Have I lived through a relationship nightmare? Yes.
I fooled myself into thinking many things:
One—I was protecting my kids from the abuse I experienced.
Two—if I just proved my love and loyalty to him, we’d live the happily ever after he promised.
Three—I could help him.
Four—he loved me.
Five—I needed him.
Six—I was strong enough to shut him out on my own.
My kids learned to jump when my phone rang, bringing my phone to me instantly, because if I didn’t answer my phone by the second ring, I most certainly must have been doing something “wrong.” They saw the stitches and bruises and heard my excuses about how clumsy I was. My kids saw me cry far too often as I failed his “tests.”
Proving myself became an everyday theme. Why did it take 10 extra minutes to get home? Where did you stop? How do I know you’re at the hospital visiting your dad? Find a way to prove it to me, and then I’ll believe you. I just love you so much, I can’t bear to think you may not be 100% mine.
We lived the typical cycle of abuse. Honeymoon phase, where life was love and sweetness. Stress building, when his questioning and control ramped up. Explosion, when I didn’t meet his expectations and had to pay for it.
“If only you hadn’t ______ then I wouldn’t have hurt you.”
He needed healing from all the hurt that the women before me had caused him. If I listened, and assured him that he was worthy and innocent and loved, then he would understand the goodness inside him and release the anger, once and for all.
Love? I mistook his absurd jealousy for love. No, it was possessiveness. It was control. The words he spoke during the honeymoon phase were empty. He once told me that he didn’t know how to be an adult. He knew the words that mature adults said, and he copied them. I now know he also copied emotions. He didn’t feel them. Everything was a con, but with charisma, it’s an easy con.
There is an addiction that forms in an abusive relationship. My quest to prove myself made me a perfect subject for him. He knew just how to keep me hooked. I craved the good times. I believed they were reality, and the rest was the product of my failed proof of loyalty. I loved him. Of course, my love was unconditional. How could I leave if my love was unconditional? Didn’t that make me unkind, my words empty, and didn’t that make my love conditional?
Eventually, the day came that he directly involved the kids. I put my foot down. I called the police and told them the truth. I saw it as the point of no return and thought I was strong. But—the charisma was strong. He knew how to control me. I faltered, like so many of us do.
Then I let my son get Shiro. He was a long-time shelter dog, waiting for a family that needed him as much as he needed a family. He was a white shepherd mix. He saw my abuser as a threat from the first time he saw him. Shiro would bark and not stop barking until he left. Thankfully, he was afraid of Shiro. He stopped coming in our home. When he did come over, he’d stay at the door.
This beautiful dog pushed that abusive man away and out of our daily life.
I couldn’t do it on my own, but thankfully, I followed Shiro’s lead and finally pushed him out of my heart. And, most importantly, I untangled him from my mind.
I am not unique. There are many more of us out there—and there are just as many more of him. If you know someone in my shoes, know that they are being controlled. Don’t lose contact. Listen, believe, and offer general help.
We have to save ourselves when we are ready. So be patient—build up their self-esteem. Remind them how smart, happy and fun-loving they are.
If you are in my shoes, know that you are not alone.
It’s not your fault, and you deserve no shame. The good times are a lie, and there is no escape from the bad times—unless you get out.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get help and make a safe exit plan.
Then, my best advice would be to get a family dog from your local shelter. You may be saving each other.
Author: Colleen Clary
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Rennett Stowe