Twice today I was made to think about my ex-husband more actively, so perhaps it is time I tried my hand at talking about him.
It might be easiest to talk from the end: the end being his mother who called me to tell me she’d moved into a new flat at last, her big old house sold at last, and she is recovering well from her stroke.
My ex mother in law is a lovely lady. In fact the whole family is quite a lovely family. The black sheep being, of course, my ex-husband, Paul.
She said that both him and his brother A. helped her move in and they were both great. I know she’s always nervous of mentioning him to me as often as I have said I don’t want to hear anything about him, so I encouraged her. “He is doing better…”, which I have heard more times than I care to count and means nothing anymore, “…now that he is following this new treatment”, at which point I perked up my ears.
I said “new treatment? So he has finally got a diagnosis then?” I doubt she knows what they diagnosed him with, or perhaps she’d rather not tell me, but the point was, and I was glad she’d acknowledged it, I had been saying for years that there’s no point in doing anything for Paul, in “giving him another chance”, until he was properly diagnosed and he was given the proper medication and he blooming well took them. No point.
I told her it’s like treating someone for the flu when he’s got a liver infection.
My husband is very black or white about it: Paul was a bad man, he needs to stay away, full stop. No respect, no feeling sorry for him, no nothing. I get where he’s coming from, but that’s not where I’m from.
I have always maintained and told my children that Paul could be a wonderful human being. Unfortunately, he would regularly fall in severe bipolar depression/mania (but I only started to understand what that even meant years later) and he could also become the devil: a malignant narcissist, I have recently learnt it is called.
But what really matters, is that I knew very soon that Paul was ill. He needed HELP. I needed help coping with him.
At first he was dismissed as an alcoholic.
I always thought he was never an alcoholic for two reasons:
1) he didn’t drink regularly: he would go weeks being just wonderful, maybe sometimes even have a couple of beers more and be just fun, and then one of those times the nightmare would start, when nobody expected it, and hell would break loose.
2) It was soon apparent that alcohol was an excuse: all he needed to set off the nightmare was half a beer, sometimes. It was all in his head. The devil incarnate would take hold of him and Paul would become dangerous, horrendous, a living nightmare.
They insisted it was alcoholism so we went down that route. Went to the meetings, did all by the book. I wanted to ask for help from social services at times: the Carabinieri (the Italian military police, who normally responded to domestic calls) were not allowed to take him away, I so often was so desperate… but was immediately told by the wife of another alcoholic NEVER to seek help from social services, because if he were found unfit to be a father, and he would have, in Italy, and I were found out unable to support the kids financially (no mother of mine, a father in the States, in-laws in England, a sister who already had a lot on her plate, an absentee brother at the time, kids too young for me to work) they would have taken my precious two angels away from me.
I tried to tell the very well-meaning alcoholism people how I thought he was different. But he could fool anybody. He would charm the alcoholics meeting group, he would charm the police. He had stopped charming me, and I found out how the infallible drug against alcohol, Antabuse, had one minor defect: all he had to do, to avoid the catastrophic effects it would have on him if he drank whilst taking it, was not take it. He would show me he was taking it, for weeks. Then chuck it, I later found out.
One day, in the house we had bought with my dead mother’s money that I wanted to use to escape to New Zealand with the boys before he raped me and made sure I could go nowhere, he took my two precious boys to town without telling me, worried me out of my mind, they came back, all stinking of the alcohol and cigarettes he had subjected them to.
I couldn’t but raise my voice to him, he told me about his tricks with the drug, proud and sniggering, I said that was it I would leave him, he lost it, he attempted to strangle me, there, on the floor, in front of my precious boys.
That was it. It was the two toddler’s protests and cries that stopped him. But it was too late, I had snapped. With the help of a dear dear friend, in a couple of months I was gone.
This was back in year 2000, and Stephen Fry hadn’t come out as bipolar yet. But already I knew. I knew there was something mentally wrong with Paul. I knew he needed help, which I couldn’t give, and someone needed to help me.
There was nothing I could do for him, but I could still attempt to save my boys and me. It was only a few years later after more horrific exploits from Paul and an immense struggle from my part to get us out of the dumps, I think I had even by then already met my new husband, so we’re talking 2004, that I heard of Stephen Fry, and then of Carrie Fisher, and then of Richard Dreyfuss.
