I was in an abusive relationship.
Sometimes I need to just say that out loud and let it hang in the air for a little bit. Those words are so strange coming out of my mouth. Even sitting here getting ready to type out my story I keep stopping and staring off and thinking back to what it was like to be in that space, that life. Then I try to refocus and get back to writing.
How much of this story do I share? How deep do I go? Do I share this moment or that moment? And then I stare again at nothing and think back to this or that moment…
What the hell happened? That is not me. How did I let those things happen to me?
I don’t exactly know how it happened. I have some ideas and I know some of the ridiculous feelings I had when I knew deep down I needed to get out but chose to stay. I know what those ridiculous thoughts were but I still don’t know why or how I let myself get there. I might not ever really know. I do know that at some point I stopped loving myself. I had to have stopped loving myself. I had to have stopped understanding my worth. And that is so crazy. How did THAT happen?
You are ok now. You are more than ok.
You are loved by so many and you will never again allow yourself to be treated like anything less than the beautiful person you are.
Another deep breath
Here we go.
To avoid any sort of back lash or invitation for this person to contact me again, I am going to call him… Satan. Yes. Perfect! That seems to work just fine. Really, I will call him S for short but his name is Satan. I don’t like to live in dramatic places and I don’t like when situations feel far more escalated than they need to be. This makes me very nervous and sometimes talking about it does too. So if this article seems to feel…uncomfortable, it is because it is uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable. The situations were uncomfortable.
I typically feel better after talking but I am finally starting to admit just how much energy it takes to share these things. But I have to share them. I absolutely have to. I talk fairly often about how important it is to share our stories because there might be just one single person who needs to hear it. My husband, Derek, is so very supportive of my process coming forward with some of the things I have been through. He has his own amazing story of overcoming life’s obstacles. Although our obstacles are completely different it is refreshing to be supported by someone who gets it. Someone who wants to do more with what we have learned. I’m lucky and grateful. So when I am ready to share, he’s got me. It is all on my own time but when it is time, he assures me that someone (even if it is just one person) will be thankful for it. Unfortunately, I think when it comes to this topic, it would be fantastic if it was only one person. I can think of at least 10 people very quickly (close friends) who have either been through this or are currently trying to leave a similar situation. Those of you that have talked with me recently (There are about 4 of you), I see you and I am here and I love you.
I am also uncomfortable when people feel bad for me. Do not feel bad for me. I am so very happy, so very lucky and so very loved. I was in this situation for about 8 months. Too long but nothing compared to so many others who are stuck. Others who never get out. This was something that happened and now it’s over. The healing is ongoing but from a very well adjusted place. Hopefully… (insert the awkward laugh that those who know me can probably hear).
Edit: As I went back and read this completed post I looked at everything I wrote in this beginning section. I almost deleted a majority of it after realizing just how much I was stalling or obviously over-explaining. It is painfully (and almost to the point of a boring “Ok. We get it”) obvious that this is a process and I just dragged you along for the ride. “When the hell is she going to tell the story?”. I decided not to delete a single line. I imagine that I can’t be the only person who has gone or is going through this to feel and talk this way. Thank you for bearing with me.
As I sit here and think back, I realize I was actually in several abusive relationships throughout my life. Some of them were shorter and maybe more subtle. I was also stronger (I think. Maybe.) so I ended those things earlier. I can’t get into it right now because it’s too long, probably best for another post, and I need to consult some family members first but this all started when I was a kid. I was verbally abused by someone who was in my life regularly. Somehow, I survived. See…there’s one of those uncomfortable dramatic statements. They make me so very uncomfortable. I want to delete this whole article and just tell other people’s stories about abuse. It would still make a powerful article. It would sound a lot like my own story since unfortunately these situations are so painfully similar.
Why is this so uncomfortable?
I think it’s the fear that people will think I am broken. Maybe that is it. I assure you I am not. Maybe I was or almost was or maybe I wasn’t at all and I was able to just power through. Maybe it is difficult to hear people say to me “I always thought you were so strong”. That is hard to hear. But I wasn’t strong. Until I was. I am no hero and I am a real person who made some less than great choices. But I did survive. I think it’s time to give myself a little credit and recognize that. Maybe it isn’t dramatic. Maybe it is just the truth. I did survive a tough thing as a child. I didn’t turn to drugs, I didn’t cut or harm myself. I didn’t turn to suicide. I made it through. There are so many children out there who don’t make it through. My heart hurts for them. Again, this is another post meant for another time.
