Scars, bared v.10: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

10 Jun

I’ve been talking a lot about what it feels like to be a victim of domestic abuse, but I’m going to take some time to view it through another set of eyes. Eyes that are very important and that can either make or break a victim’s road to recovery. I want to talk about how to be an effective friend or family member to a victim of domestic violence. Tonight I had a conversation over coffee with a friend of mine on his struggles while dealing with me and my post-traumatic drama from the abusive relationship. It was really hard for me to hear,  but I give him credit for being honest and upfront with me about it. And truthfully, I don’t blame him. I get frustrated enough with myself, I can’t imagine how those around me are feeling. He told me that he sometimes feels that I use my past as an excuse to act out dramatically. I really didn’t think that anyone viewed me in such a way, and it hit me pretty hard. They don’t understand why I do the things I do or act the way I act, and I don’t really think that it’s possible for them to understand without having any idea of the gravity of my situation. I got home, and began combing the internet for resources and helpful tips and advice for friends and family members of abuse survivors.

I came up with absolutely nothing.

I was shocked and appalled at the lack of resources on this topic. I was able to find some websites with advice for how to help a loved one who is currently in an abusive relationship– which is great advice, don’t get me wrong– but it just wasn’t what I needed. What I needed was a cheat-sheet for friends and family members to understand why we survivors do the things we do, what kind of support we need, and how to help us through this tough time. But there was nothing. And I’m thinking to myself, is this why no one talks about the subject? Because no one knows how to handle it once it’s brought up? Heck, sometimes I sure wish I was back in my safety net of ignorance, when no one saw me for what I have been through, and when I didn’t take it out on anyone because I was trying to hide the truth. Maybe it was easier that way, maybe I had a better time keeping friends. But I was living a lie. It was eating away at me from the inside out, and I was bound to explode eventually. I couldn’t have lived that way forever. I just couldn’t. But peeling back those layers and exposing myself to everyone around me has been painful, too. It’s like hiding a wound under a bandage. Out of sight, out of mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s being healed. Eventually it is going to start to stink and get infected and spread to other parts of the body. Eventually, the bandage needs to be pulled back. It needs to be cleaned. Disinfected. Treated. It may sting, and removing the dressing may horrify you to find how much the infection had been festering when you weren’t watching it, but it will never go away if you keep it covered forever.

Talking through troublesome memories is one of the best ways to cope with the pain. A professional is absolutely necessary– because he or she will know the best ways to help you deal with the trauma. But a professional isn’t always enough. Everyone needs the support of friends and family around them in order to speed up the healing process. Professionals understand the ins and outs of abusive relationships and the post-trauma, but as a loved one to a victim, you probably don’t. You probably feel helpless, like you don’t know what to say or how to approach the topic. That’s why I’m here. I want to open doors for all involved; I want you to be able to effectively reach out to your friend or family member who needs you, and I want that victim to feel supported on as many levels possible. Ready? Here we go.

Disclaimer: Because my abuser was a man, and because the majority of domestic violence victims are women, I’m going to refer to the abuser with male pronouns and the victim with female pronouns. But keep in mind that a woman is just as capable of exercising the same abusive tendencies.

Understand the cycle of abuse. Abusive relationships almost always follow a textbook-style cycle of calm, tension building, an explosion, and a honeymoon phase. This cycle keeps the victim coming back because just as the worst happens, the very best shortly follows. The abuser is always very manipulative, and will probably treat his or her partner better in the honeymoon phase than partners in a non-violent relationship ever will. The abuser will go over-the-top in expressing affection, showering the victim in gifts and compliments, and do anything needed to over-compensate for the abuse. The fact that the victim has most likely already been isolated from friends and family, has very low self-esteem, and is dependent on the abuser, all make him or her think that this “kindness” is worth staying in the relationship for. Abuse rarely ever happens on the first date. Violent partners know what they’re doing, and by the time the relationship turns physical they have already used means such as verbal insults, emotional abuse, or threatening behavior to hold power over the victim. Abuse is never the victim’s fault.

Understand that you don’t understand. The victim is going through an entire world that is one hundred percent foreign to you. The world of abuse is a twisted version of reality that centers around the abuser. The victim loses his or her own identity and is at the mercy of the abusive partner. Questions of “Why didn’t you just leave?”, “Why did you let him do that to you?”, and “What did you do to cause it?” will only lead the survivor to continue to blame herself. While in an abusive situation, oftentimes leaving the relationship is not even an option. The abuser will directly or indirectly threaten his victim with emotional and even physical dangers of leaving. You will never know exactly what your loved one has experienced, and acting as though you do is offensive and belittling to the survivor. Don’t jump to conclusions about why she is acting the way she is. The best thing you can do is to tell her, “I may not understand what you are going through, but I do understand that it has had a negative effect on you. How can I help?”

Validate her feelings, do not dismiss them. Now that we’ve covered the fact that you truly do not understand what the victim in your life is going through, you must understand that the feelings she is having are completely valid and natural. They may make no sense to you, but to make her feel that her feelings are invalid is only mimicking the tendencies from her abuser that she is trying so hard to get away from. Abuse victims are going to have a whirlwind of feelings spinning inside of them at almost any given moment. Feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, paranoia, self-loathing, panic, and loneliness. Sometimes she will feel an overwhelming numbness that will cancel all these out, but also leave her with no positive emotions either. All of these things are to be expected. If you notice any of these emotions to be particularly weighing her down, try to talk to her about it. Ask her what’s wrong, and let her vent. Offer comfort, but try to steer away from offering advice. No matter how well your intentions are, don’t use the phrases: “That’s silly”, “You don’t have to feel that way”, “That doesn’t make sense”, “Don’t be so ________ (dramatic, stupid, sensitive, etc)”, or anything similar. Those kinds of comments will make her feel belittled and keep her from wanting to open up to you the next time she is struggling. Again, even if her feelings seem completely unrealistic to your rational mind, remember that they are very real to her. Her abuser spent the relationship convincing her that she was crazy for feeling natural emotions, and as a loved one, you are in her life to break that chain of thought. So break it, don’t re-enforce it.

Recognize and encourage her accomplishments. The road to recovery from an abusive relationship is a long one, and it’s traveled in baby steps. Any victories–even on the smallest of scales–are worth celebrating. Functioning normally takes a lot of effort after coming out of such brokenness, and if a survivor feels she is working her butt off every day just to keep her chin above water, but no one even notices, she is going to get discouraged. Notice the little things. If a situation arises where she typically would have had some sort of break down or reverted to her old ways of thinking, but instead she handled it strongly and gracefully, give her a pat on the back. If you overhear someone make a thoughtless comment, and she shrugs it off instead of putting up a wall, congratulate her. Understand how hard she is working to retrain her brain to think in a way that is simply second-nature for you.

Don’t criticize. As hard as it is, do not criticize her abuser. Allow her to do so if she pleases, but for you to criticize him implies that you are criticizing her for choosing to date him, fall in love with him, and stay with him for whatever amount of time she did. It’s also very likely that one of the abuser’s means of isolation was telling her that her friends and family didn’t like him, and want to break up the relationship. By confirming this to her, she may start believing that he was correct about other things too. At the same time, don’t criticize the choices that she is beginning to make on her own. Even if you don’t agree with some of them, now is not the time for criticism.

Allow the victim to gain her independence, and make her own decisions. A huge part of an abusive relationship is the controlling behaviors held over the victim by the abuser. Abusers limit the victim’s ability to make choices in order to keep that power in his own hands. Breaking free of an abuser opens up doors of independence that the victim had forgotten she ever possessed, and it’s a new and exciting (and sometimes scary) thing to begin to embrace this freedom again. Try not to repeat her abuser’s behavior by giving her ultimatums or orders. Again, even if you think that she is making the wrong choice, you need to gain her trust and assure that she can confide in you. If she sees traits in you that mirror her abuser, even if you mean well, it will push her away and likely cause her to begin putting up walls and shutting down. Instead of telling her what to do, look for positive choices she has made on her own and highlight those, providing her with support and encouragement.

