I met my ex when I was 24 and we married a year later. I was drawn to his confidence, self-discipline, intelligence and ambition: things I felt I lacked. Climbing the ladder in the technology industry, he was also a talented drummer—playing in local bands. So, five years into our marriage when he decided to leave his rising career to pursue his dream of becoming a professional drummer, I supported him and we moved to L.A.
My ex made the move with his buddy (a guitarist) four months before me, while I stayed back to pack up and sell our house. He had begun to display deceptive and disrespectful behavior in the year prior, telling lies and frequenting strip clubs. I tried to be the “cool wife” and be OK with it, but in L.A. this activity increased. The first time I visited my ex before joining him in L.A. there was a Hustler magazine displayed on the coffee table. He had stopped wearing his wedding ring, explaining that as a musician, appearing married made him less viable for touring gigs. He told me about the people he was meeting and the parties he was going to. I suspected he had been unfaithful, but I had no proof. So, I kept my fears to myself.
Shortly after I joined my ex in L.A. he committed adultery with a record label executive who said she would get his demo to the right people, but he denied it when I questioned him. Not long after, he had his first full affair: with my dad’s best friend’s fiancé. That’s when I came to realize that he had developed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as a result of his abusive childhood. When his ego was knocked off its pedestal for any reason, he would turn to other women to lift it back up.
My head and my heart were in conflict. I wanted to be compassionate, knowing how severely abused he was mentally and emotionally as a child. I wanted to believe that his choices and actions were not a reflection of me, but of how he felt about himself. But mostly, I felt stuck and thought that if I kept loving and accepting him unconditionally, it would reverse his childhood trauma. Then, maybe, he wouldn’t cheat again and all would be fine.
Although I didn’t realize it then, I was a highly co-dependent person. I married my ex when I was 25, lost and didn’t know who I was. I had been identifying myself through him and had no sense of autonomy, nor did I have the confidence in myself to leave and survive on my own. So, even though I was now 32, I just stayed, hoping things would get better. I did everything I could to get his attention back on me and make him see he didn’t need to look outside of our marriage. I even had sexy pictures taken of myself, thinking that if he saw in me what he saw in the women in Maxim, Penthouse and Hustler, he would realize he didn’t need them.
But things only got worse. My ex lost all sight of our marriage and his NPD grew exponentially. He became increasingly obsessed with his physical image, visited sex chat rooms, brought home porn, and developed a following of female band groupies. My self-esteem was so low, I thought, “Well, I guess this is the life of the wife of a rock musician. If I’m going to support him in this career, I’m going to have to learn to put up with it.” While my ex occasionally binged on alcohol, he adamantly opposed drugs and he never verbally or physically abused me, so I was blind to the covert mental and emotional abuse that was slowly taking place.
At one point, my ex went on the road for two weeks with his band. I knew he would be returning in the middle of the night, so after hearing him come through the front door, I returned to a lucid state of sleep. I was aware that he came upstairs to our bedroom and used the bathroom without saying a word. Then, the next thing I knew, the sheet was yanked off of me. My ankles were grasped and I was flipped onto my stomach before being pulled to the end of the bed. He grabbed my hips, held my arms behind my back and sexually assaulted me in the most dehumanizing way possible—territory he knew was off limits.
It happened so quickly and I was in such shock that all I could do was try to crawl away from him while biting down on the sheets in pain. A million things shot through my mind in those few minutes. Was this really my husband? Why is he doing this? Is he on drugs? Are his band mates waiting to go next? If I scream will anyone hear me or care? If someone calls the cops, what would happen then? Could I accuse my husband of rape? Would I be justified? Would anyone believe me? Is this my duty? Is this my fault? Do I deserve this? Why?!!
When he was done, he got into bed and fell asleep. I crawled to the bathroom and silently cried, falling asleep on the floor. The next day, I expected him to say something, but he didn’t. So, I said nothing either. I was so confused, hurt and afraid that I couldn’t sort out my emotions or thoughts, so I just stuffed them into the dark recesses of my being for years, pretending nothing happened.
I wish I could say I came to my senses and that was the last straw, but I didn’t. Our marriage lasted another eight years. Two attempts at marital counseling were ineffective. He continued to lie and commit infidelity, even after leaving the music business and returning to technology. His NPD took on new levels, as did his coping vices of alcohol and gambling. I emotionally and physically retreated, loosing myself in my small business until we had become merely housemates. I knew our marriage wasn’t healthy, but I had become so accustom to the dysfunction that any alternative was terrifying and unimaginable. In the end, it was he who said he didn’t want to be married to me anymore, one week before revealing he was having an affair with the much younger married neighbor woman across the street whom I considered to be a friend.
My initial reaction from the divorce was to attempt to regain validation and self-esteem by dating a lot and making bad choices—the denial stage of grief. Of course, it only left me feeling more empty. I had pretty much wiped the sexual assault from my memory, but it resurfaced during the political campaign leading up to the 2016 election. The media around Trump’s behavior and attitude toward women brought it back to the forefront of my mind. I struggled with feelings of anger, resentment, disgust and shame—returning to questioning my self-worth and falling into a deep depression that took nearly a year to retreat out of.