I keep telling myself that I am not weak. I keep telling myself that I am not stupid. That I was a victim, and that I am now a survivor of abuse. That I was a victim of abuse is a very hard thing for me to admit to and to talk about. Why? Why should it be? I was not at fault. I was not the abuser. Yet I am the one who feels shame. I am the one who feels embarrassed and broken and damaged. I should not have to feel that. My experience is not uncommon. Many survivors do not talk about their abuse, so my experience is something I am sure many survivors and those still in abusive relationships will understand. How did I get to this point? How did it happen?
At the beginning of the relationship there was an idealisation phase. I was put on a pedestal. I was treated as if I was the centre of his world. Bombarded with attention, text messages, cards sent in the mail, flowers and flattery. I was told I was the most important person in his life. The most incredible woman he had ever met. That he would protect me with his life. He insisted on messages first thing in the morning and last thing at night when we were not together, and he wanted more and more of my time and attention. This I have learned is a common pattern with a narcissist – it is called “lovebombing”. It certainly worked on me. I believed him. I wanted to spend more and more time with him. It felt pretty good to be treated as someone special. I believed he was an adoring and loving partner. That we would, as he said over and over again, spend the rest of our lives together. The controlling aspect was there too. He wanted to know where I was at all times. If I did not share this information, or if he felt like he was being left out of the decision making on how I spent my time, he would question my commitment and be critical of me as a partner. He was in his eyes being the “ideal” partner and I needed to match that standard. I wanted to please him and that made it easy for him to manipulate me. At the time, I did not recognise the danger in the controlling aspect – I was blinded by the other things.
This “lovebombing” phase did not last. The pedestal I was put on disappeared – I was moved from that lofty place to one of constant uncertainty and insecurity – he would change suddenly from the adoring partner, to someone who would be overly critical and judgemental. Someone who would call me names. Who would be dismissive of my feelings. I was criticised for failing to meet his constantly shifting standards. Nothing I did was ever enough. It seemed like everything I said and did was wrong. He wanted more and more control. When we went out he wanted me to wear certain things – to “show me off”. He bought me dresses he wanted to see me in. If I failed to do something he expected, that I may not even have known was expected, I was criticised. I was ungrateful. Going out became a nightmare. Just before we left was a favourite time for him to be overly critical. The night could be going well and then one tiny thing could make him go off and have him accuse me of spoiling or sabotaging the entire night. That would be the hard part. I had become so focused on doing everything he wanted me to do and then one small and seemingly insignificant thing would anger him and the entire night, in his mind, was ruined – by me. One night we were going out to dinner with another woman and when we were on our way in his car I was called a “weak cunt” – that came about after I chose to wear a different dress than the one he had expected me to wear. I did not have shoes to go with the dress he had assumed I would wear. It was that simple. I was a “weak cunt” for not following his instructions. Instructions I could not recall. The words were harsh enough, the venom and anger in the delivery was something I had never encountered. It was as if he hated, rather than loved me. That night was also the first time I saw a hint of his rage and physical violence. He did not hit me – it was the roof of the car he punched as he yelled at me – but the look in his eyes, the red face and the absolute anger, they were something I would see more often later in our relationship when it did turn to physical violence.
During this time there were still intermittent phases of idealisation which had me believing that it was in fact my fault – that if I could meet his standards then those times when I was treated badly would cease and the adoring partner would be the only one I would see. He would apologise, but in his apology there was the “sorry” followed by a long list of criticisms – of everything I had done wrong or how I had been insensitive to his needs, insensitive to his feelings. Of all the things that I could do better. He also made grand promises and grand gestures. Falling to his knees crying, swearing on his life, swearing that he would never hurt me. This grandiosity always came straight after incidents where he had lost control. Unless you have lived in that constant rollercoaster of uncertainty – going from adored to worthless – I am not sure you will understand what it does to your peace of mind and to your confidence and self esteem. I went from a confident woman who loved being around people to a nervous wreck who was often overcome by anxiety. One who did not want to go out and who struggled to simply function and exist. I became a shadow of myself. No energy. No will to do anything. I suffered from constant migraines and anxiety attacks. The simplest of things could reduce me to tears. The emotional and mental abuse got worse. A constant eroding of self. He would accuse me of being too sensitive, of taking what he said the wrong way. It was my communication skills that were lacking. It was me that needed to improve. He was doing so much already to be a better man. The partner I deserved. I believed him, and as with everything else, that made it worse. It was my fault as I was not holding up my end. He would always point out what he had done for me. The gifts, the adoration, the sacrifices and how supportive he was. I was so ungrateful. I expected too much. What had I done for him? I lost all confidence in my judgement. I thought I was a bad person and that I was to blame. Once we were living together it turned physical.
