The Abuse I Couldn’t See

woman facing body of water
Darya Ivanchuk / Unsplash

Each time I type out my story, I refrain from publishing it out of fear, doubt, victim’s guilt. It took me years to come to the conclusion that what I had been experiencing wasn’t normal. I know I need to tell my story and I know the anxiety I feel writing this proves what I went through was real. I know that the time is now. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be exposed so that I can reach out to others like me and so that I can pass my healing onto others. My story could help so many victims out there who may not see the signs of abuse that aren’t so obvious. Sometimes, it’s normal to deny the truth simply because it hurts. As a spiritual person, I know now that some signs cannot be seen in a tangible form. Some signs are conceptual… yet still just as potent.

I had suspected abuse to be something you could physically see. I thought it would be something you would experience when someone pins you down and incapacitates you, when someone yells obscenities at you, or when someone hits a wall and slams a door to frighten you. No one ever told me there were other ways abuse could take form. Maybe that’s why I had been so obtuse as to what I had been experiencing. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to realize what I was going through wasn’t healthy or normal in the slightest. Maybe that’s why I still have nightmares almost every night and lie awake in anxious thought. I try to play it off that what I went through “wasn’t so bad” and maybe I’m just “overreacting”, but I know deep down that I have been traumatized and that’s enough to prove what I went through was insufferable.

My abuser had such a forceful advantage on me. I was younger than him and he was my first love. I was an easy target waiting for the arrows to soar through me. I would just take the blows because I thought that it was my duty. I thought that’s how relationships were supposed to be. I didn’t know any better. Even now, I feel guilty for finally speaking my truth and for referring to him as an abuser. But that’s what he was and I know I would feel even worse if I mentioned his real name. I feel dirty knowing that he may see this and try to pin me as the one in the wrong or that he may contact me to scrutinize me into hiding once more. He had me fooled for years. He could charm anyone into believing anything and that terrifies me even now. At times, I know that I did say and do things I shouldn’t have but they were defense mechanisms. They were “fight or flight” reactions. They were learned behaviors and I learned them from him.

I was halfway through middle school when the relationship began and he was two years older than me. It wasn’t until I entered my sophomore year that I began to research different forms of abuse. I started to question if the relationship we had was healthy. At this point in my life, more and more people around me were entering relationships of their own and I realized they weren’t anything like the one I had been in. Was it normal that he would leave and come back to me as he pleased? Are significant others supposed to give silent treatments when they refuse to communicate and apologize for their own actions? Is a lover supposed to belittle you and deny support when you need them the most? Are they supposed to force you to engage in intimate conversations you want no part in? Are they supposed to dismiss your feelings? Is it right for them to distance you from family and friends? The answer to all the questions is “No.” The on again, off again relationship would ultimately last until I turned seventeen. In the beginning, I was credulous. I was easily swayed by any remark that he made. I didn’t know I was being manipulated or that he was molding me into his idea of perfection. I didn’t realize that my rapid mood swings, severe anxiety, troubles with eating and sleeping, and my depression came from me trying to keep up to his standards. If I had even the slightest epiphany that he was controlling me, deceiving me, or lying to me, he would lash out and turn the tables. It was me. It was all my fault that I was catching onto him. He would exclaim that I always cause drama and that I had been making up things in my head when the proof of his deception was blatant. I had screenshots. I had physical proof. He still denied any wrongdoing with the evidence for all to see.

I didn’t know it then but I was being abused. I was being emotionally and mentally bludgeoned into an empty shell of a girl. All the signs were there and I didn’t see them because I didn’t know any better. It’s often said that abusive individuals present themselves as angels on earth when you first encounter them. They make you feel special. They charm you until every fiber of your being trusts in them. It’s particularly easy to charm someone young like I had been. That was the first sign. He was too kind. He was too forthcoming. So, I poured out everything to him and he would later use my weaknesses as his weapons. This method of manipulation has a name and it is often associated with narcissists and sociopaths. He had been “love bombing” me. In other words, he was gaining my trust and acceptance so that he could control me. In the beginning, he made me feel euphoric. He somehow bypassed all my walls. If he knew that he could build me up, he also knew he could destroy me. It had reached a point to where I couldn’t vent to him about my day, especially if it went sour. I couldn’t tell him about my problems. He would exclaim that I was being theatrical and selfish or that I needed to control my attitude when in the beginning, he had been compassionate and supportive when I came to him before. I was confused at the sudden shift. He would tell me to stop throwing pity parties. The sudden change in his behavior made me feel like I had done something wrong. He never showed the slightest bit of empathy towards me unless it would somehow benefit him. Years later, he would even admit to others that he found it “amusing” that I had ended up settling down with someone else specifically because he knew that I had wished to further my education and starting a family had stunted that option for me.

