HOW INDIVIDUALS LEFT ABUSIVE SITUATIONS AND STARTED OVER
Welcome to the new segment on my blog where brave individuals share their stories of how they left, or in some cases, escaped abusive situations. Each story is different, but the main thing is that these people are fighters. Even though they were faced with difficult times, each one of them chose to believe they had the power to change their situation. We hope to inspire others to realize how much power they have over their lives, and that they too can make a change. If you wish to leave a comment, please remember that these stories are to remain anonymous. If you think this sounds like someone you know, please don’t use names. We wish to protect the innocent.
Women are Abusers Too
Forty years later, I again have a bully in my life; my ex-wife.
When I was eleven I had a bully in my life. I was afraid to go to school because I would be teased or put down or threatened day after day. Everybody else thought this person was normal and that I should get over it. I didn’t understand. I tried to be nice. I tried to ignore the bully. I tried to get along. And yet, the bully kept bullying. One day, my mom told me to punch the bully in the nose. It took a long time for me to get the courage to do so and when I did, the bullying stopped.
Forty years later, I again have a bully in my life. I have been threatened. I have been yelled at. I have been stalked. I have been put down sometimes multiple times a day for weeks and months on end. By phone, by email, and in person. I have spent thousands on therapy dealing with post traumatic stress. I’ve been afraid to go to the grocery store, or walk the dog, go to my kids’ school performances, or pursue my own interests because I’m afraid that being active in public exposes me to being cornered, and talked down to, and insulted, and threatened.
I don’t understand. I tried being generous. I tried being cooperative. I tried shouldering blame; so much so, in fact, that nobody knows the entire story because I wouldn’t tell my side for fear of the harm it would do to others. I was willing to take on the burden of looking like the bad guy to keep the peace. I tried staying out of the bully’s way to the point where I lost contact with a lot of friends. I tried asking the bully to keep their distance only to have them tell me that I didn’t have the right to set such boundaries. I have asked repeatedly, politely, and with respect, until I had to call the police, and even then, my right to be left in peace is not only ignored, but is used as another reason to insult me and turn people against me.
Recently I decided to start standing up for myself and expressing more of my frustration publicly. As a result, I’ve been shunned by people who I thought were friends. I’ve been told to keep quiet because I’m making life difficult. I’ve been told to get over it.
The message I’m getting is that I should be okay with being bullied. I’m not. I’m hurting and I just want to be left alone to live my life in peace and be free from ongoing harassment. Without having to always be looking over my shoulder for the next assault. Is that really too much to ask?
Apparently for some people it is.
I’m not interested in the impossible task of figuring out who’s right or who’s wrong.
I’m not interested in asking people to choose sides.
I just want the bully to leave me alone. Period. That simple.
I have the right to be safe from harassment when I am out in public. Especially in circumstances where I can’t simply walk out without letting down other people who have put their trust in me. The message I am getting is that I should quit. Quit my life so that the bully can’t get to me. So that other folks’ comfort zone isn’t compromised.
I have the right to tell my story whether that is in person or online. Bullying is not okay. If you see me rant online because I’m sick to death of being bullied, and you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Don’t tell me to be quiet; if you have to support the bully, that’s your choice. But if you decide to take your discomfort out on me, that’s aiding and abetting. And I’ll have nothing to do with it.
I am not asking you to pick sides. While I may ask you to keep my boundaries safe, I don’t expect you to fight the bully. It isn’t your fight and you don’t see the person that way. I can respect that. Know that when you shun me, however, when you talk down to me, when you tell me to be quiet, when you tell me to just “suck it up”, you are telling me that I should accept being bullied.
I don’t. That’s not okay with me.
Unfortunately, unlike when I was eleven, I can’t punch my bully. I would be the one who would end up in jail. I have no easy way out. Well, not one that I really want to contemplate anyway. So, please, if you have to sit on the fence, show a little respect for the hard work I have to do to keep myself and my family safe and at peace.
At the end of the day, all I want is peace. With my friends, my family, my community. And with the bully; and that means zero contact for the good of everyone involved.
