There’s no timeline on healing or love

time

When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. Become debt free and a mother by 30, in April 2018.

I am now 31 and neither of those things happened.

In fact, as 30 approached, I was facing a lot of other huge life circumstances. In August 2016 I got married and immediately started trying to conceive a much wanted baby. In January 2017 I stopped speaking to my mother, until February 2018 when I unwittingly made contact with her through my stepdad’s phone. She tersely let me know he had cancer, and through speaking with my siblings I came to understand that she had deliberately kept the news from me to punish me for cutting her out of my life. (I wrote about this experience here).

Within a ten day span in March 2018, I left an abusive marriage, packed everything I owned and moved into a new apartment, endured transatlantic cyber bullying at the hands of my husband, and watched my stepfather die of lung cancer. Oh, and accepted a book deal.

Life did not give one iota of a shit about my five year plan. I still have student loans and I never did get pregnant (thank goodness).

The timeline of healing

After I left my abuser, I committed to only casual relationships on a non-monogamous basis for at least a year. And then I fell in love. And I fought it. I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted time to be single and to heal.

My sister gave me some sage advice: There’s no timeline on healing or love. You’re allowed to fall in love whenever you fall in love.

I decided I could work on healing from my abusive upbringing and marriage at the same time I was enjoying a relationship. I continued going to therapy and reading books that helped me process my trauma, and I had fewer panic attacks and C-PTSD episodes as time went on. I was healing.

And then our relationship imploded, as did another year-long relationship of mine, and I found myself newly single again.

But I noticed something important. While it had taken me years to realize my marriage was harmful, it took me only months with my boyfriend and mere weeks with my girlfriend. Of course, looking back, I can see that there were signs of the unhealthy patterns long before I realized them, but it was proof of my healing. I was doing the work. I wasn’t putting up with unhealthy behavior once I realized it was happening.

The timeline of love

Letting myself feel my feelings and fall in love was important. Fresh out of an abusive marriage, I really needed to feel loved again. I am a big fan of taking time to be single and focus on self-love, but I’m also not upset that I spent my first year away from my ex feeling loved and supported by two partners.

When those relationships ended, I was much more able to take time to be single. Seeing that I had fallen into similar behaviors (serving as one partner’s sole emotional support to my own detriment, allowing the other to continually violate my boundaries and forgiving them because each time seemed individually like an honest mistake) as I had in my marriage, because on some level I was still scared of being seen as too hard to love, was something I needed to realize. And now that I’ve had those experiences, I have realized them.

This has given me new targets for therapy.

Your responsibilities in a relationship

Some fundamental truths I’ve stumbled upon in therapy include the following:

  • I am not responsible for making my thoughts and emotions comfortable for other people. How many of us do this? We feel hurt or upset but keep our pain internalized until we’ve either ignored it or whittled it into something tiny and non-offensive that we can bring up to our partners apologetically and hope to stand up for ourselves about it. The trouble is, when we’ve been taught over and over again that our hurt feelings aren’t valid, we just start invalidating them ourselves. “I won’t talk about this with him, I’m probably just overreacting.” No, we’re not doing that anymore. If you feel hurt, tell your partner. The discomfort of this conversation is important: if the discomfort gives way to healing and repair, then that’s a sign of a healthy relationship. If it gives way to invalidating blame, then that’s a sign you aren’t with someone who values you and wants to treat you well.
  • Managing my partners’ behavior is not a normal part of a healthy relationship. I’ve always been the PR spinner in my relationships. With my abusive ex, I would post cute stories about our conversations on Facebook and my friends fawned over how sweet we were. “Get a man who makes coffee in the morning and does the dishes!” I’d say, to a chorus of “He should teach a class on being a husband!” and “Can I borrow him so he can teach mine??” But the man only had three regular chores and didn’t do any of them completely. If I wanted to continue getting coffee in the morning and have him washing dishes at 50% competency, I had to put on the happy face and brag about him in a public way so he rewarded me instead of punishing me. I also had a habit of staying mentally two steps ahead of partners’ behavior to make sure they didn’t do something problematic. I also did this with my parents: I’d have to watch to make sure dad didn’t harass a waitress with a sexist comment or keep an eye on mom’s mood to warn my sister to behave. I have always had to stay aware of everyone around me to reduce the risk of danger/abuse. Turns out this is not a normal part of a relationship.
  • I give my love away freely so people never feel like they have to earn it. Realizing this was hard. I have always felt like I had to behave properly in order to receive love – I had to earn it. If I was a bad kid, I didn’t get love. If I was a bad wife, I didn’t get love. Subsequently, I wanted to make sure no one ever felt like that’s what I was doing to them. I didn’t want to paywall my affections and make someone earn them… so I had no boundaries because I always wanted people to have access to my love. This is unsustainable. Love is unconditional, but access is not, and sometimes I have to say no to something or someone in order to take care of myself and avoid burning out. Boundaries are a form of love too.
  • I am not responsible for making other people love me and treat me with value; that is their job. Seriously. If you are in a relationship with me, I shouldn’t have to convince you I’m worth loving, appreciating, or being with. Having to perform at this level with so many partners has been exhausting, and I don’t do it anymore. If you don’t want to be with me, stop being with me. I should not have to earn your time and attention.