He often had grandiose stories to tell, especially during the first year of our on again, off again five year relationship. This, I later learned, was another major red flag. When I was thirteen, he confided in me a time where he had been beaten nearly to death by a gang of men in an alleyway when he was younger. Years later, I met the real victim of such a gruesome event because he happened to be in my husband’s family and the attack was widely known in the town I had moved to. I never thought to research the incident. Other stories involved him partaking in drugs he had never actually touched, brutally attacking his family members which had never really happened, experiencing hallucinations where he said he had physically hurt me and felt tempted to do so in reality, claiming he wrote songs that were already written by well-known musicians and going into detail about graphic attempts at ending his own life. Most of these claims having been made to me when I was still impressionable and oblivious. In all his wild stories, he was always either a victim or a hero.

There were times he had told me he had lupus, cancer, eating disorders, epilepsy, etc. The list went on and on and I truly have no recollection as to what ailment(s) he actually has. Yet again, I was told later by those closest to him that he had been lying to me. These ailments always came about during times where he was losing his grip on me. They came about during times when I was uncovering his true motives or times when he had left me weeks or months prior and he saw that I was happy without him. He couldn’t handle not having control over me. I had to be happy because of him. I had to be depressed because of him. My emotional reactions fueled him. There were even several occasions when he would pop up after about two months of no contact where he would say that he had gotten better. He would apologize to me for all that he had done only to hurt me again and leave again. I learned that this maneuver has a term; “hoovering”. He would find any way that he could to contact me and retrieve a response. Sometimes, I would get sappy messages from him declaring his unconditional love for me. Sometimes, I would get in-depth apologies and conceivably sincere statements pledging to his grave that he had changed. It took me a while to realize that a person like him cannot change in a matter of months. I was already heavily devoted to the relationship when he told me he had severe mental health issues that compromised his behavior and his actions.

He had so much power over me that he could leave whenever he wanted to. I cannot count on my fingers how many times he left me whereas I can count on one hand the number of times I broke it off with him instead. The excuses were endless but I had eventually realized he would break it off with me just to maintain his control over me. He would even break it off with me just so he could focus on the other girls he was manipulating. Other times, he would have three or four different women he would speak to at a time. Sometimes, he just needed to break it off with one or two of us so he wouldn’t get confused. I had ended up meeting and befriending five of them. We all shared the same personality, the same voice, the same interests, and the same physical appearance. He had given us the same love song, he told us the same things. The similarities were striking.

He would occasionally bring these women up in conversation claiming they were his friends, yet I, of course, would soon find that they weren’t. He made me feel like I had to compete with them. He made me feel like I wasn’t good enough so I needed to try harder. Maybe then he would boast about me instead of the other girls. For so long, I have hidden my true self behind a mask all because the most important person to me did not accept me as I was. He would encourage me to open up. He would question why I acted so differently around him but whenever I tried to be myself, he would shut me down. People often claim that my sudden change in character in the past few years is peculiar or that I’m faking who I am now when in reality, this is the real me that I have kept locked away in my notebooks and in the depths of my mind for years.

For so long, I had been afraid of being myself. He had shaped several girls into his own image of perfection. He made all of us feel special. He would tell each one of us that we were the one he actually wanted. Being as brainwashed as I was, I still stayed through all of it and through all of it, I became a ticking time bomb. I began to rebel from his control or gain reactions from him in any way that I could. It was a behavior I had learned from him. It was my attempt at gaining power over myself again but he labeled me as the enemy when truthfully, I just needed help. I just needed to escape from him. Anytime he ever did it to me, I stayed silent about it. Yet whenever I did it back to him to gain control over myself, he would cry wolf and play the victim role. This would ultimately become a pattern in our relationship. I learned to play his games instead of sitting out.

He would eventually call all my friends and his exes “crazy” and “controlling” for not agreeing with our relationship or for telling me things about him that I didn’t know. Even if I had physical proof of him saying or doing something to betray me, he would deny the allegations. He would go as far as to tell my friend’s parents that I was a “bad influence” when he knew me… He knew that I had never done anything outside the realms of staying up past my bedtime or sneaking into my kitchen for late night snacks. Some people would know me as his best friend, some people would know me as an unstable ex, and only few would actually know I was his girlfriend. He kept that private throughout most of our relationship. When I was seventeen, he finally did open up about me and I had assumed we would really make it that time around. The twist was that I had not yet removed pictures from my social media profile of a previous relationship I was in before I became official with him. I didn’t bother frequently checking or updating my page during that period of my life and it had only been a week or so that I had gotten back together with him. He had finally opened up about me to his family, eliciting his mother to look for my social media page with pictures of my (other) ex, refueling the vicious cycle.

She opened my page to see month old pictures of my ex and I and assumed I had still been with him instead. He went along with her assumptions. It didn’t matter what I said. I was crying and screaming at the top of my lungs that he knew I hadn’t been on my page to update anything. I thought he had changed. I thought he couldn’t possibly do something like this. I thought we could really start over this time… No. It was the ultimate form of absolute betrayal and hurt that still makes my skin crawl to this day. Not because I still harbor feelings, but because it was such a cruel thing to do. Everything had been going so well this time. He knew those pictures were still there. He knew I hadn’t been on my page in a while to take them down because I told him a day prior to this incident. He could have told her that. Was I being set up?  What was the purpose of doing this to me? I don’t think he ever meant to rekindle things with me. It was another tactic. See, there was one thing he could never pin me for; I had never been unfaithful to him but he cheated on me several times throughout the relationship. This scheme was a way for him to say that I did it to him, too. Suddenly, the several counts of him cheating on me did not matter because he found a way to say that I did it, too. I still blamed myself for it. Maybe if I had logged back into my page and deleted all the pictures before I went to sleep that night. Maybe if I never had that social media page at all.

