now. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it helps others in similar situations.

  13. Peace is coming your way. Thank you for being courageous enough to do what was best for you and your boys. I know that takes guts. Your boys will be moved when, as adults, they realize just what you’ve done for them. Just like we all are now. Stay strong.

  14. Thank you so much for speaking out. Every voice raised up makes a difference, educates those who need it, saves a life.

    I run a website for just this sort of thing, if you’d like to share there or just have a resource to know you’re not alone, come join us.

    Thank you again.

  15. Thanks for sharing….I don’t have any other words that someone else hasn’t already said. I appreciate your honesty and I always appreciate your blog.

    Thanks.

  16. You are so, so brave for sharing this. I cringe at all of the things he did to you, but I also cheer for the fact that you were strong enough to get out, and that you and your kids are better off for it. And thank you for the wake up call and reminder that this can happen to anyone. You have shown tremendous strength by sharing this, and you have helped us all by doing so.

  17. Cate, you are one of the bravest women that I know. For taking care of yourself and children and for not being afraid to talk about it.

  18. Great post. Miserable experience of course and I’m glad you made it. I disagree with Lynn’s opinion about the abortion quote. Call it what it was. You should be free to discuss this as you see fit. I’m sure your son will realize that both sides of that choice were tough and clearly you selected the options as you could that involved having him. Abortion is a real choice that comes about legitimately anyway without being an opinion on the value of the would be life. And then expressing yourself comes first, editing it down is a secondary thing if it is anything at all, in my opinion. ‘Nuff said on that. It’s just a disagreement.

    I imagine this situation where people get sucked into relationships that sort of consume their existence so that friends and the outside world are a step removed and then they are turned into victims. I’m particularly bothered by situations like that. It sucks in a big way.

    Keep up the blog work. Legitimate feelings are the best way for the world to see what it’s made of.

  19. kristen driscoll says:

    Cate,

    Your courage is beautiful and inspiring!

    Kristen

  20. Breaking the silence, whether to an intimate friend or on a blog, is such an incredible feat of courage and strength. I have a good feeling that your words here will inspire similar acts of courage and strength in other women (and men).

  21. I’m so sorry for the pain. You are so strong and brave. I’m sure this with help others.

  22. Although the majority of comments to Cate’s personal story of abuse have been overwhelmingly supportive, we did have a comment from one of her ex’s friends we have chosen not to publish. I do not like to censor comments, but this one was very hurtful, negative, and missed the entire point of the post. Eco Child’s Play is not some talk show where spouses (and their friends) fight about their relationships in a public forum. Whatever went wrong in this relationship is not for us to decide. It takes two to tango, and I am sure that on some level both Cate and her ex contributed to this relationship’s disintegration. What I do know is that NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED! NO MAN, NO WOMAN, NO CHILD! It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past or present. People need to learn how to control their anger and what to do when faced with relationship problems without resorting to violence. The unpublished commenter did not understand this. I am proud of Cate she found the strength to become a single mom and protect herself.

  23. Cate,

    I’m so very sorry to learn about what you endured with your ex-husband. No one should every have to experience that. Kudos to you for reaching out for support and shareing your story so that others might recognize similar situations and know that they have options. Best wishes and peace to you and your boys.

    Micaela

  24. Sharing this with someone I love. So proud of you, wishing you peace.

  25. Cate,

    What amazing courage you have, for discussing this so openly and for taking the step to leave and start over again.

    Without slighting the rest of what you wrote, I have a gnawing concern: this abusive man is left with daughters in his custody? Are any steps being taken to remove him from contact with his children (and yours?). Or the better question, is that even a possibility? The bottom line is that if he can’t control himself with you, he can’t be trusted with them (especially if you’re no longer there to bear the brunt of his anger).

    I’m sad for all involved, but so happy for your new start and new-found peace.

    Hugs,

    Amy

  26. Cate Nelson says:

    Thanks for bringing this up, Amy.

    He currently still has full custody of his 13-yr-old. His younger daughter lives out of state with her mother (different mothers). The boys still visit him. During the protective order hearing, the judge ordered me to allow contact.

    We have a tricky custody situation, since he’s not allowed near me. He has to send someone to my city to pick them up and return them. He also cannot have contact with me other than e-mail. (I asked for this in the PO hearing. I’m proud of that one!)

    Until custody is set, this is the situation currently.

    Thank you all for the love and support I’ve gotten here.

  27. Cate,

    Having “followed” you for awhile I am not surprised by your strength and commitment. I applaud your courage in revealing such tough and difficult experiences. It is astounding to realize how no matter what our philosophical beliefs and ideologies how very difficult it can be to identify and respond in our own personal lives — it so complex.

    I am very confident that your post will be have an influence on many women and men. I am also a firm believer in the value for you of opening up in this way. I encourage you to continue to share as you proceed in your journey of personal healing and recovery. I am touched deeply by you once again.

    I send hugs for you, L, and E.

  28. Your story gave me chills Cate. For you, for me and for all women who have gone through that hell. You are absolutely right that you can’t see it coming and it can happen to anyone. Thank goodness for you and your boys you got out. Hugs to you.

  29. Circumcision sometimes turns marriages into trench warfare. More and more younger mothers are attracted to at least some aspects of the crunchy lifestyle, and intact boys is a major part of that lifestyle. A growing number of younger women now believe that circumcision damages sexual pleasure, for him surely and sometimes for his future partners as well, and functionality. Many younger women now recoil in horror at the barbarity of circumcision without anesthesia. The result is that a large fraction of women of childbearing age no longer want any sons to be circumcised. All this is very much to the good.

    Tragically, many fathers are not on board here. Many American fathers view the natural penis with disgust. They see an intact son as being at risk of bullying by other boys, and of sexual rejection by the women he eventually dates. Fathers have told me, when I reveal my intactivist sentiments to them “have it your way, but in that case forget oral sex.” During much of the last century, intact American men were a despised and misunderstood sexual minority. The presence of foreskin was taken as evidence that a male issued from an inferior family of origin. The USA most definitely has a complex and emotionally powerful class system, and the tip of the penis is caught in the maw of that system. “If my son looks like that, people will think we’re hillbillies or Latinos.”

    I am a male who has been abused by male relatives of my spouse, acts which my spouse declines to object to in any way. I have brought this abuse to the attention of the authorities and marriage counselors. To date, no one has seen fit to engage with the problem in any way. Marriage counselors and social workers have declined to discuss the matter with me. My cynical conclusion is that violence is something that only happens to women.

  30. Thank you for this Cate. I am in tears, because I know that this could be me soon if I do not do something fast. I appreciate you sharing your story and for your kind words and advice in the other forum. You are helping more than you know.

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