Some people who read this may already be aware that I have, in the past, been involved with a person who did not treat me very healthily. It has taken many years to actually recognise and correctly name this relationship as abusive. I suspect most people in similar situations have trouble identifying such until later. It's easy enough to dismiss oneself as being silly or oversensitive, but when you are being actively conditioned to do so, it's a lot harder to acknowledge in the moment.
The situation has been on my mind a fair bit recently for a few reasons. Perhaps the most striking to me at the moment is that I am fast approaching the anniversary of our first meeting. A decade has past, and I am so changed from the 'me' that became involved with this person that I am barely able to relate to any old diary entries or blog posts that I read. After moving house, I have been able to dig up old materials of this nature and read back over the period in question.
I don't really want to detail the exact specifics of the abuse, but I have some hindsight, context, and rueful wisdom.
The first thing I want to get off my chest is an apology.
I am sorry to all of my friends and family who were also affected by my relationship with this person.
I know they will say that the apology isn't warranted, but still I feel the need to impress upon them my sincerity: I am so sorry.
I'm sorry I didn't listen; that I dismissed your concerns; that I allowed myself to be shepherded away from your genuine and protective love; that I deprioritised you even in the days when I could see that I was being influenced, but decided to choose the easier path because continuing to fight to keep you by my side drained me of any energy I had left for myself. I remember some of the decisions I made out of self-preservation that hurt you and I still struggle with it.
Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, I want to implore anyone reading this to make a concerted effort to stay mindful of their situation. There were a lot of warning signs and gut feelings that I ignored. There were also positive things I ignored too, like the concerns tentatively voiced to me by others that I cast aside; I fiercely defended my unhealthy relationship, even against my own inner qualms.
It is only now, with the strength of retrospection that I am able to see that I would have had support, but I had slowly been isolated. I was, whether consciously or not, cut from my herd.
People have often asked me why we got together in the first place, or at least stayed together after the first concerns were raised. The answer is somewhat two-fold itself: I was in a low place when we met, and this person could be very charismatic and good at saying what I wanted to hear. I can even remember a conversation we had after a group outing, whereby they accused my accompanying friends of not caring about me like they do. A case was presented, and I was swayed. Their debate was convincing, their evidence sound. Of course they knew what was best for me, after all they were my partner.
I don't necessarily believe this behaviour was deliberately malicious. I actually believe that they believe they were doing the right thing by me. I was slowly convinced that I owed them my dedication, my defence, my protection; after all isn't that what I also receive from them?
Possibly the most dismantling harm was the effect this had on my sense of self-assurance. Whenever I would gain enough confidence and felt the need to stand up for myself, my partner was very good at martyrdom and victim-playing. Again, I have reason to believe this wasn't a conscious and deliberate action, but simply a result of having no other emotional maturity or capacity to do otherwise.
It meant that I would eventually apologise for my moments of self-defense. They were held against me in a mental ledger, and I was confronted with the tired adage of "If you really loved me..." more than I had prior.
Eventually, this taught me that my indignation at unfair or unhealthy situations was disproportionate. I had been convinced that I was the one overreacting; that my outbursts of emotion or rage, the result of compacted and repressed frustration or a sense of injustice, were standalone incidents: I was the powder-cake.
I was not completely broken down. There was enough resilience in me to occasionally want to rally and say my piece, to voice that I was not happy with our circumstances or relationship. I had the inner fire to defend myself occasionally, but unfortunately in that relationship, and perhaps because of it, I also had an inability to do this more effectively than simply letting all the anger and hurt and frustration pour out of me in verbal and emotional tidal waves.
My partner did not lash out like this, my partner did not rant with a whirring mind and racing heart at me. They were a measured and quiet presence, with a withdrawn and sometimes unwavering air. Surely, of the two of us, it was I who was unstable? If anything, my partner would openly cry and become upset because of something I had done out of momentary inability to emotionally regulate. To the outside world, with my stronger personality and fiery volume once at tipping point, I seemed the dangerous one.
And that's how it felt.
I was singlehandedly being manipulated into believing myself to be the sole instigator of disquiet. I am not claiming, by any means, that the outbursts mentioned above were appropriate, but simply a result of months and eventually years of emotional games, and the need to demand respect when I felt confident enough to do so. As I said, I wasn't as well equipped to emotionally handle the situation more appropriately than to sit on my frustration in an attempt to keep peace until it became too much and resulted in an argument.
My partner was very good at being upset. There was always some issue or problem, whether emotional or functional, in our relationship or just in our home, that needed attention to 'make them happy'. I spent countless hours and immeasurable energy on trying to 'fix things'. I was constantly baffled why the exuberance I was expecting never came. If something in the outside world had gone wrong, I was hysterically and tearfully approached to deal with it. Someone sent you a nasty message? I'll handle this. You lost your job? I'll put your resume together. Can't afford your rent? I'll pay half. Favourite band isn't coming to town? Let's fly interstate to see them.
They were very good at making me feel needed.
And that was half the initial enticement. I was needed and wanted, at a time when I had craved the feeling.
In my diary of the time, the last entry before this person enters my life, is two lines. It reads simply:
I feel so unloved. Unloveable.
I was a sitting duck for any charismatic character to enter my world and begin making me feel these things again. I ended up in a worse place because I started a relationship, with an emotionally immature person, from a bad place.
The diary, and my personal blog at the time, details events that my memory has shelved. It starts positive, written in coloured pens with scrapbook items. Then gradually introduces more and more negative recounts of the days.
Some years later, my diary sees another succinct entry, which is incidentally the last entry in an unfinished notebook that grew less and less embellished and decorated as my creativity and motivation waned over time. It is written in plain black ink, and reads only:
I'm getting very tired of fighting. Very tired.
But I was not released entirely...
In the years that followed, living in small city meant that we had mutual acquaintances. We also had shared interests which meant occasionally I would find myself at the same event as my former partner. This in itself would be fine, but on numerous times they would seek me out and stand nearby apparently oblivious and coincidental, trying hard to be nonchalant. It happened more often than coincidences would have one believe. I was trying to move on with my life, and they were actively trying to reinsert themselves into it in any manner in which they could pass off as chance if confronted. Plausible deniability.
Another reason I find this topic on my mind lately is new information that has come to light about others who came after me.
I was not the last to be subjected to the manipulation and emotional & psychological abuse of this person. I have discovered other parties who were also subjected to it, some of whom are lucky to still be alive.'
I'm torn by this news.
On the one hand, I want to be proud of myself that I was strong enough and resilient enough to not have my mental health pushed quite this far. Perhaps that fire that would be used against me helped keep me safe?
On the other hand, these other relationships with my former partner and these parties were significantly shorter. Whilst I feel like I may have gotten away unscathed in comparison because I did not require hospitalization or need to be put on suicide watch, these events helped them recognise the unhealthy place they were in.
I feel somewhat stupid to know that I remained in a situation that was hazardous to my mental and physical and social health for so long.
It's challenging to process, because the journey I've been on since having the relationship removed from my life has allowed vast progression and growth, and I keep judging myself in the past by my wisdom of the present. I have to remember to be kind, and forgiving, to the person I was.