The first time domestic violence survivor Luba Greene recalls being seriously afraid of the man she loved happened when they were relaxing together in a hot tub. She playfully splashed him, and he splashed back in such a hard, unexpected flurry that she was gasping for air.
Then her new husband looked at her and seethed, “Anything you do to me, I’ll do back to you tenfold.”
The scene chilled Luba, but she chalked the incident up to him having had a bad day, and to his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, and forgave him.
As time went on, though, his behavior grew more and more concerning. He started to frequently belittle her, yell at her and then regularly ignore her—for days on end. He’d insist she help sort out issues with his military disability benefits and then punish her with days of silent treatment when her phone calls on his behalf didn’t result in instant solutions. He’d tell her to cook dinner, then refuse to eat it—or throw it away. She was isolated—after reluctantly agreeing to relocate out west when he broke his promise to move to Maine—and had no one to confide in.
“If I started to tell him something that had happened during my day, he didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t share anything,” recalls Luba, who was substitute teaching at the time and volunteering at a food bank.
Things turned darker still over the next few months as her husband started to regularly threaten to kill himself. He made three attempts, which she now believes were not meant to end his life but instead to keep her on edge and to gain attention. Increasingly erratic behavior also caused him to be committed to a hospital psychiatric unit four times in three years.
Luba’s concern and love kept her put.
“It’s easy to wonder why I would stay in that situation, but I’m a Christian and had prayed to find someone to love after being a single mom for a few years. And all I could think was, ‘Am I going to tell God thanks but no thanks?’ Eventually, I started to realize what I was dealing with and getting my backbone, and I told him that the only way I was going to stay was if he got some help. And so he’d go to counseling and things would be good for a while, then he would find fault with each treatment and quit. There was so much manipulation and intimidation. It was a rollercoaster.”
Luba made numerous visits home to Maine to be with her son and family. Over two years, her husband repeatedly sabotaged plans to move back to Maine. When they finally did move back three years ago—him “acting the hero, bringing me home”—she was thrilled. She felt happy initially, pursuing a master’s degree in education technology and gaining some independence while working part-time. A “show period” was underway, during which her husband was atypically sociable and pouring on the charm to show family and new friends how very normal their lives were.
It didn’t last long. One day, for example, she was working in the garden, and he pointed his pellet gun at her from the porch, saying he was shooting at squirrels. She told him repeatedly to stop, and he refused. She said she would go to neighbors if he didn’t stop.
“He laughed and said, ‘Go ahead. I’ve already told all the neighbors that you’re mentally ill.’”
She realized then that she was no longer able to deny the scary feelings that were creeping in more regularly, and that she needed to figure out how to leave her increasingly abusive situation.
“You tell yourself it’s not really abuse. It’s not so physical. You can’t see it, but the social, financial, spiritual, animal and emotional abuse are there. Now I know that intimidation, shoving and locking you out of your home is physical abuse. And he was choosing to do this to me.”
By fall 2015, life was intolerable. Luba had started educating herself about her husband—and her options. She saw that her husband fit many descriptions of covert narcissistic abusers: He was very quick to bond and tell her he loved her. He had had many failed relationships and a hard time making connections. But he could also be very charming.
“They’ll tell you that no one understands them like you do. That you’re perfect together. They want to isolate you and have you start doubting yourself,” she says. “Once I was able to put a name to it, to call it what it was—narcissistic abuse—that’s when things became clearer and I knew I had to put things in place to save my soul.
“Two weeks before I fled, I got really sick,” she says. She was away at a work conference and her husband was sending her text messages telling her, “you’re such a lousy wife.” She told him she was sick and needed to go to urgent care before heading home, but her husband told her no. Afraid of the consequences, she complied.
“When I got home, he was acting so erratically, and I slept downstairs with a pistol beside me. Unbelievably, he came down wanting sex. And he began threatening to remove me from our cell phone service. The next day, he was still threatening me about the phone, which was my safety line, and when he left to go to the cell phone store, I called the state police.”
