Know Your Worth

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There is an overwhelming number of women who have suffered through some sort of abusive relationship. We all have stories and we all know someone in our circle of acquaintances or friends who has been through such a relationship. Tonight, we invited one of our own friends to share her story . . .

 

 

“You’re beautiful!” That’s all it took for my intelligence to fly out the window. Ridiculous, looking back on it now, but at the time, it was everything I wanted to hear. It started as a random Facebook message from a guy I knew in high school. Who could’ve known that in six short months, I would be lying in a hospital bed in the Psych Ward wondering how the heck this could have happened to me!

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call my ex “Barry.” I was on Facebook one night at like 3:00 a.m. because I was having one of those love hate relationships with a book I was reading. I posted a status that said as much and suddenly I had a message from someone that I hadn’t seen in 10 years. I started to not answer, but I didn’t want to be rude, after all, he had only asked me what I was reading. So we had a little back-in-forth exchange about books for awhile and then suddenly he tells me that he had a crush on me in high school. Now, I’ve never been the type of girl guys get crushes on. I was always the “best friend” or “friend with benefits” but never the “dream girl.” I called BS but he was totally persistent in making me believe it was true . . . down to telling me outfits that I used to wear to school. (Yes, I know, totally creepy but hindsight’s 20/20).

He spun this super convincing story about how he was totally crazy about me, but was too shy to talk to me or say anything at the time and he’d always regretted it. I ate it up. I was lonely, stuck being used in a “friends with benefits” relationship with a guy I had loved forever, and I had insanely low self-esteem. I thought I wasn’t worth loving or being with. In other words, I was an easy target for a psychopath that was bored and looking for someone to manipulate.

Barry asked me out on a date and I accepted. He had no car or money, so of course, I had to come to him and we just hung out at his friend’s house. He said all of the right things, “You’re beautiful . . . I can’t believe how lucky I am to be on a date with you . . . I’ve never felt like this before about anyone.” After one weekend together, I thought I was head over heels in love! Then . . . I find out about his wife! He said they were separated and not together anymore, but still legally married because they couldn’t afford a divorce. Now, I have to say this gave me pause. I have NEVER been the type to mess with another woman’s husband. That is not how I was raised! After talking to his friends and relatives who, of course, confirmed that he and his wife were split up and she was a horrible person who cheated on him with his best friend and, of course he was at no fault whatsoever, I caved.

He introduced me to his mother, all of his family, and all of his friends. This was something I had never had before; in my prior “relationship” I had always felt like a dirty little secret. Being out in the open where we could be seen in public, post pictures on Facebook, call him my “boyfriend” . . . all of this made me feel incredibly special. I know that is sad, but I had let my self-worth deteriorate to a place where I didn’t feel like I was good enough for all of that.

My introduction to his addiction problems and criminal life started out slow. I trusted him, so while I was at work during the day, I would let him use my car. I also gave him my debit card to get gas and things. He started asking if he could use it to get cash out of the ATM and I, of course, let him. In my mind, doing these things meant I was earning my keep. I felt that this was what I had to offer him. He needed money, I had it. Shortly afterward, he started taking money he didn’t ask for and overdrawing my account. I got furious with him and demanded to know what he was using the money for. I pointed out that there was no need to take it when I had given it to him so freely in the past. He could have just asked me. He then told me that he was using the money for drugs and he knew that if he had asked for money for that reason, I wouldn’t have let him have it.

He apologized, cried, told me he was so sorry, it would never happen again, he couldn’t stand the thought of losing me . . . yada, yada, yada! I am a forgiving person by nature, so of course I forgave him. I blamed it on his addiction and made excuses for his behavior. He was in the military and supposedly had PTSD. I still don’t know if the things he told me that happened over there are true because he was a pro at spinning a sob story. He told me he needed me. I was the one that kept him calm and made him want to go on in life. He couldn’t lose me, it would kill him.

