A Volunteer’s Story

The beginning, young and in love

My odyssey began when I met the young man who would later become my husband, in high school. He was tall with jet black hair and light blue eyes, in a word handsome. I was attracted to him the minute I first saw him. He asked me out on a date and we began seeing each other. Very quickly in the relationship he began telling me he loved me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He would tell me that often and it sounded pretty good, but what did I know at 15 years old? Life was good. I had a full schedule, high school, a part time job, sports, girlfriends and now a boyfriend to keep me busy. Things seemed great at first with my boyfriend, doing fun things and going places, but then came his demands. He gave me an ultimatum: quit your job and sports team and get rid of your friends, or I will leave you. He wanted all my attention. While it appeared to me that he loved me and wanted to spend every waking minute with me (because he loved me), I told him no. I just could not leave my friends behind. So he broke it off with me. The very next day he came back to me and said he did not want to lose me, that he loved me so much, so I took him back. Over the next couple of months he successfully got me to quit my job and the sports team and leave my friends behind. I saw him constantly. He wanted to spend every minute of every day with me. We did everything together, including going to his church every Sunday. His parents made him go. He started telling me, “we were made for each other” and, “in God’s eyes we were already married.” At 16 years old and in love these words sounded great to me, but he was after more than just my heart and holding hands. Two years later we were married.

Married, reality

Married life was not as I had envisioned. We were married in our home town, with family and friends gathered, then headed cross country to live far from everyone we knew. Once there my husband’s demeanor changed from caring to entitlement. He had very specific ideas as to what my job and position were in the relationship and there was no negotiating. I had to do what he wanted when he wanted, or there would be repercussions. Almost every day brought with it new challenges and many of those days I thought I was the cause. We continued to go to church on a regular basis amidst all the tension. My husband began telling me, “Now that we are married I should be able to have you whenever I want.” That did not fit our plan to wait five years before having children, due to our birth control method, abstinence at certain times of the month, but his indifference to what would happen to me quickly set me straight. Five weeks into our marriage I knew something was terribly wrong with our relationship, but could not quite figure out what is was. At times I thought there was something wrong with him, and other times I thought maybe it was me. I even explored the thought that our problems could be caused by both of us. Amidst all of the turmoil I became pregnant and my focus changed from confronting my husband to appeasing him to make the marriage function, so I could focus on raising our child. We had a second child, and I continued to try to maintain a sense of balance and normalcy in our lives, all the while putting on a front for those who knew us. I would cover up our rocky relationship, so no one would know how bad it was. I instinctively knew my relationship with my spouse was not what it should have been, but with children to take care of I did what I could.

Awakening, psychopathy

Many years passed as I learned what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do to keep from getting into a confrontation with my husband. Life was just easier that way. Once we got into an argument and he told me that, if I ever left him, he would take the children away and he would make sure that everyone knew I was crazy. I believed him and did what I could do to prevent him from carrying out his threat. I will never forget another time he confronted me, when I had hurt my back and had to lie in bed for two weeks, while it healed. My back was so bad that I would roll out of bed, drop to the floor and crawl on my hands and knees. One day I dropped to the floor and crawled into the kitchen only to be stopped by my husband. While on my hands and knees, I craned my neck up to look at him, and he said to me in a very demanding voice, “The house is dirty. When are you going to clean it?” Those words are forever seared into my brain. If I ever had any doubt that he did not care about me, it was banished at that moment. I took in what he said and kept going. Years later, I was plugging along with my life as I knew it, when someone gave me a book to read. It was a book about people with psychopathy. I read it and a light bulb went off in my head and, for the first time, I connected my husband with the word psychopath. I finally understood some of the motives behind his actions. The initial shock of finally putting the pieces together felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on me. For a good part of a year I digested and re-digested the information I had learned. I doubted myself; could this be real? Could this be happening? Over and over I would ask myself these questions. I felt like I was going crazy. I realized that he was never going to be able to care for me and I could not change that in any way, not by teaching him, not by example, and not even by doing everything he asked of me. I began to see the situation as hopeless and stopped trying to fix everything I could. For example, if he told a lie to someone in my presence I just started walking away instead of trying to tease the truth out in such a way that he did not look bad. I no longer said thank you for him, when he did not care to do it himself. When he moved into another bedroom to get my attention I just ignored him and let him sleep alone. After my attitude changed my husband knew it and began a campaign to get me to continue catering to him. He even took me to church and held my hand to try and get what he wanted; it had worked before. He told me he would divorce me if I did not do a number of things he wanted. At that point I knew divorce was imminent, so I began to search for a counsellor who could help me understand and cope with the situation. I found a psychologist not far from where I lived and began going to counselling on a weekly basis. My psychologist suggested I take medication and referred me to a psychiatrist. My husband filed for divorce, and the situation escalated.