Single part two

As I mentioned, after these two breakups I’ve been spending time being single and casually dating, but I’m not in any serious relationships. I still consider myself single. But I’m also feeling like I may be ready to start dating a little more seriously soon. My plan is to stay single until the new year, but we all know that life laughs at my plans. And if I end up feeling ready before then, that’s okay too. Because I decide when I’m ready, and it doesn’t mean I can’t dial things back if I find I still need single time later.

The same is true for you. You can’t heal on a timeline and you can’t control when something happens off your plan. But you can choose to lean into your vulnerability and your love and let something wonderful happen. (And you can also choose to pull back and say no, I’m actually not ready yet. It is up to you!)

Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

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How to ask for the love you need

 

worthy

I recently did something that I thought would be silly, or selfish, or outlandish.

I wrote a manual on how to love me.

It gives the basics about me and my background, includes a list of my favorite things, discusses how to best communicate with me, describes how I interact within each of the five love languages, and has links to blog posts and book recommendations to help understand my trauma and triggers. It even has tips on how to help me through a panic attack.

I posted about it on my personal Facebook page and I expected some laughs and comments about how I was being super type-A.

But the response was nothing short of love and encouragement.

It’s okay to ask for love

It’s okay to ask for love in the ways you need it. It’s okay to say, “Hey could you love me this way instead?”

For me, one of the worst things is to ignore me or make me do all the work of initiating conversation or contact. Feeling like I have to chase affection is deeply painful. I am still learning that love is abundant and available, that I don’t have to earn it, and that I certainly don’t have to beg for it.

An unexpected message from a loved one can light up my whole day, reassure me that they are thinking of me, and show me that they care.

When I shared my manual about how to love me, people thanked me.

The next day, I posted a status to “love me louder,” and I got some people sending gifs and hugs… but I also noticed several friends leaving comments about how great a friend I am, how they’ve been inspired by me, how proud they are of my writing and my work. And that small shift in the way I asked for love felt really good.

It can be scary to ask for love

When I was in sixth grade, I was living with my dad after my parents divorced. I told him “I love you” multiple times a day. It was an easy way to check in, to receive that “I love you too” back. I was trying to ask for love. And one day his response was not, “I love you too.”

It was “You say that a lot. Seems like you might be trying to convince yourself.”

It has never really felt safe to ask since then.

It’s been twenty years since I felt safe asking for love.

When I check in with someone to ask for something they aren’t giving me automatically, my heart pounds. Tears prick my eyes. My whole body feels hot. I want to be anywhere but vulnerably in front of them showing the truth of what I need. Risking myself like that is physically painful.

I learned as a child that love can be faked.

Every time I ask someone to change the way they love me, it feels like I’m being ungrateful and selfish. Like I should change the way I need to feel loved rather than ask them to speak my native tongue.

It feels like I am flinging myself off a cliff and hoping they might catch me.

