Theme: The End.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, unable to sleep, I switched on my phone and read my Facebook feed. Usually I’m tucked away in dreamland, but in the still of a 4am twilight where few songbirds had begun their gentle melody, I clicked on a Huffington Post article. The title drew me in, ‘I Didn’t Know I Was In An Abusive Relationship…’ the rest read, ‘Because My Boyfriend Never Hit Me’.
I can relate to this article in so many ways. My early 20s were spent with an emotionally and mentally abusive and controlling person. I have always felt like a strong person, which is why I believed back then that I could survive the bad times for the sake of the good times and the possibility of better times with no more angry outbursts and hurtful shouting at me. Because I stood up for myself and argued back, reasoned, tried to love more, please more, I believed I could heal this man. But friends, nobody can heal anybody but themselves. Nobody can account for anybody but themselves. And nobody should put up with any form of abuse, even if the abuser is a broken, hurt, formally abused person themselves. Your love and pity won’t change them. Trust me. I deeply regret not ending things sooner. But I’m so happy I ended this relationship.
It takes a courageous friend to tell their friend their boyfriend is a twat, and thank you to my mate Tim for being the one to do it. It’s also tricky, as often abusive partners can be incredibly charming to others around you. My Mum and some relatives still think well of my ex, because I hid from her and everyone what he was really like to me when doors were closed. Like I said, I stood up for myself and in my strongest of times, he would know it and his tears would arrive, begging me not to leave.
I never told anyone the true extent of things due to pride, embarrassment, and denial. I was convinced I was destined to fall for men like him. Luckily, I managed to piece together that I had fallen for this man for his good side, for how nice he could be when he wanted to, and his heart when it wasn’t consumed with anger. But I often confused stuff and listened to people who would say it takes two, and to him when he blamed me for starting the fights or being the problem.
It wasn’t until he demanded space and subsequently moved out, forcing me to leave our flat and find somewhere else to live, that I started to gain some perspective. I found I was much happier alone. I felt freer than I had since we met, when I was 19 years old. And crucially, I was able to analyse our arguments, becoming an ethnographer of my own relationship, watching our dynamics unfold.
But having space didn’t subside his angry outbursts and I didn’t know what this man wanted from me. I would say to him, ‘please, just dump me or treat me better’, but he wouldn’t do either. Then came one particular fight where he unleashed a sea of venom onto me after having a really nice day at my Mother’s house. I sat still. I had no words to fight back with. My Mum had said he’d make the perfect son-in-law and that’s when I knew I had to end it.
I realised he could actually control his ways when in front of others and suddenly the tears about me leaving him meant nothing, his sorrowful words of regret meant nothing, because I knew he was in control. If he lashed out at everyone then I could have understood better, but a veil left my eyes when he was sweet as pie to me and Mum and then as soon as we got back to mine, picked a massive fight with me over absolutely nothing. I sat there silent and let him roar at me, thinking quietly over and over, I have to leave this man. If he can be charming to others, why not me? And so I made a promise to myself that if things didn’t change by this day next year, (a whole year!), I would certainly leave him. That decision meant it was already over. I was mentally checking out and was free within three months.
Never stay in an abusive, controlling, jealous relationship.
And if you have a friend you suspect is being abused, tell them what you are seeing because sometimes we think we are in this bubble and nobody knows what’s happening except us. It may risk you losing your friendship but believe me, you’ll plant a seed in them that others can see the negativity and the abuse doesn’t just exist in their own head. I’m lucky, I always saw it as his problem, not mine, until he ground me down to the point where I stopped defending myself and became mute. That’s when I got frightened. Muted and depressed wasn’t me. Don’t let it be you. Get out.
Please feel free to share. I have never openly spoken about this but it’s been so long, I’m over it.
The article says, ‘I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship’, yes, but I did suspect it and closed my eyes hoping the next day I would wake up to it being healthy. Well it is healthy now, because I wake up next to someone else. And he treats me better than I could have ever hoped for. If that isn’t reward enough for choosing me and getting out, I don’t know what is.
The trick is to keep loving yourself, heal yourself, don’t self-harm or blame yourself for simply loving the wrong person. Then reward yourself for being free. I booked a holiday and fell in love with my friends.
Oh and lastly, don’t be bitter towards them. I stayed with this guy for nearly five years. They should have been some of my best years. But the way I see it, I had a Great Aunt nearing 90 and I said to myself, those four and a half years won’t taint the rest. It’s hard not to blame all men or think other men will do the same, but I left the baggage with him, focused on what I wanted for the future and daydreamed about that instead, and had a lot of fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I was very angry at first, but that subsided. There are things I still won’t forget he did to me; with time comes a real clarity. And I certainly don’t speak to him. No friendship can come from that, in my view. I’m an amazing friend and I set the bar high. But I wish him well and I still sometimes pray he treats his current partner better. The only thing worse than still being in the relationship is thinking someone else is suffering that wrath. I really hope he’s changed.
Please visit Women’s Aid to get support in leaving an abusive relationship.
The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men and boys to end male violence against women and girls.
Original Huffington Post article published on 9th May, 2015.