I want to preface this by saying this is the HARDEST thing I will EVER share...
Everyone’s story has a villain or two in it.
This is one of mine.
Perhaps I should back up a couple steps.
If you had told me I would ever end up in an abusive relationship, I would have told you you were insane.
For one, I had watched entirely too many episodes of Sally Jesse when I was younger to know what to watch out for. And I was entirely TOO smart to fall into that.
I was entirely too smart until I wasn’t.
The truth was that gradually, through my 20’s, I began to feel broken.
I suffered through a battle with depression that left me with medication I refused to take and therapy sessions I refused to continue because I thought those things made me weak. That I was somehow smart enough to cure myself armed with zero of the necessary tools.
I had fallen in love with someone in college, during a time before I had become bitter, cynical and jaded. A time when I was still innocent and insanely naive. A time when love still seemed like it would last forever. A kiss still held magic. And sex was something that I put up on a pedestal as some sort of holy act that would surely ultimately result in union through marriage in the future.
I had graduated college with a degree in journalism. Yet, I was still so scared of the world. I was afraid to call the doctor by myself. Let alone take on the world in a career that required a sense of adventure, assertiveness, and bravery to ask the tough questions. Top all of that off with a cut throat attitude I clearly did not possess.
When the relationship failed and the other party eventually moved away, I moved in to the apartment complex where I had taken a job as a Leasing Consultant. And that depression I mentioned earlier? I still hadn’t dealt with that (though I’m certain at the time I convinced myself I was fine).
By my mid 20’s, I was living my life in a constant cycle of partying.
I would go to work, go out to the bar or drink with friends, go home to bed. Rinse. Repeat.
In my quest to fill some void I felt I had in my life, I would date ALL the wrong guys. At this point, I was jaded and cynical enough that sex had lost any meaning it may have once held.
I was living a life. But not one I was overly happy with.
By the time I was 27, I was continuing my partying ways, but I was seeing friends starting to settle down around me and I longed for something…someone… I could call my own. A half to make me whole. To start a family.
That, I had convinced myself, was the key to my happiness. That was what I was missing.
A couple months shy of turning 28, I was still living the bar lifestyle with one friend in particular. She was on the precipice of walking away from a bad marriage and had begun seeing someone else. As luck (or lack thereof as it would later come to pass) would have it, the person she was seeing had a friend she thought I should meet.
He met up with me one night while I was out with my friend. My first thoughts were that he physically wasn’t my type but he seemed nice enough, so I gave him my number and didn’t think too much of it at that point.
We met up a couple more times. I was living my life in the bar scene and he was a bartender so it seemed natural to have him meet up at whatever bar I was at when he got out of work.
When we finally went out on our first official date, it was (naturally) to meet up for drinks. To this day, I can remember exactly what he was wearing, what the bar looked like inside, and where we were placed within that scene. The reason I remember is because I had asked him a question about his parents when he confessed his mother was no longer living. She had passed tragically a few years early and as he told the story, I could feel how affected he was through his tears. In that moment, I just wanted to hold him and love him.
The fact that I was more drawn to someone because of the emotion behind their personal tragedy should have been an indicator to me at the time as it may be a clear indicator to you, the reader, that I was about to board a train to Destination: Disaster.
I proceeded with caution as I typically do with matters of the heart. We continued to hang out and he never pushed anything, which made me think more and more what a nice guy he was.
One night out, I had driven. It was late and I did not feel like driving him home so I agreed to let him stay with me. He slept in my bed all night, with his arms around me, never pushing anything. The next morning, as I got ready for work, I knew I had to kiss him before he left because he obviously wasn’t going to make the first move. As we were both leaving, I grabbed him and kissed him and from that moment forward: I was in.
Our relationship progressed in typical fashion in the coming months.
I was blissfully happy in my new romance.
However, despite the bliss, there were red flags I ignored. I even told myself I was being jealous and crazy…
He would tell me he was working late and couldn’t hang out or meet up, even though I had driven past his job on my way home (it was LITERALLY on my way…I promise I was never and have never been a drive by stalker) and his car wasn’t there.