Sometimes it feels easier to sit around wondering why someone doesn’t love me than to say what I need to feel loved. Vulnerability is scary, but it’s where we get our needs met. It’s where we find resolve in our worth and value.

It’s where we remember who the fuck we are.

Vulnerability at work can look like asking for a raise or promotion. You’re risking a no. If your boss says no, you might feel unimportant or not valued. If your boss reassures you that you’re doing great and puts together a six month plan for you to be in a place where they can offer that raise when they have the next budget meeting — that’s a reward for your vulnerability, even though it initially feels like rejection.

Vulnerability with a partner can look like saying, “I feel like I’m chasing you down for affection and I want to hear from you more during the day.” This feels scary, because they could say no. They could say that’s not how they operate their love languages and they aren’t willing to learn yours. They could say this feels like a lot of work.

Or they could say, “I’m sorry that I’ve been loving you in a way you weren’t receiving, and I will remember that you need loved this way. It is safe to remind me, and please do until I make it a habit.”

Being told I’m hard work is one of my top triggers. It’s something that has been said by a parent and by a partner, and its message is clear: My love for you is conditional on how easy you make my life.

Relationships take work, but people are not hard work

It’s rare for two people to connect in a way that is 100% flawless all of the time. But if you are important to each other and there is mutual trust, respect, and caring, asking for what you need is a blessing. It’s a road map and a manual. It’s cheat codes to making sure you feel loved.

Interpersonal communication takes practice, and this can feel like a tough job.

But if people didn’t want to do the work of learning how to best love me, they wouldn’t be out here loving me.

Tell your partner your love languages and be specific

Your partner can reference your top love languages for a reminder that you really get a boost from a love note in the middle of the day or them offering to pick up dinner on the way home so you don’t have to. Maybe they buy you an awesome gift because you feel loved when you receive a thoughtful present.

Whatever your love language, it is okay to communicate it to your friends, family, and partners. In fact, it should be a regular part of interpersonal relationships.

Not sure what your love language is? Take the quiz here to find out and learn about all five languages, which are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts

The hidden benefit of telling people how to love you

When you tell people how to love you, and especially when you tell people what makes you feel downright unloved or unappreciated, you have a measuring stick for people’s respect for you.

Once you’ve told someone several times what you need to feel loved and they repeatedly ignore it, it can help you see who doesn’t belong so close to you. You deserve an inner circle of people willing and eager to speak your language.

It doesn’t make people inherently toxic or bad for you if they don’t speak your language, but it is okay to place distance between yourself and them.

Normalize love

Normalize talking about love languages.

Normalize telling friends you love them.

Normalize asking for what you need, without apology.

Read more from me!

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

 

 

A Surprising Number of Things Elton John and I Have in Common 

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0 of them are playing the piano.

When I saw the trailer for Rocketman, I instantly knew I’d see the movie when it hit theaters. In the mid nineties, my mother and I would trek from our small village of Seville, Ohio into the “big city” of Medina to do grocery shopping. Our soundtrack, more often than not, was Elton John’s Greatest Hits, a 1992 CD with Elton’s top songs from 1970 to 1974. This early start meant that I have loved Elton John from the time I was very small and have continued being a fan throughout my life. So I was extremely excited to see his story on the big screen, especially considering that I hadn’t put much time into getting to know the man behind the music. 

Here is the list of things I knew about Elton John before I saw Rocketman: 

  1. Elton John is gay 
  2. Elton John plays the piano 
  3. Elton John wears costumes and big glasses and rhinestones 
  4. Elton John is the MVP of Disney soundtracks, save for Phil Collins because Tarzan was 100% a gift 

Spoilers Ahead! 

The opening scene of Rocketman follows Elton walking down a long hallway in full costume dressed as a sequin-adorned devil. He bursts through the door… into a group meeting at a rehab center. After some questions about his childhood, which he insists was very happy, we see flashbacks to Young Elton who was emotionally abused by both of his parents.

