You Can Be Both Abused and Complicit in Abuse: A True Story

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
– Hans Christian Anderson

TW: this post is about abuse

One late afternoon in spring of 2015, I went to meet my then-metamour in a coffee shop. Talking to her was a last resort in a tangled, confusing mess of a situation that I couldn’t find my way out of. Our shared partner had become increasingly unstable, volatile, and verbally and emotionally violent towards me, and I had simply no idea what to do.

She called me her sister, and in some ways we were closer than close. We shared not just a partner but a coven, a plan for our little polycule’s future, and sometimes even a bed.

In other ways, though, there was always a wall between us that we could not scale. That wall was made of a lot of things. Of the fact that we both knew that, if push came to shove, he would choose her. I simply did not compare, as I was told frequently. Of the fact that I was a kind of human shield to her, someone who took the worst of his heat and terrifying temper away from her. Of the fact that I was afraid of her, because I knew she too could yell me into submission if I did anything she didn’t like.

Still, I turned to her because I thought she might be the one person who could get through to him. I’d seen how, sometimes, she was the only person in the world he’d listen to. So we sat across from each other, at a quiet corner table, and I quietly told her, in as few words as possible, that I’d realised I was in an abusive relationship with her husband.

I’ve never forgotten, and I doubt I ever will, the icy chill that ran through my body when she met my eyes, sipped her coffee, and asked calmly, “am I supposed to be surprised?”

That might have been the moment that I realised I was on my own. She was the final ace I had to play, the one person I thought might actually be able to help me. Instead, she told me that she’d known for years that he was abusive. She’d learned to live within it, she said, so I should too. I should be stronger, be better, be more loving. Remember everything he’d been through, his painful childhood and his fucked up family and all those girls who rejected him.

I didn’t have to be another source of pain for him. I didn’t have to be another brick in his wall of hatred and distrust of the entire world, especially women. Instead, I could help heal him. I could be one of the good ones. All I had to do was be quiet, be good, be better. Swallow my needs and my feelings and just smilingly let him be what he was.

That day, that conversation, was one more little step in my journey towards the inevitable end resolution of I cannot do this any more. Less than a week later, I left. Even as she counselled me to stay, what she inadvertently did was give me another of the series of little pushes I need to leave. Because I realised I had two choices: live within the system he’d built for me, or get out of it. It was never going to change.

No longer satisfied with just surviving day after day, I decided to get out.

Even after I’d left him, she struggled to retain access to me and piled on the pressure for me to stay. “How could you do this to us?” she asked me, even as we held each other and cried in her living room. “How could you choose someone else after all this time?”

What I wanted to say, and didn’t, was that it wasn’t about choosing someone else. It was about choosing sunlight and freedom and flowers over an oppressive cave where I could barely breathe and there were rocks just waiting to fall on my head. I didn’t say any of it. I just told her I was sorry, got out of that house as quickly as possible, and didn’t look back.

What I realise now is that she – my metamour, my friend, my sister – was both complicit and a victim. I do not doubt that he behaved abusively towards her, probably for most of their two plus decades together. I also see now that she behaved abusively towards me. She directly enabled him, counselled me with variations of if you could just be better he wouldn’t hurt you countless times, and did her fair share of yelling and threatening and intimidating me herself.

In the classic, endless, fucked up circle, the abused became the abuser. There’s a part of me that left because I didn’t want to end up an abuser, too. I do not forgive her, but I also hope that she will get away from him someday. I still feel guilty sometimes because I couldn’t save her. In the end, all I could do was save myself.

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This piece was written for Quote Quest, a new weekly meme by Little Switch Bitch. Click the button to see who else was inspired by this week’s quote! And if today’s piece resonated with you, you can always buy me a coffee to say thanks!

5 Things I Used to Believe About Myself (That I Don’t Believe Any More)

I’m writing this as part of the Smutathon 2020 writing challenge in aid of Endometriosis UK. We’re coming to the end of hour number 10, with two more to go.

This one is inspired by this week’s Quote Quest prompt:

“Change your conception of yourself and you will automatically change the world in which you live. Do not try to change people; they are only messengers telling you who you are. Revalue yourself and they will confirm the change.”
– Neville Goddard

I’ve done a lot of work on changing my perception of myself over the last few years, particularly since leaving my abusive partner just over 5 years ago.

So here are some of the things I used to believe about myself but don’t believe any more.

I have a low sex drive

Turns out I DON’T have a low sex drive – if anything, my libido is on the higher side (depression notwithstanding). I just thought I had a low sex drive for a long time, because I was in relationships where I didn’t feel empowered own my sexuality.

