I remember this rhyme. It was on a Holly Hobbie type picture on our wall when I was young. Very young. A time when I shared a room with my sisters and when my brothers slept in a bungalow out in the backyard. When my sisters slept in the room with me on bunk beds painted in lurid gloss paint by one of my sisters (it was the 70’s). A room where if I was scared, I could climb into the tiny bunk and be comforted by one of my sisters. Where a huge stuffed teddy bear named “Wozzy” offered me those cuddles in lieu when my sisters were absent. A room where my sometimes hippie flower child sister sat on the floor with an assortment of friends with guitars and music and laughed and talked about what seemed such worldly views to my eyes. Where another sister experimented on herself as well as me with makeup. Where I was read to and learned to read and where we could just be silly as older sister’s indulging a younger sister can be. It was a safe and happy space.
I am not sure who put that rhyme on our bedroom wall. I suspect it was my sister Debra as she was wont to put such things … I do remember looking at it each night and using it as my own silent wish each night before I went to sleep in my own bed, simple childlike wishes, surrounded by family. I took that for granted then as children do. That those you love and rely upon will always be there. There to comfort you, to protect you, to listen to you and to be what family are – your first confidantes and playmates. Your teachers. Your source of unconditional love. Our family was imperfect and dysfunctional, as all real families are, but I would not have had it any other way. We sometimes fought, we often argued. We were loud and large. One thing was never in doubt though – we loved each other.
Sisters, Brothers, Mother, Father. So much has changed since that time, but tonight as I lay myself down to sleep, I think of those words and they keep rolling through my head – Now I know for what I would wish … I wish I could rewind time. If not back to my childhood at least back seven years.
Seven years to when my family was still full. To a time before. Before my family and I knew too much about loss and grief and absolute gut wrenching sorrow. A time of ignorance and oblivion to those things. Being the youngest of a huge tribe has its advantages and its disadvantages. You will forever be called the baby (I am currently a 48 year old “baby”) and considered the “spoiled” one. The one who had a Mum and Dad “broken in” by the older siblings. Definitely not true, I can tell you as the youngest. If anything, Mum and Dad had seen all the tricks and were wiser for it. As we all age though the hardest thing about being the youngest is watching your family members age and in our family’s case decrease in numbers through death … And with that the fear that you will be left alone of those you grew up surrounded by. I am sure that feeling is not unique to large families. Anyone who loves will one day feel loss of loved ones, but since all I know is my own family which is large, my perspective is influenced by my experience.
My wish tonight can never be. I know that now. I am an adult, mostly rational, who left that childlike belief in the magic of wishes behind. But just for tonight I will say it here and also whisper it to myself before I sleep …I wish I may, I wish I might …
I write this to you in a moment of great sadness, anger, hurt and loss.
Once again you have stolen someone I love. You steal everything before you eventually steal life. You steal, energy, vitality, appetite, mobility, cognitive function, peace of mind, you steal the very breath from your victims lungs and you inflict unbearable pain and nausea. Then worst of all you steal dignity before you finally steal life. You are one greedy and cruel bastard. You are evil in your randomness. You suck!
It is time for you to piss off Cancer! No more. As my sister so eloquently said “I wish cancer would get cancer and die!”
I had never made a bucket list before. Like New Years resolutions, I had always steered clear of them. Now I have one. I have not published it because I have been focused on actually living it. Doing it. Actions rather than words.
It is a very slow process recovering from an abusive relationship. Escaping the relationship and then recovering from the damage done. I am going to continue to share my story in the hope that it creates a better understanding for other victims and that it may help someone recognise their own situation and to realise it is not hopeless. There is life afterwards. A better life. There is hope.
It is hard to explain to someone who has not been there but when you are in an abusive relationship you lose all sense of self and become someone that you no longer recognise. Trapped. Smaller. Less than who and what you were. Defeated. In order to recover you need to rebuild every aspect of your life. Like building a house, you start with the foundation and then build from there. Brick by brick, building to something bigger and stronger. The life which had been on hiatus restarted and allowing you to move on. Stronger for the lessons and the knowledge gained. Better for the appreciation of life as it can be.
It has been a year of change, of rebuilding, of “doing”. It has been a great year! New job. New outlook. New opportunities. So, here are a few of the things I have done in my year of freedom … My Bucket List as I tick it off.
… I can & I will – Just watch me!
– Bluesfest Byron Bay –
Over the Easter long weekend I travelled to Byron Bay for the 27th annual Bluesfest. The music was fantastic, the experience itself was incredible. I also had my total “fan girl” moment when I got to meet Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi at the signing tent. That moment alone, after having just watched them kill it on the Crossroads stage, had me floating home.