I have questioned myself for years. Do I call this abuse? I was never given a black eye. He never hit me. He did once almost succeed in pushing me down stairs to get me to leave his house after a situation described below but I was never scared for my life. I think that it is important to acknowledge this type of abuse that is so often overlooked. Just because there is no actual evidence does not mean it is not damaging. And sometimes (maybe most of the time) the verbal abuse either by itself or combined with physical abuse is what is actually the MOST damaging to those who endure(d) it. Those are the things that make someone feel that they deserve everything they are getting. Those things are the scariest and hardest to heal.
So I met S. I met him on a dating site.
Here we go.
He was someone who I would never have been attracted to ever before. From a personality and a looks perspective, he was unlike anyone I had ever dated. I am not saying that to be mean or hurtful. It is just the truth. He was nice but talked super fast and appeared to be extremely nervous. It was tough to follow his stories. That remained the same way through the whole relationship. In hindsight, I wonder if he was on something. Steroids or cocaine, maybe?
Have you ever met someone who drinks entirely too many energy (like the tool bag kind) drinks and sometimes they are hilarious and awesome and other times they are complete assholes? You know that guy. I know you do. That was S.
I am not really sure where to go in the story from here. I wish I could say he was this awesome and successful guy who whisked me off my feet. He was not and did not.
He didn’t like music. He didn’t like art. He thought it was fascinating that I loved those things and that I could paint. In hind sight, the only thing really positive that I can say about him is that he was pretty funny and had a great group of friends. Lame, right?
For some reason, I wanted this person. And the more horribly he treated me and the meaner he was to me, I just wanted him to like me more. Let me explain. I think I wanted to somehow convince him that he was wrong and if I could just show him that he was stuck in a hurtful place I could help him and he would be kind and love me and we would live happily ever after. That is literally all I wanted and I kept thinking I could “fix” it. I took all of the hate and unkind and quite frankly, bizarre mind fuck type behavior and thought, “There is no way he can realize how hurtful this is. I can show him this is not the way to live and treat people.” And it would become this insane cycle of me being screamed at for ridiculous things (ps. No one should scream at you even if the things are not ridiculous.) and being ridiculed and judged and verbally ripped apart all while I tried to reason with him and help him. This continued until I started actually questioning myself and felt myself apologizing. And I was being controlled. Sometimes through the use of alcohol. I will get to that in a second.
Here are a few examples of what things were like at times (more often than not). This is not everything. That would be a very depressing novel.
It started “small”.
I asked him what he thought of my outfit for a party once. His response was that it was all black again. He told me all I wear was black. He said the outfit wasn’t sexy and was conservative.
Not that I need to explain any of that because who cares if I wear all black and it is conservative, but I will explain just to show how ridiculous people like this are. And how ridiculous this abuse made me. The outfit was indeed all black. Aside from spandex because I am an athlete, my friends know that I pretty much only wear black. Any color is usually a darker jewel tone. That is my style. It makes me happy. My friends also know that to me, sexy isn’t what you wear. It’s how you carry yourself. I have always felt much sexier in a super stylish black pair of pants with leather accents and a black top that shows off my curves but isn’t too revealing, and an awesome pair of boots or heals. I do not think I need to wear a dress that shows my vagina when I bend over to be sexy. That’s just me. Anyway the outfit I just described with the black pants was what I had on…with these awesome boots. I looked hot! So I rephrased and said. “I was more asking if it was appropriate for the party and if it was flattering on me. My style is usually all black.” This became the conversation every time we went out even when I stopped asking for his opinion. “You’re wearing black again? I would love to see you in some color.” I would reply “I am not as comfortable in color. This is my style.” He would launch into a speech about how stubborn I was and how clothing doesn’t define a person and wearing black isn’t a personality trait and that it shouldn’t be such a big deal to wear color if it would make him happy. Writing that down, it sounds ridiculous. Hearing it somehow got under my skin. So what did I do? I went fucking shopping! And I didn’t buy black. What the hell? I am embarrassed to even say that. I bought some burgundies and emerald green and dark blue. His response? “So all you did was buy dark colors?”
That Christmas he bought me some clothes that looked like they had been purchased during a time machine trip back to the 80s. The store might have been Merry-Go-Round or Au Coton or Guess circa 1983. All of the colors were white, bright, almost fluorescent green and pink. They were uncomfortably revealing, tacky and cheaply made. There was one black short dress in the mix. It was a little shorter than I would have picked but that is the only thing I ever wore from that bag of trash. And he made sure I knew that he noticed that. More than once.