Don’t push her to talk. But when she does, listen well. First and foremost, if a survivor is not ready to discuss certain things, don’t push her. It will do more harm than good. It’s like trying to hold a scared puppy. Even if you mean well, if you run at her with open arms, yelling and waving and doing whatever you can to reach her, she will panic and run in the opposite direction. But if you make yourself available, let her get used to your presence in this part of her life, and slowly take baby steps into helping her open up to you, you will be far more successful. As I mentioned, being in an abusive relationship builds up an entirely new world of twisted reality, completely separate than the world the rest of her friends and family are in. This is why she tends to feel so alone, and disconnected from friends and family. Help her bridge those two worlds. Build a bridge connecting her sanity from insanity. Talking through memories is a very effective way to do this. The things she has been through may be disturbing for you to listen to, but it is something you need to do. By allowing her to open that door into a very dark and horrific world, and to share it with you, is to grab ahold of one reality and pull it into another. You represent the real world, and reality to the rest of us. Her memories represent the reality she has been living for the duration of the relationship. Her abuser has spent a long time taking every step to be sure these two worlds never cross each other, and it is now up to you to see to it that they do. When laid out in the open, side by side, she will begin to see how completely unacceptable his behavior was (I can guarantee that he had her convinced all along that it was perfectly normal).

Be consistent. This one is pretty simple. Follow through on the things you say. If you promised her that you would be there for her, then please, make a point to be there for her. You will not be able to come running every minute of the day, but do your best not to let her down. Any feelings of stability are going to be hard to come by for her. If she opens up to you and has put faith in the fact that you care about her, but you don’t answer her phone calls or emails when she needs you, it will drive her back inside her own mind. And right now, her mind is a terrible place to be.

Be patient. The healing process is not going to happen overnight. There are going to be improvements, but chances are there will be even more setbacks. It’s not uncommon to take one step forward and fall back two. But that’s okay. Because time will help, and the more encouragement she has and the stronger and more independent she becomes, the fewer number of slips will take place between the steps forward. I know that we survivors can be a whole slew of emotions– sad one minute, happy the next, perfectly content, then dramatic and paranoid. I understand that it can be frustrating to deal with, but please be patient. Encourage her, believe in her, and most importantly just love her for who she is. With your help, this will all come to an end. I promise.

Lastly, if you suspect that a friend or loved one is currently in a relationship with an abusive partner, you will have to come to terms with the fact that you may not be able to help her right away. I hate to have to say it, but there is not a lot you can do to convince her to break it off with him. She needs to come to this decision herself. You can certainly try to help her realize that she deserves better, or that the way he is treating her is not normal, but you will have to be very careful in how you go about it. When I was dating John, I was lying about everything. Lying about where I was going so that people didn’t realize he made me spend every waking minute with him, lying about why I was upset, lying about the bumps and bruises. I felt horrible for lying, but one lie led to another. If someone confronted me on the issue, there was no way that I was going to just come out and say “Oh– yup– you got me there. My boyfriend did this to me,” instead, I would simply lie again. Directly interrogating a suspected abuse victim on her relationship is going to push her further into denial. The more you force her to lie (and trust me, she will lie), the more bridges you are burning between you, her, and the truth. You may want to reference back to the chapter about warning signs to revisit my own thought processes while starting to realize that my relationship wasn’t acceptable. Suggest reading material that indirectly addresses the topic; for example, a really good book is Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult. Or maybe even passing along this very blog series? Either way, you aren’t going to get anywhere by trying to force your opinion on her or force her to leave. She will end up resenting you and even more dependent on her abuser. Keep in mind one of the most meaningful pieces of advice I have ever read: Anne Lamott says in one of my favorite books, Bird by Bird, “you don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.”

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.
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Scars, bared v.9: Warning signs

5 Jun

To those who have been reading this blog and getting a little bit of a knot in your stomach from the fact that my story is sounding all too familiar to yours, please don’t ignore that. If I could sum up my greatest mistake in the relationship in one sentence, it would be that I didn’t listen to my gut nearly as often as I should’ve. I didn’t know that John would turn out to be abusive, I didn’t know that he was lying to me from the beginning. I didn’t know that he spent the first phase of our relationship gathering ammunition to use against me, and I didn’t know about the anger and the violent tendencies simmering underneath his charming demeanor. Those things were out of my control, and weren’t anything that I could stop. But if I would have just tapped into my subconscious when it tried to warn me to leave, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.

The first clear sign I can remember was before the physical abuse even began. I don’t like to remind myself of this because it’s proof that if it weren’t for my own hard-headedness, I might have avoided the physical abuse completely. I was sitting in the doctor’s office, and there was one of those awareness campaign posters on the wall next to me. The title said something along the lines of “Are you being emotionally abused?” and went on to list several tactics by which an abuser exerts power over his or her victim. The signs included things like: manipulation, humiliation, isolation, threats, denial and blame, and “crazy-making”. None of these characteristics were anything new in my relationship at the time. It scared me to see my common annoyances with my boyfriend under a list with the word “abuse” in the title. I don’t know how I could have expected a sign clearer than this, but for the first time of many, I chose to ignore the red flags, and push it to the back of my mind until I had convinced myself I didn’t have to worry about it.

During my freshman year of college, we were all required to take a sort of freshman experience course called Dignitas. Dignitas was a mostly useless class, but through it we were required to attend different special events through the college during the year. One evening, a one-act play called “The Yellow Dress” was being performed, and as a class we were required to attend. With no idea what it was about, I had planned on dozing my way through it. I was pretty physically and emotional exhausted having just gotten back to Duluth after a weekend with John. Within the first five minutes of the narrative, the character was talking about an ex-boyfriend of hers, and how he was so nice in the beginning, but turned out to be a monster. My attention had been hooked and as the monologue went on I was sweating bullets and praying that no one noticed that she seemed to be speaking straight to me. The Yellow Dress was about a girl’s journey through an abusive relationship, but her story didn’t end quite as well as mine will. She had been killed by her boyfriend. He didn’t mean it, of course, it was just one violent outrage that got a little out of control. I had chills down my spine that I couldn’t shake, and I had to break off apart from my classmates after the conclusion of the play so that I could slip into a bathroom stall to cry. My face in my palms, tears streaming silently down my cheeks, my mind flashed back to that day I was lying in the field, half expecting to be killed by my own boyfriend. Slowly, I began to realize the severity of my situation. I stood up, and looked myself in the mirror. Eyes red and swollen, mascara streaming down my face, I pulled aside the collar of my shirt to show my fresh bruises. I had never seen such a mess of a person, let alone in the one staring back at me in the mirror. Taking a deep breath, I said to myself, “This is it.” and I called John.

Of course it took until my second year of college to leave him for good, so obviously the phone call was futile. I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but the conversation went something along the lines of:

“John, it’s me, we need to talk. I saw this play tonight and I realized that what you are doing to me is really serious. I refuse to put up with it anymore, I need to end this.”

“Baby, how could you break up with me when I haven’t even done anything? You can’t let someone you don’t even know influence you so much. Come on Laura, I thought you were stronger than that. Besides, no one else understands the way we feel about each other. I love you, and you love me. And I promised you I’d never hurt you again.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

However, even though I didn’t break up with John that night, a seed had been planted again in my mind. Every time John got controlling, rude, or straight-up abusive, I could hear the monologue from “The Yellow Dress” in my head. I remembered the girl who’s life was lost to her boyfriend’s uncontrollable rage. I didn’t have the courage to do anything about it yet, but it was there nonetheless.

There were a couple other definitive moments in the relationship where I remember really being blindsided by the realization of the severity of my circumstance. Music has always been a way for me to channel emotions that I myself didn’t know how to put into words, so it’s not surprising that two of those epiphanies came through song. One of those songs—as cliche as it sounds—is “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna. I was in the car when I heard it for the first time on the radio, and I just sat in shock and listened, convinced it had been written about me. Listening to Eminem rap the verses was the first, and probably only, time in my life that I felt like he and I were in parallel universes.

