Abusive Pillowtalk with Chris Burns–Offering to Sell the House

When the pandemic hit, Chris seemed extremely stressed about his business. He said he didn’t know how to meet with clients if he couldn’t have meetings in-person, that people were scared and moving their money out, and that he needed to start cutting back on expenses–potentially even firing some of his employees. I was worried about the level of stress he seemed to be under–he was a hamster on a wheel that wouldn’t slow down.

I had been thinking a lot about our situation. It seemed like we never saw Chris, and when we did, he was on his phone or staring into other dimensions that we were locked out of. As I did my chores around the house, I was running scenarios through my mind. This lakehouse was my dream home. Once we found it, I envisioned my grandkids coming and staying with us for a few weeks over the summer, just like I had done with my grandparents every summer. I was finally home; finally settled and never planned to move again.

But through the years of moving over and over and over again, I had learned to never really believe that life was settled. Nothing was ever written for the rest of our days, and my values needed to come before dreams and hopes. I was wrestling with that now, wondering if this dream home needed to be put on the table to keep our family, to keep Chris, together. His energy had become frenetic. I found 5-hour energy drinks in the trash bin outside–an attempt to hide from me that he was probably drinking at least three a day. His ice cream consumption had increased dramatically–he was stress eating and starting to have a bourbon or whiskey and Coke every few nights.

I had an idea, one that was not easy for me to propose, but I knew it was a good option, even if it pained me to consider it. It seemed like money was always a stressful topic for Chris and gaining back some equity from the house would give us more cushion over the next few years–give Chris margin to continue growing his business. Houses come and go, but a family needs emotional, financial, and mental stability to make it through. We had lived on a lot less many times before, and I knew we could again if that meant some sort of relief from the vampire that was draining the life out of Chris’ eyes.

So, one night as we lay in bed, I gently said, “We could sell the house. We really miss you and I’m worried about you. What we really want more than the house is–we’re wanting you–our husband and Dad. It seems like you need a break. I’m worried you’re burned out.” His head had been resting on his pillow, but as I spoke his torso pulled it straight up into intense consciousness. The deathly silence in the house became oppressive to the space surrounding our king-sized bed–pulling the heat out of the room, first in my hands, and then goosebumps and a shiver between my shoulder blades that worked its way up to the base of my hairline.

“Really–so you don’t like what I’ve provided for you?” He straightened his spine even taller and glared at me.

My eyes lowered. “It’s not that at all. This house is my dream, obviously. But, we just want you. We want to be around you more.”

“Want me around?” His voice whispered rage.

“I don’t think you’re understanding me. I didn’t say I don’t like what you’ve provided for us.”

“What did you say then?!”

I knew the conversation would turn into a fight at this point, its inevitability was predictable, but I was tired of not hearing my own voice. “Why do you have to twist my words? Why can’t you see the love in my offer? I’m not degrading your work, and I provide too. It’s not just about money. Do you realize that?”

My husband’s upper body contorted, doubling its size to display his physical power. He had words for me, his fists were clenched, but he tortured me with his silence.

I felt my heartbeat shaking the whole bed. My body cemented itself under the suppression of being so close to him, wondering what to brace myself for.

“I work so hard! Everyone sees it but you!” He threw the sheets and yellow coverlet off the bed and stood into his height of 6’2″, his weight over 200 lbs. I could not escape him. I crawled towards the foot of the bed to pull the bedding back over my body. I pulled my knees into my uterus and my elbows were tucked into my chest with my face submerged under the covers.

I knew not to say anything else. I just needed to stay frozen until he made his next move. The bed made a movement, and I knew that he had laid back down. We lay with our backs parallel to each other, and eventually, I knew from his breathing that he was asleep. My body was exhausted and wide awake.

What did I do wrong? Did I say it wrong? I thought I was being supportive–how could I get it so wrong? Am I actually wrong? How can I feel this much pain? How can I feel so lonely when I’m married and not supposed to feel lonely–my life would feel more real if I was actually alone–that reality would better mirror my internal life. It feels worse to feel alone but look like I’m not. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe I ask for too much or feel too much. Maybe my loneliness is how normal people actually live, and I’m just not normal. I’M SO CONFUSED. I don’t know how to be anymore. I don’t know how to make things okay, how to make things right. I used to be able to figure it out and say the right things. Is this what drowning feels like?

