Jettison

By Jeremy

(I wrote this article as a submission for a book which was an anthology about trauma in the punk rock community. Should it ever get published I will mention it here.)

Have you ever wished someone dead? I have. Not from spite mind you. That’s a temporary knee-jerk emotional reaction. The wish of which I speak comes from something deeper. It stems from a need of what feels like survival and a sense that you won’t be allowed to heal without the separation of six feet of dirt between you and someone else. It is derived out of helplessness rather than malice.

Two years prior to developing my morbid desire, I was blossoming full speed ahead…assuming, for a moment, that flowers can achieve speed. I was living in a new state with a new job and for the first time in my life I was openly queer. Not that any of these things feature in this story mind you. I’m just saying that it was one of the best times of my life. 

Then I started dating someone and things plummeted downward as I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship. Nowadays, I prefer to avoid talking about the abuse I experienced. It’s not that it triggers me. It’s just that my need to have others know my trauma is becoming increasingly unnecessary for me.

Nonetheless, here is a brief description of my experience with a few examples so you can better understand the type of behavior I endured and the steps in my recovery. My hope is that this will help people if they have been through this, or if they haven’t, to help them support someone who has.

The person I dated used control and emotional abuse as the cutting edge of their blade. I was kept from my friends and given the third degree if someone messaged me. My social media had to be replete with mentions of her and yet, I was absent from hers. The writings for my blog were often examined to pass her censor. Eventually, she tried to turn my friends against me. There was also the continual attempt to control me with money which she actually said entitled her to special treatment in return. She was fond of taking gifts back each time we broke up.

Our breakups, of which there were many, generally happened as the result of an emotional tantrum when things didn’t go her way. This was all my fault because as she stated “I just made her so mad sometimes.” When we were apart she would use any means she could to reunite us. Usually this consisted of letting me know there was a ticking clock, by taunting me with who she was dating or having sex with next. 

A surprising number of times she was able to get herself admitted to a hospital in order to bring me back to her side. For example, her explanation of one hospital admittance was that someone had slipped a date-rape drug into her drink, she couldn’t tell me the guy’s name and said that the police went to his house, but forgot to handcuff him so he got away. I guess he disappeared from existence after that. Sometimes she would use the truth to bring me back. Once she admitted that she broke me and put me through hell. She said that if I went through that without leaving then she could finally trust me. You know…as if I was the problem.

She was very good at claiming to be the victim of the very treatment she was administering as part of her gaslighting strategy. For instance, one morning I said I didn’t want to have sex and wanted to wait until later in the day. This upset her, as it always did, and when she didn’t relent I went ahead and had sex for the “good” of the relationship. Afterwards, she would say that she only had sex because I wanted to. This was a common tactic of hers. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to. She got the behavior she wanted and was able to cast herself as the victim. It was a win-win scenario for her, meaning it was a double loss for me.

Whenever I would stand up for myself she would tell me I was mean. I didn’t know if this was true or not. At this point, my reality had been supplanted by hers. The distortions were palpable and I just couldn’t trust my thoughts anymore.

During our penultimate breakup she used the opportunity to tear asunder anything that I had left. She had me removed from the staff of a pro-women’s cycling team, something which was near and dear to my heart. I was also pushed out of where I lived as she began dating/having sex with my roommate. At her behest, most of our “mutual friends” walked away overnight.

Searching for support, I created a social media post about what I had endured. In response, I heard that she issued her own post to insinuate that I perpetrated some type of sexual impropriety upon her. She deleted it soon thereafter, but perhaps I should have been happy to finally make it onto her Facebook page for a couple of hours.

She made her emotions my responsibility to manage correctly. If I couldn’t then there was hell to pay. It was exhausting because, whether good or bad, it was all toxic. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown from living like this. Hell, in retrospect, I was probably living in the middle of the breakdown. 

Over the course of approximately two years with her, I had experienced a gradual wearing away of my logic, goodwill, and self-respect. It was a dissolution of self that resulted in me feeling empty. I saw the shape I was supposed to recognize as my body but nothing inside felt like me anymore. Even the outside seemed changed, the shine had left my eyes and I looked worn and defeated. 

I had been gradually put in an increasingly smaller box throughout my time with her. Once we were ultimately separated, the box was gone but I didn’t know if I could bring myself to stand upright and occupy the space I needed.

The question that loomed large was, how do I come to terms with what I’ve been through and become me again?


Like a plane crash that never hits the ground. 1

The first thing that gave me some unexpected healing was a general understanding of just who the person was who abused me.

I had read about narcissists and I knew some of the traits fit her, but I still wasn’t immediately convinced. What markedly altered my thinking was an article I read about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from being in a relationship with a narcissist. Ironically, I figured I could read this without repercussions. After all, that wasn’t me. I didn’t have PTSD and she wasn’t a narcissist.

