When I approached Zoe for a Q & A in-depth interview, I was quite prepared for a polite ‘no’ as I knew she was sensitive about the whole psychological abuse experience (See: https://wendyswrittenwords.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/your-muse/). Imagine my surprise and delight when she wholeheartedly agreed to it! I also told her we could skip questions she did not want to answer if it was too painful but she bravely answered them all.
Underlying this testimony is Zoe’s wish to help other women to recognize the signs and to find the courage to seek help as soon as possible.
Zoe has come to recognize the change in herself and is thrilled at how far she has come. I will admit, by asking specific questions, I, myself, learnt even more than what Zoe had previously shared with me. Bouquets to Zoe and I’m sure you will join me in applauding her for her brave stance and her candid and open responses.
Let me be clear on this: Zoe’s husband never physically hurt her (although he came close once) but, while isolating her from her loved ones, he mentally and psychologically abused her. He eroded the confidence of this smart woman and her ability to think for herself.
In respect of White Ribbon Day’s 16 Days Of Activism, I have asked Zoe 16 questions about her abuse.
- Could you give a brief scenario on how you met your husband and how long you courted before you got married? I met my ex-husband 18 months before we married. On hindsight I should have seen the danger signs but as they say love is blind. I saw the very attentive attention as ‘love’ and not as a sign of a total control-freak. The controlling behaviour was a very slow process and as he always had a good answer if I ever challenged him, I just accepted it. On reflection I feel my professional status, working in the nursing field, worked against me and to his advantage as I looked for the best in him and always made excuses if need be. I also didn’t recognise the slow process of alienating me from my friends and family.
- Did you notice anything untoward that might have given you an inkling of his nature prior to your marriage or soon after? On hindsight, perhaps! Prior to our marriage, he was very protective and attentive; he would telephone, for example, if I’d been out to the gym, with friends or family, checking to see if I got home safely and would often ask intrusive questions. But it came over as being caring and just making sure I was okay. This was to be the trend for anything I wanted to see, places I wanted to visit or attend on my own, and even seeing my own sons and mum. Following the marriage the behaviour became more controlling! He went absolutely maniacal when I said on one occasion that I had been asked to go on a hens’ night for one of my good friends. This resulted in screaming bouts, saying I was being unfaithful in wanting to go on the night out. Immediately after, his behaviour changed and he became conciliatory and gave examples of the unacceptable behaviour of women out on such occasions; the motives of men towards these women and how vulnerable I was and how he was being caring only as a husband would be. He was convincing and manipulatively clever and of course I didn’t go.
- When in the marriage did he suggest you move overseas, away from all the people who love and care for you? Initially, he wanted to migrate to New Zealand. The move to Spain was a couple of years before I retired. We’d had many holidays on the Basque Coast, Spain and back then, he was always calm and fun to be with. He claimed that his dream was to move to Spain where it was calmer and more family-friendly and to engage in the Spanish way of life. It would also be fun to have our friends and family visit. We did move but the discussions of how our life would be, was just talk as he resisted friends and family visiting; monitored my telephone calls to family and friends; wouldn’t engage in the Spanish way of life and was very resistant to me trying to converse with our Spanish neighbours. His view point was that they should speak English and if they couldn’t, it was their problem. I was now becoming isolated!
- This is a pattern that psychologists speak about: a common pattern used by a controller to isolate a person. When did you first notice his controlling methods? I think I was always aware in the back of my mind and recognised his controlling behavior and his intention to isolate me but because he was so clever and always had a justifiable answer for everything, I would excuse it or overlook it. Here is a perfect example: After our marriage, we always ended up having Christmas on our own. He made sure it looked like I was having a holiday but the reality was, it was self-catering so there was no difference but just in a foreign country and well away from family and friends.
- Can you define or give three examples of his methods of control? Quite easily! He would stop me seeing my sons and mum on my own; stop me meeting up with girl friends for coffee, lunch or a drink outside of office hours; monitor my phone calls to my family and even Skyping my family when we lived in Spain. If, for example, I mentioned I was having lunch with a work colleague, he’d ring me with some excuse that we needed to meet up at lunch time and I would end up cancelling lunch with my colleague. He would also criticize me when planting plants in the garden or pots or even when using a hose pipe as he would say that I didn’t know what I was doing.