I still remember how stunned I felt when he first used physical violence. The pain was secondary to the absolute shock. I could honestly not believe it had happened. A slap to the face. Hard enough to sting and redden my cheek. The tears that sprang immediately to my eyes had nothing to do with physical pain. It was the emotional shock that someone who I trusted and loved, who I gave everything to, was able to do that to me. I remember him immediately downplaying it – taunting me – “it wasn’t that hard”. That was another surprise. Did he really believe that? I fled to the bathroom. Locked the door. Too stunned to actually respond. I turned on the shower and let the water flow over me. Wanting to feel anything other than the emotional pain that swept over me. He kicked the door open and continued to verbally abuse me. His remorse came later. He cried. He regretted. He swore it would never happen again. That became a pattern too.
My most vivid memory and the one that still comes back in my nightmares is the morning he grabbed me by the heavy chain that I wore 24/7 that he had bought for me – strangling me until I felt the blood rushing to my head, the pounding in my ears and seeing stars as he dragged me by that chain, from the bed, across the floor, where he finally released me just outside the bathroom. He downplayed that too. He clung to the belief that he had not strangled me. He used any term other than strangle – manhandled, grabbed, pulled – but never what it really was. He insisted that it happened so quickly that I was in no danger. That is not how it felt to me as I was physically lifted and dragged. The links dug into my neck and left a bruise. The blood had rushed to my head. I had felt such fear. It felt like an eternity to me. Helpless, unable to see or scream – it was terrifying.
The physical abuse was not all the time. There were other instances – having my arm grabbed and twisted until my shoulder popped, then having a bin thrown at me as I cried from the pain while he yelled at me that I was faking it. Being grabbed by the leg and dragged out from my bed as he became frustrated that I wasn’t listening and then seeing the rage in his face as he stood over me – I still have nightmares. He is a big guy. Over 6 foot and he weighs well over 100kg. I am 5’4” and 60kg. That difference is intimidating but to be honest he could be the same size and the effect would have been the same – when he was red faced, that raged look in his eyes, fists and teeth clenched, puffed up and spewing his vile words – size only increased the impact and the force when he was physical. I was so damaged by the emotional abuse that even the lifting of his hand whilst his voice was raised had me scared. With all of that, I can honestly say I felt and still feel more damaged by the constant emotional abuse than by the physical acts. Belittled, beaten, broken!
He always had reasons for his behaviour. Rationalisations. The stress of work, his mental health, his father (who had the year prior to us getting together been diagnosed with dementia and put in a care facility), his relationship with his mother, my flaws – there was always a reason for his behaviour. I was never given any leeway for what was happening in my life. My father died, I lost my job, I had a cancer scare (with two lots of surgery during our relationship) and I had/have more surgery on the horizon, my sister was diagnosed with cancer and I was crippled and struggling to deal with even seeing her as she got sicker as it brought back my nightmares and PTSD from the time I spent in a hospice with another sister who died of cancer.
