I spent several days unable to sleep or eat, several days back in a place I hoped never to occupy again.
Memories of all the dreams I once had with this man, visions of all the life events that were manipulated and the pain inflicted on me. I remembered how much I had wished he no longer existed, and found myself plagued with guilt, as if I had bought it all about.
Then I remembered how ill he became whenever I tried to leave him, whenever he felt his grasp on me loosening, and how little he cared when I became ill, the disappearances that occurred in those times, leaving me alone with the children. So grateful when he returned, vowing to not make such a fuss again.
It did not take long to find my focus, to see how the children would feel if they were exposed to what was to come. He asked to see them, started saying we all had to do counselling together, it was what the Macmillan people has insisted had to happen, the very thing the courts had agreed, the domestic violence groups had advised against - was the thing he was now trying to put in place. Getting me into a room, a situation similar to the marriage counselling we underwent for him to work on me, the counsellor, and create a new set of patterns.
It took several conversations with coercive control experts before I went breathing deeply and slowly across town, with a bag full of chocolates and drawings from our youngest to the hospital he stated he was at. Preparing my self to deal with any eventuality, to speak with the medical team and gauge how safe this was for the mental well being of the children. I cannot remember much of the journey, the people and places I passed by blurred by the noise in my head. The closer I drew to the hospital the heavier the air around me became. On entering the hospital I could not fathom why there were not more windows, the air had the quality of wet sand.
Arriving on the ward it took little time to locate the ward nurse who was confused as to why I was under the impression that he was seriously unwell. "He has surgery tomorrow, but he is fine" she snapped when I quietly told her I did not want to see him, I was there to purely decipher if this was a situation that would be emotionally manipulative for the children. Unfortunately the nurse was impatient and unable to spend the time to comprehend what was being asked, she strode off calling my ex/abuser to notify him I was there to see him.
The heat of the room, the stifling nature of the air around me increased as slowly, I made my way to his bed, aware I could not walk away from the situation. I found him eagerly tidying things away, pushing things into a cupboard and a tray of food away, exclaiming he had not been eating there was no good food to be had. As he limped towards me for a hug I stepped back suggesting he should not be up and about. He sat down exclaiming how happy he was to see me, how thankful he was I came. The entire time every inch of my body felt as though it was on fire. If there were other patients in the ward I cannot recall, I was aware of the man in front of me who was due for surgery, who accused me of abusing him, who put me and our children through years of pain. The man who had put little thought into the lives of the children since he walked out with a bin bag telling me I was an awful ugly being. Who now sat smiling, chattering away about the room he was in before, how useless the nurses were, how he was so happy I was there.
Emotional abuse creates a cognitive dissonance, a situation where you cannot trust your instincts, a situation where the person who tried to break you then behaves as though you are the center of their universe. Leaving you to feel at odds with the reality of what happened, and if it had happened at all.
There we were, the same pattern unfolding, the same manipulative game being played. A coy smile on his face, softly spoken words, a sudden concern for what I must be going through.
I stood holding myself, a distance away, the whole time watching as though I were above us both looking down as it all unfolded. As I asked for the details, the prognosis so far, the medical words used he began to look around the room, "I haven't been able to get any air today can you walk with me? We can grab a coffee and discuss it all". I did not want to break bread with this man, I could not imagine sitting at a table with him anywhere, my stomach churned as we walked, becoming aware of the people around watching.
Entering the lift a panic set in, I had to remind myself we are in a hospital, cameras all around, witnesses everywhere, and he is not as mobile as usual. Slowly the periphery of my vision cleared and came into focus, in time to see the coffee shop behind us. "I would like some air, the hospital one is awful" he laughed as he caught the expression on my face. Crossing the road outside the hospital, I expressed concern about him being away from medical staff,he assured me he had his phone and they were used to it. Which became obvious as soon as we entered the cafe as he was on first name basis with the women in their. Of course, why would I assume anything different? "You know what I am like" he said finishing of his exchange with them.
Sitting down at a table with him was probably something I thought I would never do again, I am clear it was something I wished to never do again. Looking at him I saw a shell, a thief, someone who took who I was, who stole my dreams and moulded a life around it all, reflecting it back to convince me he was someone when all he was, all he is is a shell.
I looked across the road at the hospital sign unable to look back at the mask across from me. "I am so glad this has bought us back together like this, sad it took this though" he sighed smiling, bending forward to hold my gaze.
Recovering from years of coercive control is a long process, one littered with set backs and days of sheer exhaustion. As time goes by, the deeper you work, you find longer periods of time of feeling at peace. The ground does not shift so often, the walls around you do not suddenly disappear without warning. Slowly, hesitantly each day turns to months, and dare I say the future becomes a concept worthy of dabbling in.
After our terrifying months of family court, of going over the past and remembering just how often and to what extent the person we loved had manipulated us, deceived us, created falsehoods everywhere we turned. After starting the year this way we reached summer gasping for breath, aching for a place to lay down for a little while. For months we slowed down our plans and I ploughed love into the children, with every act I tried to instill a certainty in them that our unit our world was immovable where ever we lived, however our surroundings may change, I will remain the constant against the storm that whipped itself around us.
As the weeks drifted by we all slept, ate well, enjoyed the air and sun offered to us all this summer. Friends visited, we laughed, we began to exhale as it dawned slowly that he could not put us through the family courts again, that now he had to adjust his behaviour if he were ever to repair anything with the children. Slowly the visits reduced, the calls were waited for and never happened, the children stopped asking, when they spoke of him, the divulged they preferred it this way.
Then the calls began, the texts, always a Dr, always looking for him, for him to get in touch, to get his results.
Repeated requests to him to change his details, asking why my number would be in his files. Always an excuse, the Dr's fault, the receptionist, someone, anyone but him.
Considering this has happened in clusters a few times over the years, including the time I left him and a GP was in touch to say he was suicidal, leading me to fear I was to blame, and letting me back into the family home; I did all I could to keep the kids shored, and myself guarded.
Again a silence.
Until a message to tell me he had lost the ability to walk, had cancer in his spine and was about to be operated on. He said he needed me to bring the children to the hospital, wanted to see them.
The sleepless night's that followed I had hoped would never come back, naively I had thought whatever else that he would bring would be a hurdle placed before me before, one that may be painful but one I had over come. But then I was faced with his mortality, the person I had had children with, had once believed I would grow old with was with little warning in a place where his existence was in question.
This same person had devastated our lives, had hurt us so deeply at our core, and had not stopped doing so, without ever acknowledging fault whilst feeding everyone else stories woven from yet more lies.
How do you deal with that stage in recovery? When that moment is a time you believe to be decades away , what is a person meant to do when the person who shreds their being spins the world again to become the weaker one?