The first two men I had long-term relationships with both conceptualised my sexuality as something they could – should – own. They both placed a high value on “purity” and “innocence”, expecting me to stay a timid, shy creature forever. They wanted my availability, but my actual desire was somewhere between “irrelevant” and “mildly distasteful”.

I don’t have a low libido at all. No – I just need to be with people who value it.

I can’t leave a relationship

This is probably the most toxic and harmful thing I used to believe about myself. I believed this one for years. Prided myself on it, even. However bad things got, I told myself, I wouldn’t be the one to leave.

Loyalty and commitments are values I hold very close to my heart and take very seriously. But loyalty and commitment have limits. Eventually, even the most devoted person will be pushed too far. It wasn’t actually a virtue to stay in a relationship with someone who continually harmed me. It was a symbol of a profound degredation of my personal boundaries and self esteem.

Now, I know that if I am not being treated well, I will leave. And as a result, I’m in healthier relationships.

I’m too difficult to love

This was another narrative my abuser put into my head. He convinced me that I was inherently difficult to love because of my mental illness, trauma, and – frankly – my reasonable and sane negative reactions to the ways he treated me.

Another part of the reason I stayed so long? Because he convinced me that no-one else would love me the way he did. That I was “poison” and “cursed” (his words) and that he was doing me a huge favour by putting up with me.

The reality? I’m no more difficult to love than anyone else. We all have our “stuff” and in any long-term, commited relationship it will sometimes feel challenging. But no-one is too difficult to love. Especially not due to things like illness or trauma.

I’m defined by my trauma

It would be a lie to say that my trauma hasn’t changed me. Of course it has. No-one can come out of a long-term abusive relationship unscathed. The fact is that I do not know who I would have been without that experience.

But that doesn’t mean I am defined by my trauma. It is a part of me, but it is not me. I’m many things, and a survivor is one of them – an important one. But not all there is. Not by a long shot.

I’m straight

Lol.

Yeah, this is something I really used to believe about myself at one time. Seems strange now.

If you haven’t donated to Smutathon 2020’s charity yet, please do so now! We’re into the last couple hours and we really need your support. (If you read this in the week or so following the event, the page will still be open).

The Me Who Never Met You

TW: abuse, suicidal ideation (in the past, am safe now)

There is a version of me who never met you.

In another life, I am whole. In another version of the story, the ending is different. Somewhere in that parallel universe, I am different.

In that life, I do not jump at nothing. I don’t have walls six feet thick around my heart. I don’t have nightmares about the goofy, charming smile I fell in love with, the smile that hides the monster that terrifies me. The monster I cannot tame with pleasing and placating and fucking and offering myself up as a sacrifice, even though I’ve tried.

In that life, I have not spent thousands of pounds on therapy just to stay alive. I have not been medicated and hysterical and within an inch of slashing my wrists alone in a random hotel room because of all the times you convinced me I was nothing.

The me that never met you might have had a chance to be alone for a while. That girl could have spent the best years of her youth travelling and learning and fucking and fucking up and spending all that energy on literally fucking anything else but trying in vain to meet your impossible standards.

The me who never met you might have kept more of her softness. Gentleness might have still come naturally to her, rather than being something unfamiliar and alien she had to relearn piece by piece. She might not have had to forge steel psychic armour just to survive.

There is a version of me who never met you. I wish I had been able to know her.

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Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Reclaiming Pleasure After Sexual Violence

Pleasure is complicated at the best of times. And reclaiming pleasure after you’ve experienced sexual violence can be an absolute minefield.

The first, last, and most important thing I want you to take away is this: your journey is your own. There is no correct way and there is no set path. To that end, this is not a how-to guide. It’s just a set of lessons I’ve learned.

Trigger warning for abuse, trauma, and sexual violence

Reclaiming pleasure after trauma is not a linear journey

It’s not a straight line. You won’t just get better and better each day until suddenly, you’ll find that you’re fully healed. At least, I don’t know any survivors whose experience has been this way.

You’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you might feel like you take two steps forward and one back. All of this is normal. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and messy. You don’t need to berate yourself because it’s harder today than it was yesterday.

Be where you are today. Wherever that is, it’s okay.

A healthy sexual relationship with oneself can be immensely healing

“Sex” doesn’t have to involve another person unless you want it to. In fact, masturbation can be a really important part of healing from sexual violence and trauma.