Little did I know at the time, that Chris’ Ponzi scheme couldn’t hold itself together as people were pulling out “investments.” I try to understand all of this by reading the SEC court documents. He didn’t have the money to pay people back what he had contractually agreed to. I also didn’t know that he was most likely aware at this point that he was being investigated by the SEC. Selling the house would never be enough to relieve him of the crimes he had committed.

It’s always easier to look back in order to make sense of things. But once you’ve lived that confusion, it somehow becomes a leech on your confidence and your ability to access your identity. Just because you understand what happened to you, the damage that was done is not healed by court documents or more information, logic, telling yourself that those types of interactions were abusive and damaging. I have neuropathways and emotional scars that are beyond my reach to heal. It’s like asking me to do open heart surgery–I’m not skilled or trained to heal that kind of life-threatening damage.

In fact, I have a hard time even finding the damage until it comes out at the most unexpected moments–the lastest happened when an Elton John song began playing in the background at a restaurant, and suddenly, in the middle of eating my chicken, tears were dripping down my face while I desperately tried to catch my breath. In those moments, the world feels the same to me as the night I was under those covers curled into a fetal position warring with my mental capacities.

The damage comes every morning that I wake up–my heart racing as if it will explode out of my chest, and my mind speeding faster than I can slow it down. It’s called a nocturnal panic attack; an online article explains why I might have this: “it’s very common that [you] might be experiencing situations in [your] life where [you] feel relatively trapped….one of the characteristics of true panic is that it occurs spontaneously — like a bolt of lightning across a blue sky.” I was trapped for many years. There are days, while he is still missing, I have no idea where he is– I still feel like a prisoner to my own mind. How much confusion can I hold off during the day–because confusion has been my go-to, it’s what I’m trained to live in. How much worry about the kids’ safety and my safety can I push down every day that he is freely out there? It can feel like we are sitting ducks with no tangible reality to validate that we are safe. We just sit…desperately waiting for the call that could bring us any kind of closure, the kind of closure that would make us feel safe, even if only for a few years.

What I continue to write is both past and present.

I am re-learning my past; discovering a world that was swirling around me that I was either unaware of or perhaps too naive to see. If I am kind to myself, I can logically explain that I was pathologically lied to and manipulated extensively, and no one could see the truth–perhaps all are at play in a situation like this. But what I never expected was that once he was gone, I would still feel like a prisoner in my own mind, that I would continue to experience gaslighting, that I would constantly question my own ability to manipulate and the ability of those around me to manipulate–that as one psychologist says in her work on narcissistic abuse, “There is a pattern of grief in people who say, ‘What is this, I feel like I’m going crazy, Oh that’s what this is, It can never change…You can’t go back…Now your entire worldview had to change.” (The entirety of the twelve minute video speaks to EXACTLY my experience)

In my deepest shame, I am scared to say that I don’t know how I have kept myself from attempting suicide. Gavin has said he has had suicidal thoughts, and so we talk about it together. He tells me that I haven’t attempted it because I am so strong. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s because I just couldn’t do that to these children that I love. They keep me here. They keep me fighting, or strong, or whatever it is that keeps me in the ring for them. And Gavin says, that’s what keeps him here too–it’s our new family that we are all fighting to preserve.

3 thoughts on “Abusive Pillowtalk with Chris Burns–Offering to Sell the House”

  1. Wow. This was so hard to read. But thank you so much for putting your heart out there after so much abuse. Really amazing. I did watch the video and I loved the analogy of the mug. That she totally focused on it when it was meeting her need. But when she wasn’t drinking coffee it was completely discarded and she never thought about it at all. Such a great illustration of narcissism. Thank you so much

  2. I continue to be amazed at your vulnerability. You’re a fighter, whether you feel like one or not, I have not gone through anything at all like what you have faced and ARE facing, but I do know anxiety and those nocturnal panic attacks. I’ve fought those for years…and I can say they have subsided considerably for me as I’ve healed; albeit it has been slow. I’m praying that over you now and for closure, my friend, and those thoughts for you and Gavin. My heart grieves for you and the trauma that you and your kiddos are going through. Please know that people are praying for God’s strength in the darkness.

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