Three Years Ago…
It’s been three years since it finally ended. We were together for five years, and it’s taken me more than half of that time to feel like I might be ready to enter into the dating world again. Wow! Now, don’t get me wrong, I have not pined and moped for him. I knew at the end of our relationship it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. During the last year of the relationship, I felt as if I was dying inside. You know that internal light you have? Well, mine was burning out. It was as if I could see a single lit candle and the flame was fluttering and flickering in an invisible wind. I distinctly remember standing in the shower one morning while preparing for work, and all of a sudden I just started crying. We weren’t arguing at the time, nothing “bad” was going on, I wasn’t upset with anything, but this heartbreaking feeling just came over me. That single candle and flame clearly showed themselves in my mind, and I knew I was in serious danger of losing my true self. I will always feel as if that message was sent to me from above.I think it took me a good six months to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t a failure. That this relationship was doomed from the beginning, I just didn’t know how to read the signs, or wasn’t able to accept them. I thought “I” could make him happy. A good six months, to realize no matter what I did or said or no matter how I acted, was ever going to be “good enough” for him. I knew I’d never go back, regardless of what he said. I was finally free, but I didn’t understand that yet. In that time, I came to realize I had lost myself completely and became this person who was constantly walking on egg shells trying to please someone that was not going to be pleased with anything that I did, or that anyone else did. I became a person who could no longer make a simple decision without weighing or stressing about the outcome. Which BBQ sauce should I get? If I get this one, is he going to like it or will he complain and throw the food away just because HE didn’t like it. Let’s just say grocery shopping became a very stressful event for me, but he wouldn’t do it because he was too busy and tired after working all day. Yes, I had a full time job too, but mine wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t a “civil engineer” like him and because I didn’t go to college like he did. So, since I didn’t go to college, I was “stupid” and “worthless”. He may have only said, “You’re worthless” to me one time, but he would insinuate it, and that one time was all he needed to plant the seed. If I did something “this” way, and he didn’t like it, I’d try to do it “that” way next time. When he didn’t like “that” way, I’d try splitting it down the middle. Nope, that wasn’t good enough either. I could never get it just right. It wasn’t all bad all the time, but I could pretty much chart every two months or so when he was going to start the downhill slide into anger, depression and aggression again. We’d have a few weeks of good times, then as the days went by he’d get moodier, and for lack of a better word, crueler. I knew it was coming before he even got there. He’d both rage and scream at me about something so insignificant like spending less than $2.00 on a cannoli at the grocery store, or say things to me like, “I’ve never loved you”, or “You’re worthless, and stupid. You didn’t even go to college.” Once it was over, the next day would be just as clear and sunny as if that Category 4 hurricane had never come through. I heard about what a waste of money that cannoli was for at least of year of arguments. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.These last few years have been about finding me again, and learning and growing from what I went through. I think back on those years, and I am astonished, dumbfounded and honestly, dismayed about why I allowed it to happen and continue to happen. I am not the sort of person to just lie down and let someone walk all over me, I never have been, but for some reason I gave up standing up for myself somewhere along the way. I know it was so much easier to just let him have his way, but when did I stop defending or even caring about ME? One day it hit me, I’m FREE! I can do what I want, when I want. I don’t have to try and justify anything to anyone. I am FREE! I can buy whatever BBQ sauce I want from now on! With that sense of freedom came the reality that I AM smart, that I am NOT worthless, that I CAN make my own decisions. I have not wanted to give up that freedom for a very long time. At first, I wasn’t sure I could be in a relationship, and not be bitter and not be suspicious of every word spoken or every look given. I wasn’t sure I would even be able to be in a relationship and not take my anger and frustration out on that new person. Does that make sense? I didn’t want to turn in to “him”. But now three years later, I am confident that I can share my hard won freedom with someone and participate in a loving and healthy relationship! It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’m hopeful and excited about what lies ahead.
The Year That I Will Be Seen
When I first started being involved with men, most of the men I dealt with were only after one thing….sex. And having such low self esteem and always wanting to be loved by a man, I gave in to temptation and eventually, I let myself be used by them. Trying to gain acceptance and try to get them to love me for me, but of course that never happened and I found myself sleeping around with men to try and find love. It took me years to realize that just because you get with a man in a sexual way, doesn’t mean its for love. Finally I realized, I have to love myself more before I can let another man truly love me.