- When did you start to fear him? We were invited to a BBQ with friends, but my girlfriend just didn’t know the ratio of vodka to coke so with all the fun and the food, my friend and I ended up drinking a bottle of vodka between us. The next day I was totally out of it but my friend’s partner came to our bungalow and apologised unconditionally and said it was my friend’s fault. This just wasn’t good enough for my ex-husband! After my friend’s partner left, he went into an uncontrollable rage, calling me a ‘piss head and a slut’ and saying it was all my fault. He then took some of my clothes and most of his clothes out of the wardrobe, took them into the garden and threatened to set fire to them, to teach me a lesson. I just cried and promised I’d never ever do anything like this again. He didn’t burn anything! But afterwards, if I ever had a glass of wine, he would remind me that I was to limit myself to just one more. He would justify his warnings by saying that it was all my fault and that he wouldn’t need to be like that if I behaved more responsibly and put him first.
- Did you know that you were pandering to his abuse? Yes I think I did! It was all a combination of recognizing his behavior; thinking I was in love and thinking I could change his behavior.
- How long did you endure his abuse? I guess from the beginning if I’m honest about it, but love is blind as they say. I finally woke up and recognised what was happening. It was following a chat with my youngest son that I finally acknowledged that the way I was being treated was not normal. I was pandering to my ex-husband’s behavior and as a consequence, his controlling methods were continuing at my expense.
- When did you decide or realise that it was abuse? When we moved to Spain, his behavior changed dramatically! This was the wakeup call and I started keeping a daily diary because I recognised that there would come a point when I would need evidence to substantiate exactly how life was and how controlling he was. I still have those diaries!
- Did you try to contact your family at any time in that period? Contact with my family slowly diminished but I didn’t recognise that fact at first. It was so very sad on reflection. My ex-husband monitored all my calls and I didn’t have a mobile until I went to University. He probably, on hindsight, gave it to me to keep track of where I was.
- What made you decide to end the abuse? I kept thinking I needed to escape from the intolerable situation but each time something would happen and I would keep making excuses. Sunday morning March 8th however, was the turning point!
My ex-husband received a telephone call from his daughter and, although the conversation was nothing out of the ordinary, he moaned about the vegetable garden and plants. When the conversation finished he just turned and stared at me. He started screaming like never before! The veins in his neck stood out; his eyes were wide giving me such a scary look and his voice was clear and precise. He knew exactly what he was doing! He started screaming how much he hated me; he should never have married me; I was a bitch, ugly, not sexy or attractive anymore; that no one in their right mind would ever want me; he was angry that he was stuck with me and wished he had never come to Spain, let alone married me. His rant just went on and on and on until he was exhausted. I was extremely scared and frightened in the pit of my stomach and although I wanted to scream back and wanted to vomit, I just, as per usual, said nothing. I knew the next 24 hours would be hell in having to look over my shoulder and having to walk on egg shells. The following day, as is the pattern, he was calm and polite and life was kind of back to normal.
He decided in the afternoon that he wanted to go out for a drive, so that’s what we did. It was during the drive when I asked him if he hated me and whether the things he had said the day before, was how he felt. This was my normal patter! I guess it was my way of allowing him to make amends while also blaming myself and thinking the situation had to be all my fault and that I had driven him to it.
This time however, he did not pretend to make amends or say that I was mistaken about what he meant. He said, ‘yes,’ he meant every word he had said and, ‘yes,’ he hated me! It was the turning point….like seeing the light! My marriage was now over and I decided that there would be no more second chances.
12. What did you do? I told my youngest son, my only confidant at the time, and his advice was to plan my escape. He warned me that if I stayed, my ex-husband’s continual, emotional abuse would either destroy me emotionally or destroy my spirit, psychologically.
Planning the escape then became my main priority and it was essential to keep patient and have a proper plan in place. My freedom and my future was now in my own hands!
So, while I planned my escape, I also contacted a bi-lingual solicitor and she advised me to set the divorce action in motion immediately. I had to forestall her as I warned her that this would place me at mega risk if he had any inkling of divorce proceedings. She understood and accepted it and she supported me all through it.
13. How was the situation after your decision to escape? My home life became more intolerable. His behavior was now becoming less acceptable and I no longer could live with a control freak.
