I can’t believe the universe just provided validation for a decision I took this year. I’m referring to a recent column of yours on domestic abuse.
Last New Year’s Eve I visited my sister and tried hard to avoid any discussion of her marital life. Her 20-year marriage has been filled with infidelity and abuse of every sort. Of course, she starts in on her husband’s girl-chasing and what she should do.
I’ve heard all this stuff many times before, and this time I was not mobilized to analyze, offer advice or even listen. I noticed myself being emotionally detached while my sister was energized by the idea of fighting for her man.
For the first time I also noticed my 18-year-old nephew’s severe depression. Two years ago he witnessed his father throwing a can of veggies at his mother while she held their newborn child in her hands. My nephew stopped talking to his father then. All my sister has to say is he needs to learn to respect his dad.
Let me tell you how we have tried to help for 20 years. My parents offered her a place to stay, I gave money for a divorce lawyer, and my parents offered money if she leaves. We have begged and pleaded, the police have been called, and her husband has been arrested.
Guess what? They are still going strong.
My stepmom hates my sister’s husband with a passion, and I’ve had many sleepless nights while they kissed and made up. One day we couldn’t reach her, and I cannot describe the panic I felt. It is a horrible rollercoaster, and the feeling of powerlessness is brutal.
So I’ve disengaged. I am not going to their house. I am not pretending their lives are normal. I will not entertain any discussion with her unless it ends with her getting therapy and leaving. I will not be burdened by the details of the life she has chosen.
Early in her marriage, we all saw the signs. While she miscarried their first child, her husband was nowhere to be found. My stepmother and dad drove four hours each way from out of state with her, yet she returned. I’ve driven four hours to take her to a prenatal appointment because he refused to.
I am so done. My only regret is I can’t save my nieces and nephews, but they know the entire family is here for them. My nephew will graduate high school, and as much as it pains me, I will be sending a gift instead of attending.
Nothing anyone does can make a “victim” of domestic violence leave their abuser if they are not ready. In the meantime, we cannot make ourselves sick as we watch powerlessly as the drama unfolds.
Tori, sometimes we see people in difficult circumstances and our heart goes out to them. But when we look a little closer, what comes into focus is a sly quality the victim has which allows them to get what they seek.
You and your family did everything possible to help. To no avail. Now her children pay for her lack of judgment.
Kids with severe depression are common in families with abuse, and the depression is usually undiagnosed and untreated. Your sister told her son he needs to respect his father. She was wrong. The only principle that makes sense is, respect those who deserve respect.
For years your sister has taken advantage of your natural compassion and the compassion of your family. And she has used it against you. It is a credit to you, but not a credit to her.
When we see victims of abuse, it’s tempting to ignore the underside of abuse. It is tempting to forget they don’t have the right to make us play in their game. They don’t have the right to make us soul-sick as well.
Wayne & Tamara
McKenzie River Reflections