The song described our relationship to a T. The coming and going, breaking up every other day, getting back together hours later. We both knew that the other person wouldn’t last long alone, so we threw feelings around as if they were nothing. Our relationship was bipolar, to put it gently. It was either heaven or it was hell, there was no in-between. You don’t hear about those relationships. Media coverage of domestic violence only ever accentuates the ugly side, so when girls get caught up in these relationships that are back and forth, they think that it couldn’t possibly be the same thing because their abuser isn’t a monster all of the time. There’s a reason we fall in love with them in the first place, and they know it. The reality is that some of the times, John treated me really well. He was caring and sweet, he would give me foot rubs and cook me dinner, and he would tell me how beautiful I was and how lucky he was to have me. I would try to tell myself that this side of him cancelled out the rage he possessed deep down, but in the end I realized that there were not enough sweet words in the world to make up for the damage he had done to me emotionally.

The song goes on to describe in really gritty detail what goes on in such a toxic relationship. I’m going to have to guess that Eminem is speaking from experience, because he nails it. I think it’s really great to put out a song on such a controversial topic, after all, it definitely got me thinking. But at the same time, I worry that Hollywood may be glamorizing the subject. So my words of wisdom to you are as follows: Just because Rihanna and Eminem did it, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

Even prior to that, one day while I was driving home from John’s, I had a similar experience. Ironically, we had just gotten in a fight, and I was driving around town to kill time before the inevitable phone calls began and he would be apologizing and asking me to come back so we could talk. A song by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus came on the radio called “Face Down.” Maybe you’ve heard it, and if not, I would suggest checking it out. I remember hearing those words and promptly bursting into tears behind the wheel. Towards the end of the song, they sing about the girl coming to the point where she is finally fed up, and can walk away without that pain: “Face down in the dirt she said, this doesn’t hurt, she said, I’ve finally had enough.” For the next year and a half I would cling to those words, waiting for the day to come where I had finally had enough. And I promise you, the day came, and it will come for you too. It may not come as soon as you hope, but there are things you can do to hasten its arrival. Such as noticing the red flags I’m talking about right now, and being honest with yourself that you are being abused. This is a tricky subject for me to give advice on, because no two stories will be exactly the same. However, I urge you to trust your instincts. Believe in your heart that you deserve better, and trust that your world will not fall apart without this guy. I don’t want you to wait around forever in a dangerous situation, too scared to leave until you feel completely comfortable in the idea of being on your own, but I know from experience that if you try to step out of the relationship before you are emotionally prepared for what is to come after, you will only set yourself up to come crawling back into his arms. And there is nothing that is more damaging to your self-esteem and independence.

It’s scary leaving an abusive relationship, it really is. I understand that. Your abuser has gained so much control over you, that you really feel like your life is not your own anymore. More than likely, you have burned bridges with friends and family as a result of it, so walking away makes you feel like you are on your own. But you know what? Your abuser will do that on purpose. It’s all part of the master plan to keep you trapped! I’ll let you in on another secret– if your family and friends have any ounce of decency in them, they’ll welcome you back. Chances are they have been worried about you for awhile now, but are either too scared or just don’t know how to ask you about it. Let me share with you another passage from my journal, right around the end of my relationship with John:

“Sometimes I wonder about life. More specifically, my life. I have to wonder if people ever reach the point where they don’t even want to be happy anymore. Everyone says that if you work so hard then happiness is always achievable, but what if you don’t want to work hard? I’m not happy. I can admit that. But to be honest, I think I’m way too comfortable in my own screwed up little world here. I don’t think I could live normally if I tried. Not after what I’ve been through. I don’t even know how to function ‘normally’, I only know how to put on this weird little pretending act. Pretend I’m happy, pretend everything will get better, pretend I’m perfectly content with where my life is at. Am I? No way. This sucks. I’m in a totally dysfunctional relationship. Can I do better? Hell. Yes. But would I even know how to be in a healthy relationship anymore? Probably not. I don’t think I would know what to do, or how to act. I think it would be harder to attempt to live a normal life and just be screwed up on the inside, than it is to actually put up with having a messed up life. Maybe if I actually had someone to talk to, who wouldn’t turn on me, I would feel better. Come to think of it, I probably have a lot of people who would try to help if I told them the truth. But that would entail me trying to leave my little world of dysfunction and attempting to live in reality. Ehh, not worth it. Not now at least. It’s embarrassing, really, the things I’ve put up with. The way I’ve lived. Why in the world would I ever want ‘normal’ people to see those things? Why would I ever want to be exposed? To be vulnerable enough that people will see me for who I really am? I don’t. It’s hard because I want to be happy, but at the same time, I think it’s just easier to stay the way I am. There’s gotta be more to life than this. Seriously. I guess the only way out is through the things that I’m trying to push under the rug. I just don’t think I’m ready to deal with them yet. I’m not sure if I ever will be. I guess we’ll see.”

If you are sharing these feelings right now, don’t despair! The fact that you are even thinking those thoughts is a breakthrough in your co-dependence. Just the simple act of acknowledging the reality of the situation is a major step forward, and the funny thing is, it was within less than a month of that journal entry that I finally ended my relationship with John. Which is why I say that if you begin to question yourself or your relationship, embrace those doubts! Listen to your heart. It will lead you where you need to go.

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Scars, bared v.8: Emotional repercussions

30 May

Even after removing him from my life, what John did to me still affects me. I wish I could tell you that I am living proof that these kinds of relationships won’t leave permanent scars, but as much as I want to do so, that’s not the case. Every day is a journey, some days I travel by leaps and bounds, and others by baby steps. Maybe even a slip or a tumble here and there. The promising thing is that life moves on. I may not be moving as quickly as I would like, but I thank God every day that I am moving at all. It gets frustrating because others don’t understand what I’m going through, or why I act the way I do. I get mad at them sometimes but then I realize– who am I to be angry with them for not being able to comprehend a situation that I myself sometimes don’t fully understand?

Emotionally, there have been a lot of repercussions. First of all, I have become so overly sensitive, to the point where I am thinking that maybe dropping out of my IT degree and pursuing a job as an FBI agent might be a better plan for the future. I notice every detail of every situation, I remember every component of every interaction I make with others. It has become physically impossible for me to take conversations at face value anymore; now I will not only hear the words you are saying, but I will remember the words you said last week, and the facial expressions you made the week before that, and also the nonverbal cues I picked up from you last month. I gather all of these clues and piece them together into what I assume to be the most feasible meaning behind what you are saying at that given moment. My mind is constantly on guard, looking for the little bombs that will trigger the next attack.

Speaking of attacks, am I under one right now? Because it is starting to feel like it. Maybe I’m simply overanalyzing the conversation, but the way you paused to let out a little sigh before moving on to this sentence leads me to believe that you are probably hating what you’re reading right now. You probably hate it, and you probably think that I’m crazy. Now that I mention it, you thinking I’m crazy would explain the reason that your eyebrows raised in the last paragraph of the previous chapter. And the fact that you think I’m crazy obviously means that you don’t believe a word I’m saying. Let’s be honest, I know you only read a page and a half before putting the book down this morning, and I’m willing to bet you are starting to wish you hadn’t wasted your time at all. You know what? Forget it. Forget you. I have other readers, what’s losing just one? No, that was rude… oh, I’m so sorry. That was outrageous of me. I’m sure you have a busy schedule, and I’m just thankful you picked up the book at all before getting on with your daily commitments. I feel just horrible for assuming all those things. Oh my gosh… now you probably really think I’m crazy. Actually, you have good reason to think I’m crazy, especially since back in the first chapter I remember that you…

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Where did that come from, right? That little scenario that just played out between you and I is just an example of the emotional instability I deal with on a daily basis. It’s completely over-dramatized and unnecessary, but it was all of those little signals that I would have to be aware of in my relationship with John to keep myself safe. In the relationship, it was a survival skill I had picked up along the road, and may have saved me from physical assault more times than I know. But in regular life, that kind of hyper-vigilance is simply exhausting for both myself and the people around me. I have been blessed to be surrounded by some of the most wonderful people in the world, who put up with these cycles of mine. People who take the blunt end of my paranoia, wait it out, and then graciously accept my apologies for over-reacting. It’s a work in progress, but the fact that I have come to a point in my life where I can see these cycles and I can begin to understand them and know why my mind processes information the way it does has given me the capacity for major improvement. I’m not there yet, and I know that I will probably never completely regain that naivety back. But honestly, I’m alright with that.