I was woefully mistaken on all fronts. I quickly realized that the article was essentially a description of how I felt and who I was at that point in time.

I don’t want to go into what a narcissist is exactly, because while it is illuminating, such a description takes me too far from the topic of healing. Suffice it to say that a narcissist is not someone who is merely arrogant. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a deep-seeded, mental condition for which there is no cure or treatment. If you’re interested, I would recommend reading a few good articles written by actual therapists, if for no other reason than to be able to identify and stay clear of folks like this, but I digress.

As I learned more about narcissists, I began to critically question what she told me versus what I had experienced – two things which were nearly always at odds. I went back through the entire relationship and reprocessed what had happened devoid of the narrative she had told about herself. 

Each time I found that her actions consistently painted a shockingly accurate picture of her identity. It turns out she was a person who was controlling, yet emotionally out of control, insecure, unreliable, untrustworthy, cruel, and so on and so forth.

I had been struggling to reconcile a construct with reality. It is no wonder that I didn’t know what was real anymore. I had been lied to from the beginning. She had mirrored my beliefs and ethos in order to attract me. I wanted to believe that fairytale so much that I refused to see the actual words on the page. Gradually, I found my mental dissonance was gone. It all finally made sense. I had been in an abusive relationship with a narcissist.

I want to iterate that I don’t think it is overly important to identify an abuser with a personality disorder to begin the healing process. Narcissist or not, it wouldn’t change what I have learned. The revelations that began my healing process weren’t about a label or a mental diagnosis specifically but from the realization that I was the recipient of toxic behavior generally.

Why someone is an abuser is their problem to figure out in therapy (not that they will genuinely seek help). It is far more important for you to realize that what you experienced constituted abuse and that you didn’t/don’t deserve it.


I don’t want to know you, I don’t think we should talk anymore 2

She wanted to remain friends, but even thinking about seeing her was a trigger. My heart would start racing, the past came rushing back and I would get a warm, flushed feeling that washed over my body. My fight or flight impulse took over and I would descend into a state of panic.

I couldn’t keep going like this. There was no chance of friendship with someone who treated me with such utter contempt. She will always seek to manipulate me. A narcissist isn’t going to change. Therefore, I have to.

I broke off all contact. I didn’t clue her in that I was going to do this or make any other pleas for space. That would have given her the opportunity to go off the emotional deep end and make my healthy decision a problem for me. I had already been through enough of that. Instead, I just checked out.

I accepted that going no contact wouldn’t stop her from violating every boundary for which I had previously asked. It was never meant to. The point of no contact isn’t to guide someone else’s actions, it is to guide my own. It was a way for me to break the cycle of abuse. It worked on all fronts.

All the letters that she mailed anonymously, taped to my vehicle during the night, or sent digitally went unread and straight into the trash. I didn’t need to read them. I had read her writings before and I knew it would be a mixture of positive and negative; something a narcissist does best. She would say, I hate you, I love you, I’m so happy without you, I miss you, you’re a liar, you were right, I never want to see you again, and oh yeah . . . we should grab a beer sometime.

Nah, I’m good. I’m actually painting my nails that night.

As it turns out, therapists recommend no contact for those who were in relationships with a narcissist. Lucky for me, I instinctively knew that no contact was the only way forward. I couldn’t be subjected to manipulation and abuse while expecting to heal. Well, perhaps that was possible but there’s no way I was going to put myself back there. Since there were no ties that needed to be kept for the good of anyone else (i.e. children or family) I severed any and all contact.

This distance also had to be permanent. Reaching out to her or returning communication is tantamount to giving her permission to treat me the same all over again. I would be implicitly saying that I put her before my mental health and safety.

As an aside, there was one unexpected outcome from this decision. Going no contact was relatively easy. Granted, it wasn’t always so. Just seeing the messages and letters she sent would trigger me and that was difficult; it was an encroachment into the mental space that I was trying to establish. It took over a year for her to stop harassing me. Even so, there wasn’t as much drama as before. Not only had most avenues of harassment been severed during previous breakups, but refusing to engage her on those that remained kept the drama lower than usual.


All I wanted was a Pepsi. 3

Since what I went through was abuse, I knew I had to answer some hard questions about myself. The red flags were numerous and furiously flapping in the wind. So why did I stay? How had I contributed to my predicament? 

I want to exercise caution here. I’m not saying that the abuse I received was my fault. It wasn’t. However, there is no denying that I should have avoided this relationship from the beginning. Yet, I failed to sidestep tragedy. I had to understand why this happened so that I could avoid making this mistake again.

I discovered two reasons. The first was that I was hopeful. When the treatment wasn’t abusive it was agreeable. I had hoped that if we could eliminate her poor behavior that we could have an amazing relationship. I could give her the steady love that she said she had never experienced. I was sure this would calm her and make her see a stable future with me. All she had to do was get past her insecurities.