He would run off for days at a time with no contact. He created all kinds of crazy stories about motorcycle gangs, criminal activity, running from the cops, how he had deals going down that were going to make him a ton of money and we could run off together. I now know all of it was BS, but at the time, I had romanticized the idea and believed it all. He eventually got sent to jail for two weeks, during which time, I spent an insane amount of money on telephone calls. After he got out, he went into a treatment program. That was when his using me hit its high point. I paid for all of the things that he needed before he went. I provided him with cigarettes and anything else he needed while he was there. I thought that I was being a supportive woman, standing by her man through adversity.

At this point, all of the emotional ups and downs had taken its toll on my body. I was constantly a nervous wreck. I threw up every single day. I had dropped 30 pounds and cried at the drop of a hat. I literally felt as if I was losing my mind. Shortly after entering the treatment program, he tells me that he feels like he needs to work things out with his wife but he wants me to still be his friend. By friend, he meant everything I was doing before, providing financial and emotional support but without the romantic attachment. I was so deluded by my love for him that I did it. I convinced myself that I was being a good friend. I had never turned my back on anyone and I wasn’t starting now.

Here’s where it gets a little complicated and a little hard to follow but it’s pertinent to my story so I got to keep it in. Remember a couple of paragraphs before, I mentioned his wife had cheated on him with what was supposed to be his best friend (or so I was told)? Well that was sort of true but not completely. His wife did cheat on him, but he failed to mention that he had cheated on her numerous times before, and was physically abusive to her and was in no way a good husband. At the time he was in treatment, I just so happened to become friends with the man with whom his wife cheated, Jesse. I of course did not tell Barry this. I did not want to make him mad, he was no longer my boyfriend but I still knew that he would see my friendship with Jesse as the ultimate act of betrayal.

Secrets never stay hidden long and he found out. To say it wasn’t pretty is an understatement. He told me I was the one person he had trusted implicitly and I had betrayed him in the worst way. He never wanted to see me again. He hated me. He made me feel like the worst person alive. The culmination of the previous six months had gotten me into a head space that was toxic. It was like I felt the only reason that I existed was to please and serve him. That was my sole purpose and if I couldn’t do that, then why was it necessary for me to be alive? That’s when I tried to kill myself.

Luckily, my father found me before I had a chance to harm myself really badly and he and my mother took me to the hospital. I had a 72 hour stay in the Psych Ward, during which time I started to see clearly for the first time in months. I would like to say that after I got out, I cut off all contact with him but that’s not true. I still fooled myself into thinking that we could be friends; that was a short-lived endeavor and I eventually told him to get out of my life for good. Jesse was my rock during that period of time, he stayed at my house, held me when I cried, listened when I needed to rant and was just there. He never once took advantage of me, he was my true friend, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with him and married him.

I know this has been terribly long, but there is a point. If I had known my own worth, I would never have let myself get into that situation. Never depend on someone else’s opinion to determine how you feel about yourself. You’re not beautiful because someone tells you that you are, you’re beautiful because of the light inside of you. You’re not useful just because someone needs you, but because you are unique and bring something to the table that no one else brings. Love yourself, that way you have no desire to bend over backwards trying to make someone love you. If they don’t, you’ll know inside yourself that it is their loss and you can move on without a second glance back.

 

~Heidi H.

 

 

Leaving

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Leaving.

To go away from.

To leave, what may have been, the majority of one’s life behind.

To step out, into the unknown.

The first time I contemplated leaving my abusive relationship, I was met with a wave of uncertainty. The what ifs of life came pouring in and stopped me in my tracks. I would outweigh the pros and cons of becoming a single mom on almost a daily basis. I was basically a single mom already, so it all boiled down to being able to afford living on my own. What would everyone think of me, though? Everyone will think I’m taking the easy way out. They’ll think I didn’t try hard enough to save my relationship. They’ll blame me. But I eventually came to the point that everyone else’s opinion of me no longer mattered. The safety and well-being of myself and my children became more important to me than anything else.  But leaving isn’t easy. Leaving requires inner-strength, support, and help from family and friends. The process is emotionally draining and becomes a psychological “tug-of-war.” My mind was being pulled in so many different directions. I knew my relationship was toxic and causing serious mental health issues for myself and my children. I knew that the most logical thing to do was to leave. And I knew that all of his promises were empty and nothing would ever change, but I was still hypnotized with his pleas for another chance.