The first interaction between Elton and his mother was her chastising him, saying “You’re late and I’ve had to throw your dinner in the bin” (I’m paraphrasing). This smacks of the time my mother told my sister that if she wasn’t home by 5 she couldn’t come on a car ride to drop me off at dad’s for the weekend — we passed her walking home at 5:01 and she was running for the car and crying. Mom didn’t stop. Or the time my sister and I ate popsicles while putting away groceries only to have our mother deny us a promised trip to the movies because we hadn’t finished our chores before eating them. 

Denied affection and love altogether by his father, and only conditionally loved by his mother, Elton John wanted nothing but to be loved as a child. Through the grace of one blood relative who cared, his grandmother, he was encouraged to take piano lessons and cultivate his love of music. Even as an adult, Elton was still searching for his father’s approval and his mother’s love. 

Now’s where it starts getting a little freaky. Well, it’s not so freaky. But I, too, was emotionally abused as a child and adult by my parents. Conditional love and constant striving for attention and validation was the name of my childhood and young adult game. I only cut my parents out of my life at age 30. So right away, Rocketman had me hooked because of this parallel between my own story and that of an artist I had adored my whole life. 

Saturday Night

Elton ages on screen through a choreographed sequence of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and this was the sequence in the film that first made me actually cry instead of just tear up. This song was my favorite to sing along with my mom in the car, and the juxtaposition of the upbeat song, the happy memories, and the truth of my emotionally abusive upbringing was overwhelming. Those memories of my mother are happy, and warm, and comforting. I loved listening to Elton John in the car with my mom. But my mother didn’t love me. And the grief of that was tangible while I watched this sequence in Rocketman. 

Elton’s mother was watching him perform. But did she care? Was she proud? My mother came to my choir concerts. But did she care? Was she proud? 

A Name Change 

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton desired a bit of a name change for his musical career. He borrowed both names, Elton and John, from bandmates. While in Rocketman, he appears to take inspiration from a photo of John Lennon, a fact check indicates that was more of a cinematic liberty than true historical fact. Which is a bummer, because if Elton John had selected his surname based on a favorite celebrity, that would be one more thing we have in common. 

As I left an abusive marriage (a nearly seven year relationship) and came to terms with my own abusive upbringing in childhood, I opted to select a completely new name rather than keep my married name or revert to my birth name. I chose Fisher, because without Carrie Fisher’s advocacy for mental health and medication, I likely would not have gone on the antidepressants that helped me see the abuse for what it was. Lexapro got me out of an abusive marriage. And Carrie got me on Lexapro. 

Serendipitous Encounters 

I was so happy to fact check and find out that Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin actually did meet through complete serendipity. Elton said he couldn’t write lyrics, so a studio exec handed him a sealed envelope from a stack of songwriting applications. Inside were Bernie’s words. The duo hit it off and have been working together ever since. 

Here’s where this completely rocks my world: I have imposter syndrome. I feel like my writing career is a fluke. That my published book is a fluke. That an agent reaching out to me and a publishing company picking me up as an author are flukes. I’ve made jokes time and time again that Twitter got me a book deal and it was all a complete accident. 

But I’d never say that Elton John was an accident. And this guy happened to get a random pile of lyrics from someone whose words were perfect. 

You could say that it was by chance that Elton and Bernie met up and made music together. But the fact that Bernie writes good lyrics and Elton plays mad piano and can sing with such talent and conviction… that is not by chance. 

Just like my writing is not by chance. I may have had some good luck, some good things happen, some serendipity in the modern age. But I’m not an accident. 

Abusive Relationships 

Speaking of careers and the people who help them along, let’s talk about Elton’s manager and first boyfriend, John Reid. Doing a bit of research about the couple, it didn’t happen exactly as portrayed in Rocketman. In the biopic, Reid seems much more cunning and out for power from the get-go, when in reality, the two were lovers who lived together before becoming professionally entwined. Additionally, Reid has even said that he wasn’t particularly enthused about being Elton John’s manager at first. 

Over time, the couple broke up but Reid continued to manage Elton’s career and accounts until a falling out and a court case over financial issues. Reid also reportedly had a terrible temper and had a string of assaults, punching and slapping people when he was angry. 

