How do you tell the world you were in an abusive relationship?
It’s easy. You just – don’t.
We don’t fall in love with an abusive person; we fall in love with a person that becomes abusive.
Aaron was the sweetest boyfriend. He introduced me to Coach purses, Kate Spade, and Tiffany’s. He was good with my father and kind to my niece. Before we were dating he bought every girl in my sorority flowers as a kind gesture.
Abuse happens slowly over time. It starts with a question or phrase and then grows into something more.
“Are you happy with how your body looks? I think you’d look better if you lost 10 pounds.”
“I don’t like Brandy. I don’t think you should talk to her.”
“Don’t tell your family about ____________. This is between us.”
People think escape is simple and easy. “Why don’t they just leave? I’d just leave.”
Hahahaha. No you wouldn’t, because I’m supposedly intelligent and I didn’t leave. I stuck around. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I stuck around because over time you become accustomed to behaviors that weren’t there to start with, and then they grow on you.
It’s normal to turn in your receipts to be checked over, right? It’s normal to have your spouse approve all of your clothing, right? It’s normal to hang up the phone when you’re talking to your friends and your spouse walks in, right? It’s normal not to be able to attend holiday functions with family, right? It’s normal to be scared of the person you’re married to, right?
What would have once seemed strange becomes a new normal until you’re controlled to a level you never thought was possible.
In 8th grade Angie Smith told me, “You’ll never have a boyfriend. You’re too independent.” Angie Smith didn’t know Aaron the narcissistic gas lighter.
I’m not sure what paths are “normal.” But in my mind it seems there are two.
You stay because of the power He has. I get it. I totally get it. He has so much power, He is terrifying, He is unpredictable. And although He controls everything, He can have those little moments that only you get to see. He isn’t all bad. I mean, you feel in love with a human, right?
Or there is a snap. A moment. An awakening.
It’s so ridiculous to say, but the movie Country Strong saved my life. I realized that if I stayed I wasn’t going to be around much longer. A small light inside started to flicker, and I started preparing to go.
I made lists of assets. I asked friends, “Would you love me no matter what?” I started building side support structures for the day I would need them.
And then that day came. “I want out.” And I got out.
I wish I could say getting out was the hardest part, but it isn’t.
For me, the hardest part is trying to regain what feels lost. I tried to return back to who I was, but she isn’t there anymore.
I feel stunted. It took years to get out, and it feels like its taking even longer to “get back to normal.” I feel like I lost six years of my life. I see other people who were able to do so much more, and I feel like I’m so far behind. I missed weddings I couldn’t attend, baby showers I couldn’t go to, and friendships I wasn’t allowed to have. How do you tell your cousin, “I’m sorry I missed your wedding. I wasn’t allowed to go”?
Some days I try to speak to a new person, or speak up in a meeting – and that internal fear of saying the wrong thing rises up and crushes my voice. I stay silent. No one can be angry if you’re silent.
I don’t want pity. I want understanding. I want people to see how common this is.
But over time, good days outnumber bad. And over time, forgiveness occurs more frequently. And over time, Christ redeems all wounds. All that is lost can be healed.
It just takes time. It gets better with time.
For my sisters; the brave ones – you know who you are.