Masturbation and solo sex is something you do entirely for yourself. You don’t have to perform or worry about pleasing someone else. You don’t even need to involve your genitals at all, if you don’t want to.

Self-touch is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves, to be kind and loving and gentle with ourselves. Pay attention to your body and what feels good. Do you just want to run your hands over your skin for now? Perfect, do that. Does using a wand vibrator through your clothes help you access pleasure in a way that feels safe? Amazing.

Your healing is for you. You don’t owe it to anyone else

I hear a lot from survivors who are anxious to recover or “get over” their experiences because they want to be able to give their partner a certain kind of sex. Sometimes this pressure comes from the partner. Other times, the partner is completely supportive and this pressure is internalised.

What I want to say to these survivors is this: your healing is for you.

Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to share awesome sex with your partner(s). But ultimately, it has to be for yourself first. No-one has the right to access to your body. Not even if you’ve been married for fifty years. You can’t heal for somebody else, and you don’t owe your partner(s) a certain kind of recovery.

There is no one correct version of healthy sexuality

Pleasure is many different things, and a healthy relationship with your sexuality means something different to everyone.

There’s a sadly very common narrative that says that promiscuity after trauma is by definition a sign of dysfunction, damage, or lack of healing. For me, it was the opposite. Having lots of hot, filthy, consensual sex with lots of different people has been tremendously healing, validating, uplifting, and a massive part of reclaiming pleasure and my relationship with my body after the abuse I went through.

Find what works for you. Monogamy or polyamory or singledom. Vanilla or kink. Masturbation or partnered sex. All the sex, or none of the sex. It’s all valid and there is no script.

Some things might never go back to the way they were

This was perhaps the hardest thing to learn when I started healing from my abuse experience and reclaiming pleasure and sexuality.

Abuse changes us. It has a deep, profound, and lasting impact. I know that the things I’ve experienced will, in some ways, be with me forever. I’ll never go back to the way I was before – not completely.

But that’s okay. Nothing stays the same forever, and every experience we have shapes and molds us. So no, I’ll never be the person I was before. But I can grow into someone else – informed by my experience, but not defined by it.

If you need crisis support after sexual violence, please contact RAINN in the USA and Rape Crisis in the UK.

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Being Believed Changes Everything

Trigger warning: abuse and survivors not being believed

I logged into Fetlife this morning for the first time in a few days, to find a message from someone I haven’t seen in years. I regarded this person as a friend and I think I even had a little crush on them! But I met them through a community I was brought into by my abusive ex. A community I left behind when I walked away from that relationship. I cut every tie I had with everyone who was connected with him, because I had to.

I won’t go into detail about what my friend said to me in their message, but there was an underlying theme that immediately leapt out at me. That theme was I believe you. Lots of us believe you. We see him for what he really is.

It made me cry, because being believed isn’t something survivors get to experience very often.

Being believed changes everything

This is actually, coincidentally, the second instance recently of someone reaching out to me with a message that amounts to “hey, I believe you”.

When you’re a survivor of any kind of abuse, being doubted and disbelieved is something that comes with the territory. You speak out, and people question you, interrogate your story, or outright accuse you of lying. It’s painful, and it sucks. Maybe you keep speaking out and harden yourself to the world’s hostility, or maybe you shut up, retreat, keep quiet, watch your abuser continuing to have power and influence.

Imagine how different the world would look if we believed survivors as a matter of course. Imagine how much more effectively we could tackle the problem of abuse if our first reaction to it wasn’t to brand survivors as crazy, as delusional, as liars, as attention seekers.

If you do one thing for a survivor, believe them

You can’t rescue them, nor should you try. Inserting yourself into the narrative as a saviour does more harm than good. You can’t push them towards a specific path, like pressing charges. You can’t make the pain or the trauma or the fucking heartwrenching, eviscerating reality of what they experienced go away.

But what you can do is believe them.

The times in the last few years that someone has reached out a literal or virtual hand to me and said, “I believe you”? Those meant everything. They broke through the fog of doubt and guilt, the occasional intrusive thoughts that still pop into my head, saying but what if it was you all along? What if you were just too crazy, too broken, not good enough for him to love you properly?

Because being believed changes the game.

This one is for my fellow survivors. I love you and I believe you.

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[Quote Quest] It’s Never All Bad

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
– Brene Brown

TW: abusive relationship, mention of suicidal ideation

I don’t understand why you didn’t leave.”

I’ve heard some variation of this question dozens of times, if not hundreds of times, since I left my abuser a little over five years ago.

