Living Through Abuse To Trust Another Day

Today’s post is about a deeply important subject, one that I’ve seen play out for so many people close to me. It’s about learning to trust again after an abusive relationship. It’s about the hope that things can get better and the bravery of knowing when to leave. If this helps just one of you leave, or heal, or take one step down the path to wholeness, it will be worth all of Jamaica‘s bravery in writing about it. And even if this has nothing to do with your life experiences, it’s one to take into your heart and ponder.

There’s always a chance of rain in Portland. Scant hours before our wedding on the morning of September 17th, 2011, Mitchell and I sipped coffee in a corner café and watched the water begin to crease the window panes. We were calm, and surprisingly, it didn’t feel like a reaction before a storm. I think we were shocking my mom; she looked for any disappointment that the planned backyard wedding was a muddy bust. Nope. Acceptance. What will be will be, and moisture is a fact of life in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s now been over two months since that morning, and what I keep realizing is that Mitchell and I had the perfect wedding.

We compressed all twenty five guests into the living room of our dear friends; Mitchell’s honorary uncle Glen wrote and performed the ceremony; we read thoughts on love and connection from Douglas Adams, Carl Sagan, and Ranier Maria Rilke; we ate lemon-blueberry buckle (yum!) and played word games (more yum!); and we were ourselves.

The big question going into planning a wedding event was how to tailor the day for two compassionate and crude introverted nerds who are madly in love, who love quiet and tea, and who both feel extremely close with their family and friends (introverted, but not shy!). A mix of happy accident, mindful planning, and setting gentle but firm boundaries about what we would and would not do ended up creating a really good day. A day, may I note, with an awesome party favor: Mitchell was now my husband.

Ever since that day, I keep getting asked a variation on the question “How is married life?” And I keep wondering what exactly is different, or whether it should it be different. Should I have something new to say? Mitchell and I bonded over silent movie trivia more than five years ago, we kissed for the first time four years ago, and we’ve been living together for two years and counting. We were committed in so many ways before that vow-laden smooch.

So… everything is… the same?

Not quite.

I’m pretty sure that voluntarily entering into a legal and emotional bond with another person, stating your promises in front of an adoring throng, is a different experience for every person that goes through it. Scuffing sand between my toes on our honeymoon on the Oregon Coast, I told Mitchell that, for me, it boils down to trust. What does being a wife mean to me? What does having a husband mean to me? I spent a lot of time thinking about these things in the six months leading up to an actual marriage ceremony. It means that I have trust in him, as the beautiful individual he is, to work at not screwing things up—between us or with respect to his own goals. I trust him to trust the same in me (hell, I trust me to trust the same in me). For me, marriage was the next step in a deeper faith with the world.

I stopped talking, digging my toes further into the sand and sand fleas. “Thinking about….?” my husband asked. My facial expression alone told him what stories in my past I was recalling. “Yeah,” I answered.

I originally began this post with a long ramble about “physical abuse,” ”rape,” or “emotional manipulation.” All are parts of the larger truth. Then I hit “delete.” This isn’t an exposé titled “All About The Awful Things That Have Happened to Me”; this is about what happened after.

It was really hard to pull away from the abusive relationship that was my first engagement. By the five-month mark of the relationship I was convinced that I was undesirable, that I was unintelligent, that I should give up my dreams of college and career, and that I was crap in the sack. I was also convinced by my former lover to not talk to friends or family, and by age 21, four years into our partnership, I was sure that my feeling of absolute isolation was an emotional state I deserved.

(Please note the obvious: that no one deserves this. I choked on my coffee when, in 2009 at age 24, I started reading about intimate partner violence in college and realized how not alone I was in my experiences.)

I stopped trusting my own judgment of the situation and fully intended to go through with my engagement, which seemed like an unbreakable promise.

And then I broke it. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, I handed the fake-turquoise promise band back to my lover after he proclaimed that snuggling and watching Groundhog Day had ruined his night and depleted his energy, and that I was a self-centered bitch for spoiling his plans to make me breakfast the next morning. Deep breath. Okay. Step back. Sit back. Suddenly the leather of that couch felt more real, and I was sure of one thing: “I don’t trust you. I don’t think I should be engaged to you, forgetting for a second the idea of ever marrying you at some point in the future, without that trust.”

I didn’t break up with him then—that happened in the summer of that year—but a small fact still churns in my head.

The end of the relationship was, at least for me, a given after the return of the ring.

I told Mitchell early on that part of me didn’t care whether or not we got married as long as we had that trust, that respect, that love. I’d have chosen being his committed, unmarried partner in a second if we had felt that getting married wasn’t for us. It’s the fact that with my ex-fiancée, I woke up; I lacked the faith that the future would be what I wanted to be (and I realized that if I died right then, from partner-dealt injury or accident, I’d be pissed at me).

A friend with a similar horrible relationship experience wrote to me recently and asked, “How do we trust, you and I? How do we trust anyone after what happened to us?” My answer? Step-by-step, and I don’t know. I really don’t know. Having a partner who obviously loves and adores me for me, and sometimes nibbles on me to demonstrate those emotions, helps immensely.

For the first couple of years after I left—the bad relationship, the city, the state—I watched over my shoulder. I had nightmares every night and I doubted my reality, my surroundings, every day. I’m still constantly managing symptoms of PTSD and depression, but… I’m happy. I do love and I do trust. I’ve worked hard to retain and build on the capacity for both. I would have done so had I remained single after leaving a bad situation, but I ended up honing those traits with Mitchell.