Whenever the New Year comes around, people make a certain resolution to themselves in one way or another. Honestly at one time in my life, I had stopped making them because I knew deep down that once I made one, I never followed through it. But that was when I was young and naïve and honestly didn’t really think things through. Those thoughts of resolutions for the New Year didn’t come to light for me until this year.
But I didn’t make a resolution to find love because honestly I’ve stopped looking for it. I hope that eventually it will find me some day.
This year, I didn’t make a resolution to lose weight. I’m happy in the skin I am in right now in my life. I want to change it, and I will eventually in my due time. The one resolution that I have completely decided upon keeping this year is basically this one……TO BE SEEN!
Now I know what you might be thinking…..TO BE SEEN….what is she talking about?
Well let’s begin at the beginning and hopefully we’ll get to where we are at right now in this story.
A year after I had my daughter, I ended up going through a bunch of health issues, mainly me having Rheumatoid Arthritis, something that was so painful in the early stages that my mother and grandmother at the time, thought I was being “lazy” and a “irresponsible mother”, which soon became not the case because I was soon diagnosed with RA and put on proper medication for it, which ended up helping me go on with my daily life.
Then a family tragedy happened to me a couple of years later. My grandma, who was my heart, had passed away. She was probably one of the only women I knew that I could talk with and not be made fun of, which was hard for me to do with my mother and honestly even though I am in my late 30’s, is equally harder for me to talk with on a personal level. After her funeral, my mom ended up getting into some trouble and was taken away from me for a while as well. So it was just me and my younger brother and my kid. My daughter and I decided to move back to my grandmother’s house, a place that she never really wanted me to live in much less have as my own, while my brother stayed with his girlfriend back where we lived. The transition was hard for me because even though I had my family there, they ended up being my enemies in the end, making my life in my grandmother’s home a living nightmare.
I had soon gotten myself a job. During the time I was working and things were going well for me, I soon started to have problems with my face. It started with a pimple and eventually it opened up into a small lesion on my face. At first I just covered it up with makeup but soon after this started, I lost my job and that’s when it seemed to get worse.
After dealing with another year of ridicule from my family and friends, my mother finally was able to get herself out of the problem she was in and wanted us back home with her, which we were very much happy to get back home to. By this time the lesions started to spread all over my face on my cheeks, my scalp line and forehead. None of the doctors there could find out what was wrong. Either that or they just weren’t finding the right symptom for it. Eight years after I moved back, I finally found out what was wrong.
The problem was called Pyoderma Gangrenosum or PG, which is an inflammatory skin disorder characterized by small, red bumps or blisters (papules or nodules) that eventually erode to form swollen open sores (ulcerations). It mainly was due to my RA from what the dermatologist told me. I was completely shocked that the other doctors acted like they never knew about this and couldn’t pin point it sooner but eventually, they got me on the right medication, even though I still have to go to have blood work because the medication I am on is very much a high level medication that warrants me to have my blood checked every 2 weeks or so to make sure everything is functioning right. Which I am happy to say that everything has been going just fine with me.
But ever since I came on Facebook, I’ve met a lot of my old high school friends and some new ones as well. For years, I’ve always thought about meeting some of them BUT the one thing that has held me back has been how I’ve felt about myself as far as my face. Even though I do wear makeup, it doesn’t hide the scars which are prominent on the left side of my face now. I’ve always thought to myself, “What would they say when they saw me?” or “How will they treat me after all these years of not seeing me?” These were things that for years constantly would bring me to thoughts of how folks who are my friends would react to me; this has caused me much emotional strife within myself for those 8 long years.
There was another problem I had with meeting people, especially men.
A lot of times, I had wanted companionship with a man, someone I could go out with and have fun and such. That was not the case with me however, I was always a shy person but when I had the issues with my face, trying to meet with men was something that when it did happen, the outcome would be heartbreaking.
They say that sometimes it’s what’s on the inside that matters the most – well honestly, I have to say from my point of view that it’s a bold face lie!
