Being in an emotionally abusive relationship didn’t happen overnight.
He didn’t call me a bitch on the first date.
He didn’t tell me that he wished I wasn’t here, after one month.
No, you see, it happened progressively, over time. And before I knew it, the new “normal” was what the rest of the world saw as emotionally abusive.
“You’re just another single mom.”
“You’ll never make it without me.”
It’s easy to be on the outside and judge someone for staying. But you don’t see what we see. You don’t remember what we remember. It’s the metaphorical rose-colored glasses that we wear, that keeps us clinging to what we had not that long ago.
The beginning was so good. And it wasn’t just the first week or the first month. It was the first six months. Long enough for me to be “in love” with the person he pretended to be. Long enough that everyone around me thought he was “the one.” Long enough to see a future with him. Long enough to really “know” him.
It was the first time that I had found a “good” guy. I had finally faced myself in the mirror and owned up to my part in my poor selection of boyfriends in the past, and as a still-naive 23-year-old, I was determined to go down a different path.
So I vetted him. He had his own house, a truck, a car, a boat. He had a good job. No kids. He was a gentleman. He paid for everything. He took me on trips to the mountains all the time. He made his feelings for me known, and he didn’t play games with me. He didn’t have a record, or a shady past. He seemed to be the one who was just always passed up.
But he had a secret that he kept from me, and it was intentional and deceptive and manipulative. I thought nothing of his beer order at lunch, or his 12-pack on the weekend. It never got out of hand, and I thought a hard-working man deserved to take it easy. He described his ex-girlfriends and ex-fiancé as being prudes who didn’t agree with drinking at all.
“Their loss,” I thought.
And before I knew it, it began, and I was in the middle of this storm that was out of my control. The highs were high, and the lows were so low.
“You think that I’m just saying this because I’m drunk, but I’m not.”
I laughed the first time he got drunk and passed out in his clothes and boots. I thought about how I’d make fun of him the next day for getting carried away. But after three weekends in a row, of a stumbling and increasingly angry drunk man, passing out at 6 p.m., I got angry.
I didn’t argue with him — I just grabbed my things and went home. And y’all, he was so sorry the next day. I could hear the shame in his voice when he called me to ask what he had done. He meant it when he said that he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again.
And it didn’t happen again. Not for a while.
But then his promise to quit drinking altogether, turned into a beer or two here and there. And when I didn’t protest that — because I didn’t want to nag — it turned into a case. And before I knew it, we were back to square one, but now he wasn’t sorry anymore.
He had already apologized. Admitted that he “maybe” couldn’t handle his alcohol. He had already made me a promise. And by breaking that promise, he was no longer sorry. And he didn’t even pretend to be.
He offered to help me with an event one time. So I asked him to help me pack up my booth at a festival. And when he got there, he was so agitated that I had interrupted his precious drinking time. You see, his routine was to stay home all day, all weekend long, and drink from sun up to sun down. By staying home, he avoided DUIs. He avoided confrontation. He avoided facing his problem. And my presence drew a wedge into all of that. And that made him mad.
He was rude to my friends, rude to my family. He would get angry for simply suggesting we go out to do something or even cook dinner because he wasn’t hungry when he was drunk — even though he hadn’t eaten all day. And he didn’t buy groceries, he bought beer.
He yelled at me in my front yard, the day I accepted his help at the festival. I’m sure my neighbors heard.
What did I do wrong? He had offered his help, and I had accepted and then he was mad.
He was fighting a battle between who he wanted to be and who he really was, and I became the mirror that he didn’t want to see. But it took a while for me to realize that. In the moment, I felt like I was crazy. How can someone be so angry with you when you’ve done nothing wrong? I must’ve done something. How do I fix this? I don’t want to throw away the last year.
And when I finally left, he threw his hardest blows.
“You’re nothing but a whore.”
“Nobody will want you.”
I realized at the end that he was suffering from mental illness. He had to be. The things that he said simply weren’t true.
“How will you survive without me?”
I had my own house and business, and he didn’t pay any of my bills. In fact, he had been borrowing money from me (along with pawning his possessions). He always paid me back, but then would have to borrow again the next week.
He found my profile on a dating site a couple months later and sent me nasty messages. Messages that I won’t repeat in their full context.
“It’s only been 2 months and you’re already dragging the bottom for some…”
And when I blocked his number and his messages, he didn’t stop. He was determined to make his feelings known to me. He sent me the same message to my personal email and my work email.
His messages would start out one way, either nice or mean, and when I didn’t respond, he flipped them around. So he would start off:
“I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve to be treated like that.”
“Only a bitch would completely ignore me. I’ve been in the hospital, but you don’t give a shit. You only care about yourself.”
We had been broken up for two months.
I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person. A woman who doesn’t tolerate anyone’s crap. So how did I get sucked into a situation that I used to judge myself? All I can say is that it was a slippery slope. It happened slowly but quickly at the same time. I lost my best friend in the midst of this toxic relationship. I lost a lot of time, wasting it on “fixing” him. I’m sure I lost a lot of respect while I tried to get back to the beginning.
What did I gain? Well, I’m still working on that. I gained an understanding that I didn’t have before. I gained a greater appreciation for my husband who treats me like I deserve to be treated. But I also gained some scars.
The first fight I had with my husband when we were dating, I kept waiting for him to start with the name-calling and bashing, but he didn’t. It was only then that I realized how toxic my previous relationship was — that I had expected unhealthy responses to conflict and that I was dumbfounded when it didn’t happen. When my now-husband said to me, “We’re going to talk this out and fix this” instead of “Fuck you,” I realized just how much damage my ex had done.
It’s embarrassing to write this. To admit my own stupidity for the world to see. But if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. I didn’t have “daddy issues.” There was no logic behind my staying in that relationship, other than a strong desire to simply be “done” dating. I just wanted my happily ever after. I was tired of playing games.
So if you find yourself rolling your eyes at someone in an unhealthy relationship, I hope this gives you some perspective.
She doesn’t see what you see.
Not right now.
But one day, she will.