It’s an understandable question. Anyone who has heard me talk about what living in that relationship was like could be forgiven for wondering the same thing. Hell, I’ve asked myself the same question countless times.

The truth is nuanced and complicated. The truth is partly that I was so young – still a teenager when I met him, and he was so much older. I had precious little power to begin with, and he robbed me of the rest.

But the piece that’s always been hard for me to face is this: it wasn’t all bad.

It would be easy to leave an abuser if they were all bad. Very few people would even enter into, let alone stay in, a relationship with someone who treated them like shit right from the beginning. Abusers show their true colours over time, once you’re already invested. Or they temper their explosive outburts with moments of behaving like the sweetest, most loving person in the world.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I sometimes wished he would hit me because then I would feel confident naming it as abuse and be able to leave. Would I actually have left if he had done that? I don’t know. I might still have justified it, excused it, run logical rings around us until I made it somehow my fault.

He wasn’t all bad.

I still remember the first time I saw him. A shock of long hair and a cheeky, charming grin, brown eyes that sparkled mischievously when they locked with mine. The first time we kissed, by still water on a chilly November night, when I thought my heart would stop. The first night we spent together, when we stayed up talking and fucking and talking until we fell asleep sometime past dawn.

Later, too, the lows that made me want to kill myself were interspersed with highs that felt like dancing on a cloud. He’d scream at me and throw things while I cowered away from him, wondering if this would be the time he’d lose control and throw a punch. But later, he’d shove me against a wall and kiss me and the incredible sexual chemistry we undeniably had would rush to the surface, and I would be powerless to say no.

One day he would tell me I was poison, a curse who destroyed his life the day he met me. The next, he’d tell me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known, a goddess who had him under a spell. From day to day, I never knew if I’d be an angel or a demon.

The man who reduced me to calling my best friend, sobbing and suicidal, in the middle of the night was the same man I waited for in airports at dawn, just to throw my arms around him when he came through the barrier.

Even when I was in the middle of it, I recognised the rollercoaster. I remember telling friends, “we never do things by halves. It’s either incredible or it’s terrible, there is no middle ground”. Every time a low was low enough that I almost left, a new high would suck me back in. It was like almost dying and then taking a gulp of oxygen. Over and over and over.

It wasn’t all bad. And I wish it had been. Because then I might have left much sooner… or never got involved in the first place.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this piece, it’s this: maybe don’t ask survivors why they didn’t leave earlier. Our reasons are personal, complex, nuanced, and our own. We don’t have to justify it to you or to anyone. For me? I stayed for so long because it wasn’t all bad. Until the day it was.

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[Quote Quest] I Wrote My Way Out

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
– Sylvia Plath

TW: mentions of trauma (no details), self-harm, alcohol, and psychiatric medication

Writing is how I heal. It always has been.

The truth is I don’t remember the point that I started making up stories in my head. I am sure it was before I knew how to write them down. It was before they taught me how to survive.

Without going into too much detail (I’m not ready to do that here, I don’t entirely know I ever will be) I experienced quite a lot of trauma quite early on in life. And at some point in the middle of it all, I realised that writing it all down helped me to survive.

I journalled obsessively from the ages of 12 to 17. Pages and pages, night after night, juvenile rambling that I am quite sure would make me cringe now. The pages soaked up my pain. The more hurt and angry I felt, the faster my pen flew across the paper. Sometimes a tear would smudge the ink, other times I’d get cramp in my hand from gripping the pen so tightly.

Some time around fourteen, I realised I was going to be a writer. I started writing things and sending them off to publishers and entering them in competitions. I never got anywhere, of course. My creations weren’t ready to for the wider world, and it would be a long time before they were. I wrote a novel, then another.

The summer that I was fifteen, I got it into my head to write a bastardised mash-up of autobiography and fiction in an attempt to make some sort of sense of what I was going through. 150,000 words poured from my fingertips in three weeks. I couldn’t escape the near-daily hell I was living in because, y’know, I was fifteen. Since I couldn’t run, I wrote my way out instead.

I did a degree in Creative Writing. And then another one. I got better, but I still didn’t get published. I wrote a blog, built up a decent following, then shut it down because it was full of stuff about my abuser.

For some reason, I decided I wanted to write about sex. I started this blog. I was twenty six the first time I got paid for words I had written. But long before this blog or any of my writing was a source of income, it was a source of survival. A place of safety. The one way I could make sense of this fucked up world.