Men will look at your face FIRST AND FOREMOST because of course that’s the one thing they will see about you before you even talk, with me when men saw me, they seemed to not to want to know the true me and not the “outside me”. Even men I would meet online, I would always be upfront with a guy about my condition and of course they would say, “Well I would never treat you bad, I don’t care what you look like.” But when it came to actually meeting, it would be a different story of momentary pauses in conversation, looking at the watches, etc. Eventually I would never hear from the guy again, which was always heartbreaking. This is part of the main reason why I have eventually given up on finding anyone, saying to myself that if a man wants me or if love wants me, they can find me eventually.
This year I plan on being seen, no matter how much it might make me nervous or scared, there are so many folks that I haven’t seen since my school days and many new ones that I so would love to meet and have fun and a few drinks and just be able to chat with them face to face without having to worry about what people might think of me. I’m going to control my fear of people’s judgments, and I know I can overcome this anxiety of dealing with people. This year will be a different one for me. 2012 – the year I will be seen!
Never Thought It Would Happen To Me
I never thought I’d be in an abusive relationship. I grew up in a normal family, with parents who were not only still married but who treated each other with respect. When I met my husband I was nearly thirty, had a good career, and had lived abroad on my own for a while. I was an independent and organised woman, surrounded by close friends and family.
I didn’t see it happening at first. His outbursts were infrequent, and the other 98% of the time we spent together was wonderful. The increase in those outbursts was so gradual I never even noticed it. I’d always wondered why women stayed in abusive relationship and now I know: it happens so slowly, that you don’t even see it coming, until it’s too late and you’ve been sucked in.
It started with angry outbursts, lots of shouting and verbal abuse. Then during a rage one day, he punched a door. We weren’t even married then, but I rationalised that it only happened the one time, so I went ahead and married him.
Then the outbursts grew more frequent. Another door kicked, a slight shove during an argument, then a harder shove the next time. And afterwards, when I’d argue that he was being abusive, he’d tell me that I was exaggerating. That’s where the constant, subtle emotional abuse kicked in. I doubted myself. My self esteem devalued to the point where I didn’t even think of leaving.
At work I was still a strong, confident and capable woman. But at my front door I became a different person, one who constantly walked on egg shells and tried to keep my mouth closed, because I was never sure what mood he’d be in, or what would provoke his anger. I’d drifted away from most of my friends and lived in almost complete isolation, not wanting my work colleagues to know what my home life was like. Still I didn’t leave.
The moment when enough was enough came at last because of two reasons: the first was because I had daughters, and the second was because I’d started writing.
When I started writing seriously, I discovered I was good at something and it boosted my self esteem. Then I made friends with other writers, and their belief in me fuelled that self esteem. Having faith in yourself, a concrete dream for your future, and friends to support you are the greatest strengths any woman can have. Suddenly, I wasn’t prepared to settle for second best any more, and I wasn’t prepared to stick with a marriage that was less than 10% good and more than 90% bad.
But my biggest reason for leaving was my daughters. I’d put up with a lot for myself, but the day my girls watched as my husband hit me was the day I decided to leave. I didn’t want my daughters believing this was normal, and one day settling down with men who treated them as their father treated me. I might not have valued myself enough to leave the marriage, but I valued them enough that I would brave anything.
After I moved out, we finally went into marriage counselling. We discovered that my husband suffered from clinical depression and he began receiving treatment. Our relationship improved, but by that time too much water had passed under the bridge. My love for him had died, and I was now a different person. There was no going back for me, and marriage counselling turned into divorce counselling.
These days we get along much better. Not enough perhaps to be friends, but we spend family time together and the divorce has been amicable.I have learned so many valuable lessons from this experience, and this is my advice to any woman who finds herself in a similar situation:
· The first time your partner loses their temper with you or even near you, and takes that temper out on an inanimate object (eg. Kicking a door, throwing an object) put your foot down. Let your partner get away with it once, and you’ve just taken your first step along the path to abuse. Don’t rationalise it away that it only happened once and the rest of the time he’s lovely. Value yourself enough to say “this stops right here.”
· Don’t ever let yourself be isolated from friends and family. They will be your strength even when you don’t feel strong. I’m not saying you should let others tell you how to live your life, but do ask for help when you need it. Even if you find yourself alone, reach out for help. You will be amazed at the support you find.