I started to talk about it with my ex mother in law, who was beginning to have to deal with Paul, who had moved back to England and had started to torment her, after she’d stopped living with him since he was 15 and was kicked out of his home and rendered homeless by his father.
And then the revelation: “Actually, now that you mention it, he’d always been like that! When he was even as young as 3, I would leave this perfect sunshine of a boy in a room for a while and when I got back it was like the devil had come and whirled inside, even the air felt black.”. My thoughts at the time were “thanks for telling me!!”. But also, “get him diagnosed!!”
They still treated him like an alcoholic. They insisted for him to have treatment as an alcoholic, meetings, what have you. I tried again and again to say no, he’s not an alcoholic. Of course it doesn’t help, the drug abuse, the alcohol abuse, but that’s not the problem!!!
Eventually I had enough. I wanted a serene life. The boys were old enough now that they could decide whether to see him or not. It used to be that I’d explain to them your dad is not evil, he is very sick. He needs to get better and it’s not easy.
But eventually they got fed up of waiting for him to get better. They got fed up of the constant “oh he’s much better now, he has a good job, and blah blah” and then get disappointed again. They are at the stage now, and my current husband’s harshness towards him probably hasn’t helped, that they just don’t want to see him, or talk to him. Understandably. I certainly wanted nothing more with him either.
But this evening, I was able to give one of my sons a little bit of semi-good news: they may finally be onto him. They may have finally realised it’s not about the drinking, it’s about getting a correct diagnosis. If that is the case, he’ll need to get on his meds and for them to work, and he can slowly look forward to really getting better.
So who’s Paul.
Paul is my ex-husband. The fact that we got married is incidental. We were soul mates and friends before anything else. He was such a sparkler and such a diva and such an intelligent man that everybody loved him, and found him sexy. He smelled of patchouli and because of his hair and his choice of clothes he looked like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.
I found out later that I wasn’t in love with him, but I certainly loved him enormously. Perhaps we should have always remained friends, instead we produced through much heaven and hell two amazing boys. Those boys were the reason for the very first posts in this blog that has changed and transformed for so many years now, so that one day they could know who I was, how I loved them, and who Paul was.
Paul would seduce and charm everyone then go out and almost get himself killed, coming back with broken arms and punctured lungs and broken face, so many times that we all started to lose track. He’d get completely wasted on drugs or on drink and wake up in some ditch. I thought at the time eh, it’s Uni. We’re all a little crazy.
We ditched Uni for a magical spell in Spain, then finished Uni, got pregnant, he followed me to Italy, we got kicked out of my mum’s house with a baby, thanks to his behaviour, then moved around, then Spain again, then back to Italy with a second baby on the way, then my mum died, I was powerless against him, the abortion, the strangling, I left him.
He didn’t sizzle out, he kept coming, attacking, abusing, threatening my friend’s life with a knife.
Finally, he was out of my life. I got the safety of a husband, and a big dog in the house, and I started to relax a little. I have only recently stopped shivering at the mention of his name. My boys, who were barely 2 and 4 when we left him, are now 17 and 19, healthy, happy and still wonderful.
This is how long it has taken, since my first cry for help and knowledge that he was ill, for the rest of the world to finally understand that Paul is ILL. Not an alcoholic.
It is very difficult of course to care for and try and sympathise with someone as malignant, violent and destructive as he becomes. His switching to the best guy ever for some time, every time, doesn’t help his confused relatives. For some, the only solution has been “right, you’re out. That’s it.”
But it just goes to show, how people are left alone. How backwards we still are. How people still think he needs to be “understood”, and if “only they say or do the right thing”, and … it’s all useless, without knowing what is actually wrong with him. It goes to show how much of a road still needs to be travelled to fight the stigma, and get people to get help, and help people get help, and find the right diagnosis, and find the right treatment.
I don’t know if Paul’s found it yet, but it’s the first time in almost twenty years that I have an inkling of true hope for him.
The first time I think maybe one day the boys will continue to love and admire their stepfather, and their brave uncle A., Paul’s brother, but will also find some room to start loving him a little, again, one day.