“I used to worry someone was going to say ‘This isn’t what we’re here for. We’re here for real abuse.’ But no one at WC&S ever said that to me.”
“I started to realize something was wrong when I saw a WC&S flyer at a doctor’s office. It asked ‘Does your partner check your social media and ask for your passwords?’” said Ruthie, a self-employed artist. “And it hit me. I was going to take a picture, but then realized I couldn’t because my husband would see it in my phone.”
Although this was the beginning of the journey for Ruthie, she was still in denial. She had been married to her husband, Jim, for nearly two decades and always thought he was a kind, caring person. “My brain couldn’t make sense of it,” she explained.
Two months later, Jim told Ruthie he had been reading her journals and then took her phone, isolating her.
“I Googled a friend’s number, hid in the basement, and called her. She said ‘Ruthie, that’s abuse. What do you need?’ But I couldn’t hear it. It was too soon. But I was one step closer.”
Jim continued to check Ruthie’s phone and repeatedly accused her of having affairs. She changed the passcode, but when Jim noticed, he demanded she change it back.
“When I told him no, he took my phone away for four days, like I was a teenager or something,” remembered Ruthie. “I recently found a piece of paper from this incident. I wrote down essential phone numbers and hid the list in case I needed it.”
Jim’s abusive behaviors escalated. He woke Ruthie up at night and harassed her with questions — Who was she seeing? Where was she going? “I told him this wasn’t okay and he said, ‘Well then, I hope you don’t make me do it again.’ He was always blaming me for his actions.”
Jim made it difficult for Ruthie to do her work as an independent artist. He picked fights with her before client appointments. He refused to watch their children and she would have to spend money on babysitters. “He made it hard for me to get my finances together,” said Ruthie.
Ruthie knew this wasn’t right but didn’t know what to call it. “Jim would endlessly ask me questions I had already answered, trying to get into my head and make me admit something. He wanted to keep me off balance,” said Ruthie. “I didn’t realize this was abuse. He wasn’t hitting me. I just didn’t know what to do.”
A friend recommended Ruthie call WC&S. “The DV advocate told me it wasn’t my job to figure out what was wrong with Jim. I used to think if I could get him to change, we could get through it. But this wasn’t on me.”
Ruthie began coming to WC&S for individual therapy. “I was surprised the first time. I was certain I would be going downstairs into a dark, underground space. But it was so bright and beautiful. The safety awareness made me feel comfortable enough to open up.”
She brought her youngest child to the Children’s Advocacy Program during her sessions. “They fed him, he did art projects, and he made friends. It was reassuring to have my child be comfortable there too,” Ruthie smiled.
Ruthie read a list of all the things that Jim had done or said to her and then started speaking about her own perceived flaws. ‘I was saying ‘I know I avoid conflict…’ and my therapist said ‘Stop. Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean you deserve abuse.’ This is the first time I wasn’t blamed. She understood me,” said Ruthie.
Now, she also participates in a support group centered around healing from trauma.
“It was the first time I was in a space where people really talked about what happened. I mentioned I had a list of things I could safely talk to my husband about. Another participant said ‘I have that list too. What’s on yours?’ In the support group, we’re free to talk about anything.”
Ruthie’s husband used to tell her what to do, and when she first started coming to WC&S, she wanted her therapist to give her instructions, too. “Now that I’m further along, I realize that I’m in charge of myself. My therapist tells me ‘You will know what to do.’”
Recently, Ruthie and Jim tried going to a marriage counselor – something that is not recommended because the abuser will often find opportunities to use power and control. Ruthie said couple’s therapy was a failure, but she learned an important lesson. “Coming from a religious background, divorce was discouraged. I thought if I tried this, I could say I tried everything. And I did,” Ruthie declared.
Ruthie and Jim are safely cohabiting and coparenting their four children. “Right now, it isn’t feasible for me to leave and give my children what they deserve. But it feels like a separation of sorts. It’s over. I don’t engage with any of the things that he does. I don’t feel scared all the time.”
Ruthie is working on financial independence so she can someday separate from Jim completely. “I’m constantly evaluating and safety planning with my therapist. I will leave when I am able. But, we will always be in each other’s lives to some capacity because we have children together.”
“I used to think that in order to feel relief from the pain I was in, I needed him to do something,” said Ruthie. “I thought I needed him to fix it. Now, I know I can’t change him, I can only influence my life. I’ll forever be grateful to WC&S.”