Here is an example of how he would behave if things didn’t go his way. He would throw himself on the garage floor, performing just like a spoilt child, by kicking his legs into the air and thumping his fists on the garage floor while screaming at me. All of this because he couldn’t get his own way and I wouldn’t do what he wanted me to undertake.
14. How did you plan your escape? As my sons would proudly state, I did the great, ‘Houdini’ by disappearing. I took the greatest of risks when I walked out while my ex-husband was in the garden. I walked out wearing old clothes, putting my pc and important documents in an old shopping basket. I put rubbish in a black garbage bag and told my ex-husband that I was taking the rubbish out to the recycling bin. On leaving the property, I quickly phoned a taxi and asked to be taken to the railway station, which I felt, was a safe escape route. I telephoned my son from the taxi and he cheered me on with, ‘Great mum and keep your head down! Come to London and I will look after you!
For 11 weeks my son slept on the floor while I slept on his bed. During that period, my ex-husband telephoned, threating to commit suicide; burn the house down; come to find me; but then he would act conciliatory by saying he would change and would let me live the life I wished to. All total crap…. he just wanted me back to control.
15. Can you give 3 examples of the psychological affects or trauma that followed after you left? Where do I start! There are so many examples!
- Example 1. Following walking out on my ex-husband, I returned to the UK and stayed in London with my son for the initial 11 weeks. I badly wanted to go and see my mum and physically show her that I was safe and just to have a cuddle, but I couldn’t risk it. Even if my son accompanied me, I knew my ex-husband would be nearby just waiting for my return, and that he would then follow me back to London and I would be in acute danger. This was psychologically traumatizing.
- Example 2. My new partner (whom I met years after) and I were just having a quiet drink together one evening when I accidently knocked a glass of white wine off the coffee table. I ran to the kitchen returning with a cloth and while on my knees trying to clear the mess, I kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t shout at me! It was an accident, please don’t shout!’ My whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop crying. My partner was bewildered and shocked and then came to sit by me to reassure me. This however made it worse as I thought he was getting ready to really explode. But he just spoke very calmly and slowly and when I regained some composure, I explained everything. He was horrified! It took me a couple of days to recover.
- Example 3. I had arranged to meet my partner after work as we were going to meet up with a friend in the city. It was our friend’s birthday and we had planned to eat and then go to the theatre. However, on arriving at the station, I took the wrong exit and got completely lost. I went into an uncontrollable panic as I knew we would be late. The more I tried to find my way, the worse it became. I was getting so stressed but I didn’t want to phone because I thought my partner would get mad with me. It was the old behavior pattern of fear, but eventually I had no choice and rang my partner. He just calmly asked where I was and directed me to his place of work. My stomach was just turning over and over while I waited for the rant, the screams, the throwing of the present etc., but nothing happened and I was instead, cuddled while he called a taxi and we met our friend. We had our meal but I just couldn’t understand or cope with the calmness and not being shouted at. It was all getting too much! I remember saying as the meal finished that I needed to go to the ladies, where I just vomited and vomited while shaking from head to toe. I couldn’t cope with the calmness and the serenity, and I was in total dread of the anticipated back-lash later. It was only on the following day that I told my partner and this was traumatic because I just didn’t know what his reaction would be. What a little dreamer he is! He was angry with my ex-husband but very reassuring with me and he made me feel safe. Once again, it took a couple of days for me to settle down and accept that life was ok and I was safe.
16. What advice would you give another woman who may or is already going through what you did? Advice here is really difficult because, when you’re in this situation, I feel that the only person who can save you is yourself! However, when you do make the decision to leave and follow it through, that’s when you’re most at risk. That’s because he no longer has control and that’s the very thing he wants and needs and he will do almost anything to try to haul you back into the web. He desperately needs to be seen as the stronger one and you the weaker one. What I have learnt is that I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been and I will never allow anyone to manipulate me ever again. I’m a whole person now and I appreciate life, love, friendship and freedom more than I have ever done in my life.
My ex-husband no longer has any hold on me, either emotionally or psychologically! It’s all in the past and yes, I’m one of the lucky ones!
Answering these questions has in a way finally closed the door! Why? Because I have beaten him at his own game. I’m a totally free person in my own right. – Zoe
© Wendy Robinson December 2015
Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
My thanks go to Zoe for having the courage to share this with me and for agreeing to share it publicly.