After leaving, the psychological “tug-of-war” continued. I was inundated with text messages every day. The messages would start out with proclamations of his undying love, but they would quickly change to hostile threats, messages that would never come from someone that loves you. In one message, he would claim he missed me and couldn’t live without me, and in the very next message he would call me a cold hearted b*%#h. He would call me terrible names simply for the fact that I wouldn’t respond to his cries for me to come back. He would send messages threatening to make sure I couldn’t get full custody of the kids, and messages threatening to make my life a living hell. He would send messages telling me that I would never find anyone as good as him and so on. These messages would last several hours every day, and became so overwhelming that my father hid my phone on a few different occasions. I was in an unfortunate circumstance of not being able to cut all ties because we had children together, and he had visitation rights.

During this time, I maintained a focus on the end result. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and knew that it was only a matter of time before the “hate mail” stopped. Soon, I would be free. I would no longer be stuck on that dreadful “roller coaster” of misery. After a couple of months away from that toxic relationship, my friends and family could see a physical change in my demeanor. My happy and carefree spirit started to resurface, and my ability to find joy was no longer hindered by belittlement and antagonism.

All abuse, whether it be verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical, present detrimentally damaging effects in all victims. So, when you decide to take the giant leap to leave, it’s best that you have a plan in mind. Have a support system available to offer strength and help during the healing period, you will need it! Look up other blogs on abuse and read other stories about overcoming an abusive relationship. It helps to know that you’re not the only one that’s been through this, you are not alone. If you haven’t left yet and are considering it, be sure to delete browser history after looking up blogs on abuse, help links, hotlines, and crisis centers.  The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel is a great book to help you leave an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is often hard to detect and accept, it helps to have an objective perspective about what it is and how to deal with it. There are also crisis hotlines and abuse shelters everywhere. Search for one in your city if you need help getting away from an abusive relationship. In St. Louis, MO we have one organization in particular called A.L.I.V.E (Alternatives to Living In Violent Environments) that will go to whatever extent necessary to find a safe place for victims of violent abuse. Never be ashamed to reach out to them, they are here to help, no matter the extent of abuse.

Abuse is toxic to your mental and physical health. If you are in an abusive or violent environment, reach out to someone for help, come up with a plan to get to a safe place, and be prepared for the difficulties that will arise right after you leave. It’s best to completely cut all ties, but if you can’t, be sure to limit your conversation to only things that are necessary. And continuously remind yourself that it will get better! Eventually you will be free of their hold, you’ll feel liberated, whole, and happy again. Wait it out, don’t go back, you’ll thank yourself later…

~Christa G.

 

 

Invisible Crime

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We’ve used the word “victim” a lot in our posts as a label for those in abusive relationships. I would like to explain why. Abuse is a crime. Simple. It is a harmful action against another human being. Whether it be verbal or physical or psychological, it is a crime. I feel it is important to establish this fact because abuse is downplayed in our society to such a staggering degree that it is viewed as untouchable. It is a difficult thing to stop because the crime is of such an insidious nature that the victim doesn’t even realize they are being conned. And for those stuck in emotionally abusive relationships, it’s an even harder crime to stop because there is no physical proof or evidence. But I want our readers to know, abuse is a crime. Abuse must be stopped. The more we put domestic violence and abuse in this untouchable category, the more we pander to it. The more complicated we make it, the more untouchable it becomes.

So how do we fight a crime in which the victim does not even realize they are a victim?

The first time my best friend met my abusive boyfriend (I didn’t realize he was abusive at the time) she did not like him. I was offended by her honest opinion that he was an elitist and that she postulated we would not mesh well. I thought she didn’t know him like I did. How could she come to this conclusion so quickly, in just one meeting? My ego was bruised because I deluded myself into thinking I would know if my boyfriend was not right for me, after all, shouldn’t I know best? I have always respected my friend’s opinions and ideas, she has always been a voice of reason in my strangest or most stupid moments. She has always been there to talk me back down to earth.