And even now, on the days when I am drowning in self-doubt and fear for my future, I know that writing is the one thing I will always have. The one thing I know I am good at. When I want to scream and rage about the fucking ugliness and unfairness of the world right now, I can type and type and type until I feel calm again. On the days when my depression feels so bleak I feel like I will never get off the sofa again, finding the right combination of words still brings me a glimmer of joy and hope.

Sometimes, I feel like my trauma is a slow-acting poison that will destroy me from the inside out if I don’t occasionally exorcise some of it from my bloodstream. Writing is that exorcism, that bloodletting, that antidote sucking the venom out of me. It has saved me so, so many times.

Long before I started reaching for alcohol or razor blades or psychoactive medication to help me survive, I reached for words.

So when people ask me why I write, I tell them I couldn’t not write. That it is my oxygen. That I couldn’t live without it.

(By the way, if you don’t know where the title of this post comes from, go and educate yourself immediately.)

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[Quote Quest] Honouring the Darkness

“Who are you?
Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.”

– Lana Del Rey

CW: this post discusses mental illness, trauma, abuse, and suicidal ideation (in the past – I am safe now.) It also refers to consensual non-consent in a kink context.

We all have something dark within us somewhere. I firmly believe this. We contain multitudes and we all have depths that most of the people who surround us will never see. Some of those depths will contain elements of our selves that frighten us, shame us, or harm us if we dwell there for too long. It is impossible, for most of us, to let a lot of people in to those scary places within us. Some never let anyone in at all.

As someone with depression and a history of abuse, my personal darkest corners are all informed by my trauma. There are perhaps five people on the planet who have seen the depths of the darkness my trauma history sometimes takes me to.

But something I have learned is the transformative power of exploring my darkness through kink. All the worst and most traumatic experiences of my life were in situations where I had no power, or where my power was taken away from me. Paradoxically, giving up power – for a limited time, and to a loving partner – soothes and calms those broken places in my psyche. Perhaps it is reclamation through choice, or perhaps it is the ability to rewrite the narrative. Perhaps it is simply the knowledge that the only reason I can willingly give power away is because I have it in the first place.

Not that kink is always about going to those dark places, of course. In fact, it usually isn’t. Sometimes it’s giggly and playful and just plain silly. Sometimes it’s intense but in a different way. It’s all a matter of degrees. But once in a while? Exploring the full extent of my psychic darkness through playing out things like consensual non-consent fantasies is not only hot but cathartic. Healing. I go willingly into those dark corners with someone who cares about me to hold my hand, and I feel lighter for days afterwards.

I don’t believe I’m kinky because I am traumatised. No. I was kinky long before I was this particular brand of fucked up, and there are millions of kinksters who have no trauma history at all. But I also think it would be foolish to say that my experiences of trauma had no bearing on the consensual things I do for fun now.

The reality is, I cannot say that I definitely would or definitely would not have had these specific kinks had I not been abused. Because I do not have that choice. I do not live in that world. The person I might have been without those traumatic experiences, and the woman I am now, are not the same.

My trauma is a part of me. My darkness is a part of me. It would be a lie to say I no longer fear it, because I do. My last mental illness-induced trip into the most terrifying corners of my own psyche is recent enough that I can still feel it viscerally. But I have learned not to hate it. Not to blame myself for its existence. And, usually, not to get so lost in it that I cannot find my way back out.

Kink gives me a space to honour that darkness, to revel in it and play in it and fucking dance in it. And then to come back out again and find that the light is still there, too.

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[Quote Quest] The Way I Loved You

The thing is that you brought this out in me. How could I want it with anyone else?
– J.M. Storm

TW: emotional and psychological abuse, gaslighting. Sorry that I’m writing so much about my abuser right now – I’m processing some things and writing helps.

“The truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone else the way I loved her.” I remember saying this to one of my play partners, a year or so after the relationship with my first girlfriend ended.

“You won’t,” he said, surprising me. “What you’ll eventually realise is that that’s a good thing.”

I didn’t understand exactly what he meant then, or for several years afterwards. In fact, I don’t think I fully grasped the whole truth of this statement until I left my last abusive partner.

My play partner was right. I’ve never loved anyone else exactly the way I loved her. That would be impossible.

Firstly for the obvious reason that no two people are the same, so how could two relationships or two types of love be the same? But secondly, because she and I represented a specific moment in my life. I was very young, just barely over the cusp of adulthood, and still a baby queer barely peeking a toe out of the closet. She was the first. She was the person who took my hand and guided me through those early, tentative explorations.

No-one else can be that, nor should they try to be.

