Ten years. Ten years ago today I made some changes. Ten years ago today, a broken girl started putting the pieces back together.
Early on a Sunday morning exactly ten years ago, a broken girl decided to do something, so she dumped all her laundry out of her boyfriend’s laundry bag, folded up the bag, stuck it under her arm and took the walk to the laundry. At the laundry, she handed him the bag, looked him in the eye and told him that no matter how much she loved him, she couldn’t do this anymore. She just couldn’t be with him, it was destroying her. And so, in tears, she turned on her heel and walked back home. She knew herself well enough to take precautions against just going back if he begged or made excuses, so on her way home, she made a few phone calls to inform the important people of what she had done. It felt like that was the only safeguard and there was quite a bit of shock from the people she told, but she absorbed it and kept going, because she knew she deserved better.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details. I’ll tell you that the next few months were a living hell. I was struggling to reconnect with myself, make new friends outside the dating circle, work and simultaneously deal with my ex stalking me. I was afraid to go out, I was tired of trying to explain and I lived in constant apprehension of the begging/hurling abuse roller coaster. I spent many of my days sobbing as one abusive message after another came through via text and email and I once even got a 06:00 wakeup call on a Saturday morning from his mom. I endured suicide threats, death threats against all my male acquaintances and him pitching up at my office at random times.
I lost 75% of my friends, because abusers often look like saints to the rest of the world, so this was clearly me being a bitch. More than a year later, a mutual friend told me that he still bamed me for “breaking the man”. That my leaving him had broken him and our friend would never forgive me that. I stood there, trembling with frustration and hurt and told him that I didn’t hold that against him, as I know he has no idea. He again informed me that I had broken his friend and he (my ex) was still hurting, still broken, still loved me so. At this point I lost my shit, I’m afraid. “We’ll, you didn’t have to live with his abuse”, I hurled back, “besides, he’s engaged now, so he’ll just need to get the hell over it!” I figured that would end the conversation, but there was one parting shot “Do you think she doesn’t know? Imagine how she feels”
I tell you that story, not to soothe my ego, but to illustrate how abuse is not a single thing by a single person. There is always some form of secondary victimisation, especially when the abuser is so adept at playing the victim card. Somehow, after years of emotional abuse and months of psychological warfare, I was the bad guy for calling it quits. That hurt more than all the crap my ex ever gave me.
So I’ll tell you this. When a woman finally walks away, know how much courage that takes. Know that the road ahead is going to be as hard as the relationship behind, possibly harder. Know that she didn’t just decide that moment. Know that abuse is insidious and that she likely only figured it out when it was nearly too late or already too late. Know that she’s a survivor and a fighter, not a victim. And please, please don’t ask her what took so long.
It’s been a decade and as I write this, my baby sleeps in the next room, my wonderful husband is sleeping next to me and I’m surrounded by three furry babies. I got lucky, I managed to pick up the pieces and mostly put them back together. That said, I have no illusions of how close I was to missing the exit. So today, I think of all those who are still figuring it out.