For any of you who have lived or do live in an abusive relationship, I wish to send unconditional love and support to you. Every situation is different, and I can’t tell you how to resolve yours. I’m still not sure how exactly I left mine, and I haven’t completely finished resolving it. I can tell you that you aren’t alone, and that it is never too late to leave. I reconnected with several friends who made themselves available for caring conversations and lugging boxes filled with possessions.

I am really lucky. I wear another type of ring now. Actually, I wear two, and each has its significance. The recycled silver ring on the left hand is my wedding band, which represents my trust in Mitchell, his trust in me, and the promises we made to each other on September 17th. The silver circle on the right is my engagement band, which Mitchell and I bought before I traveled to Chile for three months earlier this year. Originally, the ring meant something about love and connection, but now I see it somewhat differently—I view it as a sign of reclaiming my faith and trust in me.

Just as the meanings of these rings are not static, neither is the definition of marriage. When I was with the ex-lover, my idea of wife resided somewhere between that feeling you get when that don’t quite know what a word means and the pain of holding your hand in a bucket of ice water. With these rings, with this marriage to Mitchell, I reclaim the word wife. I redefine the word to include the trust I require in taking a long journey with a life partner. Not just any life partner, but this awesome, lovely guy who makes me believe in the future. Who gives me space, provides me with loving cuddles, plans the perfect wedding day with me, and stays with me in a Dr. Seuss room on our honeymoon.

Photo by: Jessica Copi

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  • Thank you. This is beautiful and brave and I’m sure someone who needs to hear all of this it will read it. And thank you for this: “For any of you who have lived or do live in an abusive relationship, I wish to send unconditional love and support to you.” Reading that was like a strange and sudden relief. There are definitely other people out there, but that’s so hard to see from inside it.

  • And, from another with some experience, emotional abuse is *still* abuse. He doesn’t have to hit you, rape you, whatever, to undermine your faith in yourself. And there are men out there (men!) who will hold you when you curl up in a ball for “no reason” and just begin crying uncontrollably. During sex. They will be there, they will support you as you reclaim yourself.

    • It was so hard for me to come to the realization that I was being emotionally abused. In two relationships, no less! (man, the realization after the second that I’d just gone through two of those . . . .) When someone hits you, you know what to do. But when someone makes you think that you’re the crazy one, well, that’s more difficult. If someone tells you what to think, that is still abuse.

    • Ceebee

      I was this girl. The first time I cuddled up with this boy, I curled up and cried. He took my hand put it on his chest and said “this(his) hand is yours, this(his) heart is yours and ours, this(my) body…is yours. It’s too soon.”

      I realized I pushed things too hard and fast to be assured that the same actions need not carry the same emotions of violation and fear. And just like that I healed from the physical shame from his loving assurance and unselfishness, because I felt worth it when he gives me space and time.

      • melissa

        WOW. That is all. :)

    • Emily

      Oh Caitlin, you just struck a chord. I was in a relationship with someone I now recognize was exceptionally emotionally manipulative. I thought I was in love, and through his abusive garbage he made me doubt every natural instinct that I had to be independent, willful, joyous, silly, perceptive, loving…in short, he made me doubt myself completely. And when I did curl up in a ball and begin crying uncontrollably during sex for absolutely no reason, he made me feel even worse, even more damaged, even…less. Ugh. No more.

      You should never have to give up YOU for anyone. Ever.

  • Jamaica, thank you so much for sharing your story. A couple of my friends have been in bad relationships and have described similar experiences of not considering themselves worthy of love and of being segregated from their friends/family. It’s a scary, horrible position to be in. But this post is so full of hope and love as well. I really hope that anyone who is in any kind of abusive relationship will read this and realize that they aren’t alone and that they deserve the kind of love that Jamaica has now found.

  • Hortensia

    There’s so much bravery and courage on APW! Thank you for this post. I really admire you for having the courage to let go of the bad relationship and made room for a good one. Congratulations on your marriage!

  • Thank you so much for sharing what must have been a very emotional and traumatic experience in your life. I know you have already weathered the storm and found love again, this time with a much happier ending. You are so courageous for ending a miserable relationship. I know it is very easy to say but I am really glad that you have the guts to do it. It’s never easy to leave someone no matter how bad the relationship is. I hope that through your sharing, you have inspired others who are suffering right now to end their abusive relationships once and for all.

  • “…and I haven’t completely finished resolving it.”

    That right there is one of the biggest things I don’t think outsiders understand after abuse. You can completely move on from that person and be head over heals in love with someone else, but still in almost a state of shock about it all. My fiance’ can’t figure out why I can still get bothered by the thought of the ex. Emotional abuse is really hard to wrap your own head around even if you think you left before a lot of damage was done.

    Thank you for helping me take a few steps towards that healing. It still is difficult for me wrap my head around the fact that someone I had trusted so much and was so close to began manipulating me. It straight up stinks because you go through questioning any person you trust (at least I do) trying to figure out where your judgement of others failed you (or at least that’s how it feels.)

    It is not our faults royal jerks came into our lives, but realizing the need to leave can make all the difference.

    • melissa

      “Emotional abuse is really hard to wrap your own head around even if you think you left before a lot of damage was done.”