· Don’t settle. Value yourself enough to hold out for a man who will treat you as you deserve to be treated. Don’t do as I did and hurry into a relationship because you’re thirty and broody, and he’s conveniently around and interested. As long as you’re with a man who doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve, you don’t have room in your life for one who will.
· Value yourself. Acknowledge your accomplishments. Find enjoyment in life. These are the things that will keep you strong and sane through the toughest time.
· You are stronger than you think. You’re a woman, after all.
WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
I remember the day I picked up the book with that title. I read the back cover, shocked to see that many traits of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder pertained to my husband. Now I’m not diagnosing him, but in that moment I felt a little less crazy. As I read the book cover to cover, my world began to make sense. All the years of feeling like I could never do anything right, having expectations placed on me I wasn’t aware of and always fell short on, the put-downs, the apologies, turning every argument around on me so I’d question myself – in short, I knew not everything was my fault.
When I first met my now ex-husband, we were in high school. He was polite, chivalrous, and funny. His quiet mannerisms intrigued me. He could tell a joke that would make me bust a gut laughing! Sadly, I didn’t know the pain he held down on the inside. I’d only catch glimpses of it, never realizing that his workaholism was the way in which he dealt with it. The more he worked, the less he’d have to face his pain. And to this day, he hasn’t really faced much of it.
I’d love to say we had been happy once upon a time, but our relationship was rocky from the start. We had happy moments over the years, like the day we married, the days our children were born, or family outings. A lot of the time, though, we argued. We never understood each other and always seemed to be at odds. He’d never want to take responsibility for his part in a problem always shifting blame to me. For quite a few years, I took it all upon myself for how could I think ill of him? He made me feel like I was the unreasonable one, so it must be me, right? As long as I thought everything was my fault, then he could get away scot-free without having to analyze his own behaviour, or make any changes to better our relationship. In my own head, I created this fairy tale of happy ever after. People would comment on how lucky I was to have a man like him. He worked hard, after all. But he would lie about spending money, or if I think we’d compromised, he’d go behind my back and do something anyway because in his head he heard me say, “No.” I cringed inside every time someone made a comment, wishing I could tell the world how difficult it was to live with this “perfect” man.
A lot of his behaviour was childish; teasing me until I couldn’t take it anymore and I’d burst into tears, giving me the silent treatment so I’d think he was mad at me, sexually teasing me all day, making me think later we’d make love. Then he’d go to bed without saying goodnight, claiming he was too tired. His angry outbursts were unpredictable, often leaving the kids and I to wonder what would set him off. To the outside world, we were the perfect family.As the years went on, his anger would surface in increasing frequency. When he yelled, he roared. I never cowered though. If he wanted a fight, I yelled right back. When he’d take his anger out on the kids, I’d step in and protect them. It got to a point where I couldn’t live like that anymore. I grew up in a house where my parents yelled all the time, and didn’t want my kids to live that way. We went for marriage counselling for a short period, but then he wouldn’t go anymore, so I went alone. I began to face my fears one at a time. I got stronger emotionally. I became happy with myself. However, the happier I got, the unhappier he became.
I never tried to change him, but I spent a lot of time trying to figure him out. He could go from calm to rage within seconds. I wanted to know what kinds of things triggered his anger, and unfortunately, became a drill sergeant, always trying to get the kids to clean up so he wouldn’t get mad or trying desperately to do things the way he’d like them done. The kids would complain I was just like him. I lost myself in trying to keep a calm household, always changing how I behaved in order to keep the peace. It never worked because there was no rhyme or reason to his behaviour.
I’d always believed people who loved each other were supposed to take care of each other. But if I needed him in anyway, he’d make sure he wasn’t around. When I had a tumor removed, he returned to work the next day, leaving me to care for our then one year old. Years later, hospitalized with a massive breast infection, a ten minute visit with him and the kids was all the love and attention I received. He sat across the table from me and told me “to get rid of it” when we discovered I was unexpectedly pregnant. (I refused.) When I had to have a C-section with said child, he barely visited me at the hospital. After my arrival home, I remember the emotional devastation I felt when he shouted at me to get up and get the baby myself. (Anyone who has had a C-section knows what doctors tell you—to take it easy, no lifting or chores.) He told me he had too much work to do to help me. It’s no wonder I battled anxiety and post-partum depression for two years.