Bluesfest March 24th-28th 2016
– Kayaking –
As part of my Byron Bay trip, I wanted to go out on the sea and see some dolphins in their natural habitat. I also just really love being out on the water. It was an unforgettable experience. So many Dolphins, dumped off the kayak by a rogue wave, climbing back on (now there is a strong metaphor for my last year) and loving the absolute beauty of Cape Byron, Watego’s, Byron Main Beach and the volcanic reef. An exhilarating experience I would definitely recommend. My next kayaking adventure will be the Melbourne Moonlight kayak tour.
Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay March 27th 2016
– Inflatable Regatta on the Yarra –
600 inflatable boats slowly floating down the Yarra River. The hashtag for the day was #floatyourboat … well, it certainly did that. A wonderfully whimsical and relaxing journey in a part of my marvellous home town that not too many people get to appreciate. It was an absolute blast.
Inflatable Regatta February 27th 2016
– Fun Runs, Challenges and Climbs –
Part of my goal this year was to get out and be more active and to take on physical challenges. I am fitter than ever and I want to take advantage of my new found energy and have fun. I have completed the Eureka Climb (November 2015) and Color Run (June 2015) and have Obsta Splash (April 2016), Mother’s Day Classic (May 2016), Stadium Stomp at the MCG (June 2016) and Miss Muddy (February 2017) ahead. I also climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge (July 2015) with my sister Robyn. That was an amazing experience!
Color Run Melbourne November 22nd 2015
Eureka Climb November 15th 2015
Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb July 25th 2015
– New Years Fireworks On Sydney Harbour –
Sydney throws one of the worlds best New Years parties and seeing it not just by the harbour but on a boat on the harbour was an amazing experience.
New Years Eve Sydney Harbour December 31st 2015
– Travel –
Being a shift worker has its fair share of disadvantages. One of the advantages though is getting blocks of days off. I decided that I would take advantage of these and do some short getaways within my home state of Victoria and interstate. I have annual leave coming up later in the year and will be doing one of my bigger getaways then.
Broome July 2015
Daylesford July 2015
Sydney July 2015
Sydney September 2015
Sydney December 2015
Bright February 2016
Byron Bay March 2016
– Learn Ukulele –
This is a work in progress but I am getting there. With the help of my daughter who is showing immense patience I have started on the journey. Adding new skills and hobbies is high on my list … Next is juggling.
Stay tuned … Life is good! There is so much more ahead.
It has been a really important 12 months. It has been a year in which I have focused on rebuilding my life and I have to say – life has never been better. I am living and loving every moment. I am getting out amongst the world and enjoying everything – work, activities, socialising and just being me. What a difference a year makes. What a difference being free makes. I am healthier. I am fitter. I am mentally stronger. I am happier. Above all else, I am comfortable with who I am and where I am in my life. Me.
Yesterday I floated down the Yarra River in an inflatable raft as part of the 2016 Inflatable Regatta. It was an absolute blast. Gorgeously scenic, tranquil, slightly ridiculous but loads of fun. Out on the water, enjoying the best of what Melbourne (and life) has to offer.
My way of living now is pretty simple. Enjoy the now for there may be no tomorrow. I can and I will – just watch me!
This is the way I am now living my life. It is amazing how life can change. From living under a huge weight and shadow, to once again being free of that burden and actually living rather than just existing. Enjoying life. Finding peace within. Healing my mind, my body and my spirit.
My belief in myself was tested by an abuser. Being in an abusive relationship is the single most destructive thing that can happen to you as it effects every single aspect of your life. I was broken over a period of years by a narcissistic abuser. Narcissists are a special kind of abuser. They play the victim, they gaslight, they project their own inadequacies and bad behaviours on to their victim to feed their need for emotional supply. They will weave a tale in which they are the victim of crazy exes and they sell it like the best snake oil salesman on the planet. They are emotional vampires. Their victims are left feeling like an empty shell and any sense of self and worth is whittled away, any confidence destroyed in the process. Then they move seamlessly on to their next supply leaving yet another victim to pick up the shattered pieces.
It was not until I reached rock bottom and finally decided to not let this empty person destroy me, that I could truly begin to recover. It took a while. I stumbled. I allowed contact and the manipulation and control began again – worse than before as the boundaries I had failed to set had shown they could push even further, making their disdain, abuse and treatment even worse. I fell. Then, one day, I climbed back up and started moving on. No contact. A complete cutting of all ties. It was not easy, but eventually I understood at the lowest ebb that only I could extricate myself from the codependency, the control and from the misery this person was bringing to my life. The choice was made. That person would no longer diminish me or have power over me. I have not looked back. My healing continues.