      I agree. I told my next boyfriend that I thought I’d be better off if my ex had actually hit me more often and spoke to me less. Now, I do not condone hitting. Obviously not, but I was trying to find a very clear way of conveying to him just how confusing that particular type of abuse was for me.

      • amy

        I said the same thing to my therapist! His response was, “well that just goes to show exactly how serious it was”.

      • Oh, this rings so true. I was sexually, uh, violated(?) as a teenager and I remember once stating that it would have almost been easier to deal with if he had raped me instead of the absolutely confusing muck that happened, because then at least there would be language for it, and people would understand and there would be a distinct lack of the grey areas that did their best to ruin my life for the better part of a decade. (Not that I wanted to be raped! Or condone rape! Just that it would have been an awful thing I had words for instead of an awful thing that to explain took paragraphs and endless explanations and that no one really understood and more therapy than I can count to deal with.)

        • Erica

          “Just that it would have been an awful thing I had words for instead of an awful thing that to explain took paragraphs and endless explanations and that no one really understood.”

          So, time to start a conversation about what this kind of abuse looks like – and how it harms us – and how to know it’s happening, so that it doesn’t have to be so scary and confusing and isolating for those who come after us. Thank you all for starting that conversation!

          I had a similar experience in a previous relationship. It wasn’t until it was over that I began to see the ways it looked like abuse, though for me as for some of you, because it wasn’t physical abuse, I couldn’t see at the time. I still struggle with whether to use the word “abuse” to describe my experience – but manipulation for sure. And I think my ex might have become more obviously abusive if I hadn’t been so willing to just let my independent self disappear without much of a fight.

          Anyway, thank you all for talking about this stuff that needs so much to be talked about – and for the courage and compassion of APW!

      • “I thought I’d be better off if my ex had actually hit me more often and spoke to me less.”

        Exactly, exactly exactly!

        The few times he laid his hands on me, at least I knew it was wrong. It was all the crazymaking that came before, during and after the shaking and pushing that made me believe I was lucky that he was so lenient and tolerant.

        Looking back on it, it’s almost funny. The stuff he told me.. How he was so good for my ego and I’d grown so much when I was at a point that I had started asking permission via e-mail if I wanted to call (after carefully checking that none of his shows were on tv) and ten second of his silence in a conversation gave me instantaneous anxiety attacks.

        On a more general note: I really need to write about this some time. Thank you APW (and especially Jamaica!).

        • melissa

          They are masters of manipulation.

    • Jamie

      “It still is difficult for me wrap my head around the fact that someone I had trusted so much and was so close to began manipulating me.”

      This, so much. I recently separated from my longtime boyfriend. We were together for 10+ years (since high school) and lived together for a year and a half. We were going to get married, or so I thought.

      Looking back I put up with so much for so long, and it’s actually embarrassing and difficult to understand why I would have ever thought the way he was treating me was okay. He lied to me for months, and played games with my emotions, and stole a lot of money from me. Like, a lot. And then he literally walked out on me and our life together, leaving me alone in our apartment with all of his belongings and all of our mutual bills. I had to figure out how to wrap up all the loose ends, try not to get sued by our landlord for breaking our lease early, quit my job, and move back home to my mom’s because I could not afford to stay in the city alone. He just left, and never came back.

      All of that would be bad enough, but I later found out that he was also involved with another girl for the last few months of our relationship. And? They’re now engaged, two months later. I am so afraid I will never trust anyone again, and I am so shocked at how badly I misjudged his character. I thought he was such a good man, and he turned out to just be…terrible. And all of our mutual friends who were “his” friends didn’t exactly take his “side,” but they seemed very uncomfortable with me reaching out to them. That surprised me too.

      I guess reading this makes me feel a bit more hopeful that maybe someday I can find someone who is good, and who I can trust, and I will have a happier ending than this.

      • meg

        Holy crap, lots of love. And for your sake, I’m glad he walked and you found out… now… instead of wasting your life or having children with this horrible person.

        • Jamie

          Thank you Meg. I agree, I am so relieved we didn’t have children/get married/otherwise entangle our lives any further. Although really? They were pretty entangled already. I’m trying to unravel it still.

      • Sending you a lot of love so that you can heal and get your life on the track that you want it on. So glad you are out of that relationship now.

    • I can’t wait for the day that relationship stops haunting me. I’m just grateful that the hauntings are further apart each time. I’m also grateful that when the ghosts are bad my husband just holds me. He doesn’t understand everything. I don’t have words for everything.

      • Yes. This. I had some unpleasant experiences in college that left me feeling wounded and unstable in many ways. I was so thankful for the time when I first got to share with my partner just what I had been through. And as I was shaking, crying, and covered in snot, Donnie just held me and I knew we would move forward together. These ghosts tend to come up but they are so much more manageable with a strong partner by my side.

    • I don’t know if you ever really finish resolving it. I don’t know if there’s any real resolution to being treated with such cruelty and hate. Sometimes I think the best we can hope to do is move beyond it, to the point where we can learn to love ourselves again.
      My own situation was different (isn’t every ones) but over a decade later I wouldn’t say it is “resolved”.

  • melissa

    My abusive ex-boyfriend has the pathetic life he deserves, and I am so happy that I didn’t end up stuck in it with him. He’s on marriage two and baby two, and I hope this new woman wakes up and gets away from his sorry ass. My husband is 180 degrees from this guy. I still can’t believe I got so lucky.