Another obstacle I have been struggling with since the break-up is my grasp of the future. I lived two full years in the most chaotic existence I could have imagined, a life where it was made very clear to me that nothing was certain. No matter how perfect my relationship felt one day, there were no guarantees of the next. I could be single in a week, tomorrow, or in a couple of hours. Even though I had a dress, bought tickets, and made reservations for my prom next month, there was no guarantee that my date would be willing to take me by the time that Saturday rolled around. To be completely honest, some nights, there were truly no guarantees that I would see another morning come. That distorted sense of reality has affected my ability to think in a long-term perspective. It is difficult to make long-term commitments, or even think of the future in a clear and realistic manner. It’s like being near-sighted. Everything very close to me is quite clear, but the farther into the distance I try to look, the fuzzier my sight is. I know that all of those far-away objects exist, but I have to squint really hard in order to see anything comprehensible. In this same sense, the future is not completely unthinkable to me. However, it does take a lot of effort to wrap my mind around the idea, and if I work at it for too long I end up with a bad headache.

While I’m thankful that this hasn’t had a particularly adverse affect on my college or career plans, it has been detrimental to the way I view relationships with other people. To put your trust in another person is a scary thing, because that person can change their mind about you on any whim. That’s what I was used to with John, but the funny thing with reality is that most stable people won’t choose to make or break relationships on every passing whim. In my head I know this, but I have a hard time grasping the fact that not everyone in my life will come and go like he did. For example, when I get into an argument with a friend, I tend to automatically begin writing them out of my life. One fight can set off a chain reaction in my brain that will lead me to slowly begin to distance myself from that friend, because I assume that our friendship is over. It’s not until I really slow down that I can think about the fact that our friendship probably has a foundation strong enough to not be shaken by one disagreement. It blows my mind to think that in several months this person will still be in my life, and still be my friend. I’m not used to relying on others’ emotions, but I am finally beginning to build up that trust again as well. As I will continue to say, the fact that I now can understand why I think the way I do has made it so much easier to put these uncertainties into perspective.

John has also turned me into a horribly jealous person. Everyone gets jealous sometimes, but not like this. I struggle with a jealousy that eats away at me inside, literally leaving me sick to my stomach sometimes. I get jealous of people and of things, especially my loved ones. It all started when John and I first started dating. I thought his jealousy of all of my guy friends was completely ridiculous, but I took it as a compliment of how much he cared for me. Shortly into our relationship, I noticed that he was always telling me about how many other girls were texting him. I shrugged it off, figuring it was an insecurity thing about my guy friends. And honestly, I didn’t really care. At that point in my life, I believed in relationships. He told me he was my boyfriend, he told everyone else publicly that I was his girlfriend, and I trusted in his feelings for me that he wasn’t going to do anything behind my back. However, when he saw that I wasn’t letting these girls get to me, he started telling me worse things. He told me that one girl told him that he deserved better than me, because I was fat and ugly. Then he told me that a different girl was constantly hitting on him and sending him pictures of herself. Later he’d tell me that still another girl was trying to get him to hang out with her. He would always end it with a way to twist it so he wasn’t the jerk, by telling me, “But don’t worry baby, I stood up for you. I told her how much I love you and that you are the best thing to ever happen to me.” Which was supposed to be this huge compliment, but left me with mixed feelings. I felt self-conscious and depressed, as if I didn’t measure up to all the other girls competing for John’s attention. I wasn’t mad at him because after all, it wasn’t his fault that they said these things, and he was being a great boyfriend by standing up for me. The only place to direct my negative feelings was towards the girls themselves. And how are those feelings expressed? You got it. Jealousy. He kept this up through the whole relationship, and it continued to get worse and worse. Sometimes he would have no shame and outwardly fish for this kind of attention from girls other than myself, like if we were fighting he would go and post a picture of himself shirtless on Myspace with a caption something like “Looks like I’m single ladies!” just to see all of the photo comments he would get. It broke me down, and it turned me into a monster of jealousy. This is one of those qualities that really stuck with me after he left. I still get jealous of everyone and everything. Not only is it just a little tinge of jealousy, but along with it comes anger, resentment, and self-loathing. If I witness a guy I have feelings for give the slightest bit of attention to any other girl, it eats me up inside until I end up lashing out in anger. If my sister interrupts a story I was telling to my mom and the conversation turns away from me before I was finished, I throw a temper tantrum like a selfish toddler. And if one of my friends begins spending extra time with another friend, I withdraw from the relationship and assume that the new friend has something that I don’t, and I beat myself up for not having that mystery quality.

Out of all of these things, the biggest toll this relationship has taken on me has been on my self-esteem. All of these problems: the jealousy, the paranoia, the trust issues; they all boil down to insecurity. If self-esteem could not be destroyed by others, I truly believe that abusive relationships would not exist. Your abuser will zero in on your insecurities, magnify them, break you down, and give you a hundred new insecurities to boot. A turning point for a victim of an abusive relationship is to identify the source of these insecurities, because that’s where the cycle can begin to be reversed. But just because the source is successfully eliminated does not mean that the damage hasn’t already been done. Over the last several years, I have become a very self-conscious person. I question myself on every level, from the words I say to the clothes I pick out in the morning to the way I answer a question in class. I constantly compare myself to those around me, and struggle with feeling that I don’t measure up. A huge change for me has been in social situations. Where in high school I thrived in the center of attention and could talk for hours with someone I just met, I now have serious social anxiety. As I already mentioned the way I over-read and over-analyze others’ reactions, it makes me extremely timid and worry that I am never saying or doing the right thing. I don’t have much faith in my own judgement, because my sense of judgement (or lack thereof) has had such disastrous results in the past.

The root of all this is that even when I can come to terms with the fact that these insecurities or emotional tendencies are no fault of my own but instead a direct result of my relationship with John, it still doesn’t change the fact that I have them. I’m different now than I was five years ago, and I don’t like the person I’ve become. I feel like I am not my own anymore, that I’m merely a product of someone else. Like a lump of play-dough, I allowed John to shape me into whatever he felt like that day, and by the end I became that old, stale chunk that is basically useless because it had been left out to dry one too many times. Honestly, sometimes I believe that I’m damaged goods. The following is an entry from my journal, dated September 4, 2011, almost a whole year after breaking off the relationship.

