Phone Call From An Old Friend

My friend, Jillian, called me unexpectedly yesterday to wish me a happy birthday. It was unexpected because Jillian and I haven’t spoken for over six years.

Jillian’s husband is what I call a fully functioning alcoholic. He holds down a responsible job, pays the mortgage, occasionally picks up the kids from school, and to the outside world looks like a respectable, upstanding citizen. Except for the fact that he is wasted by 7PM every day. And I don’t mean a merry, giggling, singing 80s pop hits kind of wasted; I mean a nasty, vitriolic, I’m-going-to-put-your-head-through-a-window kind of wasted.

I have known Jillian for 20 years. She has been married for about 18 of those years. I am fairly certain that she has been abused either physically or emotionally by her husband for most of that time.

That’s why we stopped seeing one another. He broke her jaw. Fractured her pelvis by kicking her down the stairs. I couldn’t even calculate how many black eyes or split lips she’s had over the years. I also couldn’t estimate how many times I took her to the hospital at two in the morning.

I asked her to leave him. I ranted and raved and begged. So did all her friends. So did all her family. Most of us gave up when she constantly insisted he was getting better, drinking less, that he didn’t mean it. It is incredibly upsetting to watch someone you love be hit over and over. It makes your heart sink to a place you don’t think it can ever rise up from. Getting involved in the fracas doesn’t help; it completely destabilises an already unstable situation.

I felt like I was abandoning someone who was drowning when I told her I couldn’t see her anymore. Because of him. I still cry when I think of the look of horror that came over her face, because the very same day her sister had told her the same thing. Jillian knew at that moment that she was alone.

Her sister and I haven’t spoken to Jillian since that day, but we have kept tabs on her. She is still with her husband. I don’t know if the abuse has continued. When I spoke to her yesterday I was too frightened to ask.

I don’t know what it’s like to be physically abused because it has never happened to me; but I can tell you that watching it happen makes you ill. The worst thing about it is waiting for it to happen again.

For my own state of mind I had to separate myself from Jillian’s situation, but it wasn’t easy. Part of me still feels undeniably guilty about it. I worry about her and pray every day that she is all right. Her sister and I hoped that our leaving would be the catalyst for Jillian to make a stand and say: ‘That’s it. I’m not going to take it anymore.’ But six years later it still hasn’t happened.

Jillian and I only had a brief conversation yesterday but I was so touched she called. ‘I still think of the fun times we had,’ she said. ‘I know if I’d had the courage I would still have that.’

How difficult must it be to live in a prison of your own making. And know it. But even self-constructed jail cells have a way out.

It’s never too late to change.

Even for Jillian.

Yesterday a phone call from an old friend gave me hope.

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18 thoughts on “Phone Call From An Old Friend

  1. Baby steps. Hopefully contacting you is the first of those for her. Maybe she’s starting to gather the shreds of her courage to take those first difficult steps. Fingers crossed for her.

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  2. DAOINE:
    Baby steps definitely. It just shows you that you should never completely give up on someone. I hope. I hope. I hope….

    LAURI:
    I hope so too.

    God, I realise this is a bit of a downer of a post, but sometimes I just have to write about these things and make sense of them, yanno? Calm the voices in my head shouting Why do bad things happen to good people?

    Thanks for reading!

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  3. First of all Happy Birthday if I missed. (I’m a bit muddled.)

    I’d say it’s a really really good sign that she’s reaching out to people. If she brings it up, you may want to suggest Al-Anon for family members of alcoholics. Might help her find support she didn’t know she had.

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  4. The courage to make the change… gods, that’s so damn hard. It doesn’t matter if the relationship is abusive, if change is needed, it is rarely easy and there is always some fear attached to it.

    Killer and I are struggling financially, but we’re both happier than either of us has been in years. We marvel at the joy we’re experiencing, and dimly regret the time we let slip away due to fear.

    Now, I just wish I was brave enough to share it on my blog!

