On Wednesday evening, August 12, 2009, Barbara Bentley was BettyJean Kling’s guest on BlogTalkRadio to talk about her book A Dance with the Devil: A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath. If you click here, you will be able to find The Majority United for Women’s Rights “On Demand” options to play the broadcast or download it.
Today’s post is a review of her book. During the broadcast, Barbara made an observation that I think many of you will appreciate ~ I’m paraphrasing:
The criminal justice system means there is justice for the criminal, and the victim is a minor factor. Psychopaths (sociopaths) love going to court.
This helps explain pit bulls’ penchant for engaging in litigation abuse.
Her book is remarkably candid. I’ve read a lot of memoirs and autobiographies that too frequently, unfortunately, skip over the author’s journey of healing after abuse. While I can appreciate the author’s desire to avoid reliving these extraordinarily painful times, it doesn’t much help readers in the midst of their own struggle. Barbara lays it all out like a map. She frequently refers to her journey as sailing “uncharted waters.”
Barbara was exceedingly fortunate that she had a solid career and was working for an understanding employer with supportive colleagues. I was struck with the many parallels of our stories. We both worked in the quality movement. The “admiral” in her life claimed he left the Navy on the threshold of becoming an admiral. The man in my life was denied elevation to “flag” (the Navy term for admiral) because (he claimed) he was not a gentleman in the aftermath of his last marriage. Both men had delusions of grandeur, recklessly spent money on a lavish lifestle they couldn’t afford, and arrogantly expected us to pick up the tab without complaint or objection.
We have both lobbied to change laws impacting women who have experienced domestic violence.
Following are the passages from A Dance with the Devil that had me highlighting the words and turning down the corners of my book:
This was my day. It was important to me to please Dad and make him feel honored. . .I had always tried to please him, hoping to hear him say three simple words. . .”I love you.” It was too much to expect. . .His Germanic background forced his feelings into hiding and left his loved ones yearning.
Her struggle to save her life in a Washington, D.C. hotel room is chilling in its detail. It starts on page 215. I encourage anyone living with a pit bull to read it carefully. She survived because she kept her wits about her and used her expertise to avoid breathing in the deadly ether. When it was over, she articulates the painful devastation we all feel:
Suddenly I understood how battered women feel, although I still didn’t realize I was one of them. My beloved. . .had just tried to kill me. . .
I was alone, safe from John. . .but not safe from my own thoughts. . .I could see what was happening but unable to make sense of it. . .I had at last opened my secret bag of fears and the demons flew out, swirling around me, devouring me.
. . .my denial was a textbook reaction to domestic violence. . .confused and unable to face the truth that would set me free, I minimized the abuse, made excuses for John’s behavior, and reverted to my care-taking role. His needs once more became the focus of my attention.
Her nightmare was just beginning. She quickly learned from her attorney that California is a “no fault” state which considers marital assets as “community property.” To a layperson like Barbara, this sounded like a foreign language. I can’t imagine how she must have felt during this exchange with her attorney:
John will get half your retirement fund and, based on what you’ve told me, he’s entitled to alimony. [John’s employment during the marriage was sporadic.]
Excuse me. He just tried to murder me and now I’m going to have to pay him?
Well, he’s in jail and not working.
Barbara decided the law needed to change. I was intrigued by how the legislative process operates in California. Barbara learned how to lobby quite effectively. She also picked up support from the press. On New Year’s eve, 1995, she and her new husband Rex celebrated the birth of Barbara’s law.
Near the end of the book, she brilliantly described a pit bull:
A psychopath like John is motivated by greed. Like a wild animal, John Perry had bitten into my flesh and would not let go as he flung me back and forth.
Barbara was fortunate that the judge in her case recognized litigation abuse. But, even the judge had a tough time reining in John Perry.
If you are currently experiencing abuse, I think the first part of the book will help you appreciate that you are not alone in your struggles. If you have recently escaped an abusive relationship, Barbara’s pragmatic approach and wisdom of using passion, patience, and persistence to regain control of her life should be helpful. She effectively uses the analogy of putting together a jig-saw puzzle without a picture to describe the process of rebuilding our lives. If you are thriving and finding joy and looking to make a difference, you will be greatly informed by her lobbying experiences.
Many people told Barbara that her experiences of abuse were beyond bizarre. I disagree. I’ve heard the story a thousand times. What’s extraordinary about Barbara’s story is what she did next. She refused to be a victim and emerged victorious. It took a long time, but her star is shining brightly now.
Each of us can make a difference if we leverage our talents. Bravo, Barbara! Bravo!