Why do I constantly have this feeling that I am damaged goods? Ever since John did what he did to me. I know I can’t change the past and I have to suck it up and move on. And honestly, I thought I had. But then how come there are so many late nights where I am laying awake in bed replaying those horrible episodes in my head? And I feel like I am irreversibly emotionally damaged. I keep asking, why me? What did I do to cause him to hurt me? And since I have no idea what I did wrong, what’s stopping me from causing some other guy to do the same thing to me? It’s scary. Why did he use me as a punching bag? Why did I let him? Why can’t I put the memories to rest? Why doesn’t anyone realize what I’m going through? Why does nobody ask me what’s wrong? Why do people everywhere pretend this sort of stuff doesn’t exist? Why am I still losing sleep over this, over a year later? Why am I fighting this battle alone? And lastly, why is no one else interested in me as a person, and will anyone ever be again?
 I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Nobody can know the hell I have been through unless they have been through the same thing. The pain. The fear. No, the terror. … It was like a bad horror movie. No, it IS a bad horror movie, that is playing endless loops in my head. I can’t figure out how to shut it off. I need help, but I don’t know who to ask to help me. I don’t want to burden anyone. I don’t want to scare anyone away. I don’t want anyone else to think that I’m damaged goods…

Before I go any further, I want to point out one thing: it has been almost half a year since I wrote this entry, and I can confidently and honestly say that I no longer have that feeling of being trapped within my own memories. Because I did finally choose to open up to others about what I had been through, my load has lightened immensely. If you are reading this right now because you have been through a similar situation, I absolutely beg you to open up to someone about it. I guarantee that you will feel a world of a difference. Regardless, sometimes I do still lie awake at night and simply cry, and I wonder if I will ever be more than damaged goods. Though John is long gone and has no power to continue to tear me apart, the past wounds still remain. I often find myself wondering what I did wrong, and question whether or not I did something to get myself into such a relationship. I still think that maybe I wasn’t meant for a functional relationship, or that there is something critically unloveable about me. But at the same time, I am developing a strong, independent, confident version of myself who sits in the back of my brain. She may not be quite big enough take complete control just yet, but her presence is definitely there, and it’s enough to get me through the harder nights.

~~~

NOTE: Considering it’s been over five years since I actually wrote these posts, it’s crazy to look back and see how far I’ve come. I still have my moments of post-traumatic panic, but they are few and far between and I definitely feel like the fire in my veins has returned. I’m a lot more confident, and I no longer have feelings of being damaged goods. Also I am back to loving being the center of attention LOL. So again, if you are reading this because you are going through something similar, please please please believe me when I say it gets better. It gets better and YOU WILL HEAL. The catch? You need to work for it. Over the past five years I have spent thousands of hours working through my issues. I’ve spent time in support groups, in church, in personal devotions, with a professional therapist, opening up to family and friends, and even did a stint in inpatient treatment center for an addiction fueled by underlying pain I never dealt with. It takes time, and it takes effort. But I promise it is so worth it. If you don’t know where to start, the best first step is just reaching out and opening up to someone about what you’ve been through. And if you don’t have anyone in your life you feel comfortable sharing these things with, start with me! My inbox is always open.

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Continue reading

Scars, bared v.7: The last word

24 May

A year after breaking up, it became evident that the mere end of a relationship wasn’t enough to keep John from exercising his power over me. New girlfriend or not, I don’t think that at any point in that time frame I had gone longer than a week or two without hearing from him. He would call or text me, say that he was just checking in and hoped I was doing alright, and honestly I would usually go right for the bait and text him back. Bad memories or not, he was a sense of security for me, and it was really comforting to know that he still cared. Or, at least he pretended to. The friendly outreach would last for a couple days, before he would start grilling me about the parts of my life he truly cared about. Did I have a boyfriend yet? Was I seeing anyone? Even interested at all? He would start out by acting really genuinely concerned for me, saying that he hoped I could find someone because I deserved happiness. Naturally, even if there was someone in my life, I would never tell him upfront but when he started acting like he was honestly just interested in my well-being, I would let down my guard and tell him about whichever guy I was interested in at the time. He would hold up his act, maybe for an hour or maybe for another day or two, and then he’d snap. He would tell me what a terrible person this guy was, or maybe how I was stupid for thinking I had a chance with him, or shallow for being interested in someone so vain, or basically anything he could think of to convince me I was doing something wrong. And naturally, I would always let him get into my head. No matter how well-meaning John would seem to start out, I never had any contact with him that didn’t end up making me feel like shit. We’d end up fighting, he’d degrade me, calling me horrible names and reminding me of every reason why we weren’t together anymore (which suddenly was completely due to my shortcomings), and we’d cut off contact. At least, for a little while. But sure enough, in a matter of weeks he would text me, “apologizing” for being so rude last time we talked, assuring me that he only got mad because he was still a little bit jealous only because he will always love me, and that he truly does want to see me happy. The disgusting part is that I always let myself fall for it. Even when I knew full well where the conversation was heading, there were just some nights I was so lonely, and John was someone that I could always count on to be there, and be more than willing to text me back within minutes.

Whenever any of my friends could see that I had been talking with him again, they were never happy with me. They would tell me to delete his number, tell his girlfriend, or get a restraining order against him. Well, deleting his number would never work because it had been memorized for years. I would never say anything to his girlfriend because she was pretty much on all levels of crazy, and I just didn’t want to deal with that. And the idea of a restraining order seemed way too drastic, and besides, that would never fly considering that every time he contacted me, I ran right back to him. As long as we’re being honest, I can even admit that there were times when I contacted him first. It was just a mess, and like usual, I felt like there was nothing I could do because it was my fault for getting into it anyway.

I’m not sure where along the line I made up my mind that the conversations needed to end. Maybe it was the time that he was being so rude to me that I shut off my phone, and in response he actually called both my dad and my sister, yelling at them to get ahold of me? Maybe it was when he threatened to “beat the shit out of” the new guy I was seeing? Or maybe, like our relationship, after all that time, I had finally just had enough. Either way, I had made up in my mind that it was time to be clear about my intentions with him. It was some day in early January, over a year after breaking up, and John texted me to see what I had been up to. I wasn’t extra nice or friendly, I simply texted him back, “John I’m sorry. I can’t keep talking to you. You don’t understand how it makes me feel, considering our history.” He said okay, and that he understood, but I was skeptical of his sincerity. Sure enough, six days later, on his birthday, he texted me “What, no happy birthday?” and I snapped. Snapped. Really? You’re my crazy abusive ex who I told less than a week ago that I didn’t want to hear from anymore, and you’re going to try to lay a guilt trip on me for not telling you happy birthday?! I didn’t text him back, but I was literally furious. This was the first time I had put my foot down and directly asked him to leave me alone, and he blatantly ignored it. I spent all week brewing anger, until Saturday night, when I went to one of the most life-changing church services of my life.

That weekend at Vineyard, we spoke about the power that our words have on other people, and the power that other people’s words have on us. At the end, my pastor asked for anyone who felt that they were still affected by negative words spoken over them should come up and get prayer. I didn’t even think about it, it was like my legs were moving on their own, I was up there before he finished the sentence. And it hit me, this is why I feel like I can’t get over what happened. This is why I’m still hurting. This is why even with professional help to deal with the real nitty-gritty stuff: the fear, the PTSD from the physical aspect of the relationship, I’m still broken. It’s because I have taken all the negative words, all of the verbal and emotional beatings I took on my appearance, my personality, my worth as a person, and I soaked them in and never have been able to convince myself of anything else. I told my story to the girl who was praying for me and she just looked at me and said, “Girl you are NOT alone. I have been there.” and even just those words: you are not alone, swept peace over me. I’m not alone in this? I thought I was. Someone else has been through this? Someone else knows this crazy, messed up world I’ve experienced? I had no idea. She prayed for me and I just cried and cried and afterwards we were talking and she looked me in the eyes and literally took me by the shoulders and said “Laura, you have been carrying this baggage for YEARS. You have GOT to let it go. Enough is enough. I want you to walk out of this room and do whatever it takes for you to shut this guy out of your life, to stop going through this alone, to no longer allow him to continue controlling your emotions. He has NO power over you, his words mean NOTHING to your well-being, and I want you to take every word he has ever spoken over you and you erase those from your mind and NEVER remember a single one. You are better than that and you are better than him and he will steer you away from every good thing in your life if you let him. Put it down, and walk away, and be free, once and for all.”

Wow. I turned around, I walked out of that church, I drove straight home, walked into my room, deleted every single picture with his face in it that I had ANYWHERE on my computer, turned my entire room upside down throwing away anything that reminded me of him in the slightest, blocked him on Facebook, and wrote the most soul-bearing, painfully honest, and absolutely terrifying blog post. I confessed that I had been abused, that I lied to everyone about it, and that I was a complete emotional trainwreck because of it. I think the scariest part wasn’t posting it for anyone and everyone on the internet to read, but for those four people– my mom, my dad, my big sister, and little brother– who I knew would never look at me the same. But it had to be done, I knew it did. I had to break his hold on me, and the only way I knew how to do that was to shine a great, big light on his actions which I had kept in the dark for years.