He would tell me he would come over at a certain time and never show up. Again, blaming that he needed to work.
Any doubts that I had or thoughts he may be cheating were always erased by a grand gesture of kind words, flowers, showing up, etc. So I accepted that maybe I was just being this crazy, jealous girl.
By the new year, we were spending more of our time together.
He had taken me frequently for fancy nights out, showed me off to his friends, and I had basically moved into his apartment.
The lease on my current apartment was almost up and it was getting too expensive for me to carry on my own. I also wanted to go back to school full time for a second degree, this time in nursing. So, I began to broach the subject of me moving in with him. It just made sense at the time.
He was against it and the conversation led to many fights. I could not understand why he was so against me moving in when all of his previous girlfriends had moved in with him much more quickly than I would have been. Plus, he kept saying he loved me. Was that even true if he wasn’t willing to do something with me he had done with others? Especially when the alternative was that I was going to move back home, 3 hours away, to continue my education because I simply couldn’t afford it all on my own.
Eventually, he relented. And, in retrospect, I should have just broken it off with him and moved back home. But hind sight is 20/20.
Almost immediately after I had moved in, the problems surfaced.
The first two weeks after I moved in, he was no where to be found. I was alone in a new place, trying to find my way, and he was going out after work and not returning home until 5 or 6am.
This obviously led to many fights over the course of a couple weeks. During the fights, most of what I remember now is he would convince me he had said things and we had discussed things I couldn’t remember. “You must have been drinking Jenn” or “You’re always too busy thinking about yourself to hear what I’m saying to you.”
He had me so confused because I thought I was remembering things very clearly and what he was saying had not happened. But, maybe he was right? I felt like I was going absolutely crazy. And because I thought maybe I was going crazy, and maybe he was right, that I was so lucky someone would still love me in spite of these problems I clearly had.
After the fights, there would be the grand gesture. (In the instance above, he took me shopping for things to make the apartment feel more like it was mine and he spent more time at home for a few weeks.) Then things would be ‘normal’ for a few weeks. Then a fight. I’d feel crazy. Rinse. Repeat.
I know now that this is how the emotional abuse begins.
Someone makes you feel like you’re crazy. They make you doubt what you know. They manipulate you and the truth. And, make you feel lucky that they love you and that no one else will.
Before you know it, you’re making excuses for their behavior, blaming yourself for their anger, and convinced no one else will love you. You feel so low, and all self esteem is gone.
I can remember instances of crying so hard after a fight because I had been called LOTS of things, I would beg for forgiveness (usually for NOTHING of my own doing) and he would just look at me coldly and walk away or take off and not return for a day or so.
To this day, I can remember how cold he was and can not understand how you could be so unaffected by breaking someone down to the point of tears.
“Why didn’t you just leave Jenn?”
I can hear you asking this as you read.
The long and short of it is: it’s not that easy.
Over the course of 10 months, this continued cycle had left me questioning my own sanity and had me thinking I was the problem. My self esteem was almost non existent. Who would ever love me if he didn’t? After all, I was crazy….I didn’t remember or see all this stuff he so clearly did.
To top it all off, I had become some what dependent on him. In August, just a few months after I had moved in, I quit my full time job to go back to school full time. Living with him allowed me to split his already low cost rent with him and focus on becoming an RN at lightning speed.
So, I was living off loans and savings at that point and not working. I couldn’t move out because I point blank couldn’t afford it. I was prepared to suck it up for the next couple of years and hope that things would get better to be able to finish my education.
Besides which, he had me convinced that I was the problem and, as a consummate people pleaser, I was prepared to do anything and everything to prove to him that I was “worthy” of his love. And trust me, I did some somewhat humiliating things at that time to try and prove this.
What made the feeling that I had gone crazy in all of this even worse was that even my closest friends didn’t believe me. They thought I was exaggerating or worse: point blank lying, because he was “always such a nice guy.” “He’s so kind and funny Jenn, you must be doing something to make him act like that.”
That’s right, no one believed this was even happening.
