A Drowning Lifeguard


It is funny how distance affords one perspective.  I look back at the marriage, the cyclic behavior of the relationship and am shocked at what I tolerated and endured.  Married in my early twenties, quickly starting a family; life was happening as I was trying to understand the daily interactions. I am aware I am loyal to a fault, wanting to fix what is broken which is part of the responsibility I bear.

I am a mathematician by trade with the heart of a romantic artist; a lethal combination of the excessive ability to love openly and unconditionally while possessing a mind which needs logical structure.  He was suave, a bit worldlier than I with confidence and poise years of military discipline refines. I had no idea he suffered from PTSD which he managed by a cycle of self-destructive behavior, self-medication with drugs and alcohol, guilt, self-loathing, anger and outburst only to begin the cycle again. At the point he left the military, there was little support or even acknowledgement for PTSD.  We dated for a year prior to getting married and it was somewhere between a whirlwind and hurricane. He knew the right things to say and was very protective, which I later understood as possessive. Through the next few years I experienced each phase of the cycle without ever fully having the time to recover enough to understand what just happened before we were in the next incident.

Standing on this side of my life, I can clearly identify what occurred and all the signs were now classic. Look at any website on domestic abuse and it is like a checklist of the first decade of my marriage.  Through many of his eruptions he shared some of the stories he hid during the early years,  clearly the burden he carried that prevented him from engaging in a loving relationship.   He lost many friends and worked hard to alienate me from the few I had. Being one to want to fix things I fought for health, working with fervor and futility to save someone who did not realize they needed saving nor had any interest in accepting help.

I have had many people ask why I stayed for so long. There were many reasons all of which I could justify at the time. The long and short of it was I said vows and would not violate those early and as time continued, the insidious behavior became so pervasive I transitioned into survival mode.  I have had this conversation with a few intimate friends where the conclusion is all the same; those who are in a position to protect us become casualties from time to time. If one considers a lifeguard who dies saving a drowning victim. I worked diligently to save my drowning swimmer. There were times he appeared to want to be saved and when I would get close, we were both pulled underwater, creating a fine balance between coming up gasping for air and reaching back to pull him to safety.  At what point does one call it and walk away or fight with determination to save the drowning person at all cost.

“ All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.”

-Leonard Cohen


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