    • One of my abusive exes got a vasectomy, and I praised all the powers that be that he will not propagate his seed into the world.

      And you’re not lucky. You deserve good things!

      • Class of 1980

        Damn. I hit the “Exactly” button … and then I realized I AM the seed of an abuser! My dad.

        Good thing I have a sense of humor. ;)

    • Somehow my ex realized he had a social problem. He got help and is now on meds. I am just hopeful his girl now doesn’t have to go through what I endured, but they both seem happy online. It does stink seeing someone with a person you know has been abusive cuz you just want scream at them to get away before it’s too late.

      And remember all of us deserve good things like Leah said.

      and Leah, I wish more abusers of all kinds couldn’t reproduce.

      • Anna

        It was super helpful for me to cut ALL ties with my abusive ex. Some mutual friends I just had to disconnect from, which was tough- but better for me in the end.

        No connections online either. It’s just too tempting…. and looking at photos- old or new- of my ex was keeping a part of my mind in that space. It’s in my past and will never be in my present again. Best to just leave it ALL in the past.

        • Anna, I completely agree. I was with my emotionally abusive ex-husband for 13 years, 5 as husband and wife, before I left. He was my high school sweetheart. I had tried several times to break if off and couldn’t stay away. I always thought that we should be friends, because that is what adults do when they break up. It wasn’t until I completely severed ties (which takes FOREVER in a divorce) that I could truly leave.

          • Severing those ties is sooo important, to me.

            And so damn hard.

          • When my ex and I finally split up (I came home from work to find him gone with half our stuff), he couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be friends.

            I told him that I would never want to be friends with someone that treated me the way he did. I still can’t believe I had the guts to say it. But I don’t think he actually gets it.

        • meg

          AMEN TO THIS.

      • That guy did change his life and from all appearances has a wonderful relationship and family now. He’s not the person he was back then. But I found I had to cut him completely from my life (which actually surprised him, I don’t think he realizes he was abusive, I didn’t realize it till a year after I left). I don’t know who he is now. I only know who he was then.

        • meg

          And the best part (the freeing part) is that it’s not your job to know who he is now.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    Such an awesome, thoughtful, and brave post. Marriage IS a big exercise in learning how to trust, and I think that’s true no matter your experiences. For me, on the other side of the coin, it was almost more about learning to trust myself after ending a several-year long spiral of horrible relationship decisions and self-destructive behaviors. The moment where I truly believed that I deserved a happy, ‘normal,’ stable relationship was one that I still remember vividly, and I definitely agree with you that my rings partly represent my trust in our union.

    So happy for you!

  • I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Your imagery is absolutely spot on and the entire post reads like a giant hug. As both a rape survivor and volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, I am so grateful that you shared your journey of learning to trust yourself and your partner. This should be required reading for everyone on the planet.

  • Thank you so much. I am in a similar place. I did spend several years single because, as I told anyone who asked, I couldn’t trust my judgement in men. I went through two emotionally and sexually abusive relationships over the course of 3.5 years. I spent the next 4 or so years almost entirely single (and knew well enough to bail when a guy ordered me double strength drinks to get me drunk on our second date, whoosh).

    I now have someone awesome, caring, and lovely. We both regularly give thanks that we are in each others’ lives. He is such a far cry from the boyfriends of my past. It took me a long time to realize that he wasn’t going to cheat, or leave me, or suddenly try to control me. After three years, I am settling in, and the nightmares or difficult flashes have all but disappeared. I did make the mistake of staying in touch with one of those exes for years afterwards, and I think my true healing came from my man now, who gave me the strength and confidence to break all contact with that guy (my second ex still tried to control me, years later, despite him being married). So, yes, for all of you out there who are still struggling: you CAN leave. It WILL get better. You are strong.

    • Emily

      Agh! The nightmares! I can so relate. I call my ex “The Tormentor” b/c he still lurks in my dreams and still has the ability to terrify me and basically suck the joy out of my life for a little bit. Granted, we’ve been apart for 7 amazing years (6 of which have been spent with the love of my life, thank you very much), but his shadow still lurks in the recesses of my mind.

    • Dani B

      I made the same mistake with one of my exes. He moved out of state and was getting married to someone else and was still trying to control me and make me feel like a crazy bitch. Thankfully, I had the support I needed to change my number and block his emails. But I’m still working through the ghosts he (and others) left. It still takes me a minute to feel ok with my emotions and to trust the good things that happen to me. BUT it’s getting better!! And to anybody still in a relationship like that, trust me, no matter how bad it is or how scared you are to leave, things can get better and you deserve better!!!

  • Kathleen

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad you were able to leave and reclaim your life and the word “wife.”

    On a much shallower note, but I’m dying to know: where is there a Dr. Seuss themed hotel room, and how did you find it, and was it awesome???

  • ellobie

    Thank you for being so brave & sharing this post! You are clearly an amazing woman and role model. I hope your moment of clarity and confidence and actions thereafter inspire other women who might be having trouble finding that light.

    And congratulations on being brave and strong enough to love after your experience!

  • Thanks for this post. I feel like I could have written it myself. I met my now-husband less than a year after finally walking away from six years in an abusive relationship. There are still days when I’m not sure how I managed to make it out. And the healing will continue for a long time. But having a supportive partner in my husband has helped beyond words.

