Michelle experienced emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. Since escaping, she continues to work hard to stay free. Her story is a powerful reminder that recovering from abuse is an ongoing process – and one we have to work hard on.
Recent events have triggered happy memories of my abusive ex, and in the months since I escaped him I do still grapple with the occasional ‘rose-tinted spectacles moment’. I was feeling low, and then I received *Michelle’s email. It was a powerful reminder to keep focussed on my goals: freedom, safety, happiness.
Michelle is an amazing, switched-on woman. I applaud her for all that she’s achieved, how far she’s come, and her determination to stay free. Here’s her story, in her words, published with her generous permission because she wants to help others as she has been helped.
* Not her real name
“There were red flags from day one”
My ex showed almost all the early warning signs of abuse. The worst part is that there were red flags from day one–he talked about smashing his ex’s phone when she hid it from him on our first date, many of his stories involved him being violent, and he openly admitted that he would not be attracted to his gf if she gained weight. I originally thought that this was just him being brutally honest, rather than an insinuation that I better watch my weight.
He made me cry several times within the first two months of dating. He would get drunk and call me at 3am, get angry, swear, yell, call me names and hang up. Then he would call me back 2 minutes later “not remembering” what just happened. He got mad at me for standing too far from him at a concert because we were in the pit and another guy was too close to me for his liking. He called me “too independent.”
He got mad if I walked in front of him. He accused me of trying to attract attention by walking with my head up and scanning the crowd at an event (when really I was walking with confidence, in myself and with him. I was proud to be on his arm, but he didn’t accept that.) He got angry when a woman came up to me to compliment me on my outfit and to ask where I got it–he called her a lesbian and didn’t accept that that was why she approached me; he didn’t believe women just ask each other about their clothes. Really. He said that all women are secretly bisexuals and he’s “so smart” that he could read that off a woman instantly.
He told me he had texts saved from two of his ex-gfs because “its small town, they’re crazy and they could say anything about me” I didn’t like this but I let it go. I later realized that he has them saved to protect his own ass in case they ever came out and said he was abusive. I ignored these red flags because I had too much faith, or wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to see if I was jumping to conclusions or over-analyzing, and by the time I realized the relationship had transitioned into full-blown abusive, I was in too deep.
“I was crazy about him.. I appeared vulnerable”
Despite these incidents, I was crazy about him. I thought I’d found the man I was going to spend my life with. He was everything I wanted, abusive behaviour aside. He was manly, sexy, smart, funny, a country man. We had so much in common–lifestyle, tastes in music, cars, activities. We were both outdoorsy. I thought I’d finally found someone I could share all these things with and we would have a life filled with adventure. I moved in with him after two months of dating. He had lived with 3 of his past gfs before (another red flag) whereas I had never lived with anyone. He liked me because I was “innocent” he said. In other words, I appeared vulnerable, and easy target for him to control and manipulate.
“He slowly began to isolate me”
There are so many things that started to add up in abusive behaviour, some of which I just wrote off as the difficulties of living together and of being in a relationship. What I failed to acknowledge was that yes, there are difficulties, but in a healthy relationship they are addressed and dealt with, they’re not a pattern. He slowly began to isolate me from friends. He always spoke negatively about anyone I talked to or associated with. The first incident was when I went to a party without him. At first he was totally fine. Then he got drunk and phoned me. He got angry because it sounded like a “shitshow” in the background (we were listening to music and sitting around a campfire) then he really lost it when he heard male voices, and proceeded to claim that I told him there were only going to women there. I never once said any such thing.
Anything I said fell on deaf ears. He screamed at me, shamed me into being at a party with a bunch of “high school bullshit” He said he trusted me (not really) and that he was mad because he wanted to be thinking about settling down and having a family. That right there was a load of crap because he was continuously getting wasted himself and acting like a complete reckless and irresponsible idiot–driving drunk, starting fights, breaking things, trashing his truck etc.
