By Quinn Pierce
I have always been the type of writer who prefers notebooks and pencils to computer screens and keyboards. As someone who writes daily, I have quite a collection of notebooks, and my pencils can be found in every room of the house. Sometimes, I go through old notebooks in an attempt to recycle unused pages, and inadvertently, I end up recycling old memories, as well.
Revisiting the Past
Often, it’s the emotional equivalent of cleaning out my closet. It’s an opportunity to see how far I’ve come in the aftermath of my marriage and divorce, and it gives me a chance to let go of some misconceptions about myself and my ex-husband that I have since outgrown. But, once in a while, I come across something that transports me back to a place I had forgotten existed, and if it weren’t for my own handwriting, I might not believe it was even me who said and did these things.
I experienced one of these unsettling moments the other day while I was looking for a blank page in one of my journals. I turned page after page of poems, thoughts, and anecdotes, but when I came to a page that had short phrases running down in list form, I stopped. And what I read made my stomach turn.
The first item read: fold jeans in thirds with pant leg tucked under; it was followed by: line up tabs on plastic lids … and on and on it went. All the way down the page, I read item after item, some, I could tell, were added later in a different color or writing style, but I had written all of them, none the less. And in an instant, it all came flooding back to me, every little action around the house that annoyed my ex-husband to the point that I felt I needed to keep a list to make sure I remembered. Some of the items, such as: make sure the light switches lined up, seemed to make no sense. Especially since he was not an obsessively neat person, and in a house with children, I could name a thousand other things that seemed more obvious in terms of lacking neatness and order.
Tools of Control
As I neared the end of the list, it hit me: none of this had anything to do with the actions listed; this was another means of asserting control and giving himself excuses for reprimanding and belittling me. He was, once again, setting the rules and establishing the ‘parent-child’ role in our relationship. I often felt like I was being scolded and reprimanded in a way that mirrored an abusive parent interacting with a child. This was a win-win situation for him. If I complied with the constantly changing list of demands, he was keeping me off balance and under his control; if I did not do something the way he liked it, he felt justified to throw his well practiced fit of rage.
I thought quite a bit about this list and the implications of writing it in the first place. I was disappointed with myself for allowing the situation to happen, and I was angry and embarrassed that he was able to manipulate me in ways I’m still learning about. But, I was also proud of myself for taking back control of my own life, and relieved that I would never write such a list again. And these last two feelings far outweighed the others.
Setting New Boundaries
Today, my ex-husband still tries to exert control over anyone he can, especially me. Now that I have finally figured out how to create and keep boundaries in place with him, he tries to resort to other tactics of manipulation. His panic level is increasing daily as he tries to keep his social façade intact while harboring so much resentment and anger. I won’t say it’s easy to always be on guard, but it’s getting easier a little at a time.
It is frustrating to interact with my ex-husband for many reasons. For one thing, his behavior seems to be on a level that is completely automatic, while I have to think about each situation and plan my response without emotion, ego, or anger clouding my judgment. Also, he knows my insecurities and tries to play on them as much as possible. Lastly, and most difficult to experience, he has no problem using our children as a means of hurting or manipulating me. They are, in his eyes, an extension of me. Fortunately, he knows that I will not hesitate to ask the court to revoke his visitation if he does anything that I can document as hurtful to them. Unfortunately, unless he does, my hands are tied.
Some days, I wake up dreading the emotional battle that I know awaits me as my family continues to recover from the years of living with a sociopath. Especially when it seems like the progress is so slow on this regret- laden path to recovery. But, sometimes, it’s only when I look back that I can feel positive about the future.
I know it will take time and practice for me to retrain my brain after years of his influence. I caught myself the other day turning off a light in the kitchen so that it lined up with the other switches. If it hadn’t been for finding the list, I might not have noticed at all that I was automatically trying to line them up. Annoyance settled over me as I realized what I was doing.
How many more items on the list had become part of my routine? How long would it take me to get rid of all signs of my ex-husband, if that was even possible?
I didn’t know the answer to either question, but I decided it didn’t matter at that moment. I had conquered one battle on my way to recovery, and that made me smile almost as much as walking out of the kitchen leaving the light switches beautifully unaligned.