Things got more bizarre after that.
He would tell me I got too drunk when we were out. But he was always the one either getting my drinks or making them. I never asked for a drink. They would just keep coming. I found out later from his friends that he did this to his ex before me. It was worse for her. He would keep getting her drinks until she was sloppy drunk in public then belittle her in front of people and the entire next day. The friends who told me this never put it together until I pointed out to him in front of them that he kept bringing me drinks as he was telling me I had a lot to drink. He tried to tell me that I had said certain things I knew I had not said. He said I didn’t remember because I was drunk. I started to believe this until some of his own friends started telling me I was not wrong. That I was not as drunk as he said and that those situations did not happen. It was really bizarre. I guess he didn’t think I talked to his friends.
He would say some subtle and sometimes not so subtle racist things when we were driving or out somewhere. I would always tell him it was offensive. Wow, Erin, way to be a hero by telling your racist boyfriend to stop saying racist things. Way to help the world. You didn’t leave him but at least you told him it was wrong. Insert eye roll and dismissive fuck off gesture. He would say ridiculous things about how the person crossing the road was taking their time because they are black and think the world owes them. Ummm…what? That doesn’t even make sense. Then somehow the conversation became about how I was naive and looked at the world through rose colored glasses and did not understand things so that was why I felt that way. Or it became somehow weirdly about my political beliefs and I was too liberal or something.
All of it was nonsense but I was slowly being broken down.
Why didn’t I leave? I don’t know but I think I needed to know I was not wrong, not crazy. I think every time I believed he felt a certain negative way toward me, I needed to try to convince him I wasn’t that. I needed him to see the real me and not his version. I don’t really know. None of it really makes sense and probably never will. And I think that is ok.
There are two situations that were the last and final things that gave me the momentum and confidence and power to really leave. They aren’t the worst but they were stories I could tell without being ashamed that would give me the confidence to keep moving toward leaving. I didn’t leave right away but not long after. I used these situations. I replayed them in my head to keep me from going back.
One was during a party when he shared with me that he thought it was sexy to see me flirt. He said I was always very flirty but he shared that night that he liked it and especially when I talked to this one particular guy. I didn’t change the way I talked to this other person but I did find myself talking to them more. I didn’t flirt more. There was a tiny voice that told me it felt like a trap but I was in such a downward spiral that I ignored everything that made sense. I decided I would just use that knowledge to be able to just talk and be me without worrying about if S was going to tell me I was too flirty. I had been told in other situations that I was flirting too much (ps. I am just friendly all of the time. Flirting and friendly are completely different.) Anyway, I didn’t think about what he said for the rest of the night really. At one point I decided I had a little more than I wanted to drink so I wanted to go to bed. I didn’t want to be drunk at the party and wake up feeling horrible. So I said to S I wanted to go to bed. He told me I had spent too much time talking to the very person he had said he enjoyed seeing me talk to. He started to belittle and verbally attack me while we were still around people. I walked away and went to bed. At some point he came to bed and tried to touch me. The situation became escalated and a little violent. I won’t get into too much other than to say that I ended up being ok and not hurt. His friends shared that they had overheard (some of them had crashed in other rooms so they were not drinking and driving) the entire situation including the night before and our conversation about flirting. They confirmed everything he was denying. Everything he was saying I could not have remembered correctly because I was drunk.
The other situation was when …seems to be a theme here…we were drinking and actually having a fun time at a bar near his house. We had done a couple of shots so I suggested we leave his car until the morning and call an uber. He did not want to do that. So I told him I would take an uber and meet him at his house but I hoped he would join me for the ride home instead of driving. He ended up screaming at me in front of everyone in the bar. No part of the conversation had led to screaming. No one was even really arguing at that point. I just sat there in shock and embarrassment. I did take the Uber and he did drive his car. When we got back to his place I told him we were done and I would be out in the morning. He told me not to wait until the morning and to get out immediately. So I called my brother. This was not part of S’ plan. He had assumed I would call an Uber. He was so mortified at the thought that I had called my brother to come get me and that I told him why. He started trying to guilt me into calling my brother back. He told me I was selfish and just wanted attention because why else would I call my brother who just had a baby. How horrible of a person could I possibly be? He didn’t realize that my sister in law was also coming so one of them could drive my car home so that I didn’t have to come back. My little brother has really been a big brother, father figure, and best friend to me in my life. His wife is one of my best friends and truly my sister (not truly because, well, incest, but you know what I mean). S called my brother and told him he didn’t know what was wrong with me. My sister in law heard because they had him on speaker. He told them I freaked out at the bar and decided to leave. He told them that he didn’t want me to leave and I could stay and that they could go home. My sister in law said, “No. We are still coming. Erin would tell us if she didn’t want us to come.” They rescued me. I swore to them that they would never have to do it again. I kept that promise.