  • Wise, wise words.*

  • Vee

    Thank you so much for writing this. I know how hard it can be to approach talking about abuse, especially when there are so many people out there who have the limited view of, “Well, why didn’t you just leave?” I met my now-husband about 2 years after leaving a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that I, too, am still trying to resolve. Resolving how I “allowed” this to happen to me, how I will move on, how I still cringe a little bit when a man (even my completely trustworthy husband) raises his voice. It is not easy to reconcile all these feelings, and removing yourself from the situation is the first step, not the last.

  • Anne

    Jamaica– What a beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you and your husband are building a wonderful marriage.

  • Oh, thank you for being brave enough to talk about this. My post on Monday leaves out more than a few similar sounding details about emotional control and self esteem and you talk about it so beautfully here. Such a hard thing, and you’ve done it with so much grace.

    I wish you all the happiness in your life.

  • Thank you Jamaica. It’s amazing to me, 3 years post-divorce, that other people feel like I did in my previous marriage. I remember the night that I tried to leave in much the way you remember giving the ring back. My ex-husband called me a stupid bitch, punch a hole in the door, and talked about how he was so looking forward to having kids with me. I stayed that night but hated myself even more for my weakness.
    It wasn’t until I was reading a pamphlet in a women’s health clinic a few months later, (getting tested for STD’s due to not knowing what he had been doing) that I realized I had been in an abusive relationship. I thought that since he had never hit me that he was just kinda mean. This idea was reinforced when driving with my new boyfriend (my now husband). M missed a turn and, in frustration, raised his voice and yelled “F*ck!” at the dashboard. I completely disintegrated into tears. I was shaking and trembling and sobbing. M pulled over and pulled me in his arms, understanding that I was coping with an enormous amount of pent up fear from all of those years of anger.
    I’m better now, thanks to support from family, friends, and my loving husband, but I still have attacks, much like you. I can’t visit my hometown, or in reality, anywhere within a 50 mile radius of my ex-home, because I’m afraid that he will know where I am and find me. I feel like an escaped prisoner: Once they find where I am hiding, they will take me back to prison.
    Thank you for your powerful words of support that I know will help me, women like you and me, get through those dark moments in the reality of the aftermath of abuse. Thank you.

  • jessie

    There is too much ‘exactly’ in this post for me, so I will just say thank you. It took years of distress and a complete breakdown for me to finalize realize that I needed help to cope with a past that I thought I could just push down and forget about if I never spoke of it to anyone. My partner has stayed with me and supported me, and is a wonderful person, but it’s definitely taken a toll on our relationship. I’m so glad that it seems like you and your partner have been able to be open with each other, so you can get the support you need from him.

    The way you describe the constant looking over your shoulder, and doubting yourself, and feeling like more ‘undeniable’ violence would have helped you name what was happening to you – I am right there with you. The fact that you’ve continued to do such hard work to give yourself the life you deserve is so completely admirable – it’s definitely an inspiration to me, as I work though my own experiences. Thanks so much, and all the best.

  • K

    I think the hardest part is feeling like you’re the one who’s crazy. Not trusting your emotions, your instincts. Whether it’s an abusive partner or abusive parent, suspecting that deep down, you’re too emotional/sensitive/weak undermines everything you do. I’m so grateful for therapy, and for how it has improved my relationship with my current partner, who I was afraid would eventually “realize” I was crazy/over-emotional.

    • Class of 1980

      Even being with someone who constantly “mildly” puts you down is going to take it’s toll. You can never feel comfortable in your own skin.

      I’ve had a couple of boyfriends like that. They aren’t marriage material.

  • “This isn’t an exposé titled ‘All About The Awful Things That Have Happened to Me’; this is about what happened after.”

    This. There are so many reasons that a relationship doesn’t work, but for anyone who has been in a particularly bad/abusive relationship, getting to the point where you can let in good things again (and even, gasp, talk about them) is no small matter. I find myself falling into talking about my former marriage more often than I would like. It’s not that I want to wallow so much as I need to own the bad in face of the good that is there now.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Class of 1980

      That’s what you have to do when you’re still processing it.

  • Mandie

    As the child of an emotionally abusive relationship, I can tell you that it is a hard thing to watch from anyone’s perspective, and it hurts more than just the partner undergoing the abuse (and it can come from either end – my dad is the abusive one in my case but I know of families where it is the mother). It took me a very long time to trust my fiancé because I came from a family like that. I was convinced that he was hiding some vicious side to himself under his extreme gentleness and supportiveness. I could not believe that there was a man out there who wasn’t emotionally abusive.

    All of my three siblings have said that they don’t want to marry because of my parents marriage. The worst part is that my mother is still convinced that she should stick with my father because it’s good for the kids to have two parents (I have two younger siblings who still live at home). She has no idea what it has done to our lives and how much we have a difficult time in life because we are unable to trust people. For me, I had the same long recovery process of someone who had undergone the emotional abuse because I thought that it was normal.

    I’m so proud of everyone who gets out of these situations before they become what my family is, which breaks my heart every time I go home. Thank you so much for this post, and I’m glad you found your happily ever after.

    • Ceebee

      I don’t know if this is even right to put down here.
      I was the abuser. It was not even After I saw an article at the mechanic, not After he left, not After he stuck around to help me through,that I realized I was one. I took therapy a year after and figure that out.

      In my own family, my fear of rejection was so high, we’re an overachieving family, all isolated from one another through pitting that I don’t even realize this is all wrong. Parents are married, under the same roof but never together. It even felt like a sin I was born a girl after thwy’ve tried and waited so long for a boy.

