...awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents.
Welcome back to the ongoing story of LisaMorguess. Go here for Part 1 of Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story.
Your first marriage resulted in an abusive situation. How old were you when you married? Were the issues in the marriage, or the dynamic that developed, related to the those thatled you to runaway from home as a teen?
I was 19 when I married my first husband, and he was 21. He was the boyfriend I had run away with. The abuse actually started pretty soon after we began living together, but by then I felt pretty trapped; I was far away from a home I couldn’t bear to return to anyway. It is pretty typical, too, for people who grow up in abusive families to see abuse as normal. I grew up watching my father abuse my mother, and being abused myself by both of my parents as well as my mother’s boyfriends and my older brother, so abuse seemed like a normal part of existence, sadly.
When you are in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/husband, the dynamic is a little different, though. There tend to be enough periods of calm that you hang on to this hope, this belief, that the periods of calm are reality, and the awful periods are aberrations, if you will. Every time he smacked me around, I tried to believe that it would never happen again.
Then, too, there is the typical modus operandi of the abuser: to slowly but surely take away just about every bit of self-esteem and self-respect of their abused. The physical abuse is horrible, but the emotional abuse is more insidious and has much deeper and longer-lasting effects.
My husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic. When we were teenagers, we partied together. I did my share of drinking and getting high. . .but by the time we got married (even before I turned 19) I got to a point where I realized how dangerously we were living and I wanted no part of the drugs and partying anymore (and, in fact, I haven’t touched an illicit drug since then, in over 23 years). He led me to believe that he felt the same way, but it wasn’t long before I realized that he was still doing all of it on the sly, and it became a recurring nightmare of an issue throughout our 12-year marriage. He would tell me that I was the one with the problem. “My drinking wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t have a problem with it,” he would tell me. “It’s your fault I hit you,” he would tell me. “You bring out the worst in me, you make me do that,” he would say.” “Nobody else would ever put up with you. Nobody even likes you. Everyone says behind your back that you’re nothing but a bitch,” he would say to me. “You’re crazy,” he would tell me. “YOU need help,” he would say. After you’ve heard those things enough times, you begin to believe them.
So, in a nutshell, I would say that his alcohol and drug addiction played a big part in the abuse and the general issues in our marriage. I think he was just naturally a very controlling person, too, and I think now, looking back, that he would have been abusive to anybody he was in a relationship with--not just me. When he and I got together, I was so young and needy, and he clearly wanted somebody to rescue. I think he got off on that whole damsel in distress thing. So he saved me from my family and then his own demons took over. And although I was victimized by him, I grew up, and he never really did--when he died at the age of 33, he was the same exact person he had been at 18. And I think the more I “grew up,” the more determined he was to keep me under his thumb.
How did you find the courage to leave such a destructive relationship and move on?
There are a couple factors that came into play in my finally getting out of the relationship. The first one was our son. We struggled with infertility for the better part of our marriage, and didn’t end up having a child until we had been married for 10 years. After Kevin was born, I realized that it was one thing to put up with that kind of destructive life when it was just me, but it’s a whole different story when there is a child involved. And having grown up watching the horrors of abuse and alcoholism with my own parents, I didn’t want my son to grow up with that. To my knowledge, my husband never abused Kevin, but Kevin certainly witnessed a lot of ugliness. By the time Kevin was born, I think I knew in my heart that the marriage was never going to make it. . .but it’s another matter to find one’s way out of something like that. I tried to get my husband to go to counseling with me--he refused, time and time again (after all, I was the one with the problems, according to him). I begged him to enter rehab--he wouldn’t, even after he finally admitted to me that he was addicted to cocaine. I gave him ultimatums, even leaving him once, only to be coaxed back with empty promises.
The impetus for my finally leaving for good was two-fold: the friendship I had with a guy I worked with at a law firm began to develop into something more than a friendship. I was committed to making my marriage work for far longer than I ever should have; the marriage was over--in every aspect--long before I actually filed papers. Without going into a lot of detail for the sake of privacy, I’ll just say that Michael allowed me to believe, finally, that somebody actually could not only put up with me, but love me, and treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity. That’s an incredibly strong motivator.
The final straw came one evening when my husband grabbed our two-year-old son and disappeared with him overnight. He was clearly on a binge. I was frantic all night, not having any idea where they were. My husband called me from payphones throughout the night, screaming obscenities at me. He returned home with our son the following morning, and I went to see an attorney that day to draw up divorce papers.
What did you learn about yourself though the ordeal? Looking back, do you believe it was part of a unique circuitous path you had to follow to find the great place where you eventually landed?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself throughout everything is that I am strong. I feel weak at times--who doesn’t? But I’m a survivor. I’ve survived some really terrible things, and I am not only here, but thriving and happy. At the risk of tempting fate by saying so, I feel like I can survive just about anything.
As far as it all being a circuitous path I had to follow to get to where I am now. . . I’m not so sure. I’m sure under different circumstances and with different choices, I could have landed in a good place much sooner than I did. But I will say that the struggles I’ve faced and overcome have certainly made me more appreciative and grateful for my life as it is now. Not a day goes by that I don’t consciously take a moment to reflect and acknowledge how fortunate I am.
How did you meet your current husband? Was it difficult to trust again after such a devastating first marriage?