Officers came and encouraged her to pack her bags and leave the house. She went to a hotel for two nights and made a life-changing call to the hotline (1-800-239-7298) for Caring Unlimited, York County’s domestic violence resource center (DVRC).
“They were really kind and not judgmental. They finally got me to a doctor. I had bronchitis that hadn’t been treated for weeks. I got into their shelter. They were just amazing people. They let me get settled in, and then we set up a safety plan.”
Luba says she’ll be forever grateful for all the help that followed—appointments with a court advocate, lawyers, extremely beneficial advice for keeping her finances and credit safe and protecting herself. She had guidance and company through court proceedings, support meetings with other survivors, help with getting into transitional housing and eventually an apartment, and more.
“I feel deeply indebted to Caring Unlimited. They helped me so much.
The number of people affected by domestic violence is staggering. One in four women will experience domestic abuse and violence in their lifetimes, and in Maine, a domestic violence assault is reported to law enforcement every 1 hour and 47 minutes, notes Regina Rooney, education and communications director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. MCEDV is comprised of eight DVRCs around Maine—Caring Unlimited is one of them—that provide 24-hour, comprehensive services to people impacted by abuse.
“We’re free,” Rooney says. “And we’re available all the time. You don’t even have to know what you need. On the initial hotline calls, we’re just trying to understand where the caller is at, to validate what’s happening, to help identify choices. Sometimes it’s enough that the person had someone to talk to for an hour and half at 11:30 on a Friday night.”
Last year, 13,000 people in Maine used MCEDV services.
“Those are sobering numbers,” says Francine Garland Stark, the coalition’s executive director. “But because of the nature of this issue, we know the numbers really are much, much bigger. The 13,000 people we helped were so afraid of what their partners might do that they called,” but that doesn’t count all in harm’s way who aren’t moved to call yet.
“I wish that everybody who doesn’t feel right about their relationship would think, ‘I can call for help. But what I’ve heard too often is people saying things like, ‘Oh, they won’t believe me because I have lots of money.’ Or they compare themselves to others and think ‘My situation is not that bad.’ I want to say you are all important! And you don’t have to be hit to be hurt. Most domestic abuse, in fact, is violence against your soul.”
The coalition also emphasizes that you don’t have to be a victim to step in and call on behalf of someone else.
“People call when they feel safe to do so,” adds Stark. “Because someone in their sphere has respectfully suggested they do so. We want everyone to know that they are agents of referral, validation and support for survivors. We all have a role to play in ending domestic abuse and violence.”
Luba, 50, is proud of herself for picking up the phone that day nearly two years ago and forever grateful for the help she received in rebuilding her life. She’s starting her second year of teaching full-time again, loves her job and is “feeling independent again.”
“My faith keeps me going. And so do my close friends and family who don’t judge me. Exercise helps. Gratitude keeps me positive because I know what could have been. I don’t dare complain because I know a lot of people in pain much worse than mine. I’m happy to have this cottage with a beautiful view, and I have a strong relationship with my son (now 21), family and church family. You have to find things to be grateful for and say it, and believe it. And I believe that sharing my story of healing, although uncomfortable, is sort of a responsibility I now own.”
What would she tell someone who identifies with her story?
“I’d tell them to listen to your gut feelings, start putting emergency money aside, make copies of all important papers and put them with a trusted friend. Find people you know will understand. And be careful, vigilant and tighten your circle. Keep educating yourself on how to break free, on healing, and do lots of self-care. Find a domestic violence agency for support groups and to guide you. You will meet women to emulate. Keep doing right by you, and things will happen to benefit you.
“I’m speaking out so that other women can see that it’s possible to get out and resume a healthy, normal life.”
Luba Greene asked that it be made clear that Greene is the surname of her first husband, a good friend to her and father of their son.
If you are worried about how things are going in your relationship with a spouse, partner or someone you used to date, or know someone who may be in this situation, please call the statewide domestic violence helpline at 1-866-834-HELP.
The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence can help you sort through your
experience. More information is available online at www.mcedv.org/need-help.
Patricia McCarthy has been a writer and editor for 35 years. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).