Elise didn’t have a clue when she married Jon that he had an insatiable appetite for betting on the horses and snorting cocaine. She never dreamed that they’d file for bankruptcy after a few years together.
They got married when they were in their early 30s, and Jon encouraged Elise to quit her job when their daughter Carla was born. Transitioning to full-time motherhood was difficult. Elise struggled with being alone all day with a baby and worried about her parenting abilities.
Jon disappeared for hours at a time and Elise did not know what he was doing. When confronted, he always had some work-related excuse. Jon’s stories seemed a bit lame to Elise, but he always had an explanation when she questioned him a bit more closely.
At her husband’s suggestion, she surrendered to Jon the responsibilities for keeping their bank accounts and paying the household bills. Uh oh. Start the movie soundtrack that tells you that something bad is going to happen.
Elise’s father gave the couple a generous gift of $25,000 towards a down payment on a house. She thought Jon deposited the check into their savings account.
What Elise didn’t know was that he gambled it all away at the racetrack. Every penny. He had been so sure he could double their money. In fact, Jon lost far more. He continued to pick the wrong horses in a desperate attempt to win the money back to feed his growing cocaine habit.
Secretly, Jon went to Elise’s older brother, Duncan, and pleaded for a $12,000 loan. He told Duncan that the bookies threatened to kill Elise and their daughter Carla if Jon did not pay his debts.
Duncan did not have a lot of money but he would do anything to keep his sister and niece safe. He gave Jon $12,000 and did not tell his little sister because he wanted to “protect” her. In fact, Elise’s entire family shielded her from the truth and did not tell her that her husband was an addict.
She was harassed at home by phone calls from banks and collection companies about overdue payments. It didn’t make sense because she thought that Jon paid all their bills. He could never give her a straight answer about their finances.
Angry people called and yelled that Jon owed them money. They threatened to kill her and Carla if Jon didn’t pay the $5,000 or $10,000 they had loaned him. Elise didn’t know any of these people, and she was frightened and unnerved by their menacing calls.
Elise finally confided in her brother Duncan. He investigated and discovered that all the credit cards were maxed out. Elise and Jon were in debt to the tune of over $120,000. He also finally told her about Jon’s addictions. Elise was furious that her family kept the truth from her for so long.
The couple filed for bankruptcy. It was Jon’s bright idea for them to move across the country. He thought the timing was right because his bookie was in jail. She agreed. Elise was so embarrassed about the bankruptcy. She just wanted to leave that life behind her.
Elise reasoned that they had pledged to stay together in sickness and in health, and his gambling and drug dependencies were curable illnesses. So she and Carla went with Jon on the condition that he got help. Jon swore that he would.
Of course, Jon did not get help with his addictions. He went to therapy but was not serious about the process.
Jon hung out with the local seedy characters. He made and lost friends easily. Elise was suspicious of Jon’s relationship with his female boss. People told her he was sleeping around. A woman accused Jon of rape, although he was not arrested. There was always something.
Elise’s regular therapist met him once and told her that Jon was a pathological liar, he would never change, and she should leave immediately. But still she didn’t.
Why did Elise stay with this loser? She told me that she was scared. She hadn’t shed the weight she gained during pregnancy and she feared that no other man would find her attractive. And Elise did not want to be a single mom with a four-year old child.
The (almost) final straw came when Elise found more drugs in their apartment. But then her stepmother was diagnosed with leukemia and given only a few months to live. She wanted Jon to stay with her and help take care of Carla
After her stepmother’s death, the couple stayed together until Jon said he wanted to separate for a few weeks. Elise filed for divorce and told Jon he could not come home. He did not fight her for custody of their son. It was no surprise that Jon became the quintessential deadbeat dad.
When she was younger, Carla knew only that “Dad did something bad with money.” At fourteen, she wanted to know more about the father who was mostly absent from her life. Elise told Carla the truth: “He gambled away everything we owned and snorted coke up his nose.” She explained more when she was older.
I’ve heard the stories of many people who echo what Elise said: “How could I have not seen it? How could I have let it go on?”
On the other hand, she admitted to me that on a subconscious level she knew what was going on, but she just didn’t want to deal with it.
I’m no therapist, but I think sometimes we see only what we want to see. Elise was not able to acknowledge that her relationship with Jon was toxic until she was ready to function as a single mom.
Don’t beat yourself up too much for past financial and personal mistakes.
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