Thursday, September 25, 2008

Independence Day - Tenth anniversary celebrations

September 25th, 1998 marked a huge turning point in my life. It was the day I packed my bags and walked away from my first husband. As the song says, at first I was afraid, I was petrified. Shitting concrete blocks more like. I was 29 years old, and had been in an emotionally abusive relationship for more years than I care to admit. The hardest phone call I ever had to make was when I rang my parents and told them I was leaving him. They were nothing but supportive, but it was so horrible having to admit that I had failed in my marriage, especially as this was a first for my family.

I met C (my first husband) when I was 21. I was spending a summer in London as a student. At first he swept me off my feet. I was head over heels in love with this good looking English guy, who seemed equally mad about me. We shared a very loved up Summer, and at the end of it all I went back to Ireland to finish my degree, hell bent on keeping up the relationship long distance. We managed to do this until the following June, with him visiting me in Galway at regular intervals. Looking back, I think the long distance thing added to the whole romantic element of the whole thing. The following June, I left Ireland and moved to the UK to live with my boyfriend. Unfortunately, the UK was in the middle of a crippling recession (this was 1991) and things didn't work out so well for me on the job front. Eighteen months later we moved back to Dublin, where we lived until we broke up six years later. So I went from being a student largely financially dependant on my parents, to being an unemployed graduate largely dependant in every way on my partner. Not a good move.

It took me a long time to get on my feet after college. My confidence took a huge bashing, and unfortunately, our relationship descended into a downward spiral of emotional abuse. I look back now on photos of myself from my twenties and it saddens me. I was a physically attractive woman, but C tried to convince me that I was two stone overweight. I weighed around 10 and a half stone, I am five feet 7 inches tall, and was a UK size 12-14. Hardly a case of obesity, but he constantly made me the butt of his jokes and nasty remarks. Then he wondered why I wasn't willing to do the business in the bedroom every single night of the week. I used to go to bed every night either giving into his coercion or facing a row or a massive sulking session.

I find it hard looking back on it to understand how I just accepted all this. He had whittled away at my self esteem for so long that I actually thought that this was all I deserved. This was as good as life was going to get. So I think that's the reason why I married him. He didn't want a church wedding, so we went for a very low key registry office do with ten friends present, and only one family member, my sister. He kept saying he didn't want it to be in any way like a traditional wedding. He nearly threw a wobbler when I insisted in having a bridal bouquet. I think he was just in denial that we were getting married.

Within less than two years of us tying the knot, he started the affair that was to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Coming up to our second wedding anniversary, he started to suffer from anxiety attacks. I was worried sick about him, and thought it was all to do with him being in a new job, and not being happy with his career. I had started studying accountancy just after we got married, and I promised him I would support him through any career change he wanted to try. I tried to be there for him as much as I could. He started attending a psychotherapist for counselling, and I was gobsmacked when he came home and told me that all he had discussed was our marriage. After a few sessions, he suggested that I move out and we take a year off from our marriage. I know, you're thinking WTF? But he was such a manipulative little shit, he made it all sound plausible. The plan was that I would move out (but of course it would be me doing the moving, wouldn't want him to suffer any more upheaval, poor pet) and find a new place to live, whilst he sorted his head out, with a view to us getting back together at some stage in the future. Again WTF?

I eventually grew a spine and decided to dig my heels in and give him an ultimatum. So I told him I either left and our marriage was over for good, or we got our sorry asses into marriage counselling. So this week ten years ago, that's exactly what we did. I had had a very strong suspicion for a number of months that a certain friendship that he was passing off as platonic was more than that. After that first session I confronted him with it, and he admitted it. I can still picture him as plain as day sitting in the armchair, fiddling with his tie, his eyes not meeting mine as he confirmed my worst suspicions. My first emotion was relief, believe it or not. I was right all along, and not going mad and paranoid, as he had made me feel. My next question was "Are you going to end it?", to which he replied "I don't know if I can, I'm afraid she'll go back to being bulimic". I think I actually threw a punch at him at that point.

Anyway, the following night I told him I was leaving. It was the bravest and one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. A friend of mine took me in and looked after me until I found a place to live. They say that some of the most stressful things in life are marriage breakup, moving house and changing job. I managed to combine all three in the space of ten days. I had just started in a new job when the shit hit the fan on the homefront. It felt like I was living in a nightmare. I would lie awake for hours on end in the middle of the night, willing morning to come. Other times when I did get to sleep, the nightmares were so bad I would wake up crying hysterically. Like Nick Hornby said in "High Fidelity", when you are going through a breakup, the lyrics of every song you hear take on significance. The friend I was staying with was into particularly cheesey country music, and I remember the lyrics of one song she used to play in her car, which totally summed it up for me. "I loved you to the limits of my self respect, now I'm leaving with what's left".