He was allowed to fall apart. I was not. I was falling apart. I had no support. I had been isolated from my friends and family and he was not only no support, he was in fact damaging to my wellbeing. His standard response became – “these things are not happening to you” – let them happen. Let it all go. He loved self help books and catchphrases. None of which were supportive or helpful, most of which were dismissive of any emotional pain or grief. Of course he never used those on himself. Everything was about him. He would often bemoan how difficult his life was with so many external pressures yet nobody else was allowed that leeway. He has no empathy and no compassion. He left my father’s funeral because I sat with my siblings while he disappeared to a seat in the back. I did not work hard enough to include him – having him by my side as I spoke to family, introducing him, holding his hand – it was not enough in his mind. I had been selfish. “I had others there to support me – he was not needed” so shortly after the eulogy I delivered he came up to me, announced he was leaving and then he simply left. When I got back to his place I was astounded that he had thought the day needed to revolve around him. I should have sat with him –even though he disappeared from my side and chose to sit at the back. I should have been more considerate of how it felt for him to be there. I had just lost my Dad. After two weeks of watching him slowly starve to death after a massive brain bleed robbed him of all but his basic bodily functions. Watching someone I loved suffer, to feel completely helpless myself, watching my Mum lose her reason for living, watching my siblings suffer – it was incredibly draining, incredibly sad and just plain rotten for my whole family. I was rushing back and forth from the hospital, coming home to prepare him meals, making sure he was ok. I also had to now make my Dad’s memorial service about him. The lack of any empathy and support from the person I loved made everything more difficult. He is the most selfish human being I have ever come across in my life. I know that now and deep down I knew it then. There were many examples of this during our relationship – so many. Him making my Dad’s death and funeral about me not supporting him and being a bad partner to him is an example of it. There were so many others. When I underwent surgery in September last year he was critical of me and called me a “control freak” after I texted that I was being held longer after my blood pressure crashed and I could not be discharged. He was now going to have to circle the block as parking was too expensive. He could not come up to get me when I was discharged because again, parking would have been inconvenient to him. I left the hospital when I should have stayed so that he did not get angrier.
During this time I told nobody. I protected my abuser. I did not want him publicly shamed. I did not want him to lose friends. I did not want him to lose his job. At the height of the abuse, as I became less able to function – I had lost my job. I never told anyone at work what was happening to me. I never told anyone full stop. I was ashamed to talk about it for fear of the judgement I was sure would follow. I did not want others to see me as a victim. I did not want to see myself that way. I also was still clinging on – to hope, to a belief in something that was not actually real. I believed what he told me. I believed he cared. I loved him. Now I know he is actually incapable of truly caring about anyone other than himself. When I was no longer of value to him, his attitude and behaviour toward me became even worse.
I look back now and see the warning signs clearly – though I missed them then. His interactions with customer service staff, wait staff and people who we had to interact with reflected his attitude to me at times and I now recognise the control and condescension as the red flags they are. He would flirt with young girls at the deli and checkout at the supermarket. He would make them and me uncomfortable with it. He would get angry at people he thought were rude at a music gig and confront them. A bully at heart. He would be rude and condescending if he did not get his way with service staff. He would talk down to them as he would later talk down to me. His need to make the decisions and to control everything became the soul focus of our relationship and it crossed over in to other aspects of his life. That control took another form too. He insisted on purchasing a vehicle for me. I did not want him to do that. I did not want that large a financial debt. I did not want to owe him more. Even after I asked over and over for him not to he persisted. I was eventually bullied in to it. I was not allowed to say “no” to him regarding anything. That car, and the financial debt I owed him for it became a source of control and then anger on his part and it had me feeling even more trapped. It hung over me like a sword and he used that as a weapon in any disagreements we had. I was responsible for him being “broke” as well as the failing of our relationship. If only I did as I was told it would be better. I was a disappointment. I owed him.
Initially when you tell people about abuse there is a huge fear of not being believed. I faced that. Shared friends of ours who I turned to initially did not believe me. How could it be true? The person they knew was outspoken about women’s rights, about consent, about all forms of abuse. He was very good at putting on a show. The public face that they saw was a good cover. He pulled off “the loving partner” facade pretty well. The reality was quite different. I was walking on eggshells knowing that his mood could change in a heartbeat. One word, one supposed misstep – I was always uncertain of what, how and why – only one thing was for sure – I was to blame. It got worse – it escalated from living in constant uncertainty to living in fear. My anxiety level was through the roof. I was unable to sleep. I lost weight and I was an emotional wreck. I did not tell my GP why, she just saw the physical and emotional toll it was taking on me – my change was put down to depression and I was put on medication. Anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety medication. Sleeping tablets. I became more convinced that the problem was me. He fed that belief. He was adept at gaslighting. An expert at projection.
