I used to sit and secretly cry. I saw no way out. I was trapped. It was hard to believe that this was what marriage was all about. This wasn’t the fairy tale that little girls dream about. So, five children and thirteen years later, there I was, a prisoner in my own home living in fear.
When I talk about it now, people find it hard to believe. They question why I didn’t just pick up the children and leave. Other women in my shoes know this is basically impossible. The police officer who took my domestic violence report even questioned why I waited so long. Divorce is not simple. It is frightening. It is facing the unknown. When children are involved the complexity is compounded.
My case was even more complex. My ex-husband was not only verbally and physically abusive, but financially abusive as well. It is documented that financial abuse is part of the “cycle of abuse”. Controlling the household finances paralyzes the abused spouse, leaving her without daily resources, especially if she needs to leave the marriage. I was left home each day without a dollar to my name, or gas in the car. His goal was to keep me home and constantly pregnant. He made sure it was difficult for me to communicate with family and friends. He refused to pay the internet bill so I couldn’t use email. He would monitor all incoming and outgoing phone calls on a daily basis. I was never allowed to purchase anything on my own, including groceries. I was stripped of my dignity.
Most women opt out of divorce even in dire situations because they will be left penniless and even homeless, as I was. When I finally got strong and he was arrested, he let our home foreclose against all court orders. I was told time and time again that the system would be there for me, and I would receive child support, and maintenance money to clothe, house and feed my children. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. The system has failed me and my children in a very big way. Post -divorce support orders are very hard to enforce, and even more so when you can’t afford a lawyer. I filed for Public Assistance immediately only to realize how ineffective and limiting the whole system is. The financial aid is minimal, even for a family of six.
Luckily for the past three years my family has been receiving unexpected help. Our local firehouse, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools system and community has reached out to us continually. We receive gift cards for groceries and gas for the car. They also drop off clothing and hot meals. At holiday time, we are greeted by Santa and some local fireman bearing gifts for my five children. We are truly blessed; however, this help is only a temporary fix. The ongoing stress and worry after divorce and how I will support my children for the long term is taking its toll on me. I worry about the bills. I struggle each month to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I wonder how I can pay college tuition next year for my daughter. I brainstorm each day on how I can educate myself further so I can get a good job for my family. Being a single mom of five young children leaves very little time in the day for me to return to school. Between working forty hours a week, homework, sports and extracurricular activities, our schedules are full.
But at the end of the day, even on the verge of both physical and mental collapse, I am the happiest person in the world. I accomplished the impossible. I escaped a nightmare that I thought was inescapable. The children and I no longer live in fear. I have found my inner voice and an inner peace. I am no longer stripped of my dignity. I am proud to say that I survived a frightening and ugly divorce. Now I am up to any challenge that comes my way and I am greatly enjoying my new found independence on Darby Lane.