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How I Grew a Pair (Of Labia) And Left An Abusive Marriage: Guest Post Part I

Persephone Phoenix shares how women need to follow their own hero cycle. 'You go through hell and you triumph in the end. No one will rescue you: You have to rescue yourself. Here’s how I did it.'




I am so pleased to introduce my friend Persephone Phoenix who has kindly allowed me to make her Grow Some Labia’s very first guest post. She prefers to remain anonymous to protect the innocent from the vengefully guilty. I met Persephone on another blogging platform years ago and we bonded over a similar power feminist value system—a tool of Da Patriarchy (dun dun DUNNNN!!!!) she’s ain’t :) We met once for dinner in Toronto before she moved to the States with her current (and, I hope, her last and lasting!) husband for his new job. What I love about her life is she was in an abusive marriage but she finally ‘grew some labia’ and said The hell with this! and LEFT! To be fair, she wasn’t in as grave a situation as other women trapped in marital hell so don’t take this as a ‘should’; that if you’re currently in a bad situation, you ‘should’ do the same. We don’t know what you ‘should’ do but we DO want you to understand that you have made and are making choices along the way. Persephone decided to leave. If you want to but you can’t, there’s help at the end of this article.


I will shut up now and let Persephone tell her story, in her own way, including what she learned about taking back her power from an unworthy man. Part II concludes it on Saturday.


 

When I was a high school English teacher, I taught a unit in grade ten English called “The Hero’s Journey.” The students read traditional myths, modern short stories, and viewed recent films, all through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s version of the hero cycle via Carl Jung. Versions of this symbolic system are used everywhere today, including in psychotherapy. It’s a popular theory that has become ubiquitous since Campbell published his seminal book in 1987.vgv


Infographics of the cycle are all over the internet. Here’s one:




It basically outlines how someone becomes a hero, or the best version of themselves.


It’s as easy to apply this system to the ancient Greek myth of Theseus as it is to apply it to the story of Martin Luther King’s fight against racism in the 1960s (one year I showed the film Selma in my class). Fay Weldon’s 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, for example, noticeably follows the pattern. It’s one of the few feminist novels I read in the eighties that had the heroine take charge of her life once she realized her husband was an abusive dick. It may have even inspired me to leave my own oppressive dick of a husband.


Anyone can apply the hero’s journey to their own life; you can easily cast your own struggles with adversity into a compelling story if you look at your life a certain way.


There’s the rub; many young women today, coached by feminist theories, prefer to see themselves as victims of male aggression and oppression. Any pushback against this mentality is often seen as ‘blaming the victim.’ In so doing, they trap themselves needlessly in abusive relationships.



The call to adventure: I meet a new man who is open to starting a family with me.


I met my first husband at a restaurant where we both worked. We began dating. He was a recent immigrant, and he impressed me with his work ethic and discipline. He was also very handsome. He showed few hints of his fiery temper while he was courting me. If there were any serious red flags, I completely ignored them. He also said he wanted children, which was very important to me.



Why the disaster happened in the first place, or how I accidentally crossed into the underworld or unknown world.


I married this man at age 24. Our daughter was born when I was 25. Our relationship had developed quickly—too quickly. I was young and naive, and had also endured trauma from my abusive and neglectful parents. According to classic psychological parlance, I had unconsciously married my more negative parent— my mother.


To be fair, my husband had also endured trauma; he was an immigrant from Iran who arrived in Canada as a refugee in the early ‘80s—right after the Iran/Iraq war. Not only was there a terrible war he could have been forced to fight in, he had also grown up in a violent, repressive society where women were routinely forced to wear the Muslim hijab or be subject to violence on the streets, and could also be beaten and killed for adultery. His father was an officer in the Iranian military and his younger brother was sent to the front to be cannon fodder (he miraculously survived).


I will give him that pass—I know now that he was possibly more damaged than I was. I won’t give him a pass for how he treated me or our daughter- that’s on him. He was a narcissist who never engaged in any kind of self-reflection and his emotionally abusive treatment of me was not excusable.



I got pregnant and also got started on my road of trials.


The abuse started during my pregnancy. He felt stressed at having a baby in the first year of our marriage, so he felt justified in expressing all his spleen whenever the anxiety of responsibility hit him. He could be loving one minute and enraged the next.


One time in about my seventh month, we were riding the elevator in our apartment building. We had been having a normal conversation when I said something like, “When the baby comes, we should…” He looked at me and said with fury, “I don’t want the baby!” I was floored; it was a little late in the game to be saying this when we had agreed that I would have the baby right after I showed him the pregnancy test. I thought it was settled. Turns out, no, he was actually pissed at me for being pregnant. Brimming with pregnancy hormones, I started crying. He got angry with me for crying.