Yesterday I took another step in my own personal journey. Another step in my recovery. It was actually 1624 steps. 88 floors. All forward. All onwards and upwards. As part of my recovery I set myself small goals, as well as making a “Bucket List” and yesterday I completed the Eureka Climb which was on that list. I want to run, climb and ride. I have reclaimed my life and am revelling in the experience. I still have a long way to go, but I am on a path that is healthy for me … Mind. Body. Spirit.
I was once in that bleak place. A place where sense of self was gradually whittled away and where self confidence was eroded to a point where simply functioning was a chore. That pit of despair where an existence took the place of a life. Where eggshells were underfoot and fear was a constant companion. I know my fellow survivors understand that feeling and that they know that place too well. They can understand that climbing out of that dark place seemed impossible when the light was constantly blanketed … The flame constantly doused by an abuser. That awful parasitic being who tried to fill their own emptiness by sucking the joy, happiness and life from you – you were their supply. They were a hollow shell masquerading as a human being – the term for their own brand of mess is NPD. No chance of changing. No conscience. No empathy. An actor imitating other people’s emotions. They wreak their own special kind of destruction then move on to their next supply … All the time blaming their last victim for the havoc that they wrought. Telling the world about the injustices they have suffered and conveniently leaving out their abuse. Selling the same lies over and over again. Coming to terms with that can be hard. Not responding. Not acknowledging. No chance of closure. Moving on without it because that is the only way to get healthy again. There is no closure with a narcissist. Responding would only bring on a new round of bullshit. It is not worth it.
Even after you are free, the weight of that abuse can hold you down and be an anchor around your very soul. The numbness and hollow feeling after being drained by that emotional vampire is hard to recover from. The damage may seem permanent – irreparable. I can tell you … It isn’t. Hang in there. It does get better. Please believe me. Do not allow that person who did their best to destroy you succeed. As hard as they tried, you are stronger. You are braver. Their emptiness is not yours. You have what they can never have, what was impossible while living in that hell – A chance at being happy. A life. You can take away their power over you by moving forward and living YOUR life well. One day at a time at first, and on some days, it may seem like one breath at a time … but some time in the future you will again feel what a precious gift life is. That you are free of the shackles and to make the most of the short time we have, as there may be no tomorrow. Anger has a place. Tears have a place. Sorrow has a place. Healing has a place too. I am no longer angry. Why? I decided one day, when that fog had lifted enough for me to see a tomorrow, that if I were to die that day that I did not want anger to be the last thing I feel. I did not want it to be sorrow, resentment, hurt or hate either. I did not want those negative emotions to own me. I felt all of those things. They were necessary. The important thing for me was that I did not want those things to be ALL that I felt. I wanted joy, I wanted hope, I wanted happiness. I wanted to feel happy in my own skin again. To let those wounds heal rather than fester.
My words to my fellow survivors are simple. Let yourself heal. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself really feel again. Not just the awful stuff they left behind, but all of the other wonderful things you are capable of. Those good feelings are there inside you. They may be tamped down and hidden. The fire that once was, may now just be a tiny single ember. You may be scared to give that ember air and fuel – to feel anything – because the pain you have suffered has made you believe that is all there is. It isn’t. Please do not let your abuser have that power over you. Do not let the damage they did own you. Do not let them own you.
– To let you know it is possible I will share my story –
I have come so far in the last five months. In the beginning I felt the hurt, the numbness, the betrayal, the anger, the complete despair, and worse, the loss of identity. I had no desire to do anything, to engage with the world in any way. I felt broken beyond repair. Each day was a blur and I was simply going through the motions. I was co-dependent and my addiction to an unhealthy relationship had nearly killed me. Even after I finally walked away from it the damage seemed like it had destroyed the living me and left behind a walking corpse. I pushed on each day. Barely. My daughter. My family. Good friends. Willpower. Stubbornness. A good therapist … A sliver of hope. Those were the things kept me going. Slowly. Gradually. Things improved. I forced myself to believe that they would keep improving. I marked the days off – days I survived, I focused on doing one good thing for me each day. If I reached 7 days I celebrated. As I did that, each morning it became easier to believe that good things would continue – those daily reminders, that focus on life and the good things broke me out of the emotional prison I had been living in. At 30 days I looked at the list (written in sharpie on my mirror) and realised that now I didn’t have to remind myself – life is good. Not always easy – but good. That horrible less than half life of living with an abuser was not for me and was not going to be my story. I adhered to “No Contact” (which was also written on my mirror) and took back MY life. It felt powerful then … It still does now.
