I can’t break up with him. If I did, he would kill himself, or me, or both of us…..If I tell people what is really going on, they will think I am weak for letting this happen to me….. I’m so stuck. Things are never going to be ok again!….. I have to see him every day at school. As bad as things are, if I stop talking to him, he will go crazy, and then things will just get even worse…… I don’t know what to do! How do I get my life back?
These are all things I thought when I was in high school. I felt isolated and alone, and I thought that my life, as I had always known it, was over. As hard as it is to acknowledge the fact that you are in an abusive relationship and make a decision to get out, getting away from your abuser and getting your life back is even harder.
Impossible to Leave
When I think back to the seventeen year old girl I was, lying on the floor of my closet and wondering what I was supposed to do now, the only thought that comes to my mind is that getting out of that situation was impossible. I was helpless. Not for lack of trying, but no matter how hard I tried I was still stuck. No matter what I did, I felt like there was no way for me to change things or to get my life back.
Even now that I am safe. Now that I no longer have contact with my ex (let’s call him, Dave). Now that I live on the other side of the world as him and he does not know my phone number or address and there is no chance I will run into him in my daily life. Even now that I am out of the situation, I still understand the panic I felt during the worst moments and looking back, I still wonder how I survived.
For those of you who find yourself in an abusive relationship, I want you to know that I understand how trapped you feel. Unfortunately, people will ask (as they have asked me over the years) why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off and leave you alone? Why didn’t you just stop talking to him? Why did you let yourself get stuck in something like this? What they don’t understand if they have never been in a similar situation themselves is that 1. I’ve wondered the same thing for years and 2. the bottom line is that it’s just not that easy.
When dealing with an abuser, it’s like you are playing a game in which the other person has no rules and does not follow directions. There’s no way to win; just when you feel like you are making progress, the rules change again. You could be one space away from the end, thinking you are ahead and about to finish the game, and then the other person will simply reach over, pick up your piece and put it back on the starting spot. When you ask why they did that, or say that it’s not fair, they will respond by shrugging and telling you that it was your fault.
It is not a fight you can win. Believe me, I tried. I tried for months to fight for myself. I tried to stand my ground. I even tried ending the relationship and moving on. None of it worked. And more importantly, Dave was a master at turning everything around so that it was somehow my fault. Even when things were black and white, he would find a gray area and then flip everything back on to me. Over time, it wears you down. It makes you feel like you are going crazy. Worst of all, you feel like something you have done or are doing is causing things to be the way they are.
Excuses I Used to Make:
- If things could just go back to the way they were, if we could just find a way back to how it was in the beginning, then everything will be ok.
- We had the perfect relationship. Some people don’t find love like we had in their entire lives…how can I let that go? This is me and Dave that I’m talking about, we’re the perfect couple. How can I ever let go of that?
- I can’t give up on him. I promised him that I would never give up on him.
- I’m the only person that he can depend on. His family life is terrible. His life is so hard and I am the only good thing in his life. If I leave I will destroy him.
- How can I be responsible for ruining his life? He is going to hate me forever. If he kills himself, it will be all my fault. If something happened to him I could never forgive myself. Not in a million years.
- He’s just going through a rough time right now. He’s apologized and he promises that it won’t happen again. If I messed up, I would hope to God that he would forgive me and give me another chance…so I have to give him another chance, right?
- No one will ever love me as much as he loves me. He loves me so much that it makes him crazy.
- If I could just learn to be better, or to be what he wants and needs, then it would go back to being good again.
- There is something seriously wrong with me. I am crazy.
- How could I be on my own? I have no friends. Who would I hang out with? Who would I talk to at school? Who would I spend time with on weekends? I have no one else.
- He’s stuck with me through some of the worst time.
- There’s nothing I can do. I’m stuck. It’s impossible. There’s nothing I can do. Nothing works. I’m never going to get out of this. I’ve tried everything. I wish I could just disappear.
The only way to win is to stop playing the game. As long as you stay in the relationship, you will lose. There might be times when things will get better for a while. After several months of abuse, Dave swore he would change, and he did…for a while. He spent over a month on his best behavior. It seemed like things between us might go back to normal again and everything would be fine. No matter how much it seemed like our relationship was the way it had been in the beginning, I couldn’t get rid of the uneasy feeling inside me. I knew deep down that things would never be the same, but I wanted to believe in Dave. I wanted what we had back so badly that I would have done almost anything.
Eventually, Dave began to change again. The cycle started again. The cycle always started again, no matter how much he swore he had changed or that things would be better.
To stop playing the game meant not only to stop dating Dave, but to stop playing entirely. Even after the relationship ended, I still found myself in a bad situation. Dave stalked me, threatened me, followed me, spied on me, and tried everything in his power to keep me tangled up with him. I had thought that if I got out of the relationship then everything would be better. Instead, everything got even worse.
Using Available Help
I had to let other people help me through this part. I wanted to do everything on my own. At this age, especially, I wanted to handle it myself. I didn’t want other people to get involved. I didn’t want anyone to even know what I was going through. The last people on Earth I wanted help from my parents. I hated my mom for trying to get involved and ask questions. Dave played this up, making me feel incredibly stupid every time my parents got involved.