My blog, which usually received fifty views max on any given entry, had over five hundred views within twenty-four hours of posting. I was literally flooded with texts, emails and Facebook messages of support and encouragement, but shockingly just as many of girls telling me they had been through the same thing. Some of the girls were strangers, others were girls I had known my entire life, gone to school with and lived alongside for years without ever having any idea what was going on. It was really eye-opening for me, because all along I thought I was the only person stupid enough to get myself into such a situation. And it turned out, they all thought the same thing, too. Actually, that fact is what inspired me to write this in the first place. The darkness surrounding this topic is only further empowering abusers, and burying their victims.

Literally the next day my dad was down in Duluth to bring me to the court house for a restraining order against John. As it turned out, the fact that he had any history at all of being violent with me was pretty much a guarantee that the order would go through. And sure enough, it did. Within a week, John was legally forbidden to contact me in any form, or even set foot on the properties of my home, workplace, and school. It was so liberating, and was a huge weight off my shoulders. The part I really loved was that, well, I’m from a small town. My dad is pretty well known and all around pretty well liked. He’s got a lot of connections, especially in law enforcement. And I was amused to hear that the two officers who went to serve John’s orders were both men from my church, both of whom have children that I babysit. Of course, when they gave it to him, up until that final moment he was trying to blame me. Telling them that it was me contacting him, and that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, little did he know that he was trying to bullshit the only two officers in the district who were practically like family to me. Needless to say, they didn’t have any of it. And overall, it was definitely one of the finer hours of this entire saga.

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Continue reading

Scars, bared v.6: The anatomy of an abuser

15 May

John was a woman hater. I don’t know exactly what spurred this, but he definitely never viewed women as anything valuable. I say this because everything that went wrong in his life, he found some way to blame on a woman. When we first started dating, John had nothing good to say about any other girl. I thought this was a good sign, because it meant I was the only one he cared about. But if a guy can’t hold together a friendship with a girl, it’s probably not the best sign that he will be very competent at holding a relationship with one either. He told me horror stories about his last ex, how she cheated on him and treated him terribly. I didn’t know any better but to believe him, and I grew to hate this girl with a passion. She would text him from time to time, and he would lash out at her, calling her names and telling her that no one wanted her around. Before we even started dating, she messaged me on Myspace to ask me if we were together. I went off on her and accused her of being jealous and obsessed with him, and that she needed to get over him. I was heartless towards her, because I was so convinced that she had mistreated my boyfriend. He told me that the trust and jealousy issues he had were because of her, and I hated her for that. I hated her because I felt that she was responsible for all of the emotional issues that he took out on me. Like usual, he effectively shifted the responsibility of his actions off of his own shoulders, and onto someone else.

I could not have been more wrong. To this day, I consider this ex-girlfriend of his to be one of my closest friends. Somewhere along the line, when I began to see John for who he truly was, I suspected that there was more to his description of her than met the eye. Sure enough, there wasn’t an ounce of truth to anything he had accused her of, and it turned out that he had abused her as well. The two of them were only together about a quarter of the time that I had been with him, so thankfully she hadn’t seen a side of him quite as ugly as I had, but she definitely took a lot of mistreatment that she didn’t deserve. One day we decided to have lunch, and it was so comforting to be able to talk about my relationship with someone who understood. And I mean really understood. To talk with someone who has also been in an abusive relationship makes you feel like you are not alone, but to talk with someone who was abused by the exact same person who abused you? It’s like finding your long-lost twin sister. We talked for hours about all the things he did and said to us both, and found that while on slightly different scales, our stories mirrored one another. We found relief in confiding in each other, and realizing that he was the problem in the relationship, not she or I. I can look at her and tell her that she is a beautiful, smart, kind, and amazing lady, who didn’t deserve anything that he made her feel like she deserved. It’s easy for me to see that about her, but not so easy for her to see for herself. In the same sense that I can tell her that what John did was not her fault, it’s hard for me to apply that same train of thought when I look in the mirror. Which is where she helps me. Together we have helped each other come to terms with the fact that the only flaw that we both possess is caring too much. Feeling bad for his pity stories, wanting to be the one to fix up his life, believing him when he played out the victim role. Letting him talk us back into his arms whenever we tried to leave.

Not only did he devalue the girls he spent time with, he cycled through them as if they were nothing. None really had any lasting value in his eyes, and I think the only reason that I wasn’t kicked to the curb as quickly as the rest of them was because I held on to him for dear life. I’m determined to a fault when it comes to things like this, and I will hold on through whatever it takes just to prove a point to myself and everyone else. It’s like when I was a kid and my dad would take us tubing behind the boat, we’d have a playful bet going that he wouldn’t be able to throw me off the tube. He whip a corner and I’d go flying, but I’d still have that one hand gripping the handle. Not even on the tube anymore, I’d be skipping on top of the water (which felt like concrete, by the way), choking on the fountain spray that was blinding me at the same time, feeling like the waves were going to rip my arm off but there was no way I would admit defeat by voluntarily dropping my grip. I was determined to see it through to the end of the ride, and prove that I wasn’t all talk. This is exactly the kind of subconscious I had while dating John. If I was easily shaken, I would have thrown my hands in the air and walked away from him only months after I met him. But I held on for two long years, captured his heart, and became the girl he was hopelessly devoted to loving and destroying at the same time.

Every failure in his life that he couldn’t blame on a girlfriend, he blamed on his mother. She left his family when he was little, and the story I got from him was that she walked out with no explanation and no reason in the middle of the night and no one has seen her since. She left his family stranded, broke his dad’s heart, and ruined everyone for life. He said his dad had cancer, which is why he didn’t go to driver’s ed. He never got a job because he was too busy taking care of his dad. And he didn’t trust girls because he will never be able to forgive his mom for what she did. It was a really sad story, and like I said, it broke my heart. But the longer we dated and the more I got to know him, the less his story seemed to fit together. His mom was actually still in town, but refused be around his dad because of the scene he would cause. Bits and pieces that I had picked up from family members over the years lead me to wonder if John may treat women the way he does because he grew up watching his dad treat his mom the same way. I can’t know for sure, but having been there, it would make a lot of sense. I also eventually came to terms with the fact that his missing out on driver’s education may have had more to do with a lack of commitment to his classes in school, let alone sticking around extra hours in the evening, than it did his caring for his father. And the fact that he didn’t have a job pointed more towards his utter lack of motivation and inability to acknowledge authority.

It was a manipulative cycle of his but in the end it simply came down to him wanting to gain everything but work for nothing. He expected everything to be handed to him, and somewhere along the road he found out that pity was a great way to accomplish that. Throughout our relationship I tried so hard to push him to be self-sufficient. With no driving permit, car, job, or high school degree, John wasn’t exactly in a spot to move up in the world. Over the course of two years I helped him get his GED, pass his learner’s permit test, teach him to drive, get his driver’s license, find a job, and get enrolled in a local community college. This took hours on end of encouragement, driving him around, and working in the background to get all the details sorted out. It was somewhat tiring but to see him gain some independence made it completely worth it for me. I just wanted to see him succeed in life, I wanted him to be happy. And I thought that he was finally getting there.

Unfortunately, he soon decided to quit showing up for work which ultimately got him fired, and lost his source of income, thus preventing him from buying gas to do any driving. He even dropped out of college only a couple weeks into the semester, following our break-up. It was disappointing to see all the progress I had made be tossed aside, but if he doesn’t want to provide for himself, no one can force him. I hope that he one days discovers the satisfaction of earning your own way in life, and quits riding off the pity of those who care (and brute force for those who do not).

At this point, two years later, I truly do wish for happiness for him. I hope that he can start pulling his own weight in the world, and I hope that he can drop these manipulative games he plays with women. I know that he’s been dating another girl over the last couple of years, and I think about her on a regular basis, praying that he doesn’t hurt her the way he hurt me. I may still be broken, but I’m not bitter. I may have legally prevented him from contacting me, but only for the sake of my sanity. I want him to be successful, and go on to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. But like I said, that’s not something that I can force him to accept. That’s not something that any woman can provide to him. He’s going to have to want it himself, and he’s going to have to work for it. If there’s one thing I learned about John, it’s that he’s determined as hell. I have no doubt that he could do whatever he set his mind to. More than anything, I just want that determination to be focused on positive things. He can do it. I know he can. The sad part is, I just don’t think he ever will.

The unfortunate follow up to this is that it’s now been almost TEN years since our relationship, and he has continued to leave a trail of destruction everywhere he goes. He’s dated quite a few girls since me, and I am not exaggerating when I say that every. single. one of them. has contacted me at some point asking for help on how to either get away from him or keep him away. And, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, only a matter of months ago he was arrested for domestic assault. Which breaks my heart. Yes, it’s comforting to see him finally get caught and hopefully see some consequences for his actions, but it just means that he is still out there abusing people. And I hate that.