He had been seeing a therapist for six years. He wanted “us” to see her together. I agreed because I wanted things to get better. That turned out to be a horrible experience. I had seen a psychologist before, after a workplace assault and the PTSD that followed. That had been a good experience. A helpful one. Seeing his therapist was the opposite. I had to sit on one side of the room (as he lay on a couch) and for 80 percent of the first session he told his story. He felt trapped. He was scared. He loved me more than life. Then his “sales pitch” of what a good man he is and that the horrible things happening were not “him”. From his description it was easy to believe that he was the victim. After this I spoke for a short while, as he sobbed and shifted and became more sullen. I spoke of my fear. Of how uncertain I felt. I touched on the control – I was afraid to tell more as I saw his mood shift. After the session we went outside to my car and I had to sit through a barrage of what I did wrong. It lasted for probably 15 minutes while we sat there and then for the half hour drive home. I was not trying. I was judgemental – he told me what I could and could not share. Certain things were not to be shared with her – they were private. I was made to feel worthless. That I did not want things to get better. That I was clinging to things that were in the past. I didn’t respect his needs. We went to another session together the following week and he decided that he needed his own apartment. He would still be living with me but would also have a separate space just for him that he could go to when he needed to so that he could be himself. I was restricting him – controlling him. The whole time I listened to this I wanted to die. To just escape the hell that my life had become. To escape HIM.
I was unemployed (for 6 months) and I was an emotional wreck. He would still be living with me, making the decisions (although he only contributed a third of the rent and an agreed third of utilities and rarely contributed to grocery purchases) but he would have his autonomy. I was still his partner. I still had to share everything of me, he just needed more. I felt so trapped. Financially. Emotionally. I saw no way out. The next night I took an overdose with two bottles of wine. Diazepam, tramadol, effexor, ambien and wine. It was enough to kill me. It probably would have killed me – but I threw it all up. Thank goodness for the wine that made me throw up. It was a close call. That should have been my turning point. It wasn’t. It took another month. Another month of hell. I was terrified to ask for help as I wasn’t sure anyone would believed after my first attempt to reach out and I also doubted everything about myself. It gets to a point where you believe everything you hear from your abuser and you think you ARE crazy, that it is YOUR fault. Then, after another episode of manhandling after which he left and went to see his mother, while he was out and I sat sobbing in our bed, I turned to a friend – she had also been with him. I asked her one question – “Were you ever afraid of him?”. The courage she showed in responding – at first tentatively, as she feared he was behind the messages – and then in more detail still awes me. Eventually she and her new partner dropped everything and drove from their home over three hours away to come and get me – that honestly saved my life. That act of kindness from someone who had also been damaged by this man is why I believe in humanity. She is the most courageous person I know. I am sure that helping me triggered all sorts of horrible things for her. She had been publicly smeared by him at the end of their relationship and labelled as a “crazy ex” – but she and her partner helped me anyway. As I said – she is unbelievably courageous.
I made him move out of my apartment. He had found an apartment (sadly not far from my own) and I stayed with my friend and her partner while he was given the opportunity to remove his things from my apartment – then I planned to return to change the locks. Whilst I was away I received messages from him. In one of them he apologised for the state he left my apartment in. It was an”accident”. He didn’t mean it. I hadn’t given him enough time. I feared going back to my apartment. That accident turned out to be multiple holes and ripped plaster in the wall, where he had ripped down framed prints. It was stuff spilled on the carpet. It was finding most of his stuff still there. I had to put it in boxes and leave it outside my front door in the hallway of my locked building and ask him to please remove it. It sat there for a month. A month during which my body corporate threatened to take me to the tenancy tribunal due to the ugly mess and fire hazard his stuff sitting there created. A month of having to maintain contact.