      It was only at my last ex that I felt like a girl and allowed to laugh for real the first time. With other 2 exes, they were abusive emotionally and sexually-I think girls with confused past like me has a blinking sign that calls out to this type. I just stayed out, working more until finally threatening ( I mean it!) to call the police.
      When I got with the last guy, it involved a lot of crying, shaking, and confusion why this guy doesn’t go for the kill. After he left, the other dates that I had were much like the past exes.

      After he left, I had therapy and found I was depressed for FOUR years. FOUR that I was so abusive and perpetuating hurt towards him. A year in I had to move back with family and I got worse. I end up with PTSD that I couldn’t speak up, I couldn’t think, whatever I wanted to say or do that is different from what I got in the crappy life so far, came out the opposite – and came out making more of the crappy life. he was so patient, loving me to bits for 3 years till it got too hard. All my problems seem to come “from him” because he was the only constant in my life that stayed and made sense. Depression just made me incapable of thinking and I was just mirroring my toxic family, toxic friends, toxic workplace.

      Almost a year after he left, I figured it out and working to mend myself. What I learnt is this – I have to take care of myself no matter what, even if there is someone to take care of you. You have to want to be well and strong enough to know you want to be happy. I forgave myself.

      This story does not have a happy ending. After 6 months apart, I saw him again, he was getting married to an abusive person that snooped, infiltrated(her words), manipulated, terrorized him (she terrorized me too). We talked with him shaking so much in doubt of getting into this. With PTSD over my head, and trauma over her attack on me, the cat got my tongue, and now we’re both unhappy married and unhappy guilty and alone. I couldn’t say what he needed to hear to get out.

      Seeing him in the same mess that I was, made me feel so sad, that I am more determined to break the depression and PSTD that nobody needs to suffer more again. Abusers – sometimes they’re sick in the head, sometimes they’re just sick. And it is so important for people to find a happy place with happy people to support them through.

      I wanted to post yesterday but I couldn’t after having a huge meltdown at work. I looked into the mirror and I saw his face back at me, he used to melt the same way too. This was my person as I was his, but illness robbed him of me and took him away from me. The therapy in the past 2 months revealed that OMG!

      • Class of 1980

        Yeah, good point. Women commit emotional and psychological abuse against men as often as men do against women. I was just reading the statistics today. (I once worked at a business owned by a husband and wife and witnessed her unrelenting vicious assassination of his very being. I wanted to tell him to just leave and save himself.)

        You wrote: “What I learnt is this – I have to take care of myself no matter what, even if there is someone to take care of you. You have to want to be well and strong enough to know you want to be happy.”

        This is what I always come back to with abusers. You can feel sorry for them because so many of them came from abusive backgrounds themselves … but at some point, they need to recognize they are doing the same thing and get help.

        Too many of them never get help and this can make any contact with them impossible. Hello Dad. ;)

        Good for you for bucking that trend.

        • Ceebee

          Truth is, I never would have gotten help until I saw what damage I had inflicted on this person I love with all my heart. I didn’t quite get the depression part and the abuse part, although suffering the illness numbs not only my sensation but also senses.

          It was only when I saw him so broken and shaken that I started to get help because I Really wanted to pull him back up but I couldn’t. Instead I was weighing us down. To see the damage I had inflicted to his esteem, that he could no longer see himself worthy of anything better, to numb into an openly abusive marriage right after (and he knows it) and bad career choices, tremendously breaks my heart (now that I found it again) And the pain became my determination not to slide backwards.

          • Class of 1980

            So many abusers see the damage and just deny deny deny.

            At least you did not do that!

  • Class of 1980

    “Having a partner who obviously loves and adores me for me …”

    That’s it in a nutshell. If it isn’t OBVIOUS to you that your partner loves and adores you, you don’t have what you need … a real support system.

  • All I can say is thank you for your honesty & courage in sharing this post. Congratulations to you & Mitchell~

  • Class of 1980

    It’s funny, my psychic told me that I’m going to end up with a man who is mature, but not ever boring. She went on to say that the men in my past were never quite mature. I was taken aback for a second, but it’s completely true. A person can be basically nice, but immature.

    I believe I was just as intelligent when I was young, but just inexperienced with human nature. I had a boyfriend for eight years in my twenties that was very controlling via constant put-downs and reprimands. I didn’t see it at first because his form of control was so much more subtle than my father’s physical and emotional abuse of my mother. I thought I was too smart to be with anyone like my father, and instead I ran into a different form of abuse that I’d never seen.

    I tried to break up with him three times. One time I walked out on him in a restaurant because I was sick of his BS, and told him in the car I’d had enough and wanted out. He always smoothed things over. I have no idea why he wanted to hold onto to me because I don’t think he was in love.

    One thing I know is that hitting my 50’s has made me far more keenly aware of all sorts of warning signs. Eventually, you learn to trust your instincts and this explains why sane older women are not known for suffering fools. We cut off a bad thing before it ever gets anywhere. ;) I’m pretty confident of my powers of judging now.

    I hope you all get there sooner. Ha!

    • meg

      I love when you bring up your psychic. (Shallow response to a deep comment…) ;)

      I read something about being older where a woman said, “Now I see crazy and I just cross the street.” And…. RIGHT? That.

      • Class of 1980

        Maybe you just love that I am UNAFRAID to bring up my psychic.

