Free from fear
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so itís fitting that it marks a major milestone for me. In October 2013 ó eight years and a lifetime ago ó†I broke free from an abusive relationship.
We were together nearly four years. The abuse started from the beginning, but I couldnít see it until we mutually ended things.
Yes, the break-up was mutual. A lot of people donít think you can have a mutual break-up in an abusive relationship. My ex was controlling and possessive, but when he moved a few hours away for graduate school, he couldnít be so closely controlling anymore. We officially cited long distance for our split, the same worn-out tale of all long-distance daters.
But just a few weeks after the split, the real reason became clear. My ex insisted on maintaining contact. He said he wanted to be friends, even though we were never friends and shared little in common. I took his calls for a while. When I started seeing someone new, I didnít mention it out of kindness.
He knew. Or, rather, he accused me of seeing every person I spent time around until he got one right. Once he saw me moving on, he didnít try to win me back. He was much more insidious. Heíd call me to tell me that he snuggled with a woman at a party, and ďit was nice to fit [his] arms all the way around her.Ē
He texted on every holiday asking how my family was doing, as if they were close. They werenít. He just wanted to pretend, to make me pretend, that we had something worth missing. He tried and tried, but I didnít miss him.
I didnít miss checking in when I went to the movies or painstakingly putting together an outfit heíd passive aggressively insult no matter what. I didnít miss being shoved on the concrete, barricaded in rooms or stuck under the stairs in the science building because heíd never look for me there. He couldnít paint the picture differently ó†I knew what it looked like. I had known for years, deep down, that something was wrong with that picture.
Once he started dating again, he said his new girlfriend wasnít like me. She was very go-with-the-flow, he said. She didnít mind dating someone who wanted to be a teacher, he said. (Today I, the wife of a middle school social studies teacher, can see how ridiculous this was.) In so many ways, except for directly, he said heíd found someone better than me.
Thatís the thing about abusive people ó they are rarely direct in their cruelty, especially in the beginning. Most of the time, they push buttons to trigger trauma, then eat popcorn and watch their victim spiral. I spiraled so many times. I began to think my default mode was spiraling. He said I was crazy and he would take care of me. He didnít seem to be pulling any strings. I was convinced it was my fault.
So when he said I was worthless, disgusting and stupid, I believed him. When he said no one loved me, I believed him. When he said it was my fault he had credit card debt and couldnít keep his house clean, I believed him. I still bought into it the first few months after our break-up, but it didnít last too long.
Thatís when the hard truth set in, when I had to accept what happened to me. With an abundance of time and even more help from the wonderful folks at The Purple Flower, I stopped blaming myself and chose to own my experience. I told the truth and more than a few people stopped talking to me. Iím not going to lie ó that part hurt.
But if I learned anything from my experience, itís that we write our story. My ex had spent years writing the story for me. This month, I celebrate eight years of writing my story, a story of a woman who knows her worth and chooses every day to live free from fear.