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  5. I can never understand why women stay and put up with abuse, year after year especially when there are children involved, even worse. Hopefully your friend will finally have ‘the last straw’ and make her way out of this disaster before it’s too late. If she has family and friends, that shouldn’t be impossible. What a sad post to read. 😦

    Hugs to you Sel, G

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  6. I agree it is never too late to change…but it’s hard to stand by and watch as they have to choose to change. Victims of abuse are in the same prison to me as drug addicts and alcoholics and other people who are immersed in pain. I have no pity for her husband and the like who do not contain their pain…but funnel it to others. I’m glad she called. It took her a LOT of courage to do so. Maybe if she musters just a bit more….she can leave.

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  7. i am hoping with you on this one sel… you cant ever make someone like her make a change… but you can take a stand and it sounds as if you have… i am thrilled foryou tho that she still loves you enough to call and wish you a happy birthday……

    happy belated darling……

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  8. This is a sad story that is unfortunately all too common. As a freind you feel helpless as you watch your friend make decisions that put her very life in danger. Only she knows why she has chosen to stay. May she choose to leave her self imposed cell. Hugs to you for what you have done was necessary for your own health and one of the most difficult things to do.

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  9. She made contact which must have taken a huge amount of courage for her, let alone to admit that she realises she needs more strength to get out of her situation.
    Sometimes when people are in a relationship like this its partly fear and partly the feeling that that is all you are worth, the best you can possibly do or be. I think that after 6 years she may be starting to see a way clear and you and her sister did the best things by cutting her loose for her and yourselves.

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  10. NAT:
    I think it’s a good sign too. I really hope it’s the start of something good. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

    KAREN:
    I think you are brave enough to share it on your blog but you just have to wait till the time is right. I am glad you’re happy – it just proves what all the poets and songwriters say – money can’t buy you love. That is awesome!

    PAUL:
    It’s not easy but she can still dig out. I am sure of it.

    GERALDINE:
    I am beginning to understand it. What happens is the abused woman ends up believing she is worthless and that she deserves the abuse. This, in turn, makes it very difficult for her to make a proactive decision. It is not just as easy as leaving. She knows she should, but she can’t. There is much more involved than just the abuse. I hope Jillian can get out of it too.

    JASON:
    There’s always hope. Without it we’d all give up, I think.

    THE HURRICANE:
    Can you imagine the courage it took? Her voice was shaking. I almost cried there and then. It is such a positive step!

    PAISLEY:
    I am thrilled too. It’s always sad to say goodbye to someone, especially under such circumstances. But I am learning that the people we love, who love us in return, never truly leave!

    TOBEME:
    It is so common, it is frightening. To be unable to do anything is soul destroying. Stepping back was the best thing I could do. I hope that in some way it helped her too.

    KATE:
    Absolutely. Self-worth really is the key. And Jillian said something to me years ago that stuck with me: ‘You get used to living with the fear.’ Getting used to it doesn’t allow her to break away from it. It is such a complicated process. I hope she is starting to see a way clear. That would be brilliant!

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  11. There’s KIDS??

    Then, he MUST seek help for there sakes, and if he won’t, then she must seek it for him.

    It’s hard to say it, and probably even harder to do, but maybe if she went to the police? That could be the shock he needs … because more often than not, the courts hand out a suspended sentence, provided he seeks help.

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  12. My heart really hurts for Jillian. I am sure it must have been devastating for you to tell her you couldn’t be in her life anymore which only underlines the courage it must have taken for her to call you.

    Maybe, just maybe, it’s a good sign. I hope so because believe me that is no way to live.

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  13. TRAVELRAT:
    I have worried about those kids for six years, but he does seem to direct all of his anger at Jillian rather than the kids. I feel sick thinking about it sometimes, though. It is a major concern to grow up with that kind of stress. I hope Jillian bites the bullet and gets them out of there for good.

    ROMANY:
    It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I almost retracted it straightaway. Talk about tough love, eh? I hope that one day it will turn out to have been worth it.

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