During fall of 2007, my marriage entered its final stages of a breakdown. It was just a matter of time, as the beginning of the marriage had been extremely rocky. I had been suffering from undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and GAD, while he, on the other hand, had undiagnosed ADHD.
Our relationship easily fell under the category of “young and dumb.” I hadn’t expected to fall in love, and I never did. Instead, I forced myself to be in love out of the fear of being lonely. Seemingly absorbed with the idea of starting a new family, I got pregnant immediately. Not everyone professed their happiness, especially the members of the church I’d attended. Their message was clear: You cannot attend church meetings until you get married. And so, we did. Wearing a voluminous white gown with a veil (which also offended a few people), I was six months pregnant and I didn’t care, although I felt like an actor playing a part rather than making memories of my wedding.
After the birth of my oldest child, postpartum depression took over my well-being, and I suffered from paranoia and psychosis. It was a terrifying time and no one knew how to help me. I became this fearful and shy individual looking desperate to please others just for the sake of my marriage. One of my encounters with paranoia landed me in one-year probation of intensive therapy for depression and anger management. Therapy did little for me at the time, and I desperately clung to the hope that I’d be able to experiment with a much-needed change of life. But when my second child was born, depression trapped me into darkness once again.
Life was chaotic, and the financial burden made both my husband and me bitter. He resented me for being a stay-at-home mom, although I had worked from home for a few months to help pay expenses. I entangled myself in this predicament of working hard to be a good mom and wife. Trying to alleviate the situation, I did small gigs like babysitting and working as an office clerk. And for a small period of time, everything seemed to be working out well.
I began to believe that maybe this marriage could be saved. How wrong I was.
Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, we had Myspace and Hi5. My ex-husband and I became regular chat room users (when chat rooms were cool) until things got out of hand. We both cheated on each other, me exchanging messages with a guy who lives in Panama, and my ex actually meeting with a woman “In real life.” I despised myself for hitting such low ground; it embarrassed me to know I’d acted childishly, instead of showing stability and maturity. Then, exasperated with my depression spells, my ex-husband gave me an ultimatum: we either send our babies to Bolivia to live with his family so we could both find jobs without worrying about childcare expenses, or the marriage was over.
The pressure was so bad—due to the lack of money and my depressed state—that, I said yes. Three weeks later, I was on a plane to Bolivia and stayed for approximately a month. I suffered from daily panic attacks, crying while holding my little one in my arms (my youngest child was less than a year old), and listening to the cruel remarks made by his family. (“I thought you would be prettier and thinner.” “You have done nothing to help my son.”) I tried my best to shut out their criticism and enjoy visiting a new country, but I couldn’t. I was suicidal, without financial resources, and trapped in an unhappy marriage.
Then it was time to say good-bye. My little ones were sleeping so peacefully that I didn’t dare wake them. I kissed their heads and headed off to the airport. I cried during the entire flight. I cried at work. I cried every single day they were gone. I spent Christmas that year in bed praying to God, please help me because I’m dying. Needless to say, I spent more time in the hospital from my mental breakdown than working.
The ex was furious. He thought he would be hanging out with friends, smoking pot and living the single life, but instead, he managed our finances. If I wanted to purchase a lipstick or anything like that, I needed his permission. He went so far as to get rid of all the furniture we had in our small basement, like the dining room table, mattresses, and the kid’s crib. He also took my jewelry and some clothing items. I had nothing. I’d endured sexual abuse at an early age and my father’s domestic violence, but that was by far the most traumatic and painful episode of my life. On the other hand, I had the support of my mother, who couldn’t tolerate this vicious cycle my life had become. She volunteered to pay for the airline tickets, and soon, I was on my way back to Bolivia.
Needless to say, my ex-husband’s family had planned to keep the boys indefinitely. “I miss the days of having babies around the house,” my mother-in-law said. I was horrified. “If that is the case, I advise you to have your own children and leave mine alone”.
On my return to the states, the ex-didn’t speak to me for two weeks, another of his manipulation techniques. It didn’t matter anymore; my life with him was over. Later on, he admitted to my mother that he only followed the advice of his father “because Stephanie is weak, she needs to be punished.” I gathered the few belongings I had into trash bags, and with my two children by my side, said good-bye to all the abuse I’d endured for so long.
The next sensible step was to find a job, which I did, and I am proudly still working for the same company. I safeguard my financial life, and until this day, every time I buy a lipstick, I smile thinking “you did it, girl.” And this is what I want to say to all the women and men who suffer from abuse: you can start your life again, away from predators. Don’t get stuck somewhere you don’t belong. Ask for help. Financial abuse may be subtle, but it diminishes the victim’s capacity to support him/herself, and limits access to economic resources. There is help.
Have you been a financial abuser or the victim of financial abuse at some point? Here are some helpful resources:
For help and assistance call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.