Across several moments in the movie, Reid’s obsessive control of Elton’s career was extremely triggering for me. My abuser took credit for my writing career, because he introduced me to my first freelance client. But just as it’s no accident or fluke that I ended up published, it was no fluke that my writing was good enough to pay for. If I was a shit writer, that connection would have done no good. My abuser spent years undermining my confidence in my own work because he so often took credit for turning me into the writer I was. 

Queer As Hell 

Elton John came out as bisexual in 1976 and married his wife Renate Blauel in 1984. The couple divorced in 1988 as Elton came to terms with his identity as a gay man, and he is happily married to David Furnish since becoming a couple in 2005.

In the movie, when Elton comes out to his mother, she responds, “You’ll never be loved properly.” I do not doubt that his mother said these words to him at some point, if not when he came out. The words of my parents in our final conversations are as clear in my mind as they were on the days they happened. And they hurt. “You’re a sweet girl. Fucked up in the head, but sweet,” were some of the words my dad said to me in our second to last meeting. “You’ll have to explain what you mean by abuse, because that’s a strong word and can tarnish a man’s reputation” were some of his words the last time I saw him in person. 

The end credits roll in Rocketman with a photo of Elton and David and a caption that Elton is finally being loved properly. I will admit that I got a little teary-eyed.

I honestly don’t even know if my parents know I’m queer or not. I do know that they’ve both taught me about conditional love. My mom raised me telling me I’d never get a boyfriend if I ate like a pig, and she shamed my body at every opportunity. She had me on a diet by age 12 and is a huge factor in my decades-long battle with disordered eating. And I no longer care what she thinks of me, just like I hope Elton has long given up caring what his mother thought of him. 

Healing the Inner Child 

In an emotional and, yes, pretty cheesy finale, Elton hugs his inner child as a symbol of his healing now that he is in rehab. Earlier in the film, Young Elton asks his father, “When are you going to hug me?” but his father does not hug, touch, or hold Elton. In fact, Elton visits his father later in his life and sees his father holding and being physically affectionate with his new and improved sons in his new and improved family, which is such a moment of pure emotional pain from the film that it still affects me when I think about it. So at the movie’s close, the inner child appears in Elton’s mind and asks, “When are you going to hug me?” Cue me, crying like a baby, because Elton drops to his knees and grabs the child version of himself in an embrace that is nothing but unconditional love. (Pause, I need a moment). 

Healing my inner child, as hokey as it sounds, has been a huge part of my trauma healing. In EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), I target specific traumatic thoughts, such as “I am not allowed to rest,” and the therapy process allows me to associate memories with the thought. Memories attached to this target thought include my mother saying we were worthless for not cleaning, being punished with excessive chores, and generally not being allowed to sleep in or take a sick day from school when we didn’t feel well. If you had time to lean, you had time to clean. Removing the belief that I can only rest when everything productive has been finished has been a game changer for my mental and physical health. 

Long Story Short 

I bought some rhinestone-studded eyeglasses because we all deserve to be fabulous. Do something awesome today, and do something amazing for the child version of yourself. 

 

Can emotional abuse be sexual abuse?

woman looking away

A black and white image of a woman covering her face with one hand and looking downcast. Her dark hair covers her shoulders and part of her face. Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas via Pexels

I got divorced last May, and in the midst of Justin Timberlake memes and shorts weather and anticipating my upcoming book launch, the anniversary of my divorce date looms near. And I am still mad at my abuser, which is frustrating because I thought I would have overcome all my trauma in a neat, tidy package by now.

The more I process out loud, in therapy and in online support groups and in conversations with my friends and in posts to my social media, the more the shadowy puzzle pieces of the seven years I spent with him click into place and are illuminated for what they really were.

It was not “irreconcilable differences.” It wasn’t “communication issues.” It wasn’t anything like that. He orchestrated our relationship, and my submission, from day one, and unpacking that level of abuse feels like a punch in the gut. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t happiness, it wasn’t anything I thought it was. I was preyed on, targeted, groomed, and controlled, and when I left, he was so angry about it that his entire facade fell apart.

