A Tale of Financial Abuse and How I Got Out

Photo Credit: AK Rockefeller via Compfight cc

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.




Stephanie Ortez

Stephanie is a highly caffeinated mother of two wonderful boys. She is hopelessly addicted to non-fiction books and literature that moves her to tears. She is an admissions advisor for George Washington University online where she assists homeschooled students internationally. Stephanie lives with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She is a passionate mental health advocate, member of Stigma Fighters. Her writing has been featured on The Elephant Journal, The Mighty, The Organic Coffee Haphazardly and Feminine Collective.

59 thoughts on “A Tale of Financial Abuse and How I Got Out

  1. Alfonzowords

    Arigato for being so open and truthful about what you went through. this is brilliant and much needed by many. I applaud you for being so brave and raising awareness for this.

  2. LifeAsAConvert

    I’ve never been financially abused, but I learned from an early age that the non-working partner should always have something to fall back on, if that means a job to fall to, or a savings account to lean on.

  3. Stephanie Ortez

    Hi Dawn, It took me a long time to open and share. I shed a lot of tears when I wrote it, it felt like I was writing about another person who felt lost at that time. But she’s back to life now!

  4. Stephanie Ortez

    Thank you! you are so right, we can’t give ourselves to someone out of fear of being lonely. We have to love & know ourselves first before committing to any relationship to avoid this type of situations.

  5. Nikki Jenner

    Girl, I salute you! I will share this to my friends who are having the same struggles. Thank you!

  6. Danne Reed

    I heard so many stories like this, you are such a brave one. Good thing you are okay now.

  7. Lexie Lane

    Thanks for sharing your story, there are many people suffering from financial abuse and this is so inspiring!

  8. Nicole Escat

    You are so brave to handle the situation! I am so glad that you were able to go out of it!

  9. lalainemanalo

    Wow! Thank you for sharing yourself so openly. I am sure you’re experiences will be helpful to many women who suffer from the same turmoil. This reminded me of my mother’s advice: Take care of your finances, then, you’ll have no one to fear but God.

  10. pjkuhn

    It’s hard for me to imagine the life you lived. You’re a strong woman to go through it and be flourishing on the other end.

  11. The Mad Mommy

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have endured a lot of abuse, in many different ways, and have also dealt with depression, anxiety and postpartum!

  12. Aurora

    Oh My God. Well, I really do home that people will be educated with this heart felt post. You must have been traumatized.

  13. Stephanie Ortez

    Thank you Elizabeth! I wish there were more financial resources for single moms. Without the help of my friends and family, I wouldn’t be able to make it through. Still, financial independence can be achieved. We deserve it.

  14. Stephanie Ortez

    Hello Dawn, it’s such a painful situation when you don’t have the means to survive and depend financially on others. You took great courage to break away from a vicious cycle, good for you! live and breath your independence.

  15. She rocks the suburbs

    Wow , I can’t imagine going through everything you had to endure. I’m so glad you were able to get out of the situation and start a new life for you and your kids. What a courageous story, thank you for sharing your brave story. I’m sure you are inspiring others in a similar situation.

  16. Elizabeth O.

    I know about situations like this I just didn’t know the exact term for it. This post is very empowering and I hope a lot of single moms out there will have the chance to read it. We can always choose to free ourselves from suffering and we’ll eventually be okay.

  17. Amy Jones

    Thank you so much for coming out and sharing your story with the world! You’re a brave and beautiful person and you deserve to live a happy life

  18. just1mommysopinion

    What an inspiring story. I think we can all relate to some extent here. Good for you for being so strong and for not giving up! Way to go girl 🙂

  19. candyolivares

    You are so strong for sharing your story. Sending lots of positive vibes you way.

  20. Rebecca

    Wow you are so inspiring. Thank you for your bravery and your heart to share this. You are what inspires others to make better choices.

  21. momknowsbest15

    You had a tough marriage and I could only image how hard it was to get away from him. You did what you had to do and I am happy for you that things are better.

  22. Dawn McAlexander

    I grew up in a similar situation. My parents always had money for cigarettes and beer, but when it came time for me to get something like hair spray or makeup, I never could get it because “We don’t have that kind of money.” I simply left when I was 18, and I have been pretty much financially independent since.

  23. Stephanie OrtezStephanie Ortez Post author

    Hi Carol! a friend told me long time ago, I was lucky to have gone through this ordeal when I was young rather than later in my life. I understand what my friend was trying to say, but between us? I wish I could have enjoyed my youth a little bit more.

  24. Carol Cassara

    So young to have gone through so much. I am glad you were able to make the necessary changes in your life to provide a life for you and your children. So many don’t make it.

  25. Stephanie OrtezStephanie Ortez

    Thank you, Kimmie for your kind comment! I am happy to look back and see the nightmare it’s over and now I can share my story with others. 🙂

  26. Kimmie

    A brave share. Empowering. Inspirational. Great awareness piece. I’m so glad you escaped what can only be described as extreme cruelty, and that you are reunited (and thriving) with your babies. Well done you! 🙂

  27. Dori OwenDori Owen

    You are stronger and wiser, far beyond your years. Your friendship means so much to me and this story of your determination and bravado is just one reason why I love and admire you! Beautiful premiere blog!


  28. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa


    Thank you, Stephanie for being a resilient, and courageous mother, in spite of the horrific financial abuse
    your ex controlled you with. What a heartbreaking, and empowering story of bravery
    and triumph for single mothers, and women everywhere. Wow.
    Your sons are blessed to have you as their mom, and I am so happy to see you flourishing.
    Fantastic debut on Feminine Collective, bravo.

  29. Stephanie OrtezStephanie Ortez Post author

    My dear friend, thank you so much for everything. We need to speak more about financial abuse, you’re right, we don’t read ot hear about as much. I took the courage to write about this because of the support of friends like you. This is exactly what other victims need, the support to come out and seek help.

  30. Stephanie OrtezStephanie Ortez Post author

    Indeed Shanna! writing has the power to heal and change the world. Thank you for your kind words. I’m now following Stumbling Beauty, can’t wait to read your blog!

  31. Shanna Sabet-DeMott

    Stephanie, bravo on your bravery and making a positive new life for yourself and your children. I know first-hand how difficult a controlling marriage can be to endure and escape from. Keep writing, it’s great therapy for the soul!

  32. Mary Rowen

    You go, Stephanie!! Thank you for being such a brave advocate for people suffering from financial abuse. We hear a lot about physical and emotional abuse, but as you make clear, financial abuse can be just as bad, if not worse. I’m so glad you had the courage to leave and to take charge of your life. And I’m thrilled about you having your children back. Thank you for sharing!!

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