I’m not sure if I would have been able to survive without my parents though. I remember screaming at my mom to mind her own business and leave me alone, but when she stepped in and told Dave that he was not allowed to talk to me anymore, my anger was lined with incredible relief and gratitude. As frustrating as parents can be, they usually have our best interest in mind, and if nothing else, they can be a person to use to help shift the blame. Dave listened a little bit more if I told him that my parents wouldn’t let me do something than if I just told him I didn’t want to. As hard as it is, you have to let people in. Let people help you. You don’t have to do this alone.
My mother also forced me to go to therapy, something that made me hate her at the time, but I love her for it today. Talking to a person outside of the situation, especially a trained professional, helped me tremendously to realize that what I was going through was not only wrong, but it was not my fault. My therapist also helped me to understand what abuse was and how to identify an abusive relationship. She helped with ways to deal with Dave and to get help I needed and to protect myself. I was afraid to go to therapy and I did not want to go, but it helped so so so much.
The abuser gains power when you are quiet. I felt like I had no voice. I felt like I did not have a right to talk or to do anything. I was so ashamed of myself that I can remember times when I heard myself talking and I cringed at the sound of my own voice, wondering why anyone would ever listen to me or care about what I had to say.Before every time I have let someone in or told someone what was happening, or had happened, to me, I was terrified. Terrified they wouldn’t believe me or they would think I was crazy. Terrified of getting Dave in trouble. Terrified that he would come after me. Terrified of a hundred different things. But afterwards, I would get some of my power back. I would find a small sense of relief.
I Deserve Better
One of the things that was important for me to remember was that as bad as things were at the time, they didn’t have to be that way forever. Trust me, if felt like they were going to be this way for the rest of my life, but I forced myself to picture a time in my life when it was different. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, but I knew that I wanted to marry someone who treated me well. I wanted to meet someone and fall in love and feel good about myself. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to have kids with a man who would be a wonderful father and husband. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to love myself. I wanted to be a successful athlete and an honors student and eventually have a successful career. I wanted to be with someone who loved and supported everything I did.
I kept picturing the long-term life I wanted while at the same time breaking the present into manageable times. I wasn’t sure how I would survive until graduation, but I could survive until lunch. I could survive the rest of my classes until it was time for practice. I was safe at practice and I knew my mom would pick me up afterwards. Then, I would survive dinner. When dinner was over, I just had to get through my homework. when my homework was finished, I just had to get in bed. Nighttime was often the hardest. I found it almost impossible to fall asleep at night, and when I did, I had horrible nightmares. All I could do was to tell myself that I just had to survive until morning. I just had to make it until the morning and everything would be ok. When I made it to the morning, then I started the process over.
The same was true for the dealing with Dave. I couldn’t think about the fact that I would never be with him again, or that I could never talk to him again. I still felt a panic when I thought that I would have to spend the rest of my life without him. It was too hard for me to handle. Instead, I just couldn’t talk to him during class. I had to find a way to talk to other people at lunch, instead of him. If I took my books for all of my afternoon classes with me after lunch, then I didn’t have to worry about running into him at my locker between classes. If I went to the locker room early for practice, I could avoid seeing him in the hallway at the end of the day. If he texted me, I just had to wait ten minutes before texting him back. If I made it ten minutes, I could make it ten more. I could make it an hour. I could make it the rest of the night.
Trust me, by no means was I able to stop talking to him completely from once specific moment on. There were so many times that I thought I was making no progress, but one day I would look back and realize that things were a little bit better than they had been a month ago. At least I wasn’t still dating him. At least he wasn’t still coming over to my house all the time. If I could just keep moving forward, despite each setback, I had to believe deep down that someday it would be better.
My Life Now
Like I said before, when I look back now I’m still not sure how I got out of such an abusive situation and how I survived. I want you to know that it is possible. As impossible as it seems, things can change. You can have a happy life again. You can have another relationship; a healthy and loving relationship. You DESERVE a healthy and loving relationship. You deserve it! You might feel like you don’t, but even when you hear that voice in your head tell you that you don’t deserve anything, hold on to the voice that tells you that you do. Hold on to the image of what you want in the end. Hold on to a better future.
Today, I do not see Dave or hear from him. Every once in a while I get messages from him in some form or another, telling me how proud he is of me or how I am such an inspiration to him and he will always love me. Sometimes he asks me if I will really never talk to him again, or if I’m really better off without him. I can honestly say that when I hear from him or think about him I NEVER doubt that I made the right decision. I know that I could have stuck it out and tried to save him. I could still be trying to save him to this day, but I would have lost so much. I would have lost years of my life that I would never have gotten back. I might have even lost my life completely.
I still have to deal with the effects of the abuse, and at times this in itself feels like a life sentence. I might not be completely healed yet. I can’t let myself think how many years it might take for me to fully recover, but I hold on to the image of myself as no longer being a victim. I hold on to the image of a life in which I do not have to deal with nightmares and negative feelings and shame, and for the time being, I break things down to steps of recovery. If I can’t make an entire group of new friends, I can at least say hi to one stranger today. If I am not ready to tell the entire world what happened to me, at least I can confide in one person. At least I can write a little bit more about it so that maybe it will help someone else. I can’t fight away the depression all at once, but I can laugh at a funny movie, I can smile, and I can decide to be happy. And I can keep holding on to faith and keep living, one moment at a time.