A few weeks ago, my (now ex) partner created a facebook group entitled “Own Your Story.” Created on the basis that “shame cannot survive exposure,” she hoped to establish a safe place for people to share things they felt shame over. This is something I have utilized my blog for, for years. It is a place for me to share things I would normally keep hidden and secret–things I least want people to know–because I know first-hand that there is a power in sharing. Over the past year, I have said and done many things I am deeply ashamed of–things NO ONE has known about, until very recently, when I finally gathered the courage to share with some of my closest friends. I now share publicly in an effort to remove the last remnants of shame and make myself accountable in the future. This is my story….
“Why did you stay?”
The first time I ever met someone who relayed the story of an abusive relationship, this was the first question I asked. She, like so many others I later met, couldn’t answer. I never understood that.
Now, I know. Now I understand–from the perhaps uncommon perspective of experience as both the abused and the abuser–how abuse happens so incredibly slowly it’s difficult to recognize while it’s happening. I understand how, even once you see it, you can’t quite figure out how you got there. I understand how, even after months of experiencing (and, in my case,) inflicting suffering, you can’t quite figure out how to end it. How to leave. And so you stay. You try. You work. You hope. You read nineteen books on creating healthy relationships and twenty-three books on overcoming emotional abuse and speak to five different therapists about your trauma and triggers and childhood wounds and none of those numbers are exaggerated. You cry and beg and plead and negotiate and make promises you find yourself incapable of keeping.
I am not ignorant. I am an extremely self-aware woman of 41 years who has studied psychology as a hobby since childhood. Every behavior I tolerated and participated in over the past year were things I knew about BEFORE I entered this relationship. And yet, I found myself powerless to stop it and powerless to change. This is a very, very difficult thing to admit.
I have debated long and hard about sharing this story (semi) publicly (I will block our mutual friends), because it is not just my story. But because writing is my primary way of overcoming shame, I know that sharing is an important step, and it is an especially critical step at this time in my life. As this is not just my story, I will remain vague regarding the details, but I must make one thing clear:
I am no innocent.
What happened between my partner and I over the past year marked one of the worst (and, paradoxically, best) periods of my life, both in how I was treated and in how I treated others. I would eventually liken this period to the image of my partner and I building a snowman, passing balls of snow between us, gathering more snow with every pass, until the snowman we eventually erected became the very definition of abominable. That is not ALL we built, however. And that is what has made it all so incredibly difficult. I did not—and still do not—want to end this relationship. But neither can I stay.
“You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your memories, your truth, your version of things, in your voice. You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories.”
My version of this story started on our first trip together. Her version may start earlier. Perhaps when I invited her over for the first time, and she saw that Jon and I still acted as a married couple in many ways. Or perhaps during those times when I refused to limit the frequency of my phone conversations with a recent ex. But for me, it started when our plane landed and I did what I had always done when away from home: texted my (then) husband to let him know I’d arrived safely. At the time, Jon and I were still legally married and living together. We had not had a sexual relationship in over two years, but remained best friends and had decided to continue cohabitating for the sake of our children. My partner had known this from the time we met, over six months prior, and I had told her that this, and other friendships with exes, had been the downfall of some of my previous relationships. I warned her not to date me if she felt she would have a problem with these relationships. She assured me she wouldn’t. But that day, she said she felt threatened. She felt that in texting him, I was relying on Jon as a caregiver and she didn’t appreciate me checking in. We argued about it for quite some time, but everything she said eventually sounded reasonable, and I thought “well, it’s not a big deal. I’ll just text the kids to let them know.”
From that moment, our relationship became run by fear and insecurity as each of us worked diligently to make the other feel “safe.” We genuinely thought this was what we were supposed to do—that this was what a healthy relationship looked like–each of us taking responsibility for the other person’s emotions. Sometimes this was voluntary and we both gave things up for the benefit of the other. Often, however, it was not. Through a series of emotionally-charged and verbally abusive conversations, seemingly logical arguments, threats, and a very, very, very slow inch-by-inch push of boundaries, we both ended relationships that were extremely important to us and stopped doing things we once loved. It all made sense to us at the time. I recognized that some of my boundaries with exes were unhealthy, and she recognized the same in other areas of her life. We genuinely loved spending time together and let other interests lapse. The problem was that mixed in with things that were truly logical and reasonable and good was an undercurrent of extreme fear, insecurity, and control. Soon, we were unable to go more than a few days without descending into horrible fights. As time went on, we both found ourselves saying and doing things that felt completely out of character. After months of this, I began reading about emotional abuse, horrified to discover that not only was I being abused but, worse, I was abusing my partner. I made a list of things I was doing that fell under the definition of abuse and went through a number of therapists seeking someone who could help.
Over the course of those sessions, I began learning why I was acting out, why my behavior had gotten so far out of control, and why I was allowing abuse to happen to me. I learned (and am still learning) how events from my past had caused excessive trauma and how, in this relationship, my core wounds were being (to use the words of my therapist): “deeply, somatically triggered” in a way they never had been, before. This caused me to not only accept behavior that I ordinarily wouldn’t tolerate, but also caused me to lash out in horrific ways that were extremely out of character and incredibly damaging. The same can be said for my partner, as I was also triggering her deepest core wounds and causing her to act in ways that were uncharacteristic.
I am DEEPLY ashamed of the ways I treated my partner—the things I said and the ways I acted. I offer no excuse and share this as a way to both combat the near-debilitating affects of shame and also to hold myself accountable in the future.
This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be.
She and I have since begun a period of no-contact. I do not know if this will be permanent, and I do not know what will happen from here. I cannot help but hope that we will eventually heal and make it back to each other, but for now I know I must remain single and work on the things that have brought me to this place in order to prevent it from ever happening again. There are no words to express the remorse I feel for everything that has happened over the past year. It is not possible to articulate just how much regret I carry. The only comfort I have is in knowing that I will not stay in this place. I will not continue to be this person. I will figure this out, and I will change.
To all those I have hurt along the way, to those I gave up, to those I forced my partner to give up (even if you never read this), and to my partner, especially:
I am deeply, deeply sorry.