I was scared of him for years, and went to therapy to figure out what about ME was wrong, was preventing me from trusting him, was causing these conflicts and doubts in my head about our relationship. I wish I could hold my former self and tell her that there was nothing wrong with her, and that the reason she didn’t trust him was because it wasn’t safe to.

When I first left him, I knew that he had been manipulative. I caught on to the cycles of treating me nicely, lots of sex and affection, lots of praise… followed by reminding me I was a lot of work, difficult to be with, and that he was the only one who would love me like that, whenever I expressed an interest in, say, sex without him watching porn the whole time.

When I was upset or doubtful about our relationship, he would say things like, “How can you think so little of me? There is a version of me in your head that you’re upset with that’s not the real me.” And I would go to therapy and ask what I could do to not be so anxious and distrustful. I wanted to be a good wife.

When mental abusers use sex to control

There are so many facets of our relationship that I’ve become more clear about since leaving. But the one that recently gobsmacked me is the sexual aspect of his control.

When I moved into his house, our sex life disappeared overnight. He always had a good reason. First he was upset about his divorce being final, then he was stressed at work, then he was not sleeping well, etc. And I was patient, and reassured him I loved him, and waited for him to feel better, for our drives to sync back up like they had when we had been dating.

According to him, me talking about our mismatched sex drives was pressuring him, me asking him to not fantasize about group sex or watch porn while we had sex was shaming his fantasies, and me suggesting we table the idea of getting pregnant while we worked on our issues was a slap in his face and the assertion that if I wasn’t sure NOW, we may as well never try.

He started Viagra to help things along, insisting that he had the mental desire for sex but just had some physical issues with the execution of it. He took 1/4 of a Viagra before bed, with the hopes that it would “be in his system” when he woke up and he could have sex with me in the morning. Spoilers: This is not how Viagra works.

Other reasons we did not have sex included:

  • He hadn’t slept well
  • He didn’t want to prevent me from my morning workout routine
  • He didn’t like evening sex, only morning sex (but see #1)
  • He felt I was punishing him by not providing (unreciprocated) oral sex

Finally, desperately, in an attempt to not totally screw up my life by having an affair to satisfy my carnal desires, I sat him down, told him I loved him, told him that I did not want to pressure him into sex, and asked if we could open our relationship.

He absolutely blew up in fury. He said things like:

  • If you get pregnant and it’s not mine, your options are abortion or divorce.
  • If you get pregnant in the next six months, even if we don’t open the relationship, I will demand a paternity test.
  • How could you risk our marriage by getting pregnant with another man’s baby?
  • How can I trust that you will use condoms?
  • For fuck’s sake, you should have had an affair.
  • You know this means I would be able to have another partner too.

He kept me awake past midnight, demanding to know why I had dared to ask him for this. I told him, “I can’t have this conversation right now, I am so tired and I need to sleep,” and he said, “You’d better wake the hell up then.” He wouldn’t let me end the conversation. Finally I said, “I guess I didn’t think it through,” and that was the only thing that made him relent and forgive me.

To my knowledge, he remains convinced that I was already seeing someone else when I left. The introspection it would take for him to realize that he pushed me to a breaking point with his sexual manipulation tactics is never going to happen.

After a year of distance from being in this day to day minefield of affection, I realize now that he had no issues having sex with me when he needed me to feel better about our relationship. When I was in my lowest lows, he managed to rise to the occasion. This was such a pattern that, when I finally told him I was leaving, one of his legitimate grasps at the straws of our relationship was, “Did our weekend of great sex confuse you?” To be clear, our “weekend of great sex” consisted of me setting a five minute timer for oral sex, asking him to continue after my five minutes was up, and then him telling me that I didn’t understand limits and boundaries, and this was another reason we couldn’t open the relationship. Because if I couldn’t be satisfied with five minutes of lukewarm cunnilingus, how could I be satisfied by protected sex with a new partner?

Realizing I was used

This part, the realizing that our sex life was never a fun and spicy time of physical affection and mutual desire, but rather a means to keep me on my short leash and happy about it… feels disgusting. I feel used, I feel dirty, I feel gross.

I struggle to call it sexual abuse. I don’t know if it qualifies.

