Dear Abusive Relationship, I don’t talk about my past a lot anymore, at least not in my present relationship, or with people who know about you. Since I’ve finally moved on from your constraining presence, there’s no reason to.
But, I share it with people in my writing because it helps them. Some people are stuck and feel they have no way out. Some mothers and fathers can’t afford to move and so, they stay with people who hurt them. They stay with partners who just can’t control one word that comes out of their mouths. Who appear to be powerless when it comes to chaining fury.
I didn’t think I had a type, but they say it takes nine months until you will witness every emotion your SO will have. So, even though all might be rosy at months 6-7, you might be in store for more. If you even detect you could be harmed, no matter how deeply you are falling down the rabbit hole of infatuation, it is time to GET OUT.
My type would lurk in hiding before leaping out and making themselves known.
Dear Abusive Relationship, I learned I was not important enough to stop hurting. That my feelings paled in comparison to the need my partner had to express themselves in hurtful ways. THAT was it. No matter what, their anger, their every feeling had to find release.
Somehow, the abused find the strength to get out. But many don’t. I think of the articles advertising the couples who have stayed together, the pictures of elderly women with black eyes, silent for decades. I think of the woman who lived with an abuser who took a picture of herself every day. One day, she had a smooth clean face, the next a constellation of bruises and a fat lip, and then she would heal, and I would forget the physical proof of battering, but never the look in her eyes.
I think of the young blonde woman scrambling to run away at our campsite when I was a little girl. The car that roared up with a man in it and him demanding her to get back in. She was a lost fawn, searching escape she never found, kicking the rocks near our tents as her footing slipped, her whole body a bundle of instinct to run before she caved and turned around.
I wonder what happened to her when she returned home with that man. I think I know.
Survivors do get out and when we do it is an intricate game of Cloak and Dagger. We hide and scheme and sneak and refuse to go “home.” But if we are not careful, we will return to that same home with the same partner who just happens to possess a different face…because we tend to choose people who have the same temperaments, who suffer from their own emotional crippling. We are addicted to bad treatment that we believe is a fair response to our inequalities. We actually feel sorry for the people who have to put up with us.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. This equates to more than 10 million women and men.”
Statistics on rape are shocking: “Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.”
Abusive relationship, you are everywhere. It is a certainty that we know someone living in your grasp.
Maybe you have wondered what happens when you finally and permanently leave? The pull is challenging to return, but survivors must stay out.
Survivors, I can tell you even when you have physically bested the odds, you will remain in an emotionally-spiked, anxiety-riddled prison for a long time. This is okay. This is the new beast to wrestle and it is normal. You will even miss the old familiarity of the battle you have memorized so well and it will make you feel guilty and like you deserved your past treatment. The advent of a healthy dynamic is terrifying and seems as fleeting as a ragged scarf in a tumbling wind.
When your eyes begin to open you will examine the dynamic that exists in every relationship for patterns. Do you accept judgment as if you have earned it (no such thing); do you fall into the role of being overly accommodating while fighting the truth that you are hiding your true self because you will never have approval? Do you justify cruel behavior because you are the one “who is a handful,” “who is the troublemaker”? You will learn the roles you have played throughout your life and they will all be similar. You will have been gaslit, deceived and blamed.
When you work on truly loving yourself, knowledge illuminates.
My abusive relationships incited irrational rage in me because I’d had the point I was worth nothing repeatedly hammered home. They made me a people pleaser, a “yes girl,” who agreed with everything to reduce wrinkles in the fabric. They ignited a fierce and over-the-top response to everyday arguments, where I felt the need to scream out my importance from strained vocal chords. Shouting to convince myself and my partner to give a shit about me even as they promised they did through their healthy words and actions. I conjured tests for my poor husband to follow and set him up to fail so I could argue my worth. I ignored his gestures of love because it was uncomfortable, foreign, and I was numb. My eating disorder was a raging monster, literally consuming me. And I wanted to believe so badly in all the good sentiments I would hear about myself, but I couldn’t. I didn’t think I was smart until I was 32 and had enrolled in college. That was the extent of my assigned self-value.
Dear Abusive Relationship, you cost me not just the physical ability to feel safe, but you instilled in me that I was one of the unlucky ones. That some people were born lucky and were afforded love and I wasn’t one of them. That I was the biggest loser in this way because that was the way life was…unfair. You taught me you can sleep in the same bed with someone without really sleeping, your body coiled and ready to escape, and that minor daily infractions were major and merited punishment. On no subject was I ever to feel safe, at least not for too long, and when I learned how many people bore this weight, I was disheartened because that was the grooming of society. It was acceptable because it was so rampant.
In the same vein, I realized my life meant something because of you.
I live on the opposite pole now and I have the intimate knowledge of what not backing down brings. I know that if you are in an abusive relationship, you are not as alone as you think and that when you flee, you need to pour every molecule of your being into recovering.
Be ready to dedicate years of your life to this endeavor.
I had a yearning to confirm I fucking mattered. It drove me to push, to keep accepting there could be a different way and a different reality. I wanted happiness in a marriage so much, and I kept doing the work, even when I fell down a thousand times…I knew my life was a product of me and not the control I’d had taken from me, the action I didn’t know how to defend. My need to believe in a better life outshone the creeping cancer of rampant and repeated abuse.
Dear Abusive Relationship, you are behind me, but now when I think of you…I think of my resplendent power in the face of naked fear. That I am a survivor, that you could be conquered and that feeling abandoned as I sorted out the darkest memories and terror wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Believing I was merely a barren vessel for punishment was.
To you, survivor, write your own letter and get in touch with what you have recouped and what you have reigned victorious over, redeeming your self-worth.
To you, who are still in danger, who are being hurt every day, you know that feeling when you sit down, exhausted and out of breath when you consider your friend you have wanted to confide in? When you sense in your gut what the next step should be, and it is plotting leaving or hiding? There’s a reason you’re feeling that. Be careful, but act on it.
Prepare to receive the love from people (you may not even know) who care, those who don’t have a clue.
I urge you to stop hiding in shame.
Dear Abusive Relationship, you are a liar. Because everyone deserves more and better and best, and all the love in the world for one reason alone. They are human.
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