By Amy C.
#Fearless Family Writer
Three years ago today, I was in hell.
I’d been in a relationship for almost four and a half years, and three and a half of them had been emotionally abusive. I didn’t realise that I had been abused until it was over; sometimes we are too close to ourselves to see what we have become. I had become a grey, drab, genderless thing, constantly unwell and tired and run-down, and trying to weakly shuffle through each day as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
I was a nervous wreck, constantly hyper-vigilant, and hyper-aware that everything I said, everything I did, and sometimes literally every move I made, would be sneered at and ridiculed by the person who would then turn around and say he loved me. I was 29 years old and going to bed at 7:30 p.m. every night through sheer emotional exhaustion, and a desire to avoid my abuser’s notice. He made it clear he was happier when I was not around, anyway, and I was desperately unhappy and completely demoralised.
I won’t catalogue all of the abuse, as it would take up too much of this article, and it’s not the point of it (and he doesn’t get any of my time or energy anymore); but to give a brief snapshot of what I mean when I say, ‘emotional abuse’: he berated and humiliated me repeatedly for the way I washed up his spoons; he told me in excruciating detail what he found attractive in other women, and yelled at me when I protested; and he threatened to report me to the RSPCA for animal cruelty because I obeyed my vet’s edict to keep my kitten indoors until she was spayed (a creature he would call obscene names and repeatedly threaten to kick. I gave her to my parents out of concern for her safety).
I remain annoyed with myself that it took the discovery that he was cyber-cheating on me before I finally left him.
Three years on from that time – i.e., today – I know what real love looks like. I am engaged to a wonderful man who craves my company, and puts me first in the same way that I put him first. We’ve been together for two and a half years, and not once has he ever treated me with anything except love and respect. We make each other happy, and have a healthy relationship based on mutual adoration, trust, and a shared love of puns. We cheer each other on with successes on the Boggle app, and have more shared jokes than you can shake a stick at (and at this point, I’ll give him a little message: MUSHROOM, darling!). We don’t just love each other; we like each other.
And he doesn’t make me feel frightened, useless, stupid, or unwanted.
If you had told me three years ago that this is what 2017 would look like for me, I wouldn’t have been able to summon up a laugh for you, and I absolutely would not have believed you. Being treated with basic respect and common decency seemed an unrealistic dream to me; happiness was for other people.
But here I am. Here we are. Together, and solid.
I won’t lie: it hasn’t been easy. We only met 5 months after I left my abuser, and I was battle scarred and wary. And boy, did I make him work for it. But this man stood at my side, grabbed a sword, and fought my demons with me. When I disagreed with something he said for the first time, he held me as I cried and trembled in fear, reassuring me that he didn’t think I was stupid and wasn’t going to shout at me for daring to challenge his opinion.
When I suddenly froze after we laughed together one time and told him I wanted to run away from him because the happiness was too scary, he sat me down and held my hand and patiently talked me through the wobble (telling me months later how scared he had been in that moment that I would leave him). And, before we moved away together, I sat him down and gave him a list of my fears about being in a relationship based on my previous abuse, and he sat down, read it, and addressed each of them in turn, with patience, logic, and sympathy.
So, that’s what he did. What did I do, though? Because recovering enough to be in a relationship again was ultimately on me. How did I manage to love again after emotional abuse?
Well, for starters, I lucked out when a simple twist of fate threw me into the path of a really fantastic person (ours was a case of ‘right place, exactly the right time, 30 seconds later we might have missed each other’). So in all honesty, good fortune did play a part.
But there’s way more to it than dumb luck. It would have been simple enough to not text him back when he pursued me, not agree to have lunch with him, say ‘no’ when he asked me to be his girlfriend…but somehow, I just couldn’t do that. I found someone who made every cell in my body breathe a sigh of relief the moment he walked into the room. And, in spite of the fact that he turned up at a time when I was content being alone while I recovered, I couldn’t walk away from that. I just knew he was a completely different person.
It takes bravery, and ironically, a willingness to walk away if the alarm bells start ringing. But it also takes the guts to know the difference between a genuine concern (such as humiliating you in front of other people, or, y’know, AT ALL) and a fear based wobble. It’s important to become comfortable with the difference between keeping your eyes open and not accepting anything less than respect, and punishing your new love for someone else’s mistakes.
But recovery also takes plenty of honesty. Communicate exactly what your fears are, and exactly why they are an issue. The right person will listen, and respect it, and, as I said before, suit up and fight the monsters with you. The right person wants to help, and wants you to feel good and happy and secure, not frightened and alone.
I still wobble sometimes, and I still need reassurance now and again. The after effects of emotional abuse are long reaching, and they still tap me on the shoulder now and again. But, two and a half years on, he still listens, still fights with me without making me feel guilty for it, and still loves me regardless. And they only happen now and again, because the emotional security my fiancé gives me makes me feel safe and strong.
Most importantly, you need to fall in love…with yourself. That’s first and foremost, before you can truly give your love to anyone else. Your abuser will have doubtless made you feel unlovable, and that you are ‘lucky’ to have them, ‘fortunate’ that they put up with you.
This, coming from someone who can only feel happy and in control and able to retain a relationship by emotionally terrorising another person. Quelle irony.
Your abuser’s opinion doesn’t count, and never did. Once you realise this core truth, really feel it in your bones – and you will, one day – it all becomes much simpler in your heart. I was fortunate in that I realised after it was over that I’d fallen out of love with my abuser long before we broke up, as I believe is quite common. For those of you who still love your abuser, take comfort; it is well nigh impossible for someone to keep loving – not obsessing over, but loving – someone who doesn’t love them in return. Eventually, it withers and fades.
And, as the wise old saying goes, sometimes it is more important to forget about what you want and remember what you deserve. You may tell yourself you want to stay with your abuser because you love them, but don’t forget about your other wants: respect, not living in fear and misery, being valued and liked and adored. They’re way more important than your partner.
Reading some books really helped me to get this, notably It’s Called a Break-up Because It’s Broken by Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt and Greg Behrendt (of He’s Just Not That Into You fame). That book reminded me, in a funny, relatable, and realistic way (they husband an wife duo share real stories from their past with fearless honesty) that I was a good person who deserved to be treated well, and was entitled to happiness and respect, and that just because one person didn’t provide that didn’t mean that it didn’t exist.
Now, repeat after me, until you accept these truths:
I will not give up.
I am inherently deserving of love, safety, and happiness.
I am worthy of everything good.
I will win.
Thank you to Amy for sharing this powerful and moving story!
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