When I ask my guests to share a real, honest story — no holds barred — sometimes I have to coach or pull it out of them a bit. Not in this case. Ciara is a fierce tiger of a woman and if I’m ever in Australia and need an attorney, there’s no doubt who I’m gonna call. She’s also, as you’ll read here, a terrific writer.
I’m grateful she opens up here about this extraordinary and difficult part of her life. Thank you, Ciara.
The Last Valentine’s Day
14 February 2006 I walked into an empty apartment. My husband, L, wasn’t home yet. We tended to get home around the same time and it was an each-way bet who beat who.
A note on the dining table instructed me to log into an email account called ‘youwillalwaysbemyprincess’. Surprised, but excited by the prospect of a romantic Valentine’s Day surprise, I rushed to the computer.
Minutes later, my world was crumbling.
The account contained an email from L explaining he was going overseas to ‘get help.’ He said he was ‘sabotaging our marriage,’ but didn’t explain how.
In a daze, I stumbled downstairs barefoot to check on my car. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason the presence of my car was incontrovertible proof he was gone, the email wasn’t a joke. I burst into tears in the car park, stumbled upstairs blindly to find shoes and car keys and less important things like purses and driver’s licences. I was heading out the door when my groceries turned up. I had completely forgotten them. I shoved the cold stuff in the fridge or the freezer, left the rest on the floor, and drove to my parents’ house.
An hour away. Crying the whole time.
Don’t ask me how, but I made it without crashing. I hadn’t called my parents, so I just turned up on the doorstep bawling my eyes out. What followed was a very confused recounting of events. I don’t really remember it. I remember L’s were called, they came round, didn’t know where he was or what had happened. People tried to call his mobile (like I hadn’t already done that…). No answer. Everyone was as clueless as me.
Eventually I was bundled off to bed. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop the mind working, thinking over and over and over about where he was, what he was doing, if he was OK. I got up at 4am to answer client emails. I hope I didn’t give any bad advice… No one’s sued me yet anyway. I forwarded the email from L to my boss as explanation of why I wouldn’t be in (yes, I have a good relationship with my boss, in fact I’d say I love her!). The idea of talking to anyone about it was too painful.
In the morning, Mum drove me to work to pick up some stuff and explain to my colleagues (back then it was a very small office – only three of us, a very close-knit group, and I was the ‘baby’ lawyer) and then home. I found L’s phone bill to find the phone number for one of his close friends. She assured me she hadn’t heard from him and didn’t know where he was. Then I found a credit card bill with charges for a cheap hotel in Sydney when my husband was supposedly in Melbourne for training with work.
Then we found L’s mobile phone, left behind in the apartment so I couldn’t call him – and the SMS on it, from the friend I had called earlier, reading ‘I can’t wait until you get here.’
At about the same time, I got an SMS from the bitch offering her condolences and hoping I found L.
To say I saw red is an understatement. There is a reason my Twitter profile reads ‘Cross at own peril,’ and what followed my reading of this SMS is the very worst, most frightening example of how relentlessly, bloody-mindedly single-purposed I can be when wronged.
I sent her a blistering ten-part SMS telling her I knew what was going on and exactly what I thought of her. I used a lot of big words I don’t recall and some profanity I wouldn’t normally utter. Then I got serious.
I didn’t have her address but I knew she lived in Orange (rural New South Wales, Australia – and a 4 hour drive from Sydney) and was supposedly a doctor. I had her home phone number and I had her name. She wasn’t listed in the phone book. I tried to find her address using a reverse phone number search to no avail. Then I hit on the fact that doctor’s work addresses are public, so I called the Australian Medical Association and tracked down what I think was her practice in Orange, but still no pay-dirt on a home address.
Mum tried to pull me off the computer. I’d be at it for several hours. She’d packed away all my groceries and cleaned the kitchen. I told her not a freaking chance.
Eventually I got hold of L’s best man. He knew nothing about what had happened, but because the bitch had helped him out with his website (he was how L met her) he had her home address.
I was headed for the door, baseball bat in hand.
Fortunately for my career, Mum said it was too late to drive to Orange, and if I still wanted to go in the morning, that was fine. Of course, by then, I’d cooled down and I didn’t. All I really wanted was to feel back in control. I knew where he was. I had the address. I could go there if I wanted to. I had control. It wasn’t necessary anymore for me to actually drive out there.
Eventually it came out that L has dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality syndrome. This is an impossible thing to explain. The easiest way is to say he literally has more than one person in his head, and when one of them takes over, it’s like L has a blackout while the other personality makes all the decisions. Who knew what he had been doing with whom for how long?
I’ve had relationships bust up before. But adding mental illness to the mix increases the emotional difficulties exponentially. You can’t understand what’s happening; how can you explain it to someone else? Everyone is so judgemental. People told me the DID was an excuse for his bad behaviour, and I wanted to scream at them ‘How?? It makes things worse!’ You feel like you don’t know your husband anymore. You don’t know your husband anymore. And neither does he.
The best way I could explain it: it was like going from point A to point B without travelling the intervening distance, and when you get to B it’s a brick wall and you’re travelling 100mph.
It’s like waking up and your life really is over.
I was pretty destructive for a while. I called everyone I knew and told them what he’d done in the space of 48 hours. I don’t recall why exactly. I think because I couldn’t stand the idea of having it drag out over weeks. I yelled at some guy in the street who told me if I gave up my daily coffee I could donate the money to charity. I don’t drink coffee and I had a lot on my mind. I cancelled L’s health insurance. I lost cheques – in fact, when I found them, I had no recollection at all of ever having received it. I strained friendships. I sang a lot of karaoke, drank a lot of vodka, and made a lot of people very soggy.
Eventually I joined an online support group for spouses of sufferers of dissociative identity disorder. The idea of therapy or counselling was complete anathema to me, and this was as far as I could make myself go. It was the best move I made – just having someone who understood, who could tell me what he’d done with me; needing to tell them was a blessing. These were people who had walked a mile in my shoes. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was crazy anymore.
Someone did suggest our relationship was codependent, which was something I assiduously denied at the time, but in hindsight they were probably right. I also think L (or one of his other personalities) was emotionally abusive to me. He’d often make jokes at my expense or call me names under the pretence of teasing. Dad didn’t like it, though I brushed it off as a joke. I was fortunate enough to have almost bulletproof self-esteem so it didn’t demoralise me the way it could have (in fact, I hardly even noticed at the time) but it’s wrong that it happened in the first place.
At the time I joined the support group, we were discussing reconciliation. You may think I’m insane, but ‘in sickness and in health’ and all that. I felt I had to do everything I could to make it work – and fail – before I could walk away at peace. So I did. The support group helped me to understand what reconciling would probably mean – no children, letting go of my control freakish ways, and a few others. My one condition was he had to have therapy, because if he didn’t, I knew nothing would change, and what self-respecting woman would put herself through that?
He wouldn’t agree to have therapy, so I wouldn’t agree to remain married to him.
We divorced officially in September 2007, slightly more than 2 years after we wed*.
Now people say to me how amazing I was, how strong I was, how ‘together’ I was. I look at them like they’re nuts and wonder who they’re talking about, because the woman they describe bears no resemblance to the woman I was.
I can attest to this – if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. And, maybe, a better person.
But I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day anymore. The forge turns iron into stronger steel, but it also leaves its scars.
*Australian law makes it very hard to get divorced in the first 2 years of marriage, in case anyone was wondering.
Ciara is a writer of high fantasy. She has been reading fantasy since she was 9 and writing it since she was 11. Born argumentative and recognising the long road to make money out of writing, Ciara wisely invested her natural inclinations in a career in law.
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