That contact was a mistake. I had sympathy for him. He cried. He sobbed. He begged. He swore he would never do it again. He signed himself up for a group that the court normally enforces on men who are convicted of abuse. He made sure I knew that he did not “have to” do that. It was him showing how serious he was. About changing. About us. I was his world. He would rather die than hurt me. I believed him. The whole time he would judge the other men in the group. He said he was not like them. He admitted he had made a mistake. He loved me. He had learned new methods of dealing with his anger and frustration. He found meditation. Buddhism. A new start. These of course were just more justifications and wallpaper – the real problems did not go away. He did not actually change.
The facilitator of the group had to contact me as part of the process. As part of the admission to the group he had been asked to write down and admit to the things he had done. His mea culpa in regards to the abuse. The choking. The slapping. The manhandling. The anger. The physical intimidation. The kicking open doors. The throwing objects. The popping of a shoulder. When he had done that, the next step in the process was to contact the victim- me. When she called me she had his “confession” and she asked me about it all and if what he admitted to was true. Sadly it was. He had not mentioned the emotional manipulation, the emotional blackmail and verbal abuse. I doubt to this day he recognises that form of abuse. She asked me why I hadn’t taken out an AVO. She told me I should and that I still could do so. I never did. My reasons for not doing it may not make sense, but at the time I was adamant. I doubted the effectiveness of an AVO. I feared retribution. He works in a job where an AVO would probably see him lose his job. I feared he would see that as my fault. Another “black mark” against me. I also didn’t do it because I didn’t want to hurt him. I still clung to the “good parts” of what we had. Sad, but true.
When his clothing,furniture and boxes were finally gone he started doing other things. Leaving bags of groceries with notes outside my front door. Multiple text messages. Sobbing voicemail messages. The same thing. He had changed. He didn’t deserve another chance, but if I could … Please … Please … Please. He was a good man. Please. One day it was 8 emails sent multiple times to both of my email accounts and a letter dropped in my mail box. I deleted both email accounts. I destroyed the letter. Then I got 16 text messages in an hour as I was picking my daughter up from school. Then came the phone calls. I listened to the voicemail. He was crying. He was at work. He couldn’t function. Please show him mercy. Please talk to him. I relented. I took his call. It is easy for people to judge that. To say I should not have. I know that. It was not a good decision. I did it anyway. I allowed contact to continue and eventually I took him back. I had slipped. It is a common thing. That I took him back is hard for me to deal with, but what made it harder was my sense of isolation. When I took him back I did not tell anyone. I was embarrassed and scared and now I was back to being alone with the person who was doing me harm. The actual physical abuse stopped but the emotional abuse got worse. I was asked by friends; “Why didn’t you just leave?” and “Why would you go back?” As time goes by it becomes “You need to let it go.” This has increased my shame and my sense of isolation. That I feel like I am to blame. That sharing my experience is a negative thing.
Now I am free of the relationship but still living with the consequences. I feel such a sense of betrayal. I do not trust my judgement. I trusted him. How can I trust my judgement after that? I am still triggered by certain things. Last week I received a call from the hospital, as I was listed as his emergency contact, and they wanted to know why he had missed a post surgery appointment. Then there were the daily reminders. My abuser still had two cars parked outside my apartment until last night. The council have previously put tow away notices on them, but he threatened them with a counter action (bluff and bluster 101 are his speciality) and so they backed off and the vehicles have stayed. Unmoved for 18 months. My requests to him to move them resulted in long gaslighting messages that made him seem like the victim.
Then after that message (after his public declaration of blocking me, insisting that I stay clear of him- which was in fact the opposite of what was happening and needed to happen) I came home to find that he had come to my apartment and placed a message under my door.
