Do You Want to Go Back?

The city’s police department called first, at 7:30 pm when he was getting his teeth brushed, on his way to bed.

“A case is opened with DCFS…”

His pediatrician called the department of child and family services after seeing the slap mark on his cheek, after he said his dad held his neck.

His dad choked him.

Child protective services is involved.

Fuck. This is real.

The police came by the next evening, at 7 pm. Chocolate chip cookies were just coming out of the oven. My son was playing with a gravity maze, making marbles drop. They knocked on the door. He ran to get it, then got squirrelly in front of the two detectives.

“Can we ask you some questions?” they asked.

(Who asks a four year old if they WANT to do something, when they NEED to do it. “We need to ask you some questions, and please answer truthfully” would be much more likely to get them the answers they need. )

My son got so squirrelly, he knocked over his milk, ran around the house in circles, jumped on the bed, jumped on the couch.

He wouldn’t sit down to answer questions. Behavioral decompensation, after being so cool and collected the previous day.

“I’ll give you a business card if you answer two questions,” said the detective. Suddenly my son was interested. He likes names and addresses and categorizing people.

“First. Do you want to go back to your dad’s house?”

“Yes.”

“Second. Have you ever felt pain there?”

(what? what kind of question is that?)

“No.”

(really? never? not when you fell off the couch or got scratched in the car?)

And that was it. They were hoping he would tell them if it were safe to go back.

He said, again, he wanted to go.

He wants to be with his dad.

Sometimes.

He had the DCFS interview the next day.

“He says he wants to go back” the investigator told me.

It still feels scary. His dad choked me too. I hated it. I kept going back. I left him after I read about a Canadian physician power couple, the neurosurgeon dad choked the family physician wife to death then went down for breakfast with his kids and mother-in-law.

“That could be me,” I thought. Just three minutes, no oxygen, I’m dead.

And now, that could be my son.

And still he’s going back.

 

How did you handle going back?

 

Why???

Our son came home from his dad’s with what I thought was a scratch on his cheek. Then he came out of the shower, flushed.

Three scratches, I thought.

“What happened to your cheek?” I asked.

“Daddy hit me.”

Gut check. Oh no. My fears come true.

“Why?”

“I hit him.”

Why? I asked him WHY daddy hit him? Thereby implying that an adult hitting a child was somehow justified through some action of his own?

“Why?” I asked again, flailing.

“I wanted a toy fighting game.”

Why?

Those three scratches? Lines between fingers. The handprint was white, the lines red around it. Mind ready, I now could see the white space where the palm hit cheek, compressing the capillaries, the red smudge outlining the palm, the clearly demarcated red lines underlining the fingers where the sudden burst of fluid without an external compressive force broke through surrounding capillaries. I am a doctor, and it’s taken me three days of puzzling with consultation of online photos to sort through the physiology of that mark.

The lights in the bathroom were low. I didn’t want to alarm him by turning them on high. But I pulled out my camera, took a picture. I wish I had turned them on high.

WHY? Why did I say that to him? Trying to make sense of the senseless.

What I wish I had said:

Nobody ever deserves to be hurt by someone they love. Nothing that you said or did would ever make it okay for daddy to hurt you. I’m so sorry you were hurt, sweet love. I love you so much, no matter what you do or say, and no matter what anyone else says or does to you.  I will do everything in my power that I can to keep you safe and protect you, until you are old enough to keep yourself safe and protect yourself. Thank you for telling me the truth. I love you.

What did YOU say to your child, when they told you, in clear words, that their other parent hurt them?

What do you wish you had said?

Please teach me, from your experience, what to say, how I might be able to handle this.

I am overwhelmed, and want so badly for my child to be okay.

Do You Want to Go Back?

My son was hit by his dad.

I brought him to the pediatrician’s office.

“What happened to your cheek?”

“Daddy hit me.”

“Why did he hit you?”

“I hit him”

“Did he hit you anywhere else?”

“He held my neck.”

(holy fucking shit. shit)

“Do you like going to your daddy’s house?”

Pause.

“Yes.”

(oh god)

How do I protect a relationship my son values while also protecting him?

 

Feeling Sadness

Today I stayed in bed all morning, rather than going in to clinic for our monthly staff meeting.

Sick, I texted to the medical director at 11 am, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it to any portion of the meeting.

I surfed the web, watched excerpts from Game of Thrones. Checked e-mail. Played Words with Friends.

I didn’t leave bed.

I internally hated on myself for being in bed, when I was being paid to be in clinic to learn how best to care for patients of all genders and sexualities.

(Self-forgiveness for taking sick time off. A mental health morning.)

Finally walking to the train station 10 minutes late to my afternoon clinic, it hit me what I wasn’t wanting to feel all morning.

Today, I am fucking sad.