I had walked away from the campfire to have some privacy and ended up sitting in a field, balling my eyes out hysterically because of how he was yelling at me. Two guys approached me and asked if I was ok. He heard them and lost it again. He asked me who they were and I said I didn’t know, I had just met them that night. He screamed at me why, if I didn’t know them, were they asking me if I was ok. Because God forbid someone ask the girl who’s bawling her eyes out, alone, in a field at night if she’s alright. What kind of indecent human being would do such a thing, right? He said he wanted to come there and rip their heads off.
“He wanted me to change my behaviour”
He repeatedly told me he didn’t want to deal with the “bullshit”–the bullshit I would later come to learn meaning men not just hitting on me, but talking to me, looking at me, or even just being polite. One day I went to the gas station for him and he asked if I got hit on. In other words, he wanted me to change MY behaviour to accommodate his jealousy.
He would always guilt me when I made plans with friends. He would use his dog for that too, wanting me to care for him, take for walks. He would make comments like “are you gonna wear makeup for once?” when I was getting ready to go out. He got mad at me for wearing lacy underwear to work or if he wasn’t around. He got mad when my shirt caught on my sweater and rode up to show a cm of skin. He didn’t like high heels, red lipstick or nailpolish. He told me to “be careful” when I wore dresses or skirts or anything that accentuated my body. He told me he didn’t like it when I showed cleavage because “it’s bad for relationships and causes too many problems” He got mad when I wore a dress and cowboy boots to a bar with my friends.
He told me friends can be bad for relationships. I had ONE friend over ONE time in the year that we lived together and he treated her like shit. She was nothing but nice to him, she even told me she liked him. But the next day he completely lost it on me, saying he didn’t like her because she’s one of those girls that likes attention and is a slut. I got angry and argued with him that he was being ridiculous and he turned on me and screamed that he didn’t like dumb girls and I was starting to act like one. Needless to say, I never had another friend over. He later told me he’d asked his buddy about my friend and and got some “dirt on her” and why she wasn’t a good person.
He would call me all the time when he was at work and would get angry if I didn’t answer right away. Nothing I said was good enough. Even if I was out with my mom, he would call “just to talk” and he knew very well that I was trying to spend some time with her.
“Most of his abusive behaviour came out when he drank”
Most of his abusive behaviour came out when he drank. There were hints of it when he was sober, but drunk it came out full-throttle. He would trash our house, twice he went through the wall. He broke and ruined so many of my things.
He would get angry, disrespectful and arrogant and act like a complete asshole to me. He made comments like “control that bitch” when his friends gf was upset about something his buddy did. He would get too drunk at my family gatherings. He said “fuck you and fuck your family”
He flirted with so many other girls. We also work at the same company, and I would hear rumours that he was “seeing” this girl or that girl. I just wrote them off as rumours, because I, unlike him, trusted him. But it turned out he had crossed a line with one girl. He was always with her, he spent more time with her at work than me, there were rumours about them (not everyone knew we were dating) and over a few months I gradually became more suspicious, so I ended up checking his phone. I ended up finding out that it was a girl we both worked with, the one I had been suspicious of. I confronted him about it and he full on admitted fault but said that nothing was going on. She even came up to me and said that there wasn’t anything going on. Because both of them fought so hard to prove to me that their exchanges were innocent, I didn’t leave.
“He finally hit me”
Two month later was the worst. He finally hit me. This tension had been building for awhile, and I have to say that I could feel it coming in our fights, I almost wanted him to just do it to get it over with so I could be relieved of the anxiety and have it give me a good kick in the ass to get out. It happened, and I still didn’t leave. Not right away.
He had always made threats about wanting to kill someone when he was angry, he always threw, smashed or hit things when he lost his temper. He once said, in an argument, that if I was a guy I’d have a broken bloody nose right then. One night he came to bed and said “the heat better be all the way the fuck off or else someone is going to die. And we wouldn’t want that” and he proceeded to shut the heat off in the winter while I barely got any sleep not just from being cold but from the anxiety he caused me.
We had just returned to our hotel from a concert. He were both drunk, I immediately went to the bathroom to throw up. He was acting like an ass as usual, making comments like “you really going to stay in there all night?” and just showing a disregard for my being sick (well, drunk sick). Only when I actually started throwing up did he comfort me, and help me to bed. As he was putting me to bed I made a comment about us both being drunk together, and for some reason that set him off. He argued that he wasn’t drunk at all, and if I thought that then I could “get the fuck out and call the cops” and he proceeded to pushed me out of bed.