I spent a lot of time in a busy household feeling alone. A few months after I’d left him, I found a journal I’d written twelve years prior. I’d had the same thoughts and feelings for that long. Why didn’t I leave earlier? I have no definitive answer for that. Perhaps it’s because emotional abuse and manipulation are insidious. They work their way into your psyche and the bruises are so deep you can’t always see them, or have time to deal with them. Eventually, I got the inner strength to walk away from his taunts or when he tried to pick a fight.
The final straw came for me the night he picked on me in front of the children. My oldest daughter heard the put down, and hugged me. I knew then I didn’t want her to grow up thinking this was how a man treated a woman he supposedly loved. That night I confronted him, asking him if it made him feel better to put me down. Of course, he blathered on about how I was too sensitive and he couldn’t measure up. When we went to bed, he tossed and turned on purpose, elbowing me like a petulant child. I asked him to leave the room, so he did. The walls felt like they were closing in on me, and I needed to get out, get away, take a breather. Muttering to myself, I stomped down the hall, and slipped on my shoes. He stormed out of the living room, rage contorting his features. That night was the first time I’ve ever been truly frightened of him. He grabbed me by the arm, and threw me out the back door where I landed on the deck. (His grip on my arm left a hand-shaped bruise that lasted for over a week.) My sobs broke into the echoing sound of the slamming door. I remember looking to the heavens asking why, after everything I’d done to make our lives good, this had happened. The answer came loud and clear: the kind of relationship I wanted would never be with him. The absolute worst part was that our oldest son heard the entire altercation and to this day feels he should’ve protected me.
If a man had done what he did to my girls, I would’ve called the police on his sorry ass. Sadly, I didn’t that night. Only two people in the entire world knew my circumstances, and I was ashamed, afraid; you name the emotion, I probably felt it. My heart broke. The sensation in my chest was akin to someone taking a pin to a balloon. I kid you not. That’s when I realized broken hearts weren’t just a metaphor—they’re real. I went numb inside. When my sobs subsided, I re-entered the house, and asked him how he could do something like that. I swore at him when my questions fell on deaf ears. Defeated, I went to bed.
It still took me months to leave but when a small issue he refused to deal with resulted in him saying he didn’t have time to work on the marriage, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, and gave myself permission to let go. I got the courage to tell him it was over. That will be a night I’ll never forget, and the weeks after were some of the more extremely difficult ones I’ll ever have to endure. He did some weird stalker-ish type things before he moved out, but once he left, the tension disappeared. The kids and I relaxed. Telling my friends and family was no picnic, but once it was out in the open, I felt like I could just be myself. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be in the first place.
There were times I felt so exhausted I didn’t know how I could keep going. I cried a lot, but it’s how I released stress. And I’ll never forget the day the piece of my broken heart was healed. I’d been talking to a man, one I’d been interested in. I wanted to tell him something, but was afraid of what he’d think. However, I’d promised myself that with any future relationship I would never hide myself again. If he thought it was stupid, then I’d know where I stood. Surprisingly, he did understand, and in return revealed something about himself. I heard the “click” as that broken piece of my heart fit back into place. I began to cry. Wonder of wonders, this new man wanted to talk about my feelings! I felt like someone finally understood me. I have no idea where the relationship will go. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy his company, I look forward to seeing him, and I’m content to take it day by day. I have issues to work on and more healing to do. But I’m smiling, and that means a lot.
I’ll never be the same, but then I don’t want to be. I don’t want sympathy either. You’ve heard 20 years of my life in one short essay, so I imagine most people would wonder how I survived all of that. My answer: I just did. All the events of my life have led up to this point, and I’m at a great place now. The kids and I go for counselling regularly. My career is growing and I have many wonderful friends. And like one of my dear friends told me, and I believe more every day — I deserve to be happy. And I am. Anxieties rear their ugly head from time to time, but I strive not to worry about the future, but enjoy each day as it comes, revelling in the small joys, and secure in knowing I’ll be able to handle whatever comes my way, even if the waters get rough.