        (Really, it’s psychicS … plural. And I love them because they read my secret thoughts so frighteningly well.)

        Back to the subject at hand … I began my early forties with a midlife crisis and a series of SPECTACULAR mistakes with men. You don’t even know.

        I think that period of chaos was like a vaccine against future trouble. ;)

        • Class of 1980

          Oh! One more thing … the most important thing.

          In every case where I screwed up and allowed the “crazy” to come in, I downplayed hints and warning signs even though I saw them.

          In most cases, the new man didn’t have the issues the old one did, so he seemed like an improvement. Except he had totally new issues.

          Don’t try to rationalize things you don’t like!

          • Anna

            Yes! This.

            this was a big lesson I learned in therapy after I left my abusive relationship. The warning signs always present themselves early on, but we rationalize them away. In hindsight I saw red flags immediately after we started dating, but focused on other things instead.

            Lesson learned.

            also-psychicS.. fab!

          • Yes yes yes!!!

            There were so many red flags I ignored, now I’m terrified I’ll miss them. When my current relationship got started, I was so afraid of it I asked everyone- my friends, my family, my therapist- repeatedly if they could see something I didn’t. So far, all the flags are green. :)

  • Anon

    This post gives me hope. This post is EXACTLY why I read APW, because it is what I hope will happen for me if I live bravely enough. I also don’t just want to be that person to whom bad things happen. I want to find out what comes next.

    Thank you, many times over, for *your* being brave enough to post this.

  • This was a bigger deal post to me than I expected it would be, from the intro. I wasn’t in an abusive relationship, per se, but several brief encounters in college left me feeling broken. I don’t think I realized until now that I was so ashamed of (rather than sad, scared, hurt from) the experiences. Because, I am such an “in charge” person. I get myself out of things I don’t want to be a part of; I don’t go to events that I don’t want to attend; I say no when someone is hurting me. But for some reason, when it came to sexual interactions, all that power went away. And I was terrified that I wasn’t a good feminist, that I wasn’t a good *woman*, because I couldn’t stand up for myself. Which is where the shame comes in to play.

    I guess all the other comments have helped me realize that all sorts of people undergo abuse, even when they’re powerful, strong, educated, feministy women. I felt alone before, but being surrounded by other women whom I respect SO much, and who have experienced abuse too — makes me feel like I can accept my past and move forward.

    Thanks, Jamaica and Meg, for getting this conversation started.

    • Ceebee

      I really agree with you. You don’t need a bad relationship experience to feel beaten up. Bad encounters do the same. I’m very prudish, and normally keep people at arm’s length, but in college and again in my 30s, I found myself froze up at those incidents. And I bought their “explanations” – you are not opening up, you are not normal, you send me signals, you are a real Betty Boop (this hahaha sounds funny now) to pressure/extort me into giving in a little.

      • Class of 1980

        Well, we go through abuse (at any level) because we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and there are just a lot of messed up people out there who are going to cross your path.

        You don’t have to be looking for it.

        • Ceebee

          Sometimes it’s so hard for me to get that these people may be friends or they may be nice people, so I just couldn’t expect this. But if the devil lurks among us he wouldn’t be red, with a tail and pointy ears; he would be…Nice. accomplished. Beautiful.
          I used to rationalize my choice of people with my head – and a lot of times, for me included, achieving at work, school, just intellectual pride can be a very good shield for emotional deficiency, and at some cases moral breakdowns. After the devastation, I learn to use my gut to suss out people that I get bad feelings around, and my heart to accept and give, and my head to keep an open mind not judge people.

          • Class of 1980

            Just remember that discernment is not the same as judging, and you’ll be fine. Discernment is necessary for survival.

    • Marina

      You are NOT alone. Strong, powerful, educated, feminist, GOOD women are in abusive relationships every day. It’s not because they’re not strong–it’s because someone abused them. Our society blames women for rape and abuse, and it’s so easy to internalize that, to think there’s somehow something wrong with us if we’re victimized or abused. And yes, there are things we can do to protect ourselves. But it is not, it is never, our fault or because we’re bad.

      • YES. This. It’s just that, I’ve always been quick to shout this message out to my friends, my family. I just didn’t let myself go there, and I needed to. This post, these comments, and your comment really help.

    • I felt the same way, and had trouble recognizing the abuse in my own relationship, because that doesn’t happen to women like me. Smart, educated, raised-by-a-single-mother-girl-power-I-am-woman-hear-me-roar women.

      And that refusal to acknowledge it allowed me to slip further and further in, until I was literally looking at my window at my husband and his mistress cuddling on a lawn chair in my backyard, in full knowledge that I was inside, and I was so desperate to regain his attention I tried to hit my head on something hard enough to seriously hurt myself. Fortunately I am a wuss about pain and couldn’t do it. Even worse is I didn’t leave that day. Or the next. Or ever. He left me.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, I need to hear these kinds of stories. Trust, faith, hope all seem like scary things sometimes. It’s hard to go from having abuse in your life (or in your childhood, as mine was) to trusting yourself or others. I so admire the path you’ve walked, and appreciate your decision to share.

    I’m going to be remembering and holding your story close for a long time to come. Thank you!

  • tirzahrene

    Thank you for this.

    I don’t know where to classify my ex-marriage; there was a lot of crap in it and a lot of less-than-crap. I’m still healing from those years and doing everything I can to not be broken (“This guy is not that guy” has become one of my new mantras. LOL).