“HE hit ME and HE looked down on ME!”
I spun around and yelled what are you doing whats wrong with you and he kicked me away, saying he was “trying to get me away from him” as if I was the one who was coming at him. We started arguing more and out of nowhere he picked up a pillow and whipped it hard across my face. I was stunned, dropped to the floor in tears and he said “Really? A pillow? That’s it and you drop just like that? You’re pathetic.” As I was crying he stalked around the room and said that he never looked down on me as much as he did now. really. HE hit ME and HE looked down on ME!?
He was clearly trying to manipulate the situation, trying to make me feel weak in hopes that I would retaliate and forget about the fact the hit me, and instead make the issue be about me and my weakness. I called my dad while I was crying but I was in hysterics and ended up hanging up without telling him what happened. My bf calmed right down, but angry and sad (he cried) that I had called my dad and couldn’t believe that I had “betrayed him like that”
The next morning he said it was bullshit that women can get away with hitting men but men can’t get away with hitting women, that how can a woman hit a man and not expect to get hit back. For the record, I had shoved him previously another time before this when he was in once of his drunken asshole stupors and I couldn’t take his shit anymore. I fully owned up to it and expressed how I didn’t like my behaviour and that it wasn’t right (even though my shoving him wasn’t in an attempt to intimidate him as his hitting me was).
“He mocked me, talked over me, yelled and walked away”
He went on a complete tirade about how I’d betrayed him, how he looked down on me for it, and that if it ever happened again he would leave. wtf. He shifted the focus completely onto me, and totally disregarded his behaviour and how it affected me. Instead of listening to what I had to say, he mocked me, talked over me, yelled and walked away.
And this is what he did in all our arguments whenever I tried to talk to him about issues. He even tried to tell me that I was “too drunk to remember what actually happened” when I tried telling him that he pushed me out of bed for saying he was drunk. he tried to make me doubt myself so that I would stop questioning his behaviour. he eventually did apologize but he definitely didn’t mean it.
“I finally left, and he still tried to make it my fault”
After countless insults, possessiveness, paranoia, jealousy, controlling and abusive behaviour, I finally left. And he still tried to make it my fault. He said if I really loved him we would still be together. I told him I didn’t leave because I didn’t love you, I left because you were hurting me. He claimed to understand my perspective for the most part, but overall he still used excuses “I was drunk/frustrated” and justified his abuse by claiming I hurt him because he didn’t feel that I loved him the way he loved me throughout our relationship.
Clearly he expected me to accept his abusive behaviour and put up with it if I loved him, and if I didn’t want to be abused then I would have to change MY behaviour (not wear anything he would disapprove of, don;t go out without him, don’t hang out with friends, answer my phone each and every time he called etc).
The steps I took after I left
I feel that I love him. That could be the trauma bond talking, but I do believe that I do. I miss him. I think about the “good times” and it isn’t easy being apart from him. But I took the steps to get out when I came to my senses and stopped denying and making excuses about what was taking place. The first step was acknowledging the abuse and recognizing that I wasn’t happy.
The second step was telling my closest friends. thank fully he wasn’t able to drive a wedge between me and them because they’d never met him and they lived far away, plus I would have put up a stubborn fight if he’d tried to turn me against them. In telling them, I broke the silence, and they supported and continue to support me as I go through each day without him. Both of them have been through abusive relationships as well. I knew that telling them was essential to me getting out because I would have to face their disapproval if I ended up going back. Before, I could leave and go back to him without anyone knowing what was going on, no-one would disapprove and tell me I shouldn’t be with him.
“My sense of survival is stronger”
The craziest part is that there’s a part of me that still believes there’s a good person somewhere in him. There’s a part of me that believes he could change. There’s a part of me that hopes he will, for his own sake. My compassion and faith can be a weakness. But I will not go back to him. As strong as my feelings are for him, my sense of survival is stronger.
Do you have advice for those of us on our post-abuse journeys? What’s the top thing you’re holding on to as you work to stay free? Please share in the comments.
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14