But if I had known? If I had known that I was consenting to sex for the sole purpose of making my brain trauma-bond to the good times so the bad times seemed less painful? If I had known that sex was being used as a weapon to keep me in line, denied when I wasn’t performing my wifely duties of shutting up and looking pretty but freely given when I was at the end of my rope? I would have left him years earlier. And that feels awful.

You aren’t alone

In the year since I left my abuser, I’ve been sharing stories from survivors on my blog. Sometimes they’re mine. Sometimes they’re not. But I share them, and I continue to speak out loud about my experiences, because there is power in the story. For anyone reading this who has felt used, abused, and controlled… you aren’t alone. And you can be okay.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

 

 

 

 

An open letter to my abuser’s ex wife

Hello.

I am not sure if you care to hear from me, or indeed if you even know who I am. I’m the woman your husband left you for. And I am deeply sorry, on so many levels.

When I met him, he was in an open relationship with permission to play and “get his needs met,” because you no longer wanted to have sex with him. You wanted things “don’t ask don’t tell” because you didn’t like the details. I don’t know if this is true.

When I met him, he said if your comfort levels changed at all about the open relationship, it would be game over for non-monogamy and he would stop dating outside partners. I do not believe this to be true, given what eventually happened and that he disclosed other infidelities he committed during his marriage to you.

When I met him, he spun me a tale of being neglected at home, living with you as a friend and roommate without any passion. He told me that you two once went to a party and the hostess put her hand on his shoulder — and he flinched, because it had been so long since he had been touched. I do not know if this is true.

When I met him, he was turning 41 and I was 23.

Within days of meeting him, he told me he had never felt this way about anyone, and that he realized he wanted to be with me forever, that we were fated to be together. Within a month, we had matching tattoos and promise rings and we’d exchanged short words about how much we meant to each other. And because I was only 23, and because I was in a dying relationship myself, and because I want to save people who feel broken, I fell for it all.

And I am so sorry.

I waited for him. I believed we were destined for each other.

Your husband told me he wanted to be with me but just needed time to end your marriage with the least amount of pain for you. He said he owed it to you. He said so many things about how cold you were to him, how you were disgusted by sex with him, how you used to want children with him but one day told him “Not with you,” when he asked if you still wanted kids.

He told me he had given up on his health and on ever hoping for a better relationship because he had no reason to hope for anything more.

He told me he once yelled at you over buying the wrong kind of printer paper.

He told me he finally decided your marriage was over when you suggested letting one of the cats live outside. (That cat still pees on everything). When I once yelled at this cat for peeing on a curtain I had JUST put on the floor while I reinstalled the curtain rod, he told me I reminded him of you. He said it just to hurt me. Comparing me to you was immensely effective in controlling my behavior.

He used to watch me cry, while I wondered if he’d ever really be with me, wondering how long I could possibly wait for him. Wondering why I was doing this to myself. But I waited because we were MEANT to be together.

When I finally packed up all his things and told him to call me when he got divorced, he told me that if I was with anyone else while I waited for him, we couldn’t be together. And wouldn’t you know it, I continued to wait for him. He told me he needed to see how my story ended and he couldn’t bear to not be a part of it.

I waited for him for two years.

I moved into your home the day before your divorce was final. I told him that he’d never have to feel alone in that house again. Little did I know that I’d be the one feeling alone in that house.

Despite our passionate affair, once I moved in, the sex all but stopped. Always with good reason — stress about the divorce, stress about his job, not sleeping well, not feeling well. Always a good reason. And I couldn’t help but wonder, if he needed an open relationship to get his needs met so badly, why is it that once he had a partner with a sex drive, he no longer wanted sex? It took me many years to learn that the needs he had were not sexual. They were control, power, and adoration.

I want you to know that none of it was your fault. Whatever parts of his story were true — if you were cold, distant, and lonely at home, it was not because of some failing on your part. You were not a bad wife. You are not a bad person. He did not cheat because of you.

You were tired. So you started doing things for yourself. You started running and losing weight. You found things that made you happy, outside of him. He did not like this. He did not like it when I did it either. When I cut my sugar intake, he’d buy me a candy bar. When I wanted to run longer races, he insisted I see a doctor for a physical despite never having a running injury.

