One way that I lost my sense of self, was through getting out of touch with what I wanted. I knew I couldn’t have what I wanted, so I avoided disappointment by not being in touch with what I felt or making decisions. Loïc would insist on my making decisions in order to show that he was including me in them, but then consistently veto them. I ended up trying to refuse to make decisions. We only went out once or twice a year, and he’d make a big deal of making me choose the restaurant. When I chose Thai he’d say “anything but Thai,” so I’d say something “Mexican,” and he reply: “Anything but Thai and Mexican,” and so on. One year when we began planning our vacation months in advance, he was taking great pleasure in fantasizing about all of the details of the trip. He’d insist that I choose a destination, agree on it, go on about the trip for a few days, then change his mind and insist on my choosing another destination. This went on for a good two months. What had at first been agreeable discussions quickly began to drive me crazy. It got to the point where when an acquaintance asked where I wanted to go on vacation, I couldn’t say. She was astonished: “How could you not know what you want?” I thought about it carefully, and realized that I really didn’t. I was at a complete loss as to where I wanted to go. Decisions big or small were his to make.
One of the ways Loïc whittled away at my self-esteem was in making me feel bad about my body. When we’d met, I was quite slim, and I’d put on some weight, but certainly wasn’t overweight. Whenever he saw my naked he’d have a look of disgust on his face. I began hurrying into the bedroom before he got there, turning my back towards the door in case he came in, and jumping into my pyjamas. I took long baths, scrubbing and scrubbing at myself, telling myself: “Even if I’m not slender, I can be really clean.” I hated walking past shop windows and seeing my reflection. I hated it each year when the magazines came out with their swimsuit and diet covers in preparation for the summer, and weight loss products were frequently advertised on TV. To make matters worse, Loïc began telling me how much he idealized anorexic women--that they were his type. He’d go on and on about an anorexic colleague whom he found attractive. Even though I found anorexic bodies unattractive and didn’t want to have one, I felt bad that he didn’t like the way I looked. Before I’d always had a healthy image of my body.
Loïc made me feel less than, in a number of ways. While he generally asserted his superiority over everyone, he’d say that he wouldn’t have married a woman who wasn’t highly intelligent, but then he went out of his way to make it clear that I wasn’t as intelligent as him. One reason he gave for my being less intelligent was that my parents hadn’t given me “structure,” and somehow my studies were less of an achievement than his. He would interrupt me constantly, justifying himself by saying that he was so quick that he didn’t need to hear all of what I had to say, which was also a good tactic to get me to give up on getting across my point of view in a conversation and shut up. Another way he made me feel less than, was to forbid me to tell his colleagues that I was teaching English because they would think less of me--it was embarrassing for him. He made me say that I was preparing a photo exhibit abroad or something else of the sort which couldn’t be verified.
I can’t remember most of the psychological abuse, even though it was woven into the fabric of our lives--it was there all of the time. I gradually became aware of it and then of how deeply it was affecting me and the realization that the only solution was to get out. It wasn’t the sort of issue I imagined that we could talk through and resolve.
It was only when I did get out that I learned how low my self-esteem was. I’d always thought of myself as having high self-esteem. After all I was self-confident and proud of my intellect, writing, and photography. One day when I was at the center for battered women to see my psychologist, she asked if I would agree to take some psychological tests by a researcher. In one of the tests there were a number of scenes which I had to complete with what I’d say or do in each situation. I was rather surprised that in every single situation my responses indicated low self-esteem. Looking at the test results, I realized what a door mat I was. My self-esteem is based on my abilities and accomplishments rather than on my intrinsic value. That was true before I met Loïc and certainly made me vulnerable to his abuse. He nearly destroyed what little self-esteem I had.
Then at last came the final straw. One evening we were sitting watching TV when an ad for the lottery came on. Loïc told me to get up and write a note reminding him to play. Fed up with being ordered about, I told him calmly that it was the same distance for him from the couch to the table to write the note down. He protested that he worked hard, he’d had had a long day, and that his secretary would’ve done it without have being asked. I got up to leave the room and then he leapt up and started beating my head again. Oh that excruciating pain splitting through my head and radiating out. The beating threw my jaw out of line badly enough that speaking was difficult in the first days, and for ten days or so I couldn’t eat much but soup.
In this incident, unlike so many others, I can see what was probably the larger issue that turned something small into violence. Well first of course there was, quite simply, disobedience. Disobedience had been the only trigger of the first time he beat my head in. But another trigger many have been the issue of money. Loïc fantasized about being able to win the lottery and buy an apartment or house. He had a good income but was envious of his colleagues and friends who were all in the same profession and all of whom had wives with the same well-paid profession so they were well enough off to have bought places. He also related the issue of money to having children. I didn’t dare bring up when we’d have children even though he’d said he wanted them, because every time I mentioned my sister and her children he’d go into a rage against people who have children when they couldn’t afford it. Realizing that I’d approached the limits of being able to have children was one of the things which helped me make the decision to get out. I’d let him control that issue long enough.
That Loïc had beat my head in a second time and the fact that I’d become aware to a good extent of the psychological damage, helped me make the decision to leave. Before I could get down to the practicalities of finding a way to leave, I had to make the decision to do so. And I did so, on a near daily basis, but then I’d feel that I couldn’t leave because I still loved him, and we’d have lovely days together. And I couldn’t bear the thought of the suffering that leaving him would cause--that made me stay more than anything else. I spent several years making the decision and trying really hard to force myself to act on it without any success. Finally, I told myself that the way to make the decision was to decide that I really wanted to go even if it meant spending the rest of my life alone, that I’d prefer being alone. It had to be clear to me that I absolutely didn’t want to be with him. The book on ambivalence in relationships, Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum, also helped me tremendously in thinking through leaving.
Once I’d worked out the practicalities and found a place to move to, I had to face telling Loïc. The moving date was upcoming. The day before I planned to tell him, we had a really wonderful day and evening. Cuddled up together on the couch, I couldn’t imagine how I’d manage to do it. Would I put it off yet again? I couldn’t bring myself to use the d word, instead I simply said I didn’t want to be together any more. I left in December 1999, and then it took me about six years to file for the divorce. There wasn’t any question of my going back, I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it for a long time. There were still traces of the ambivalence I’d felt, difficulty letting go. When I did finally file, it wasn’t because I’d moved on, it was because I had to, since I needed to go on disability,