Heed the content notice, while this post ends on a positive note, the bulk of it is tough and potentially triggering. Please take your time and take a break if you need to.
I’ve written about my first boyfriend, Jekyll, and how abusive he was. He made even the most innocuous things into triggers. I had no say whatsoever in anything, even things that impacted me directly. I dressed how he said, I ate what he said and when he said, I spoke only when allowed. I wasn’t even allowed privacy.
My second boyfriend, we’ll call him Wolf; he wasn’t physically abusive, not at that time. He was, however, verbally abusive. I shouldn’t have been with him so soon after Jekyll. I knew it was a mistake, but I was lonely and alone and I didn’t want to be. I also didn’t feel I could say no. It’s not that he ever made me feel like I couldn’t. It’s that after Jekyll, I was too afraid to say no because I know what an angry rejected man is capable of.
I was only with Wolf for a few months. He ended up dumping me because I didn’t want to marry him or have his children. I won’t lie, it did hurt at first. After a few days I realized, he raised a lot of red flags and there was a part of me, the part that left Jekyll, that screamed at me that I was lucky. Two weeks later he calls me asking why I hadn’t contacted him. I told him, “you left me. That’s a pretty clear indication that you don’t want a relationship with me”. He responded that I “should have fought for him”. Red flags abound.
I hung up and that was the end of that. So I thought. I ran into him about a year or so later. By that point my daughter and I had been homeless for about a month. And that month we spent it going from shelter to shelter. The day I bumped into him, we’d spent a week eating microwaveable dinners. My daughter was only one; we were both sick and tired.
He offered me money and real food and I couldn’t say no; my daughter needed to eat. But his help came with conditions. He wanted me back, he wouldn’t pressure me, he said. He just loved me and missed me and my daughter so much. Once again, I was too afraid to say no. The second try didn’t last very long either, because he soon broke his promise not to pressure me. And after surviving reproductive coercion, I swore I would not go through that again. He insulted and threatened me. That healthy part of my brain screamed, “run!” and I did.
Four years passed and he finds me on Facebook. He messages me asking me how I’ve been, that he is so sorry for how he treated me. He realizes he fucked up and hurt me. We met for coffee and he seemed so changed. He asked me before he hugged me, he asked me if it was OK to kiss me. He told me he didn’t expect me to take him back, he just wanted my friendship. He loved me and would love to be with me but would respect my decision, should I not take him back. I didn’t take him back, but I didn’t cut him out of my life. We’d meet up regularly and he was always on his best behavior. I’d brought up the fact he was so verbally abusive and manipulative in the past. He was so sorry, he went through a lot in those years without contact with me and had grown so much, or so he said.
Months passed and eventually we became physical again. By this point I was in my own apartment. I still didn’t want to be in serious relationship with him though, but he seemed OK with that. Everything was going smoothly, until Christmas 2015. I spent that Christmas Eve with my daughter and mami at a close friend’s house with her family. It was a lovely night and I enjoyed myself so much. It was our first Christmas out of the shelter and I was so happy.
On our way back home, Wolf called to ask if he could pass by. I said, sure but that I wasn’t up for sex that night. He said that was fine. My daughter and my mom went to bed and Wolf showed up with some beers. I tell him he could put them in the fridge but that I wasn’t sure I wanted any, I am not a fan of beer. We’re talking and he starts kissing me and I tell him to stop. He keeps going and I tell him, more forcefully this time, to stop. He stops, gets up and goes to the bathroom. I begin scrolling through Facebook. He comes back out and sits opposite from me. He asks, “why did I come here, if you’re going to be on your phone?”.
I reminded him he knew I wasn’t up for anything other than hanging out. I reminded him that if he wants me to believe he wants to be my friend then he needs to act like it. He gets up, goes to the kitchen and I hear the beer can opening. I kept looking at Facebook. He brings the can out and asks me to have some. I do and a few minutes later I start feeling sick. I go to the bathroom and throw up. I stagger back out and lie down. Wolf asks me what’s wrong. I could barely keep my eyes opened. He lies me down and then lies next to me, and he cuddles me, telling me I’d be OK. I knew he had done something. Everything slowed down, my mind was screaming but my body wouldn’t move. Then he raped me. That should have been the end but it wasn’t. Against my better judgement, I kept going back. I hated (and still do to be honest) his guts, but I figured, this…this is what I deserve. He had escalated from verbal to sexual abuse. I knew the beatings could start at any moment.
My mental and physical health were not great and there some other things going on that made everything else worse. And I now realized that he always targeted me when I was vulnerable. That’s what abusers do, they exploit what they perceive as your weakness and attack it. They keep going until they’re in and they feel they can then exert control over you.
I realize I shouldn’t have to justify why I was with him. Whatever the reasons, his abuse towards me was wrong. But I also started breaking away more, I wasn’t as easily manipulated, which may seem small but when you’ve been conditioned to fear speaking small acts of self defense are acts of rebellion.
Life After Domestic Violence
It is possible to have a life after domestic violence but it is constant work. I’ve been with my current partner (who I will call BB) for almost a year and this year has been one of my happiest. I’ve never felt more loved or secure. BB is patient and understanding. We talk things through. And if I’m having a particularly triggering day, they’ll listen to me. And then the self sabotaging thoughts start, because I feel I’m draining them. I feel I’m being unfair and they should not have to put up with me. Having my partner worry about me feels like I manipulated them to. But then I think, if the situation was reversed, how would I act? Well, I’d do what I already do. I lend an ear, I remind them that I love them and I’ll do what I can to ease their burden because in a partnership- a loving, healthy partnership- that’s what you do. You hold each other up; you listen. My previous relationships were abusive but that was a reflection of my boyfriends, not me. No one deserves to go through what I went through.
The anxiety I feel when BB is there for me is because I am not used to being taken care of. In the past, whether it was boyfriends or family, my having and expressing needs was seen as a burden and asking to be seen and heard was the same as abusing people, because I don’t deserve to be taken care of. I take care of others, and asking for help or a break or understanding is asking for too much. That is all bullshit. It’s misogynistic thinking, that as a daughter, a mom, a girlfriend, it’s my job to take care of everyone but not expect help in return. Recognizing and naming these thoughts what they are, helps. Talking to BB when these thoughts pop up, helps.
This isn’t to say that all my anxieties went away the minute BB and I got together. PTSD is tough and there are good days and bad days. The good days are beyond amazing. The bad days are bad, but we’re there for each other. I don’t fear talking to them if there’s an issue. Finding a competent therapist, having a loving support network of friends and chosen family is so important. But above all, knowing that I matter and that I do not deserve to be abused is the thing that helps most. Because while my loving partner and friends are there for me, I also have to show up for myself. I have to take care of myself and remember that I am strong. I’ve survived so much. I continue to survive in this oppressive system. I left abusive people before and I know how to spot them now. I want my daughter to know what is healthy love and what isn’t.
On the days when I feel like maybe I should call Wolf, I remind myself of my times with BB. How safe and warm and loving it feels. That it is possible to be in love and be loved and not be hurt.
It is hard but possible. It just takes a lot of work and I am not alone. I can do this. For my family, my friends, my daughter, for BB. For me because I matter and I deserve safety and compassion.