The final nail in the coffin came two months later. C phoned me up and asked to meet me for some reason or another. The real reason he wanted to meet was to share the happy news that he was going to be a father. Yes, the stupid bollocks had not even bothered to use protection when he was knobbing his 22 year old mistress in our car. At that stage, I had met the man I am now married to, and I knew that this was the end, I was moving on. I told him that I wanted to initiate separation proceedings, but he told me he wasn't emotionally ready. He had got somebody else up the duff, but he wasn't emotionally ready to get our legal affairs in place. What a tosser.

Family law in Ireland states that a couple have to be living apart four years before divorce proceedings can be initiated. That makes for four unbelievably stressful years if your marriage breakup in an acrimonious one, which ours was. The following summer I contacted my solicitor and got the wheels in motion for legal separation proceedings. By this stage, C had moved house, and refused to disclose his new address. This meant that I had to hire a legal agent to serve court papers at his workplace. In the end, after much stress and sleepless nights, it took over three years to get him to court. He insisted that I owed him money for a car I never even drove, and he listed my engagement ring among the inventory of items I had taken from the marital home.

Standing up on the witness stand and answering questions on the downfall of my marriage was one of the most stressful situations I have ever been in in my entire life. I would have sat my accountancy finals ten times over before I would have gone through that. However, my barrister tore shreds off C and the judge kicked his ass out of court and called him petty. The feeling of a weight lifted off my shoulders was immense. The following year, I initiated divorce proceedings, representing myself in court. I went out an bought a red coat and killer bitch heels. I still refer to that coat as my divorce coat. I had my hair and nails done especially for the occasion. He turned up looking very sheepish. Another quirk of Irish family law is that all divorce cases must be heard in court, and the judge is legally obliged to ask is there any reasonable prospect of a reconciliation between the parties. Well if there was you would hardly have made it as far as the courts, would you? When the judge asked me this, I nearly laughed out loud. C looked as though I had made him feel about an inch tall. The divorce itself cost me the princely sum of €20, but the feeling of satisfaction walking out of that court was priceless.

I often think of the last ten years, and I thank God that I walked when I did. I could have spent ten more years living in misery. What I missed out on in my twenties, I more than made up for in my thirties. I finished my exams and qualified as an accountant, I learned to drive, I furthered my career, went backpacking around Australia alone, bought my own home and married a wonderful man. If someone had handed me a crystal ball this time ten years ago, I would not have believed it. I just wish the Gods would smile on me that little bit more, and send us a baby.


womb for improvement said...

Congratulations. You've managed to combine uplifting and traumatic. As I read your stories I really do admire you. Some things have been way beyond your control but you have born them with such fortitude. Your marriage though you had a choice and you chose the difficult, but ultimately right, route. I really hope you get your happy ending.

Rori Raye said...

What a fantastic writer you are - and your story is amazing - I especially loved the "growing a spine" part, and that you haven't spent any time bashing yourself - and instead went ahead and got a brilliant marriage. I know you will be happy and have the family you want.

Anonymous said...

My word. Just.... wow. What a story. Many congrats on your independence day - you went through a lot in order to be able to celebrate it.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Holy shit.

Dunno what to say really, I'm sorry and glad all at once.

Quite admirable, and I really hope you get to finish the story the right way.

Feebee said...

What a gripping story! Hope your story ends with everything your heart desires.

Jane G said...

@ WFI - thanks for your congratulations and good wishes. It has been a rollercoaster of a decade, but hopefully we will get to the happy ending bit one of these days. Although, as life is now, I'm a whole lot happier than I was this time ten years ago.

@ Rori raye - I had a quick visit to your blog and that is high praise indeed coming from someone in your line of work. Thanks for popping in.

@ HFF - thanks for dropping in, hope you'll be back, and thanks for your good wishes.

@ X box - Holy shit indeed!!

@ Fee bee - I suppose to people who didn't know me when I was going through it all, it must seem like a fairly gobsmacking tale alright. It really did feel like my life was turning into some kind of bad soap opera during the very bad times, particularly when I found out about my ex's impending fatherhood. At that time I was seeing pregnant women everywhere too, and it really hurt. Maybe there's a clich├ęd chick lit book in there somewhere ;o)