I’ll never forget the time in my life when my brother, a Marine, almost talked me into going into the military to pursue a career in Arts and Communications. At the time, I was struggling to find a way to earn experience without having to sell my soul for free to a publication. I had bills to pay and could not afford interning for free or for experience. I already had a degree, so he advised me that I could go in as an officer. I appreciate his advice and I am still flattered to this day that my loving brother had enough confidence in me to believe I would survive the military. But when I posed the idea to my friend, she scoffed (rightfully so, knowing my absolute hatred of gyms). She said the military would kill my artistic soul and that I would not do well in that environment. I again was offended. I recall with shame, giving her a lecture on not supporting me enough and being too negative. She apologized, but thankfully I let myself listen to her deduction and I realized she was right, as she always was.

I have to give credit to this friend for planting the first seed of doubt in my mind about my abusive relationship. She did not say he would abuse me. But she was not scared to tell me that she knew he wasn’t right for me. I was too close to the subject. I had already molded in my mind how he would be, that I failed to see the warning signs in front of me. I had another friend at work, who patiently listened to all my rants and tears over every incident with my abusive partner. She never judged me and she never said I was stupid for staying with him. But she would say that she did not like the things he said to me. She would help me feel sane again. She helped undermine all of his efforts to completely break my confidence in myself and my own sanity. I sometimes wonder how I would have reacted if during the course of my tumultuous relationship with him, if I had been shown the Power and Control Wheel. No one had ever talked to me about verbally or mentally abusive relationships. I finally, one day, googled signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, but by the time I thought to research it, I had already made up my mind to leave him. My research only helped to strengthen my resolve.

So how do we fight a crime in which the victim does not even realize they are a victim? We educate as many people as we can. With the honesty and bluntness of a friend, we pull back the veil over their eyes and show them the truth. We let them know what the signs are. This is something we should talk about with our kids. This is something we should talk about with our loved ones. Until we treat it as a straightforward crime, we will not be able to fight it. Abusers are con artists. They may not be stealing money (although economic abuse is totally a thing), but they are stealing our friends, our children, our coworkers, our family. We should warn others just as we warn them against scammers, rapists, and muggers. We should talk about this in our schools. We should talk about this to our kids. Educate everyone close to you.

Start today.

Follow this link to find the definitions of different types of abuse.

Follow this link to learn the signs.

~Lindsey V.

Roller Coaster

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I cried. I cried ALL the time.

It was like an incessant roller coaster of ups and downs. There was never a rhyme or reason to the outbursts that would reduce me to tears, they just happened. It was somehow, always, my fault. I had used a condescending tone, I didn’t give a harsh enough punishment to my misbehaving child, I forgot to wash an important article of clothing, I shouldn’t have been looking through his text messages, I spent too much of my time being involved with my church, and the list goes on….

There were days that I felt he was driving me to leave, he was pushing my buttons so that I would pack up and go and he would finally be rid of me. But when I would work up the courage to leave, he would immediately change his tune. He couldn’t live without me, he would do whatever it took to straighten up his life. And then the roller coaster would start all over again.

Strapped in, nowhere to go, hanging by a thread…

The nightmare repeats. He would manage a few weeks of normalcy, digging his hooks back in, reeling me back to the beginning.

Ascending. Click, click, click, reaching the starting point. Then, take off. Descending rapidly. Twisting and turning. Flipping and jerking. Highs and lows. Utter confusion. It’s the roller coaster ride that you just want to get off of, but it keeps going and going.

Why? Why, you ask, would anyone continue to stay in a relationship that makes you miserable? Victims of domestic abuse are blind to what is happening. We are blindfolded with manipulation, charm, and empty promises. Promises that we cling to with every hope we have left. Hope that our abuser will stop. Hope that our abuser will allow us to heal them. Hope that our abuser will one day revert back to that amazing person they were when we first met. You see, we know that they have the potential to be great. That’s how they won our hearts in the first place.

The nightmare will never end unless we remove the blindfold. Remove it, and see clearly where the torture is coming from.

I cried all the time for 12 years. Then one day, with the support of my family, I ripped that blindfold off. Now when I cry, it’s because I’m happy.

~Christa G.