It is three years since I left a fucking fucked up relationship, escaping to give our three month old child a life without watching mommy and daddy fight. Without watching daddy maybe kill mommy kind of accidentally one day if his hands stayed around my neck too long with too much pressure.  Three years and eight days since I left, and I hadn’t acknowledged to myself that this is the anniversary time.

 

When we divorced, we settled with parenting time close to a 50-50 split. And as the wee one gains language, they expand their vocabulary to find new ways of protesting going to dad’s house.

“I don’t like Dad’s house.” (preference!)

“I feel sad. I don’t want to go to Daddy’s house.” (emotion!)

“Daddy’s house is wrong. Mommy’s house is right.” (concept of right and wrong!)

(Hooray they are growing and learning new things!)

Hooray I have created a home they feel at home in.

Hooray it is peaceful and calm here. Hooray that opening the door brings me a wave of contentment, rather than the greatest health risk of each day.

But damn. It makes me fucking sad that the wee one hurts when I send them to the home that scared me, that I could flee, and they can’t, following the decree I agreed to on their behalf, believing settlement was in our best interest.

“Daddy’s house is wrong.”

“I want Mommy to pick me up from preschool.”

“You don’t care.”

Ouch.

Hurrying to the train station to reach afternoon clinic on time, I felt my body come alive with movement, my breath deepen as I lengthened my stride. And as my body and breath came alive, I felt a wave of deep sadness replace the numbed escape. I cried jagged breaths and falling tears on the train platform, hoping no patients or neighbors would see me.

And as the tears fell, the immobilizing block of unnamed unfelt sadness that kept me in bed all morning began to fall away.

I am hoping that saying “I am sad” will allow me to move on from this stuck point. Emotion, passing through, when acknowledged.

And so: I am sad that I have to send my child to a home that felt dangerous to me, and where they are not happy.

And so: I am fucking sad.

How do I remind myself that it is okay?

 

 

 

Living WITH violence

Back in 2014, as I started this blog, I began to draft a post:

I’m looking for blogs about living with violence.

The dominant narrative is about leaving violence.

I’m not seeing the blogs by people currently in emotionally, sexually or physically abusive relationships.

Weighing the pros and cons of staying or going.

Advice on how to maintain self and sanity, while minimizing fighting while maintaining independent interests, activities and life.

Instead the blogs are betternotbroken, or faith.love.hope

Living AFTER choosing to leave.

The comments are “hells yes, you should leave!”

Or “why did you stay so long?”

Or “I WAS there. Thank you for sharing.”

But I am looking for blogs about how to stay.

Is there a path forward to a better life with this person at my side? How do I make that happen?

***

I never posted this, due to shame. I was too ashamed to say – I want to choose to live with this guy, which means living with violence. How do I do this more safely?

And then I left. And now I write again.

 

Shame

In 2014 when I started this blog, I wrote:

Life hurts.

Personally and professionally.

Everything is coming together, and everything is falling apart.

I want to self-protect and defect.

How much abuse can I take?

I need a place to be honest with how I am feeling.

This blog will be that place.

***

But the truth is that I wasn’t truthful.

I was too ashamed to admit the truth: that my husband was physically violent with me, repeatedly, I was afraid for my life.

It has taken me 21 months since the time that I left him to say that, openly. To share the shame. That I chose to remain with someone who I was afraid would kill me. That I was choosing to diminish/endanger myself as I hoped desperately for the increasingly small highs and numbed myself with Netflix through the increasingly dark lows.

Shame, I have learned in my healing journey, is a social emotion. It is experienced in relation to other people, to one’s perception of how others perceive the circumstances of ones life. It is relieved by talking about it with trusted others.

I was so ashamed of choosing to remain with someone who choked me, I couldn’t begin to put that into words. Not publicly. Not even anonymously.

I knew better. I was ashamed because I knew better. I knew where this was going. I knew the cycle of domestic violence. Of power and control. I was an expert, and I was in the middle of the damn cycles of hope, reconciliation, building tension, violent episode, contrition, hope, reconciliation.

Simplified: Hope. Violence. Hope. Violence.

I knew better.

But I didn’t.

And I was ashamed that I didn’t, that I fell prey to hope, and hope some more, that this next time it would be different. With each cycle, I gave up on him changing, and instead searched harder for what I could do to change the environment that informed his responses. I hoped to find how to change my responses and create a safe secure world for him where he wouldn’t lash out with hands that could soothe me or kill me.

I knew where this was going. I knew better. Yet there I remained.

With each cycle, our behavior became more extreme. Each cycle spiraled deeper out of control. The first time he choked me, I left for two months before falling prey to hope and returning. He didn’t choke me again for another year – during which time we got married. Months turned to weeks between episodes, turned to days. In the months between, we got pregnant. In the weeks between, we bought a home.

Should I be ashamed of the hope? Hoping that a home, with a family, would make him happy and calm?

Or ashamed of accepting the violence. Of saying – it is okay to hurt me, and I will diminish myself to share a bed with someone I am afraid will kill me.