And they wouldn’t, for the longest time, until closer to the end when I would secretly call several of them while locked inside a bathroom or huddled in the bed to hear him screaming at me and belittling me in the midst of yet another fight.
Aside from the constant arguing, yelling and perilously walking on eggshells, more physical things had begun to develop.
I would be shoved or pushed out of the way frequently.
There was the one time where he got so mad over who knows what that he began slamming a pot from the kitchen against the counter top. He slammed it so hard that he actually broke the pot.
About a year in, I saw that an acquaintance had posted on Facebook that he was looking to hire someone to work in his mortgage office. I didn’t know anything about mortgage, but on a lark, I reached out to him. Before I knew it, I had started a part time position in his office. That job became a life line to me back then. A way to get out and away each day and, also, a way for me to make some extra money to squirrel away. And, they were willing to work with my school schedule, which was also amazing.
Back at the house, things continued to decline.
It felt like all we could do was fight and it was always explosive.
He would take off to work and disappear for days on end. Never knowing if he was coming home or what was going on, my anxiety took over and I would often chug vodka from the handle we kept under the sink every night to lull myself into an uninterrupted slumber.
One day, he had left his phone out and I decided to take a look. I discovered he had been cheating on me. Which, of course, was my fault too. I drove him to sleep with other women.
Still, I continued to stay. And I quietly celebrated the occasional day that wasn’t a completely dysfunctional shit show.
Things all came to a head about a year and a half in.
It was mid March during a year we got some pretty insane snow storms.
He had asked me to take the train from our local station down to where he worked and hang out at the bar with him and then go out with him and some friends after. He would drive me back to pick up my car after. I was happy to be asked and I spent HOURS picking out the perfect outfit to wear that night so I looked just right for him and his friends.
On the train ride, it began to snow and was the beginning of what would end up being over a foot of snow to hit us.
I hung out for awhile, having drinks at his bar until he got out of work and then moving to a bar down the road with one of his friends. We were all drinking and I didn’t exactly catch the drift of what was happening, but what I did catch was that he and his friend just wanted to start a fight that night and they picked this guy, who they had happened to know from who knows where, as their intended victim.
At close, we paid our tab and the boys went to badgering the guy they intended to pick a fight with. The one, ultimately, decided to stay behind with me to walk to the car while my boyfriend followed the other guy through the parking lot to his car and the two of them began shouting. I was not standing so far away that I couldn’t see when the intended victim pulled out a knife from his pocket.
In that moment, I knew things were about to get out of hand. Someone was about to be arrested, injured, or both, and I just wanted to go home. Especially since I couldn’t perceive there to be any single purpose for any of what was happening.
On instinct, I ran down through the snow (in VERY high heels mind you) to where the two stood facing each other and hurling obscenities. I jumped in the middle and began to push my guy back, yelling to stop and get in the car. My guy shoved me aside and his friend had rushing down behind me to give me a hand when I fell. I began to cry and begged for both of them to stop. With that, my guy relented and it ended. He let the other guy go and we all walked to our cars.
I thought I had done something good.
Apparently, (at least according to him), I had not.
The entire hour car ride back through the snow storm I was literally screamed at for intervening. It was ludicrous. I was sobbing in the passenger seat: drunk and begging for the verbal assault to stop.
Remember when I said I had taken the train to this outing?
There was a good 6 inches of unplowed snow on the ground by the time we were close to home. I asked to just be taken home and we could come back to get my car in the morning. After all, the weather was horrible and I was clearly very drunk at that point.
He told me no, and pulled into the train station.
I told him I was too drunk to drive, could he please just take me home?
At this point, he proceeded to open my door, push me out of the car and, once he closed the passenger side door, hop back into the drivers’ seat and speed off home.
Leaving me there.
Snow covered from the push out, still crying from all that had been said and shouted during the ride back.
As I trudged crying in my heels, drunk, to my car, I slipped on the wet snow. I slammed hard on the pavement and snow, landing on my side with my head also hitting the pavement with a force that led me to check if I was bleeding.
I got up and got into my car.
I drunkenly drove the windy roads in 6 inches of snow to our home in the woods.