But now, I think to myself, why did I try so hard to keep such a toxic relationship alive? Why do I still try to think of him as a good person? Why do I still sit here and try to excuse his behavior towards me? I could bring up the time he drove five hours just to see me for a measly two hours. I could bring up the times he would stay on the phone with me all night long to keep me calm during the worst times of my life even if he would rarely actually speak to me and would just strum his guitar through the phone. I could smile and laugh as I discuss all of our inside jokes and warm memories. But I know even the most toxic of relationships have good times. It took me forever to come to that conclusion; that just because we had pleasant moments doesn’t change the fact that I was being abused.

I have not spoken to him in years now and the last time that I know my name left his mouth, it was to lie to girls he was trying to get with saying that I am his “ex-fiance” but that I “left him” for another man and settled down, prompting our permanent end. He admitted to using me as a pity story. I can only hope that maybe he has changed but the likelihood is doubtful. I can only anticipate that he will not do this to someone else but I was not his first and last victim. To him, I am discarded remains. That thought petrifies me because of the one thing I’ve learned through studying abuse; Once a predator has eaten their prey bone dry, they hunt for another.

I have spent my time reassembling my heart, my mind, my soul, and my skin. I am much stronger than before. Although I have forgiven him and although I have healed from the damage done to me, I am still grieving the loss of a person I made up in my head because who I envisioned him to be wasn’t who he was in reality. I still feel an emptiness inside, as though I am missing a friend and a lover I never really had to begin with. It’s a feeling that will not make sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced abuse like this. I am missing out on light years worth of meaningful conversations, laughter, inside jokes, rants about social issues, philosophical discussions, life advice, song and book recommendations, and personal stories. All the while, I’m also missing out on manipulation, infidelity, gas lighting, heated arguments, victim blaming, and him having control over myself and who I associated with. I weigh out the pros and the cons. In order to see the positive, I always had to succumb to the negative, the dark nature of what the relationship truly was. It consisted of a predator charming and attacking the prey who always fell for the maneuvers. When running from the attacks didn’t work, fighting back always seemed to make things worse. He would make me out to be the predator. I was wrong for the night I texted his mom to let her know he was talking about his own funeral while he had a bag over his head. I was wrong for catching him cheating on me time and time again. I was wrong for finding any way that I could to take back my power, even if that meant destroying myself. I was wrong for standing up for myself when he tried to silence me.

Though there’s so much more I could say about him and the things he’s done and though I wish I could take back all of this happening to me, I wouldn’t dare. If I never would have met him and experienced what I did, I would have never met my husband. I would have never settled down with two kids in a nice home. I would not be here right now with a career as a blogger and writer. The strings of fate forced me through a thunderstorm so that I could experience the rainbow that came after. If I never experienced what I did, I would not be able to distinguish abusive behavior in other people and protect myself against their schemes. I probably would have never thought to educate myself on other forms of abuse and I would have never thought to become an advocate for those out there like me. If you are like me, you need to seek help and get out of the relationship as soon as possible.

More often than not, emotional and mental abuse can turn into physical abuse. You may be experiencing damage to your well being, your aspirations in life, and your relationships with your friends and family members. None of these things are normal to experience when you are in a relationship. Someone who loves you will not tear you down and strip you away from everyone and everything so that all you have left is them. It may have taken me several years to speak my truth and realize my value as a person and that’s okay. It may take you days, weeks, years, decades, or a lifetime and that’s okay. It’s not easy to overcome. What’s more difficult is learning how healthy relationships work and unlearning traits you’ve accumulated from the abuse. At first, you will have issues opening up.

You will try to lock yourself away out of fear and you will break down at the slightest trigger. Certain songs will induce memories that make you dissociate from the world. Certain places, smells, words, etc. It doesn’t matter. The trauma is there. It doesn’t fade away, you just become more resilient. Finding someone willing and devoted to work you through your trauma may be difficult. I had been lucky to have a husband who experienced something similar. He understood me. My husband could see the real me underneath all my pain. He influenced me to open up and learn to love again, the right way, with time and never made me feel insignificant or unstable. We worked together and healed one another over the years. The most valuable lesson I learned involved the true meaning of love and learning to find peace within my heart. True love is patient, understanding, encouraging, and kind. Someone who truly loves you will not distort and constrict your entire being. If you so much as have to research the signs of abuse, you are definitely in an abusive relationship. One of the very first reactions to discovering you’re being abused is to deny it. If you suspect something isn’t right, reflect on the situation. If you have to think to yourself that maybe it isn’t so bad or maybe it’s not severe enough for an intervention, stop. Don’t allow yourself to think that way. Your trauma is valid. If something doesn’t feel right to you, trust yourself. Love is not supposed to hurt. TC mark

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