There were so many other stories and just crazy and damaging things that happened during this relationship.
I knew I had enough inarguable examples that in my head I could use to flip the power. I didn’t need to tell him I had that or that I was now in control. I just needed it for me. I needed it to change the way I saw him. I needed it to stop looking at him as anything other than a sick person who is toxic. When the time (very shortly after) came to truly break free from this person and cut off contact, I also had to change how I spoke to him. I had to remind myself that he is sick. I had to remember that there is no way to convince or argue. I would never be able to show him he was wrong. I would never have that satisfaction. But I was still in control and I still knew (finally) for myself that he was wrong. He was truly not well. I became kind but very firm. I told him I was done with the relationship. I told him it was an unhealthy relationship. I told him I was never coming back. I told him to stop contacting me. My needs flipped from a weird need for him to want to be nice to me and come after me and be sorry to an urgent need to never hear from him again. I suggested he get professional help and I said it in a kind way. I didn’t attack him. He tried to argue and break me down. I either ignored or replied with something like “I think you should reach out to a friend to talk. Please stop contacting me.” When he tried to be kind and tell me he promises he can change and wanted another chance. I told him “We are not together and won’t ever be again. I am sorry you are hurting. I suggest you reach out to a friend. I can’t comfort you in this situation. Please stop contacting me.” It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t cruel. It was kind and respectful of my own boundaries. It kept pushing us further away from each other and that was what I needed. Had I entertained a conversation or argument, he would have gotten the power back and I would have lost my confidence. I needed that confidence and power to walk away. I eventually blocked him on my phone and all social media because I truly did not want to hear from him anymore. I had not been unkind and I could walk away.
A few things happened after that. I cried. A lot. And I was so embarrassed. I thanked those friends of his for putting themselves in difficult situations to help me (I don’t think I really thanked them enough, though). I leaned on my two closest friends and my brother and sister in law. I talked a lot.
And I healed.
I started to love myself again. But more than I ever had before. I was starting to feel peaceful and comfortable just being me. I started listening more and talking less.
And I stopped getting drunk. I have not been drunk in 6 years. Too many memories of things that could have maybe been avoided in my life if I had not been drunk. I will never put myself in that situation ever again.
Now I want to share and hopefully provide hope and maybe courage and empowerment to someone else to show them that if they can just get through that scary and uncomfortable unknown of saying, “I’m done with this” then they are just that. They are done with it. They don’t have to go back. You don’t have to go back. The hardest part is leaving. And if you do it right, if you use resources, if you are careful and use resources to make sure you are safe, then you only have to go through that hardest part once. Then you are out. After that there are only choices to make. Choices about what kind of life you want. How you want to be treated. I know what I went through may seem like a dream compared to what you are currently going through. You may have children and the scary thought that there is nowhere to go. Those thoughts are not true. There is always a way out.
There are resources. There is help. A little google search is a start. Remember that someone can see the things you have searched for on your computer and phone and sometimes it is difficult to completely delete those things. Use a computer at work or at a library if you are worried about someone seeing. Your work might offer resources or a hotline to help. Ask your HR department. Tell trusted friends about what makes you nervous or scared. Say it out loud and type it somewhere and send it to someone you trust. Talk to a therapist. Then let that person help you make a plan. And stick to the plan. I promise you life is better and there are friends, family and a future partner who will make you feel like gold. They can’t find you right now because you are invisible behind this unhealthy and sad place. You don’t have to stay there. It will be difficult but you can get out.
Someday you will sit in a rocking chair as an old person and look back on your life. How do you want to look back on the situation you are in right now?
If you need help, there are resources available to you. Some of them are different depending on where you live. There are two great resources you can use to point you in the right direction and get you the help you need right now. Remember that abuse does not have to be “violent” to be abuse. These organizations can provide resources for all types of abuse.
The Hotline (National Domestic Violence Hotline): 800-799-7233 (thehotline.org)
RAINN (rape, abuse and incest national network): 800-656-HOPE (4673) (rainn.org)