Divorce, sinking

As I was about to be served divorce papers, I had time to interview only two attorneys and picked the one that did not sugar coat things. It would be a choice I would later regret. My attorney began taking care of business. He went with me to a hearing, setting things in place temporarily, while we got ready to present my side in court. I thought now things would be taken care of and my psychologist and attorney would help me get my life back. It wasn’t long after the temporary hearing when things started to fall apart. My husband petitioned for a closed hearing, and then I asked my attorney if I could have someone present, that could work on my behalf, such as a family member. My attorney discouraged me from doing so. I did not know my rights at the time, so I was on my own with my attorney. He was not at all empathetic to my situation and at one point I called him up to ask him to work on getting something signed by my husband. I said “you can appreciate that I need this matter to be over, as I have been waiting for a signature for six months”, to which he replied, “just compartmentalize things, that is what I am doing; I am waiting for bad news on two of my children, but I am keeping myself busy so I won’t think about it”. As if inattentiveness to my case was not enough, at one point I asked my attorney what he thought of me getting half our income. He thought for a little while and said,” my wife does not work outside the home, and she is not worth half my income, so you are not worth half your husband’s income”. By this time I had decided that my attorney was not paying enough attention to my case and was not fully prepared to go to court. There were loose ends he needed to tie up, and he hadn’t even asked me what I wanted for a settlement, but we were just days from going to court. I finally lost it the day before we were to go to court. I told my attorney I was going to check myself into a hospital instead of show up the next day. Finally someone heard me, my psychiatrist declared me incompetent to go to court and the proceedings were rescheduled for a later date. As bad off as I was at this point in time, my attorney did not suggest to me to enlist the help of any of my family members. Well, I finally made it to court and at the end of the proceedings the judge asked me if I understood the settlement we would be agreeing on, and I said I did not. The judge then said to take a minute with my attorney out in the hall to discuss it. When we got out into the hall we sat down and he just tapped his pen on the chair and stared at me the whole while we were out there. He was so mad at me for making him look bad in front of the judge that he forced me into agreeing with the settlement proposed. I later came to believe that my ex husband had two attorneys working for him that day, his and mine.

Therapy, feeling crazy

During the days of preparation up to about five months before the actual divorce proceedings I continued to see my psychologist. From the beginning of my therapy sessions I had this feeling that I was not connecting with my psychologist. I was waiting to see some empathy from him and was about to quit going to therapy after several sessions when I saw him shed a tear while I was telling part of my story. I later came to believe that his behavior mostly reflected the recent loss of his father as he was relating my loss to his loss, but I did continue to see him after that. Looking back, at no other time did I see him display any empathy during my therapy sessions and on several occasions he managed to make my problems about him. He asked me one day if I came in only to harass him and cause him grief. Another time he yelled at me and said I was holding him hostage. I was confused. What was I doing wrong? I was struggling with my attorney and psychologist at the same time I was struggling to deal with my husband and nearly at my wits end. Weren’t they supposed to be helping me to cope with the situation not make it worse? I truly felt like I was in the twilight zone living a nightmare and did not know if I would make it out. I began to think I had lost it. Could this really be happening? Maybe I was making up things, I thought to myself. I am sure I lost reality at times during this period.

Several months before our divorce was final, my psychologist left for another job and I had to find someone else with whom to work. I went through a number of counselors trying to find one that could talk to me about psychopathy. I continued to read books on psychopathy and I turned to the internet for answers as well. I went on the Aftermath web site for the first time and read what I could there. It took me no fewer than 10 counselors to find one that could talk about psychopathy and who did not think I was the one who had the real problem. During this process of trying to find someone, I was labeled a number of things and told it was my fault that I did not want to get better, that I was choosing not to get better. I would go in and talk about my “psychopathic husband” and that would get me nowhere. So finally I changed my tactic and went in and talked about my husband who had no empathy, did not feel any guilt or remorse for anything bad he did, was a habitual liar, was charming, and physically and emotionally abused me. The psychologist then said to me, “you know what you call a person like that”, and I said “yes, a psychopath”. Finally I had gotten lucky: it was like winning the lottery; at last I had someone to talk to. That lasted for 3 months before he left to move to a different part of the country at the same time my divorce went to court.

Aftermath, searching

After the divorce took place, my ex husband came over to our house, where I was living, to pick up some things he was awarded in the settlement. I made him lunch and we talked for a while. At one point he said to me, “God has forgiven me already for leaving you, my conscience is clean, and I’m good to go.” I was speechless; I should have seen that one coming. In the meantime I complied with the court’s ruling by having everything ready for him to take when he left. Now if it would only have been that simple for me to get from him what I was awarded.

With my settlement in shambles, I finally fired my attorney and set out to find a new one to help me get what the court said I had coming to me. At the same time the hunt was on for a new counselor. Thinking that was going to be unfruitful I enrolled in a class, psychopathology, thinking I would finally get some answers. While the class was very interesting the professor barely mentioned anything about psychopathy in his lectures. I enrolled in another class, while reading everything I could on my own about psychopathy. Many classes later I was still searching for and reading all the information on psychopathy I could find. I did find another psychologist, but again he knew very little about psychopathic individuals and what devastation they could cause. He did have empathy though and listened to me tell my story without making me feel I was a lunatic. I eventually found another attorney who was truly willing to work with me. He understood that I had been through a lot with my ex and asked me if I needed to have a family member help me make decisions. I continued on, trying to get my settlement, feeling good about my attorney.

Recovering, answers

Finding the help I needed to get my life back and start recovering from an abusive relationship proved to be very difficult. The first step for me was to learn everything I could about psychopathy. I took college classes; I also read books and peer reviewed journal articles and searched the internet, for answers. I wanted to find answers to questions such as, why do I still love a man that abused me? Why does he have such a grip on me? The answer I came up with was the Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome originated from a case involving a woman who formed a strong emotional attachment to one of the bank robbers that had held her hostage for six days. That knowledge allowed me to understand where my feelings were coming from, so that I could override them and protect myself. And I finally found an attorney that had empathy and would listen to me.

I don’t think what I went through is all that unusual and yet to get help and understanding seemed all but impossible. I wanted to help others and to spread the word about psychopathy, so I went back to the Aftermath website to see if I could be a volunteer. There is a real need to bring a greater awareness and understanding to the public, including professionals, but it is going to take many people to do so. And that is where you and I come into the picture. By telling our stories and by supporting nonprofit organizations such as this one, we can shed light on this matter and help victims/survivors.

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