Recently, I was driving around town with someone very close to me and we were laughing about how disgusting a particular kind of food is. Nonchalantly, I stated, “You know I never say this, but I wish (my ex) was here for this conversation. He could tell some hilarious stories about growing up on that food.”
The conversation continued naturally and progressed into discussions about other topics. Then, referencing my earlier comment about how my ex would have had really funny stories to contribute, the person I was with said, “That makes me feel sad. How you wish he was here to hear our conversation (about disgusting food).” We laughed about how he always had hilarious stories about the topic, and my vehicle companion continued, “Actually, I remember once we all went out to dinner and it was really fun. We were talking and laughing and having a good time.”
My response: “Well, yeah. He was not a complete monster. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with him if he didn’t have a few good qualities.”
I should probably back up and explain that my ex was verbally, emotionally, and – most memorably – physically abusive. I need to somehow emphasize that leaving him was the scariest, most anxiety-filled time of my life. So much so that I have debated writing this article for the past several months because, even though it’s been two years since I left him, the thought of ever seeing him again scares me to no end. And, when it comes down to explaining the reality of the situation – what happened, why I left, and why I could barely talk about it for almost a year – almost of all of my stories do make him sound like a monster. Because what he did was horrific. And there was no excuse for it.
When I speak of the abuse I experienced, I almost always speak of it in an objective, matter-of-fact way. This is the only way that I can get the words out: He hit me. He kicked me. He pushed me down the stairs. He spit in my face. He pulled my hair and dragged me across the room. He locked me in the bedroom. He pushed me to the ground, my head banging against the floor – I remember feeling my head almost bouncing like a basketball – and he covered up my nose and mouth really tight and had me on the floor. I was unable to breathe. He kept calling me terrible names, telling me I was worthless, telling me I was never going to leave or find anyone better than him, and that “if I really wanted to leave I would have.” I would stop screaming. I would lower my voice. I would say, “Stop. Please stop.” I would ask him – beg him – but nothing worked. He would keep going. He would charge across the room and grab my throat, look me in the eyes and threaten me, sometimes even threaten to kill me. He would get this chilling, glossed- over look in his eyes, and I would think that he might actually kill me. Because I knew him well enough to know that once he got started, he couldn’t stop himself.
I had learned to recognize that look over time. It was the same look he had when he would trash the house or destroy my belongings, and then apologize for it later. It was the look he had when we came home one night to our 1-year-old puppy who had torn up a brand new roll of trash bags. He lost his temper and screamed and hit her. An hour later, he cried about it. He was heartbroken for having lost his temper at the dog. She obviously had separation anxiety and that is why she chewed up the trash bags. “They’re just stupid trash bags,” my ex sobbed, in between tears, “I shouldn’t have reacted like that.” He was so sorry. My heart broke for him as I stroked his hair and told him it was okay. Everyone loses their temper.
But what I realize now is that it wasn’t okay. What I didn’t understand then was that the deep regret he felt did not justify the abusive act.
You can read articles by doctors, psychologists, and experts of their fields, listing the warning signs. They will tell you what to look for, what to do, and how to save yourself by leaving the situation for good. But you do not know what it is like until you have lived it.
As someone who has been there, I know how hard it is to leave. I know how scared, embarrassed, guilty and confused it can make you feel. And I know how easy it is to brush off the warning signs as just “intense love” (he wants to move too quickly; he doesn’t honor your boundaries; he is excessively jealous and accuses you of cheating; he wants to know where you are all of the time and frequently calls, emails and texts you throughout the day) or “rare occurrences” (he criticizes you or puts you down; he tells you that you are “crazy,” “stupid” or “fat”; he says one thing and does another; he takes no responsibility for his behavior and blames others; he has a history of violent behavior). It’s easy to think that the one you love is different from all of those “textbook abusers” because he’s your friend/lover/boyfriend/husband, and there are times when he is loving and kind, and you two get along, have fun together, and laugh together.
But just because he’s not a monster one hundred percent of the time, does not mean that you are not better off alone.
One in four women will experience abuse in their lifetime. Abuse is about power and control and it can take the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse: coercion, threats, intimidation, put-downs, isolation, using “male privilege” to treat a woman like a servant or define the woman’s role, using economic abuse, denying abuse and blaming the woman for causing the abuse… to name a few. A list put together by survivors of domestic violence, who reflected on the early phases of their relationship and identified some of the early warning signs of abusers, includes someone who blames the entire failure of previous relationships on their partner (for example, “my ex was a total bitch”), grew up in an abusive or violent home, insists that you stop spending time with your friends or family, seems “too good to be true”, insists that you stop participating in leisure interests, or rages out of control and is impulsive.
In light of my own personal experiences and those of many people that I talk to, I’m learning how common this can unfortunately be, and how it can happen to anyone no matter gender, economic status, or background. I’m becoming more and more devoted to making sure awareness is out there and people who are in fear realize there is help out there and they don’t have to be stuck or give up. And since I always appreciate other people sharing their story with me, I decided I would share my story through this article. I wouldn’t wish any of this on my worst enemy, but, in a way, the strength that comes out of survival is the silver lining.
Please talk to someone immediately if you feel trapped in an abusive situation.
Guest post written by Anonymous
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