Bringing up baby or living in the belly of the whale


This was the beginning of the abuse. After the baby was born, I spent most of my time isolated in our apartment while he worked six or seven days a week. I was caring for a newborn, with no experience and no help from my own mother who lived in a nearby city, and who was too absorbed in her own problems to care about mine. My wonderful sister stayed with me to help for a week, but she had her own baby and a life in a town two hours away.


Even though I was overwhelmed with caring for a beautiful but colicky infant, I tried to do my share in our home. It was a losing battle. Sometimes I left the dishes unwashed (we had no dishwasher). He would take a picture of the messy kitchen, have the film developed, and shame me with the picture.


The rest of my daughter’s infancy is a bit of a blur. He was rarely home. She didn’t sleep. One thing he would do was put her in her car seat at night when he got home from his restaurant shift and drive her around for miles until she finally fell asleep. This was helpful. Unfortunately, it was literally the only thing he did. He claimed he couldn’t change her diapers because the smell made him sick. Every time he ‘tried’ he would begin a dramatic retching performance so that I wouldn’t make him change her. I simply gave up trying to get him to contribute to her care beyond putting her to sleep at night.


Oh, and I couldn’t help with that, because he actively prevented me from learning to drive.



Making sure he diminished my light and our daughter’s light so we wouldn’t leave: sensing the abyss


Our daughter transformed into an adorable little girl with curly dark brown hair and a mischievous laugh. She was literally hilarious. If I said something silly, she would say, “You’re fordicalos, Mommy!” (She meant ‘ridiculous’). She ‘wrote’ her own version of Cinderella when she was four. I would staple together pieces of paper into a book. She would illustrate the story with child-style pictures and then dictate the text that went with each picture:

Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters.
She was getting married the next day.
"Or is it the day after that?,” she reminded to herself.
For Christmas, she got a wedding dress and some shoes.
She married the prince and the two stepsisters became the girl grand dukes.
And they all lived happily ever after.
The end.

She had brilliantly re-conceived the original story so that no one was mean to anyone. That’s how innocent and good she was. And creative.


What was his reaction to this story? “Not funny.” Much like Joe Dimaggio with Marilyn Monroe, he did his best to diminish her light so that she would not outshine him.



My cooking was never good enough or a major challenge that tempted me with all kinds of fantasies of a future, healthy marriage: Magic flight.


The only food he would eat was the Persian food his mother had made for him—about four different dishes. I bought a Persian cookbook and tried making some recipes. Everything was ‘disgusting’ and he would take one sniff and do the retching performance he did with the baby’s dirty diapers.


I began to imagine a different kind of relationship. I admit that I got a little lost in fantasy. That said, I never even came close to cheating on him. Nevertheless, he sensed this, and developed some pretty paranoid behaviors. Once, at one of our daughter’s ballet recitals, I innocently looked around the auditorium to see if one of my friends was arriving, and he accused me of ‘looking for men.’


Oh, and during this period he actually engaged in several affairs.



He was mean and demeaning to our daughter: Getting close to the nadir


When she got a little pudgy from having pasta for lunch every day at daycare, he freaked out because she was making him look bad for being ‘fat.’ Later on, she developed a binge-eating disorder. She would take leftover food from the fridge and gorge on it, leaving the dirty dishes under her bed in shame. Then he would scream at her for it.


He demanded that she massage his feet for him to honor him as a father like good Persian girls supposedly did in Iran.



He abused me financially: The absolute nadir


A lot of you might be thinking at this point, why didn’t I just leave him? I had a good job as a high school teacher (teachers in Canada are paid well and everyone is on the same salary grid no matter what school district they teach in). I had the financial means to hire a lawyer and set up my own household and a strong desire to leave, but I didn’t.


Truth be told, I didn’t yet have the self-esteem I needed to make the break. I brought home a good salary (the equivalent of $100,000 per year in today’s money). How much was he contributing? I wouldn’t know because I was not allowed to know how much he made. When we briefly separated, he refused to pay child support. I became terrified of not being able to pay my bills, and I reluctantly moved back in with him.


Honestly, I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself. I never had parents who talked to me about how to handle life. My upbringing was mostly them expressing hostility to me for my very existence.



How I finally woke up: Consciousness expands.


I developed health problems. A rheumatologist diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). He explained to me that some people are genetically predisposed to CFS, but do not develop the disease. Others do when they experience significant stress. He asked me about my childhood, my adolescence, and my young adulthood. What were they like? All stressful: Constant moves, eleven different schools, bullying, physical abuse, neglect, and one spectacular incident: A mass shooting at my high school when I was in grade nine.


Add an abusive marriage to that list and you have a recipe for chronic disease. I knew I had to leave or I might actually not live long enough to see my daughter grow up.



I left him for good: The apotheosis is on the horizon.