When I opened the front door, he was ready to continue yelling at me.
I just stood there, frozen in the doorway.
I lit up a cigarette and just stood there, watching him continue to go off with a fury I had seen many times before.
This time was different though. This time he picked up one of our bar stools from the kitchen island.
He took it and hurled it towards the doorway where I was standing.
I backed away quickly as it flew out the door and landed in the front yard. Where it would stay until morning.
At this point, I was just done.
I’m not sure at what point the yelling and fighting stopped.
What I do remember is waking up very early the next morning to see him laying on top of me, cuddling me and just feeling sick.
What had happened to me?
How did I end up here?
I felt completely alone.
I felt like there was nothing left for me.
So, I quietly snuck out of the bed and went into our bathroom.
I remember standing there and just staring at myself in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy from the crying and drinking the night before. My mascara traced the severity of my tears like a roadmap of the evenings heart ache all the way down my cheeks. A knot on my head reminded me of the fall I took abandoned in the train station parking lot.
To me, in that moment, I had hit my bottom and there was nothing left.
I sat on the floor and began to pull out the baskets of the organizer in the bathroom until I grabbed the right one: the one with all of our unused medications and leftover antibiotics (because who really ever finishes them all anyway?).
I knew that there wasn’t really anything good in there. Or at least nothing good enough and in enough of a quantity to get the job done. But, in a world where I had little hope at the time, I had hope in this.
I weeded through until I found what I was looking for: a rarely used, old prescription for Xanax. I peered inside and saw that I only had eight .5mg pills remaining. And, if we’re being really honest, they had probably expired a few years prior.
“This will have to do.” I told myself.
I popped them all in my mouth and tiptoed back to bed, washing them down with a swig of water from the glass I always kept perched on my nightstand.
He stirred a little next to me as I got back in the bed and I shut my eyes quickly, in hopes if he opened his, he wouldn’t realize I had left the bed. He didn’t, and simply rolled over.
I laid with my head on the pillow for a bit, staring at the back of his head. Tears again streaming down my face as I quietly prayed over and over “Please Lord. Do not let me wake up. I’m ready for all this to be over. Please Lord. Do not let me wake up.”
Eventually I drifted off to sleep.
I hate to spoil the ending here but I obviously woke up.
It was late in the afternoon and I had slept the day away. He had already left the house for work and I, realizing I had failed, collapsed back down into bed in tears.
After about 20 minutes or so, I got out of bed, grabbed my phone off the charger and my pack of cigarettes off the counter. I googled “psychiatrists” in my area and called the first one that popped up, asking if they took my insurance. As luck would have it, they did, and I broke down into tears as I told them I needed an appointment right away.
They fit me in the next morning.
By the end of the week, I had again been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and provided medication. However, I decided to do what I hadn’t years back: actually take the medication. I needed to feel better, to feel different, or just plain feel anything but sad.
I had started seeing a therapist right away who was amazing. She didn’t ask me how I felt, she would straight up tell me how it was. And I needed that.
The following week, I went back to the place I had been living prior to moving in with him and signed a lease on an apartment. With what I had squirreled away, I would be able to pay the rent for a few months while I looked for a full time job.
The week after that, I moved out. And, while I felt a bit lost, I also felt more free than I had in years. For some reason, I painted my apartment this really bold blue and fuchsia as a symbol of that freedom and, because I could do whatever I wanted without someone yelling at me over nothing.
I found a full time job shortly after my move and continued to see my therapist twice a week for quite some time after. I withdrew from nursing school with the intention of hopefully, someday, being able to return.
It’s been almost a decade since that relationship ended and I still struggle with self doubt and self esteem issues.
I still continued to take medication for my anxiety and depression and have learned how to effectively manage it.
However, I have not had a serious, long term relationship since him.
It is hard for me to let my walls down for people and I remain extremely guarded around the opposite sex.
The night the chair was thrown out the front door, I took a picture. I’m not sure why I did it at the time. Perhaps in case no one believed me that it actually happened. That photo is still on my phone. I keep it as a reminder of what that time in my life felt like so that I never end up there again.