There was no justification or need for the message as my own vehicle was parked in the locked underground garage and I have no control over who parks in the street. If I did have that control then his two vehicles would have been removed months before and I would not have had that constant daily, and very painful, reminder staring me right in the face. It was just another way for him to fuck with my mind. Another way to fuck with me. A manipulative bastard still. A selfish bastard still. No surprise there. It sent me into another bout of anxiety. I had been at the palliative care unit all day and was already feeling fragile – this pushed me over the edge. I needed Ativan and Diazapam to calm myself. I placed blankets at my door to prevent anything else from being pushed underneath. I am taking sleeping tablets so I can sleep. I came home last night and he was here with a tow truck removing the last car. More Ativan … Now at least the cars are gone. One less horrible reminder. No excuse for him to ever return here. No fear of seeing him outside my apartment. I hope. I wish. I need that to be true.
The hardest thing I am facing in my recovery is forgiveness. Not of him – of myself. I still blame myself and still feel shame. Shame that even now after all he did that I still care. Am I insane to still care about him? I want all of that to disappear. I feel shame that I was blind to his narcissism and that I stayed. Shame that I allowed myself to be abused. That one of course is flawed thinking. I did not allow it and I was not to blame. I did not deserve to be abused and nothing I did could change him or his behaviour. He has done it before and all evidence suggests that he will do it again. That is the logical argument. My still recovering emotional psyche has not quite come to the party yet but I am working on that every day. Having no contact is helping. I actually wrote on my phone, my iPad and the mirror in my bathroom “No contact” to remind myself to be strong and not allow him back in to my life in even the smallest way. I rejected a parcel he sent two weeks ago – returned it unopened. I do not care what it contained. It was nothing good. Nothing from him is good. No contact with him is good. He was always damaging to my wellbeing and I am no longer going to accept that. A narcissistic abuser – that is what he is. When you live with it you lose all sense of self. My eyes are open now. Wether I can trust another person one day in the future I don’t know, that I will never trust or believe him is certain. I wish I could erase every memory of him. I no longer trust any of those “good” memories. One of the reasons I stayed was I had idealised the few good things we had to a point where I was willing to accept so much that was and should be unacceptable in any relationship. I wore rose coloured glasses. When I did finally realise that there was no good left, that all that was left was pain, damage and nastiness – as I yet again lay in the base of the shower – crying, struggling to breathe as an anxiety attack took hold after another pre-date dose of selfishness, nastiness and horrible judgemental words – after he left to go out alone. I realised I had been here before. The previous time I reached for prescription medication and alcohol. This time I reached for strength. I chose to live. Without him. Without the nasty shit he bought to my life.
Then there is the anger. I have so much anger. I direct it at myself, but I am angry at him. I know that he will hurt someone else. I do not have to be clairvoyant to know that. I just have to look at the history. For someone who works in the courts he can be so obtuse when it comes to viewing his actions and behaviours. His own judge would have no hesitation in viewing him as a repeat offender. A danger to women. A recidivist whose bad “ behaviour” has escalated over time. I regret not getting an AVO – to protect myself when I was unable to, but also to have it on record so that his next victim will see he has a history and know it is not her fault any more than it was mine. He can hide behind his lies, behind his deflection, projection and gaslighting. I can be written down as just another “crazy ex” in his book now. When he hurts his next partner I hope they are stronger than me – that they survive.
Please don’t ever judge someone who has been in abusive relationship. Please don’t silence them. Listen. Support. Think of it this way – if you saw a person fall down and injure themself would you assist them or would you stand over them and tell them how clumsy they are? They have already endured abuse. They already know they have made mistakes. They already wish they had done things differently. When they speak up, it is about reclaiming their life. It takes a huge amount of courage to talk about it. The stigma is real. The comments can really hurt. “Why didn’t you just leave”. “I thought you were stronger than that”. “I can’t believe you let him do that”. Guess what. Neither can I. I lived it. I still feel shame. I was NOT the abuser.
I am now focused on me. During our whole relationship it was about “him” but now I am able to do things for me. I have many hurdles in front of me over the next year, but I have removed the biggest one of all. The one that could have killed me – but one I have survived and will recover from.