I moved out of our beautiful marital home sometime after our fifteenth anniversary. It was basically my dream home. Growing up, and moving around so much, often to ugly suburban houses, helped me delusionally believe that a nice house would somehow make me happy despite anything that was going on in my life.


No house, no matter how lovely, can make up for the ugliness of a life lived in fear and misery with someone who acts like he hates you. I still can’t believe how long it took me to realize this.


I showed up at work the first day of the school year after I had moved out during summer break and started my new life. One of my colleagues remarked, “You look different. You look happier.” I had literally moved out two weeks before. I guess my whole demeanor and body language had changed in an instant.


I felt free. I didn’t have to go home to my hostile, angry husband and our tension-filled house.



He manipulated me into using his lawyer for our divorce: The refusal of the return.


Despite my colleague’s observations, I was also so broken down before our legal separation, both the tiredness associated with CFS, and the lingering depression that I lived with throughout our marriage, that I allowed him to decide the terms of the divorce. I went to his lawyer’s office with him and signed a paper that stated I did not want to seek independent counsel. I had moved into an apartment in another house that we owned, not far from our marital home, so that our daughter could walk between the two homes. My (it turns out delusional) understanding was that I would get the second home (with two apartments, one of which I could rent out to help with mortgage payments), and he would keep the larger, fancier home that I didn’t want anyway, and didn’t feel I could afford to maintain.


He had no intention of signing over that house to me. Or of giving me any kind of settlement. He had decided, living as he did in his own elaborate fantasy world, that somehow Sharia law would apply to our divorce, rather than Canadian law.


When I finally demanded some actual paperwork for the property exchange, he told me he wouldn’t be giving me anything. He explained it by telling me I hadn’t actually contributed anything to the marriage. I reminded him that I had given him several thousand dollars a month for years to cover the mortgage and joint credit card bills. He dismissed that by saying, “All you did was make a few mortgage payments.”



The texture of the silence changed”: Revelation brings rebirth.


I was utterly stunned. I walked back to ‘my’ house in a daze. I had completely screwed myself. I had signed a separation agreement that said nothing about a settlement.

I thought that was the end. I would never own a house in our expensive city again. Not even a condo. And I had done it to myself. He could kick me out of the home I was living in any time he wanted to.


For the first time, I got really, really angry instead of internalizing my anger and making myself sick.


He phoned me not long after that and demanded that I pay half of our daughter’s first-year university expenses. We had started an education savings account when she was a baby. I knew how much was in that account. I told him to use that to pay for the year’s expenses and after that he could damn well pay for all her future years of education. I was giving him nothing.


The fire had awakened.


There is a scene in the novel The Life and Loves of a She-devil, where the heroine is sitting in her bathroom while her asshole husband is berating her through the door, explaining to her that he is entirely entitled to divorce her, take her children with him to live with his mistress, and to give her nothing, since she was supposedly nothing more than a worthless, unattractive hag.


Fay Weldon deliciously captures the moment when Ruth, a woman almost completely lacking self-esteem, decides for once that she doesn’t have to accept her husband Bobbo’s low estimation of her worth: “On the other side of the door, the texture of the silence changed…” Bobbo waits for her acquiesce to his insane demands, and all he gets is silence. Uneasy, he leaves the house somehow sensing that his power over Ruth has been an illusion all along.


If you have read the book or seen the movie, then you know that Ruth gets revenge on Bobbo by becoming attractive and rich, and essentially ruining his life the way he almost ruined hers. He thought he was going to be, in Orwellian terms, a jackboot stamping on [her] human face forever. He was wrong.


As the great spiritual teacher Gary Zukav once said, “External power is an illusion.” People have power over us because we give it to them. When we stop believing in that power, it evaporates like Nikolai Ceaucescu’s hold over the Romanian people in 1989.


My husband was also uneasy when the texture of the silence changed on the other side of our phone conversation. He protested when I refused to pay our girl’s education, knowing he had a lot more money than I did, despite his attempts to hide that from me. I told him, “I know that you know you can afford this and that I can’t since you ripped me off in our divorce settlement. And I’m not playing your game any longer.”


 

Part II will be released on Saturday, April 6th.


If you are in an abusive relationship and need help:


If you are in IMMEDIATE danger, call 911, wherever you are in Canada and the United States. (NOTE: This doesn’t work in Nunavut and some rural parts of Ontario which still have no 911 service. We’re working to change that.)


National Domestic Violence Hotline (United States) - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). TEXT: 88788 (Text & Message rates may apply)


Canada does not appear to have a national domestic abuse hotline. Not that I can find, anyway. There is a Crisis Text Line but I can’t get the website to load.




The iHeal app - “A free, private and secure app to help Canadian women who have experienced abuse from a current or past partner to find personalized ways to stay safe and be well.”



Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a damn thing!


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