My Story, Part 2
Abuse and Victimization
A downward spiral with an unhappy ending
Anxiety continued to be a dominant theme in my life. I also possessed a proclivity for making poor decisions.
As I entered my life as a divorced father a two young children, despite my advanced degree I was continually underemployed and financially overextended. I was still feeling the devastating effects of my divorce when I met, dated, cohabited with, and married my second wife.
Looking back, there were many things in our relationship that I should’ve taken as signs that trouble was ahead, but I didn’t pay attention. At the six-months mark and despite having already suffered two broken ribs in what I described to others at the time as a “simply a fall,” I was convinced we could make it work.
At the one-year mark, I’d moved out on three occasions for a few weeks each time and always returned thinking the worst was over. But that was never the case. The worst was always right around the next corner.
In hindsight it was not unlike the reprieves I felt when my mother was hospitalized. For those few weeks I was in control of my life without the fear and hyper-vigilant awareness that was the norm for most of my second marriage.
She hid her heavy alcohol use from me for a few years. It’s true what they say that the closest ones to the addict are usually the most clueless; In my case it was also true that I’d become co-dependent on her addiction for my own sense of purpose.
Who was I if I wasn’t the one trying to hold the family together? It was a hard question to ask and an even harder one to answer.
The heaviest toll was on my children. My two kids from my first marriage were growing up and were aware that my hybrid family life wasn’t a healthy one.
At age 13, my daughter decided she didn’t want to have bi-weekly visits. I was hurt, but I couldn’t blame her. It was a smart decision on her part. My son continued to come see me every other weekend until he was 18. I’ve never been able to fully express how much that meant to me.
The breaking point
Fifteen years into our marriage, the pattern of violence was as permanent as slabs of granite and I felt there was no escape. I’d suffered lacerations, body slams, concussions, and so many betrayals that I was an emotional corpse, barely hanging on in order to protect my six-year-old son.
I’d lost my job a few months before after my wife called my supervisor and threatened her if she showed romantic interest in me (there was none on either of our parts, but that didn’t matter in my wife’s mind that had been scarred by substance abuse).
It wasn’t until after she left home to spend time at a local bar one day that a Sergeant in the San Jose Police Department approached the house and knocked on the door. When I answered the door he told me that he’d waited until she left before approaching and that he wanted to talk to me.
You’re going to die here
I’ll never forget the compassion with which he expressed himself, even though what he said was hard to hear.
”Barry, if you stay much longer, you’re going to die here. And that cute little boy over there will go into the system.
Is that what you want for him?”
The tears streamed down my cheeks as he spoke and for the first time I knew beyond any doubt that I was powerless to change the situation and give my young son a normal life as long as I stayed with his mother.
The possibility of leaving him behind in her care never crossed my mind. That wasn’t even remotely possible. A few days later I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life: To leave with only a backpack full of belongings and forever change our concept of family.
We drove to the home of my parents where we camped out in a spare bedroom for over a year while the courts made their final determinations as to the fate of my son’s custody.
After a few court hearings and two restraining orders, I was awarded full physical custody of my youngest son and embarked on the long road to recovery for both of us. The road held many difficult twists and turns, but we hung on and built a life together.
I worked for a time as a Yard Duty Supervisor at my son’s new elementary school. It was for only 90 minutes per day but it was just what I needed. I needed to be near my son and this tiny, wonderful minimally taxing job was probably the most therapeutic experience I could hope for. It allowed me time to walk to and from the school each day, lose some weight in the process, and sort things out in my head and my heart.
I observed so many wonderful moments in this job, surrounded my children, some troubled and some not. I proudly watched as my seven-year-old son, who’d observed so much violence in our home, become the protector of bullied kids on the school playground.
He was the peacemaker on the playground and protector of the bullied. Little kids being chased by older kids would run to him for protection. On one occasion, I saw him move a small child behind him and stand his ground with his arms crossed daring the perpetrators to go any further. I can only imagine the dialogue, but the visual made my heart swell compassion for him. I saw myself in a lot of those small kids.
In that moment it became clear to me that my youngest son had been my protector and not the reverse; In many ways he finished raising me and in doing so he became my greatest teacher.
Throughout our recovery, a few therapists—and even my parents—were instrumental in helping us move on and grow into the next phase of our lives. Even my mother rose above her covert narcissism and helped with my son’s upbringing.
When he started the 4th grade, we moved from San Jose, California 40 miles west to Santa Cruz County and lived two blocks from the Pacific Ocean for the next 12 years.
Twelve years by the ocean can heal almost anyone of almost anything.
Peacemakers are the angels among us…
From a tender age, my son -also and empath and HSP-has in many ways been my greatest teacher.
A lasting peace
You might think that I’d dislike or even hate my ex-wife, but I don’t. I don’t have any ill feelings toward her at all any longer. It’s now been 15 years since we split and I see her occasionally when it involves our son. We exchange text messages every now and then and I’m grateful that she’s come a very long way on her own path of recovery.
My son deserves a good mom and she is becoming one. She will always be my son’s mother and that means we will always be in one another’s lives. For many years we were both victims. We embraced the victim mentality and blamed the other for our pain. But as time passed, age taught us both valuable lessons and our son taught us more.
He taught us how to be family again. Though we remain apart, separate, and on our own individual paths, we are still—and will remain—a family.
My son is still a peacemaker and these days he is an accomplished musician and songwriter. He also made a very practical lifestyle choice and adopted the straightedge (no alcohol, no drugs, no tobacco) mode of living. I couldn’t be happier.
Now an accomplished performer, pictured here with ‘No Greater Fight’ opening for ‘Bad Religion.’
Seeing him perform is one my favorite things.
End of Part II.