    I think one of the most fortunate things for me is that I knew good people for the last, roughest years. I left knowing there are good people out there, safe people, people it’s worth taking a risk for again. Even though it’s scary and it takes me a while to decide I’ve tested the waters enough to try jumping in.

  • Carrie

    I realize this post is old but I wanted to say something anyway.

    My first relationship turned emotionally abusive. We were in high school. I was nerdy and unpopular. It was the very first time I’d ever felt like anybody could be romantically attracted to me. And I was trying to figure out a lot of things, like all teenagers. And this guy had so much self-confidence it was crystallizing on his skin. He seemed to have everything figured out. So when I was unsure about something and he was sure, I assumed he must be right. When I didn’t really have an opinion about something, I took on his opinion. When he told me he disapproved of something I liked, I worked to convince myself I was wrong and misguided. When I wanted to try something new — experimenting with makeup or fashion, trying a hobby that wasn’t something I’d done before — I tried to figure out how he’d react, whether he’d approve, before deciding whether to go through with it. And he never hesitated to state his judgments as incontrovertible fact.

    I’ll never forget when I told him I’d been invited to participate in a great summer honors program, and he said such things were elitist and pointless — so the next day I told the program coordinator I wasn’t interested, and walked around with a warm righteous glow that I’d Done The Right Thing, that he’d be happy with me and proud of me. I still regret turning down that opportunity.

    Things didn’t really come to a head until after we’d “broken up” (at his insistence, because he “didn’t believe in romance” but still thought we were soul mates and best friends). I made the mistake of thinking the fact that we’d broken up gave me license to start dating someone else. Cue hours of him berating me over the phone for being stupid, naive, why couldn’t I see that the person I was dating was only going to hurt me? And I talked with him, negotiated with him, tried to defend myself, tried to convince him. Because I still needed his approval of my choices.

    Finally it became clear that we were living in two different realities. The stuff he was saying (like that my new S.O. was a drug addict, was cheating on me, was going to rape me, and that everybody thought the new S.O. was bad for me but was afraid to tell me so) just made no sense with my own observations and experience. He couldn’t offer any evidence when I asked for it. I knew I had to choose either his reality or my own.

    This choice wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I’d spent years believing that he had a superior grasp on reality, and putting aside my own observations, experiences, thoughts, and beliefs in favor of his. I thought then, and for months afterwards, that maybe I was the crazy one after all. Maybe somehow he was right. (For the record, he wasn’t. But it took me a long time to really believe that.)

    But when I broke, I broke in favor of myself.

    During the very early months of my relationship with the man who is now my husband (who is not the person I dated immediately after abusive ex), we were discussing something about which we disagreed — something minor, like a movie I liked and he didn’t. I got really upset about this minor disagreement, and when he gently asked why I was so upset, I told him about my previous relationship and how it felt like I was being told I was wrong to disagree with him. My now-husband said something like “I definitely don’t have all the answers and I’m not right about everything. Even though I don’t like the movie, your reasons for liking it make sense. I don’t think you’re wrong to like it.”

    It was such a revelation to me. I could disagree with him without getting a lecture on why I was wrong and stupid. I could try something new without having to worry about how he’d react or whether he’d approve.

    In fact, then and now, whenever either of us wants to try something new and different? The other one explicitly says “Go for it. What can I do to help?”

    It definitely took me a while to fully trust him. And there have been times when I’ve caught myself tying myself in knots and walking on eggshells to avoid disagreement — and then I realize I don’t have to. It’s safe for me to say “I know you think X, but I think Y. Here are my reasons.”

    A few months before our wedding, I had one of those wedding nightmares: waiting for the ceremony to begin, but no one could find my dad. For some reason this meant the wedding had to be called off. So I went to find my fiancé and leave. We would just go to the courthouse and get married that way. When I found him, he said “This is better. I don’t believe in weddings anyway.” I looked up at him — and he wasn’t my fiancé at all, but my abusive ex. I woke myself up shouting “But I don’t want to marry YOU!”

    And then I realized I wasn’t marrying him. I was marrying someone who loves, respects, and trusts me. Even when we disagree, about weddings or anything else, he treats me like an equally rational and sane human being who is worth listening to. I can be truly myself with him.

    I’m safe with him at that basic, fundamental, necessary level. I’ve been with him for eleven years and married to him for a year and a half, and sometimes that feeling of safety is still a revelation.

    • Samantha

      I tried to figure out how he’d react, whether he’d approve, before deciding whether to go through with it. And he never hesitated to state his judgments as incontrovertible fact.

      God, this is familiar. Reading your post, I am so, so, so happy I broke up with my first boyfriend.

  • Kathryn

    Thank you SO much for this post. I read it and felt immediately renewed like I had the power within myself to move forward as well. I was in an abusive relationship throughout high school and all of college with the same life-draining person. We dated on and off for five years, and there was always a promise that he would marry me, so that made me think “Ok, I guess I have to work through this”. I wish I could travel back in time and slap myself silly for ever accepting that it was OK to waste so much time and energy on that horrible relationship. When I see other young women allowing themselves to be abused, I fill with anger and sympathy…and I will them to find some sort of strength to see how worthwhile they are.

    I am in a wonderful relationship with a very committed man. The difference is night and day….he encuorages me and supports my thoughts and endeavors. I am so grateful for him because I appreciate all he is…and all he is not.