I Battled Myself in the War He Started: My Experience in an Abusive Relationship
I thought I knew enough about the cycle of abuse to realize when I was caught in it, but that’s the tricky thing about usually being on the outside of a situation; you tend to develop a single idea of what it looks like, and if that narrow view doesn’t apply to you, it’s so simple to dismiss. I wish I would have kept a running list of my concerns—the comments about my weight, the harassing messages he sent his ex-girlfriend well into our relationship, the way he would slap my thigh if I said something he didn’t like, his uncanny ability to turn me trying to hold him accountable for his words or actions into an ultimatum-filled situation where I’m desperately trying to explain myself and apologizing for things I didn’t do.
I suppose that’s how abusers trap you—it’s not the threats of physical violence as much as it is the constant anxiety they plague you with, the ideas they plant in your head that if you walk away, it’s because of your own inadequacies. They cause you to spiral so deep into a battle with yourself that you forget that they’re the one who is waging the war.
Like the way he took pleasure in denying my needs only to give in just before I’d break. It was like he’d hold me under water until my lungs would nearly give out just so he could feel the gratification of saving my life. He loved to feel like the hero, even if he had to be the villain in every moment leading up to it. It would give him the ability to remind me of his power while simultaneously giving him an example to use down the road of how thankful I should be. I remember one time actually thanking him for holding my hand, that’s how rare physical affection had become and how convinced I was that it was my fault. Even catching him on a dating app turned into a discussion about how insanely jealous I must be and how I shouldn’t make that his problem. I found myself so confused and hurt by his responses to what I felt were valid concerns that I’d just sit there in silence, waiting for him to stop.
I didn’t fight with the same weapons as he did. How could I ever win?
I never knew that I could feel so isolated in a relationship and that lying next to someone whose soul wouldn’t intertwine with mine could make me question what it truly means to be alone. That their voice can create a silence; their touch can make me long for warmth.
That’s the problem with falling in love with someone’s potential—I wrap myself around a concept and get tangled in the reckless human being buried beneath.
Perhaps that makes me the reckless one.
I spoke out about the abuse. I didn’t name him, but he of course posted a response within an hour and it was exactly what I expected - he wrote an eloquent and humble post about how hard it is to try to love someone through their depression, but ultimately realizing that you have to let them go. What he failed to mention was that strangling and biting a woman was a part of his treatment plan. It was your typical methodical response where he knew that being defensive would raise eyebrows, so instead he came from a place of concern and care and defeat. He knew that if he could call my mental health into question, all of my claims would be questioned as well.
He would often trigger my symptoms with his abuse then try to convince me that his abuse was caused by my symptoms, so him using my depression as a weapon was nothing new to me. It was as genius and effective as all his manipulative tactics are.
Being out of that relationship is like waking up from a nightmare; I feel disconnected from the monster and relieved to be awake, but I’m still jumpy and will need some time to shake it off. I’m ready to love again and ready to trust again, but it’s going to be awhile before I stop apologizing for everything, worrying that I’m becoming a chore or that my most basic needs are exhausting someone. I’m going to have to relearn being vulnerable and how to not sink into myself when I sense the slightest change in body language and tone of voice. I have some healing to do, but I’m going to be okay.
If there’s anything I hope others will take from this it’s that you’re not alone.
My abuser was well known, liked, and very charitable. I was isolated by people’s idea of him. I was isolated by my own idea of myself that he created. I was fearful that leaving him would mean starting this process over with someone else, because I believed I was the problem and that my flaws were somehow a factor. I won’t demand that you leave - I understand the fear of deadlines and the judgement that might come from not meeting them. I know how paralyzing the idea of walking away can be and how further isolated you feel when people don’t understand it.
What I will say is that this situation isn’t going to get better. You are dealing with someone who is broken in ways that you can’t fix and with holes that you’ll never be able to fill. I don’t know you, but I see you. I see you trying and hoping and I want you to know that you were somebody before, you’re still somebody now, and you’ll be somebody after you’ve left.
You deserve to be happy. Only you can put yourself in a position where that will be possible, but this isn’t it.
When you’re ready there is help, there is support, and there are safe places. Don’t be afraid to utilize the resources you have available if you don’t feel that you will have the support you need from friends or family. Don’t feel like reaching out means that you’re relying on others to save you, or that you’re helpless or weak.
The second you step out that door you’ve become your own hero.
© 2017 Tawny Lee