~~~

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

 

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Scars, bared v.5: The break-up

1 May

In the midst of all the manipulation and the push and pull and the addictive cycles of the relationship, where exactly did all of this end?

There wasn’t really a definitive point where I said “That’s it, I need to break up with him.” They day I ended the relationship wasn’t during a fight, it wasn’t after he beat me up, and it wasn’t any time one would think to be a rational point to end the relationship. In fact, when I broke it off, things were actually going really well. And for the first time, our relationship felt almost… normal.

It was the summer before my sophomore year of college, and things had been going surprisingly great. It had been a couple months since John had an abusive episode, and aside from the ever-present nit-picking, he wasn’t being too incredibly different from an average boyfriend. He was starting to hang out with my family, we were going out more instead of always staying home alone, he had gotten his driver’s license, and had plans to start college in the fall. All in all, I was really proud of him. He seemed to be changing for the better, and finally becoming what I’d hoped he’d be all along. The unsettling part of it was, even with him finally starting to treat me with a little respect, things still weren’t quite right between us. See, without the rage and the anger driving us apart, there was no need for the passionate phases to pull us back together. We became rather mundane, and now that I had time to breathe rather than constantly fighting to keep him around, I began to wonder if I truly wanted him around at all. About a month earlier, we had gotten into an argument and agreed that it might be good to take a break from each other. We were still technically together, but we spent a we.ek without any contact. What worried me was the fact that honestly, the week felt no different to me. Sure I missed having someone to talk to all the time, but I really wasn’t sad over it. At the end of the week he was saying how he’d missed me so terribly and never wants to have to do that again, and I started to realize that maybe I wasn’t as committed to the relationship as I originally thought.

It was about the third week of August when John had his first day of college class. As a celebration, I took him down to Duluth for a day by a swimming hole, equipped with barbecuing supplies, brats, chips, soda, and the like. It was so much fun. We grilled together, we swam, we walked around the harbor downtown, we had dinner, and we drove home and took a nap. The day was literally perfect. No fighting, nothing. Yet for some reason, everything he said was bothering me. I still had that level of resentment against him that I naturally picked up when he was abusing me. I didn’t want to mention this to him, because I felt guilty. I felt like the problem was with me, for being the one to not be thankful for how much he had changed. Like usual, I labeled myself as being the issue in the relationship. I felt like I needed to once again try to fix myself, but I didn’t know what to do differently. I couldn’t shake the feeling that our relationship just wasn’t right. He had finally done all the things I was wishing for so long that he’d do, but I still wasn’t happy. I pushed the thought out of my mind and tried to be thankful for the difference.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. To be honest, when I went to his house on September 11, 2010, I had no idea we were about to break up. We were just hanging out, and got into a conversation about our relationship. I felt like my lack of enthusiasm for our newly functional relationship was stemming from the fact that I still couldn’t lose the old memories. I had always told myself that as soon as he changed, I could feel better about myself, and more secure in the relationship. The problem was that even though he had been treating me so well, I couldn’t drop the memories. I still looked at him, and saw the face that screamed in mine for saying the wrong word.

I looked at him, and saw the hands that put me in the hospital. I looked around his apartment and couldn’t avoid noticing the holes in the walls, left from various thrown items, sometimes even from my own body being shoved against it. I saw broken furniture, and cracked mirrors, I saw everything that screamed “abuse”. I broke down in tears, and before I could really even realize what was coming out of my mouth, I was breaking up with him. It just felt like the only honest thing to do at the time. He kept trying to get me to change my mind, but I was so tired of playing the fake break-up game,  the emotional whiplash, I felt like I needed to stick to my guns. I don’t know what kept me so strong that night over any other time I tried leaving him, but we said our goodbyes and I went home. Of course, I’m still a girl, and the break up was hard on me. What was even harder was that I knew we ended on good terms, and I knew he was more sad than he was mad. The next month was probably the hardest to get through, I felt so alone, and I knew that all I needed was one phone call and I could have him back. But I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.

When he realized that trying to get me back wouldn’t work, John start going after other girls. Even though I deleted him from Facebook, he was always commenting on other girls photos that he knew I was friends with, calling them beautiful and shamelessly flirting with him. Naturally it got under my skin, and I really started second-guessing myself. I tried to ignore it, because I knew that was his goal all along, but it was really hard. I stood my ground, but the true test came when the holiday season rolled around.

A mutual friend of ours was throwing an Ugly Sweater Christmas party, and invited me. Several of my friends were going, and I had heard that John would be there too. I was so torn, I didn’t know if I should go or not. Part of me knew that it would be a bad idea to be in the same room as him again, and part of me wanted to go just to show that he didn’t have the power to scare me out of having fun with my friends anymore. In the end, I went. And of course, John pulled his sweet charm act, and by the end of the night we were inseperable. We made plans to spend New Years Eve together, having a smaller party with only a few other friends there. When the New Years Eve party came, John told me that he still loved me. I couldn’t lie and say that my feelings weren’t starting to come back, and hell, I’d been lonely for those last couple months! He told me about a concert coming up of one of my favorite bands, and promised me that he would take me. Over the next month or so, until that concert, we were really keeping in touch. I had pretty much already accepted the fact that he and I were going to get back together. I figured it would be different this time, that with that four-month break, I would be able to disconnect the old John in my mind from the new John. I was feeling surprisingly optimistic.