I couldn’t leave until I had said – I have tried everything that I personally am able to do in order to make this relationship work. I tried everything. Everything. Everything.

I didn’t leave until the protective instincts that had dulled for myself (safer to stay than to try to leave) were kicked into high gear by the birth of our baby (how could we bring the baby up in this environment?).

I didn’t leave until I read about a neurosurgeon in Canada choking his family physician wife to death, and I knew, with a chill – that could have been me. That would be me, within a matter of a few more spirals. Maybe the next one.

And so I left, physically.

My mind remained in that dark spiral for many many many months more.

Silenced by shame.

Happily, sharing the shame has lifted it.

Barbara Rothschild, in “Eight Keys to Trauma Recovery” shares the key importance of unpacking shame by confiding in a single other trusted individual. Someone you know will hear you with non-judgmental compassion. Her book is amazing, and the exercise of identifying the individual – who could listen, and not judge?–inviting them over, and talking, was subtly and powerfully healing.

I was not alone in my shame.

I am not alone.

I need not be ashamed of choosing hope.

And I can accept that I deserve to be loved.

 

 

 

Escaping the Beatings

When I began this blog, I was figuring out how to stay in a terribly abusive relationship.

And in a terribly abusive job.

There must be something, I thought then, that I could do, to make it better. To make him better. To make me better.  To make the world that he existed in more tolerable so that our relationship could flourish. To make my own workplace more tolerable.

But I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could never make him, or the world around him, better. I could not be in charge of creating a tolerable existence for him, alone, to keep myself safe. I could not be responsible for his well being. I was responsible for me.

Neither could I be responsible for fixing the entire American healthcare system to fix my broken job.  I am responsible first and foremost for me, finding solutions that fit me, now.

I left that relationship, battered, and am slowly slogging my way through a terribly abusive divorce. I’m realizing this relationship will never end, as long as there is a much wanted and much loved child who is a product of the relationship in this world. But the nature of the relationship has changed already, for which I am grateful. I am free.

I also found my way to a different job. A better job. With fewer patients and easier charting. But aspects of my non-clinic hours were still abusive, so I changed the nature of my commitment to the job. I simplified from medical director to part time provider.

I’m seeking sustainable balance, renewable joy. Flexing my skills as a doctor just enough to pay the rent and buy groceries (and sadly not even to begin to imagine paying back the legal fees accrued over the last 21 months of litigation). But to create the space in my life to grow, heal and write. To take care of me.

I’m seeking a paycheck that doesn’t break my spirit to sustain my body.

I’m seeking a relationship that doesn’t break my body. Period.

Here’s to health and wholeness and happiness — on a personal and professional front.

Bursting into new life

When my baby was born, I read while breast feeding. My mom, who had previously been banished from my home by my husband, was welcomed back to help care for our jaundiced baby. She would read to me, or I to her, while the baby sucked away at my breast. It was profoundly peaceful, and healing. 

One of the poems I read was from a book my best friend gave me to celebrate new life: Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems. 

This is the poem fragment that gave me courage to leave a dangerously bad marriage.

Rain. (Part Seven)

At night

Under the trees

The black snake

Jellies forward

Rubbing

Roughly

The stems of the bloodroot,

The yellow leaves,

Little boulders of bark, 

To take off

The old life.

I don’t know

If he knows

What is happening.

I don’t know

If he knows

It will work.

***

I read that, constrained in my old life, knowing I was bursting out of an existence that was too small, too tight, painfully restrictive. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know when, but I knew that eventually, to survive, I would need to leave my husband. 

I identified with that snake. Something was happening. (I was a mother. My protective instincts that had dulled for myself were sharpened again.)

“I don’t know if he knows it will work,” I read, and I suddenly knew.

It would work. 

I would leave my husband, safely, and leave the skin I had outgrown, the life constraining me.

The home, the husband, the job, the life–a mere shell, a skin that I am bigger than. In the natural order of life, snakes outgrow their skins, they shed them, and grow a larger one. The snake may not know what is happening, but the natural order takes over.

Time to shed my skin. 

It will work. 

Battered No More

I started this blog in 2014 when I was trying to figure out how to live with abuse in my life.

Abuse at work. And abuse at home.

I left the battery. I’m recovering now.

I left the clinic. I’m recovering professionally.

I left my husband. I’m recovering emotionally.

Finding myself, once again, in a state of non-not.

I’m not married. I’m not not-married.

I”m on my way.

Not-Not Defined

We moved recently, and settling into our new apartment, I found a folder with the old construction paper signs I had created in college to decorate the walls. Including the yellow-lettered construction paper not-not sign.

The definition of Not-Not:

“Not-Not is not the negation of anything. It is only an expression of itself. Not-not is aware that liberation exists in the indefinite.”

 

The Hard Knock Life of a Community Physician