Four months ago I relocated in my job. To make a new start. To move so that I could not run into the abuser. To start on that road to recovery. A good opportunity. A change. It helped. My confidence increased. The fog of day to day “going through the motions” began to lift ever so slowly. I missed my old work mates but loved the new environment and met a whole new group who I enjoyed working with. Enjoying work again was a huge step in my recovery. One small step that felt like a giant leap – not a moon landing, but my own personal significant event. At the same time I also set my sights on getting a new job. I applied for a few roles and went through interviews. That was also a confidence building exercise. To look at what I had achieved, adjust my sights on what I could achieve and to aim for a better role. I landed a job I really wanted. That felt pretty good. One with a challenge. One with a future. Before I started in the new job I embarked on something else – I travelled with my sisters.
My family have suffered losses in the last five years – death has robbed us in a cruel way and left a raw wound for all of us. These days – I hug my daughter tighter. I treasure my remaining siblings more. I am so grateful for my friends. Our differences are not as great as the things we share. A trip to Broome with two of my sisters, and then visiting my other sister in Sydney was just the beginning. In Western Australia my sister Wendy etched these words in the sand: “Ohana is forever” Ohana is Family – The quote is a reference from “Lilo & Stitch”. Forever … Nothing actually is forever, as we have learned, but our bonds and love we share is as close to forever as we get in the finite time we have. More trips, more shared experiences – that is the future.
The present – I started my new job a month ago and I absolutely love it. The challenge, instead of tiring me, has me energised and wanting to learn. Wanting to grow. To have that aspect of my life be as fulfilling as I know it can be. It is right now. The other aspects of my life are recovering too. I am happy with my life. That desire to get out and do things is back and my enthusiasm has returned. I am happy with myself – in my own skin. I don’t need to write on my mirror each day, but I will still take time each morning and each night to be thankful for my life now that I am free. I have plans. I have a bucket list. I have set myself new goals. The dead eyed look of a year ago is gone. My smile is real – from my soul – it shows in the eyes. Not the sad eyes and half smile that was hiding the pain and misery of what my life behind closed doors was. I have four days off coming up and my daughter and I are going away together. A mini break. I have the freedom to do that now and I will. We will. At Easter I have Bluesfest. Some time at the end of next year it will be a trip on The Ghan. Another Sister trip. A full family trip is on the horizon too. Then the little getaways in between. New job. New freedom. It feels like a new life. It is. I now understand the powerful symbolism of the Phoenix. Reborn from the ashes of destruction. Not just a survivor – a powerful and beautiful new beginning. I am sure I will stumble and fall on occasion. I am sure I will have bad days. I have had plenty of those. We all have. I am also sure there are those better days. Ones that would not have been possible whilst being a human emotion donor to an empty pit. It is never too late to close one chapter or one whole book and start writing your own story over again. My fellow survivors. I made a promise to me and I promise you … It does get better
After initially allowing contact at the end of an abusive relationship and suffering the emotional consequences of letting my narcissistic abuser back in to my life, this time I went “No contact”. I blocked email and phone contact, I changed locks (again) and I wrote myself reminders of why no contact was so important to my wellbeing. I needed to reclaim my life after over two years of emotional and physical abuse. I needed this to recover. It has been so good for me.
It has not all been smooth sailing as I still get attempted contact from the abuser but I feel so much stronger in myself, more confident, when I do not respond. I actually feel free of the manipulation and control. I feel like I have my life back. I have no idea if he ever sent text messages or emails as I still have them blocked and I always will. He has attempted other contact. A few weeks ago he sent a parcel that I did not open and gave back to the postman to be returned to sender. Two weeks later he pushed a large piece of cardboard with a scrawled message under my door whilst I was not home. This I kept a record of and ignored. I also placed a rug at the base of my door to prevent any further notes from being shoved underneath it. Today I received a letter in the mail. It has no return address but I recognise the handwriting. I have not opened it. I am not sure if I should burn it or return it – it will remain in a bottom drawer unopened until I decide. For the first time though, I do not feel that anxiety I have previously felt at any attempted contact. After the message shoved under my door I had a panic attack. I was due to go out to lunch with my family. As I drove – the tears came. Then the shaking. I pulled over for a while before continuing on my way. I arrived and was in a fog. I had to go outside and walk in the cold air to gain my composure. I repeated my mantra to myself. “No contact. I am free”. Today there was none of that. I did not even consider opening it. He has no power over me. None. I feel strong. I know him for what he is. A coward. A bully. A narcissist. An abuser. I am free of all of that. I will stay that way.
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.