About a week before the concert, John stopped calling. I couldn’t get ahold of him, and was trying frantically to nail down plans for the following weekend. He finally answered my calls, and yelled at me for god knows what. Something he had heard, or something I had said wrong. It was the old John coming back all over again. He yelled at me and he told me that now, because of my actions, he wasn’t going to take me to the concert. He would be taking Sarah, the girl who had spent two years doing everything in her power to break up the relationship we had. I was devastated. Even more, I was furious. Furious with him for pulling this same bullshit all over again, furious with myself for being so stupid as to let it happen. I was really hurt, and felt like I was going through the break up all over again. About a month later, I found out that he had been dating Sarah long before the concert date even came up, he just didn’t tell me. Basically, I don’t think that he ever had any intention of bringing me to that concert. He wanted to build me up and break me down, like he thrived on in the past. Why now? I wasn’t really sure. Maybe revenge for breaking up with him, maybe not. Maybe just for the hell of it. Either way, it hurt, but the good thing was that I finally felt convicted that the decision to break up was a good one. I no longer wondered if it was the right thing to do, or if I was missing out on a better him. I wasn’t. He was still the same. He always would be.

~~~

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

Welcome to week five of Scars, bared. The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it.  And while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true.

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Scars, bared v.4: The concussion

24 Apr

It’s mid-October, 2009.

Wednesday.

My freshman year of college. John came down to stay the night with me, and we had a great afternoon. We spent the day bumming around town, shopping, going out to eat. Now we were winding down, and getting ready for bed. My phone buzzes. One new message, from a number I didn’t have saved in my phone book. My stomach flipped over, because I knew this was never good. Regardless of who was on the other side of the message, there was only one way this was going to end.

“Who is that?” John asked.

“Hmm, I’m not really sure,” I tried to answer as light-heartedly and nonchalantly as possible. I opened the message and my heart sank as I immediately knew who it was from. Mike Johnson, a boy I had graduated from high school with. He was a star athlete, popular, and good looking. Everything John hated in another person. To make matters worse, I used to have a crush on this guy, and John knew it. Never mind the fact that it was at least three years ago, it was still asking for trouble.

“Laura. Who is it?”

He was more stern this time, and I could hear the anger starting to build up. I couldn’t tell him that it was Mike. It didn’t even matter what the text was about. In fact, the text was only asking me what general education credits were covered by a class that we ended up in together. Honestly, I think he had a girlfriend at the time anyways. But none of that would matter to John, all that would matter is that Mike texted me.

I told John that I didn’t know who it was. He made me show him the text, and he wrote down the number that it was from. I didn’t want to hand my phone to him, but I knew that ultimately I had no choice in the matter. He would get that number either way, I might as well take the easy route and just hand it over. When he gave me my phone back, I replied to the message, and acted like none of this was bothering me. John wouldn’t accept that, and his fury was building by the second. He kept threatening to text the number to find out who it was, so I finally told him.

“Mike Johnson? Are you kidding me? You’re cheating on me with him, aren’t you?!”
“John, no, I promise. Shhh, please, my roommates are sleeping..”
“No. I always knew you were just a stupid whore. This is fucked up.”

I tried to calm him down and keep him quiet so my roommates wouldn’t hear the things he was saying to me, but it didn’t work. I reassured him that I would never cheat on him, and that Mike and I hadn’t even been talking previously, it was just a class question. Of course, he didn’t believe me. One thing led to another, and he stormed out of my dorm. I wasn’t sure what he was going to do, it was cold outside, and I didn’t want him out running around alone. I knew that I would end up having to take responsibility for whatever he did out there, so I followed him to try to convince him to come back inside. This point of the night is where things get fuzzy, where I’m not exactly sure what happened and when. I remember being in the stairwell, as he told me that our relationship was over. I was crying, and begging him not to leave. He told me that if I didn’t let him go, that he would do something horrible. I told him that I didn’t think that he could, and he got in my face and told me that he and his brother once killed someone together. Of course it wasn’t true–as far as I know–but he was trying to scare me, and I wouldn’t have any of that. Under the surface it was working, but I wanted so desperately for him to believe that I wasn’t intimidated, hoping he’d stop trying. I stared him back dead in the eyes and said to him, “That’s bullshit. You would never. Stop trying to act tough because it’s not working, you can’t scare me.”

That was the last thing I remember before everything went black.

The only memories I have after that conversation are in fragmented clips. I remember him lunging for me, grabbing me by the shoulders. Then darkness. I remember him shaking me. I remember the point of impact where my head slammed against the brick wall, and then falling to the ground. Black. I don’t remember screaming, but I remember hearing myself scream. I remember him lifting me up off the ground, trying to calm me down. More darkness. Again, I remember hearing my own wailing, but I don’t remember actually having the energy to cry. At this point, John helped me until I could stand by myself again, and then he tried to run. He said, “Now I’m going to go to jail. I have to run now, or you’ll never see me again.”

And there I was, in this horribly twisted situation. I’m standing at the top of the stairs, holding my head as it throbbed, my vision blurring as I, once again, was the one begging him to stay. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want him to leave and end up getting a phone call in a couple hours that he had done something even worse. I wanted someone to comfort me, and like all too often, I was forced to turn back to the one who hurt me in the first place. I had other friends who might help, sure, but how could I possibly explain this, without having to explain mine and John’s history. Without having them look down on me for allowing him to treat me like this. I could call my parents, but I knew they would be upset if they heard that John was sleeping over with me. I felt like I had no other choice but to do whatever I could to keep him around.

I promised him I would never talk to Mike again. I promised him I would be a better person. I begged him to please, just come upstairs, don’t make me sleep alone. If he wanted to leave tomorrow then so be it, but I just couldn’t handle it tonight. Finally, he relented. He brought me upstairs and helped me into bed. The entire room was spinning, and I had never had a worse headache in my life. I could feel a huge egg forming on the back of my head, and all I could do was cry. I laid in bed and cried but I couldn’t sleep. My eyes were burning, my mind so desperately wanting to shut down, but the pain was keeping me awake. John was indifferent. Sure he laid next to me, but he put in a movie to watch instead of making sure I was alright. I don’t know how I ended up falling asleep, but eventually I did. In the morning I woke up in a haze, got dressed, and went to class. I was walking down the hallway and I realized I couldn’t keep my balance. I kept falling to one side or the other, and when I looked down at the floor it was morphing back and forth as if I were in a funhouse. I knew something wasn’t right, so I went down to Health Services to have the bump on my head looked at. The nurse asked me how it happened. I knew I couldn’t tell her the truth, so I told her I slipped and fell in the parking lot. She told me I needed to see a doctor right away. I asked her if she thought I could drive myself, and she said no. I called my dad and told him that I had fallen the night before, and that the nurse thinks I need to go to the doctor. He said he was on his way. Obviously John couldn’t be around when my dad showed up, so I asked him if he could just hang out in my dorm until my dad brought me back home (John didn’t drive, so he had to wait for his dad to come and pick him up that night). Crazy part? He said no. That he would be too bored. He wanted to go to the mall. I asked if he could take the bus over, but he said no, he wanted me to drive him. So here I am, barely able to walk in a straight line, head still pounding, and John is asking me to get behind the wheel so he can hang out at the mall.

Naturally I did it, and got back to school just in time for my dad to pick me up. By then, the pain in my head was making me so sick I was afraid I would throw up. When the doctor finally saw me, he said that I definitely had a concussion, but because it appeared to be such a hard impact, that he wanted to do a CT scan to make sure I didn’t have any bleeding in my brain. Do you want to know what the sick part was? I almost wished I did. I wanted something horrible to happen, something that would finally make John realize what he’d done. A concussion was serious, but still not uncommon. After hours of waiting in the emergency room, the results came back. There was no bleeding, nothing life-threatening, just a bad concussion. No one seemed to be completely convinced by my parking lot story, but I stuck to my guns.

I was so angry with John inside, so horrified that I had just spent all evening in the hospital by his hand, so hurt that he didn’t seem to care. And yet, I was stuck defending him. Keeping him safe, lying to everyone around me about what truly happened the night before. It’s a twisted feeling to contradict yourself in such a way; everything I was feeling inside was the complete opposite of everything coming out of my mouth. I trusted nobody, at this point it was evident that even I could not be trusted. Who do you turn to when you can’t even rely on yourself? You turn to what’s familiar, what’s constant, what’s strong. John was familiar, he was constant, and he was strong. I had been with him for so long, and became so entwined in his mind games, I didn’t know anything different. If we weren’t together in person, he constantly had to be in contact with me. And although it was in the worst way possibly, he was strong. John became my rock. When I sank so low that nothing around me made any sense, I always understood him. It may have been wrong, and completely destroying me, but it made sense. I knew how to make him happy, I knew how to upset him. I could see his mood patterns a mile away, and I swear I could feel an assault coming a week before it actually happened. It hurt, but as any victim of trauma, I came up with coping mechanisms. I learned to deal with it. It became my reality and the idea of leaving it for something completely different scared me to death. As self-contradictory as it felt, I was determined to defend him, keeping his name as clean as possible even while simultaneously destroying my own.

~~~

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness
Week four: The concussion
Week five: The break-up
Week six: The anatomy of an abuser
Week seven: The last word
Week eight: Emotional repercussions
Week nine: Warning signs
Week ten: For loved ones of domestic violence victims

Welcome to week four of Scars, bared. The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it.  And while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true.

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.