When you stopped worshiping him, he went and found outside supply for his needs. He found many women in the meantime, but then he found me. And I’m sorry for both of us that he did.

He told me on many occasions that I talked too much about my exes. He said this to me so many times that I actually started keeping notes on how often I mentioned them. And it turns out that I really didn’t talk about exes much… but he did. Because of how much he built up insecurity around exes, I always felt compared to them when he did discuss them. If me talking about exes was a bad thing, why wasn’t it bad for him to do? It must have been something inherently wrong with me, right?

If he did this to you too, I’m sorry. If you knew about me and he used me to rattle your security and confidence, I’m sorry. If he talked about his infidelities or past lovers or any other outside partners to keep you under control, I am sorry. You are not someone who can be controlled. You are strong.

I am sure it hurt immensely when he ended your marriage. You were together for over 13 years. He was everything to you. You didn’t understand why he was discarding you. But that’s what it was. The cycle of psychological abuse includes this pattern: idealize, devalue, discard. When you met, it was all rainbows and sunshine, right? And then over time your confidence was degraded, you had to try harder to keep him happy, and somehow his happiness ended up hinging on whether or not you were chipper and pleased to serve him, I bet.

(Did he refuse to eat what you cooked if you prepared food while upset?)

I imagine that having a few outside partners helped him get a fresh hit of adoration now and then, and he was happy enough to go home to you. But I was a gooey caramel-filled chocolate bar for him, the perfect storm of insecurity, childhood trauma, a need for validation, and an eagerness to do whatever anyone wanted because I was too afraid to say no and lose somebody. He knew if he got me he could have me forever. And so you were sacrificed, because you no longer doled out worship. He didn’t deserve that adoration — he never did.

I spent over six years with him, almost seven.

I tried to leave once. I told him he was manipulative and abusive. He feigned shock, cried with me, apologized deeply and profusely for not only treating me that way but also not noticing how unhappy I had become. He promised change. Nothing changed.

Two years later I left for real. And his story about me is not the truth. Which makes me understand that his stories about you are probably also not the truth.

I’m sorry I believed him.

I am sorry I was part of your pain.

But I am not sorry you got away.

 

 

 

The nature of healing

tree

Winter seemed to hold on for a long time this year, with snow in March and even a few cold days into late April. Now that it’s early May, it seems we’ve skipped right over springtime into 80+ degree days and the nostalgic smell of summer vacation on the breeze. I’ve been driving with the windows down (until the noise gets too annoying) and sunglasses on, jamming along to my newfound love of Kesha, and generally feeling upbeat about life.

The local nature reserve I drive through on my way to work every morning is home to my favorite tree, gorgeous views of the river, and families of deer happily munching away in the meadows. I’ve been running with my friend along the paths in this valley, through rain and snow, as we trained for a half marathon at the end of April. I mentioned that the trees all still looked dead and wintery, and she pointed out that you could see a bit of yellow fuzz as new buds started to grow.

After this exchange, I’d spend a few moments each time I ran along the path trying to unfocus my eyes a little bit to see the growing fuzz. Some trees had pink fuzz, others had yellowy green fuzz, but you could see the buds coming if you stopped looking so hard.

Then, this morning, on my drive through the valley, everything was lush and green. I just drove through it yesterday and it was not this green. But today, it was. It was like overnight everything suddenly came to full life in technicolor. I drove the fifteen minutes through the winding valley road with a smile on my face, overwhelmed by the excitement and beauty of nature. I may have shed a tear or two (but that may also have been Kesha).

Alone in my thoughts, it occurred to me that healing from emotional trauma is kind of like waiting for spring to come. If you keep looking for every little sign of growth, you may not see it. You may think the long winter is holding you back. But if you stop looking so hard, you can see new habits, new emotions, new strength, and new growth starting to take hold.

And one day, when nothing special in particular has happened at all, you may be completely surprised to find that things are going exactly according to plan, and your spirit is still intact, beautiful, and able to grow again.