What we had was many things. It was beautiful and it was terrible. Sometimes, as we struggled to communicate and connect in a world that was very much against our brand of queer, polyamorous love, I felt like I might die. Other times, I was sure she was the one great love of my life. But there is one thing it was not: sustainable.

When I met my abusive partner, in some ways it felt similar. He gave me the same dizzy, giddy, love-drunk feeling. Kept me slightly off-kilter. Made me feel like I was losing my mind.

What I didn’t realise then, that I know now, is that with her those feelings were the symptom of first love between two people who were trying their best but were ill-equipped to handle the intensity. With him, though, they were symptoms of deliberate manipulation. I was constantly off-balance because he put me there.

I often felt like I was dying when I was with him. He was the oxygen I needed to breathe, and held the absolute power to cut off my airways if I displeased him. (Despite my best efforts, I often displeased him.)

One of the things I mourned when it all went so badly wrong was what we’d had in the beginning. At that stage, I still romanticised the sleepless nights, the desperation to drop anything and everything else to please him, the way he made me feel simultaneously like a precious but fragile doll and like his saviour.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that that wasn’t romance. That was grooming. That was textbook lovebombing, holding me up on a pedastal so I’d be disorientated and broken and compliant when he inevitably threw me off it.

Maybe you’re just not who I thought you were, he’d say. And that was all it would take to have me desperately trying to prove that I was who he’d said I was on one of those early dates where we’d stayed up all night talking and fucking. Because I wanted to get it back. I wanted those soaring highs again. I wanted to love like that again.

Now I realise that I never will. But I never will because I am older now. Wiser. A little more jaded, perhaps. But I can protect myself now. And that means I will never again allow myself to be taken in by superficial charm that masks something much more sinister.

So no, I’ve never loved anyone else quite the way I loved her, and that’s okay. I’ve never loved anyone else quite the same way I loved him, either – and that’s a good thing.

Have I loved just as hard, just as deeply, just as wholeheartedly? Yes, absolutely. But the same? Never.

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[Quote Quest] Breathe

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”
Louis L’Amour

TW: this post contains discussion of abuse in relationships

Leaving an abusive relationship is like relearning how to breathe.

People talk about learning how to trust again. I’m still working on that one. They talk about remembering how to sleep through the night, how to stop jumping at shadows. For me, it was relearning how to breathe.

Being with him felt something like the emotional equivalent of being trapped underground, where the air is dirty and the roof is made of rocks that will come tumbling down on your head if you make one wrong move. Like having a crushing weight pressing down on your chest, which is slowly suffocating you but which you think will kill you if you remove it.

Leaving was like emerging into the sunlight but not knowing how to breathe air that is clean and safe.

The truth is that, for many survivors, the point of leaving is the beginning and not the end.

And not just because the point where we leave is statistically the most dangerous.

My ex didn’t come after me physically after I left him. Violence was never his way. Psychological manipulation was his game. He was clever enough to be the master of the mindfuck, and I was naive enough to let him far enough into my brain that he’d rearranged my psychic furniture before I knew what was happening.

So no, I never feared he would kill me. But he kept playing his head games with me, finding ways to make sure I never felt safe. He emailed me out of the blue for the most spurious reasons, throwing unfounded accusations of infidelity and betrayal. He demanded money. Then he bullied his way into access to my home. He, or one of his friends (I’m still not sure which) kept tabs on me via a sockpuppet account on Fetlife, tracking who I was dating and which events I was going to. On one occasion, my current partner and I caught him driving past us multiple times while we were out in a way that made me feel like I was being watched.

Is there any wonder I didn’t feel like I could breathe freely until I saw definitive proof that he’d moved to a different city hundreds of miles away?

It was difficult for me to claim the label of abuse and apply it to that relationship, because he didn’t hit me. I wondered if I was being whiny, if – as he said – the only reason I felt like my mind was being systematically broken was because I was crazy. Even once I left, I asked myself if what I’d experienced was really that bad or if I’d deserved it because I pissed him off.

So no, leaving isn’t the end.

It’s the beginning of a journey of healing that can take months, years, whole lifetimes. I will never be the person I was before him. My life can be divided neatly into three parts: before, during, after.

Leaving is the first step on a long, long, long road of learning how to be you again, free from your abuser’s influence. It’s the first tentative grasping at the straws of, “maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe it all really happened exactly as I experienced it. And maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t okay.”

Leaving is the first gulp of clean air into lungs that have forgotten what that felt like. It’s feeling your chest expand as that crushing weight gradually lessens and then lifts.

It’s relearning how to breathe.

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