As I said, I met Michael at work. I had been working as a paralegal for a small law firm for several years, and we hired this guy as a law clerk who was awaiting his bar results. He passed the bar and was given an associate attorney position with the firm. He and I hit it off immediately and became friends--just friends. We were friends for a year and a half before it developed into something more than that.
Yes, it was very difficult to trust again after my first marriage. I had been lied to so much, for so long, and in so many ways. . .yeah, trust was a big issue for a long time when Michael and I got together. And the first couple years of our marriage were rough, in large part because of my “baggage.” We’ve worked very hard to make this marriage work, and it’s all paid off a hundred times over. Michael is my best friend in the world, and in spite of the challenges our family is now facing, I love my life, and I feel like this is the happiness I was waiting for for so long.
You have six kids now! Did you always want to have such a large family?
I never dreamed I would have this many kids! I will say, though, that I loved being pregnant so much the first time, that when Kevin was born I instantly decided that I’d love to have ten kids! With my first marriage falling apart the way it did, though, I got to a point where I had to accept that I might never have another child. Then Michael and I got married, and he was eager to be a dad (and he took on the role of dad to Kevin from the get-go, even making vows to Kevin at our wedding).
We never set out to have six kids. I think early on, we talked about having a total of three kids (including Kevin). By the time Michael and I got married, we were both already approaching our mid-thirties, so we didn’t feel we should wait too long to get started on expanding our family. So Joey was born a couple weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. When Joey was about 18 months old, we were ready to try for a third, and we got one of the biggest surprises of our lives: twins! Even after four kids, we weren’t sure if we felt “done,” and it’s funny because I still remember having this long, serious discussion when the twins were about 16 months old: should we have another, or shouldn’t we? We agreed to wait until the twins turned two to make a decision, but a couple weeks later I found out that I was already pregnant. So Lilah was born shortly after the twins turned two, and then when Lilah was a year old, I became pregnant again, with Finn (so obviously we were still open to having another, although he was a surprise, in more ways than one).
Your youngest son has Down syndrome. How has your family had to adjust to ensure he is well cared for and given the attention he needs?
We did not find out that Finn has Down syndrome until after he was born, and it was quite a devastating shock, probably made worse by the fact that he was a planned home birth and had to be rushed to the hospital when he was less than a day old and had major surgery the day after he was born and then spent two weeks in the NICU. I think the adjustment our family has had to make concerning Finn has been much more of an emotional adjustment than a logistical one. When you are expecting a baby, you have expectations of what that baby is going to be like, and on some level, you map out his life even before he’s born - you imagine him learning to walk, talk, going to school, playing baseball, learning to drive a car, growing up, going to college, getting married, and having children of his own. When you receive a diagnosis like Down syndrome, a lot of your dreams and expectations are shattered . . . and a lot of them you might think are shattered but really aren’t at all. So there was a whole grief process that I went through; I grieved for the baby I thought I was going to have. It never interfered with my love for and acceptance of Finn - I’ve felt this fierce love and protection for him since he was born - but it’s a process of accepting a new reality. My husband didn’t have as tough a time as I did with the diagnosis - maybe because he worked with people with various disabilities for many years, so it didn’t seem so foreign and frightening to him, maybe because he’s just a much more laid back, accepting person, I don’t know. The kids have been very accepting, and honestly, the youngest kids still don’t really understand what Down syndrome is, and I don’t think they feel like Finn is “different” in any way - he’s just their baby brother.
Practically speaking, there haven’t been a whole lot of adjustments to be made. Finn’s a baby - not even a year old yet, so for the most part, he just does what babies do. He’s had a couple of surgeries, and he has a physical therapist who comes over once a week to help him achieve his gross motor skills, but other than that, he doesn’t require any more specialized care or attention than any other baby. I’m sure that as he gets older, we’ll have to make more adjustments as his needs change, but it’s a gradual process.
How did your experiences as a runaway, and as a partner in an abusive marriage, prepare you for the stress involved in having such a large family, including a set of twins and a child with a disability?
Like I said: I’m a survivor. Every challenge I’ve overcome and every heartbreak I’ve lived through has shown me that I’m made of pretty tough stuff. Having a large family, having twins, having a child with a disability. . . those are all big challenges, but they’re also things that enrich my life to a much greater degree than the challenges they present.
Do you believe that your teen and young adult experiences will help you be a better parent to your kids, particularly as teens?
I think those experiences have definitely made me more aware--and awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents. That said, I fail sometimes. I fall short of being the parent I want to be, the parent my kids deserve. And at those times when I know I’ve failed, I think about what my experiences as a young person were, and how I felt, and I endeavor to be accountable, make amends to my kids, and purposefully parent them in a positive manner.
When you ran away from home as a teen, did you ever imagine that your life would one day be filled with so much love?
No, I never imagined it. I spent the better part of my life--into my thirties, waiting for happiness to find me, and believing it never would. And it wasn’t until my first marriage fell apart that I realized that happiness doesn’t find anyone, you have to make your own happiness.
Now, I truly feel like I’m living the life I always wanted to have, even with all the challenges we face as a family.
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Come back on July 3rd for Part 3 of Lisa's story.
Come back on July 3rd for Part 3 of Lisa's story.