What I learned from this is that I am not accountable for fixing someone else. No one is. It doesn’t matter if you are a psychologist, a romantic partner, friend, family member, or write self-help books for a living. There is no one who can heal someone else’s trauma. That work falls to the afflicted person. Trained professionals can obviously help, but ultimately the work still has to be done by the actual person seeking counsel. My narcissist wasn’t seeking help. That’s a red flag in its own right. Regardless, the takeaway is that I am not someone else’s savior. In case you need to hear it, neither are you.

Furthermore, a relationship with a narcissist is always going to fail. It’s never going to be healthy. This is because one person is looking for trust and love and the other is looking for a supply of endless attention and control. 

This realization allowed me to release any notion that somehow the relationship didn’t get to be all it could be. It actually became the only thing it could ever be and no amount of hope and stability on my part was ever going to change that.


I’ll save my best for someone else. 2

The second thing I learned about myself was the hardest truth to internalize. I valued my vulnerability and openness so much that I entered into situations where I knew I shouldn’t be. In truth, I was low-hanging fruit for the first manipulative, ego-driven maniac that wandered my way.

Verdicts seem to waver on whether narcissists pick those close to them for their positive qualities or for the ease of which they can be manipulated. I think it’s both. 

Someone who is living authentically is a beacon that others want to be around. This light will attract a narcissist just as it does anyone else. They too want to be around that energy. This energy and attention a person can give a narcissist is dubbed “the supply” and it’s all they crave from others.4

When that energy becomes too much for a narcissist, such as when a person outshines them or won’t be reduced to the capricious whims of the narcissist, they will try and find a weakness in order to reduce the other person. This means a narcissist will seek to destroy the very beauty to which they are attracted. They will then often criticize the victim for no longer being the person they once were. It’s the paradoxical world in which narcissists live and subject others to. If narcissists can’t produce the effect they want then they often dump the partner and move on to the next supply. 

As I mentioned, I valued my openness and vulnerability. I used these traits as a key vehicle for personal growth. That wasn’t the problem as much as the fact that this was all I valued for my development. I had no counterbalance and unknowingly left myself open to harm. It’s all well and good to be empathetic, compassionate, open, and vulnerable. Those are the good things about me that I treasure and I will keep those traits. What I needed was boundaries.

Being vulnerable without creating and enforcing healthy personal boundaries is a form of self-harm. Boundaries are also equally important for self-growth. It is not my responsibility to give unconditionally to those who cannot reciprocate in a respectful and self-aware manner. Setting boundaries when necessary, guides me in a way that feels more centered. I am not a customer service representative for toxic people.

This is why narcissists irrationally explode when someone they are controlling wants to set a boundary. Healthy boundaries are a form of self-care and narcissists know that this choice will automatically exclude them or seek to reign in their behavior in a way they cannot tolerate.

I was forced to pick between healthy boundaries and a relationship for far too long. The only reason that choice was presented to me over and over again was that I kept making the wrong decision. My toxic partner always required concessions to my emotional health. Conversely, me choosing a healthy boundary would have only needed doing once. The relationship would have ended over my choice and I could have gone about my life secure in knowing I had stood up for what was right.

Stated another way, when someone continually refuses to take responsibility and be accountable for their emotions and actions, there are only two ways forward. The first is to simply accept their toxicity and make the burden yours, therefore normalizing the behavior and beginning a pattern of abuse. The other is to call them out, hold them responsible, and in the absence of change, walk the fuck away (preferably in slow motion as the building explodes behind you).


All the chaos is dragging me under. 5

The discoveries I have heretofore discussed came to me fairly readily and I assumed I was on the path to being completely healed. Then something blindsided me.

I found that even two years free of abuse, I was still having some of the same thoughts and behaviors resurface that I did while in the toxic relationship. My brain had essentially been rewired in response to my past.

Allow me to give an example. A couple of years ago I began a relationship with someone which has blossomed. However, I was self-sabotaging the relationship. If you remember, I intimated that my abuser faked her way into being admitted to the hospital on numerous occasions in order to bring me back to her side, literally and figuratively.

When my current partner found themself in the hospital I became triggered and distant. Truth be told, I momentarily ended the relationship. After all, that was the pattern I was accustomed to. My partner’s legitimate hospital stay made me realize that there are going to be unexpected triggers that crop up from time to time. This is to be expected, but what I do with these thoughts and behaviors is vitally more important than the fact that I’m experiencing them.

With the narcissist, talking about difficult topics or feelings was not accepted or allowed. I would suffer some type of punishment from my desire to have a mutually introspective moment. I learned not to bring difficult topics to the forefront. Admittedly, that is the wrong way to handle key mental health moments, but at the time I was in survival mode. I demurred from having my needs met because I was trying to avoid the narcissist’s vengeance and hoping to center myself in that ever elusive moment of calm. 

Contrast this with my current partner who strives to be emotionally aware and present in our relationship. The result of this, as it turns out, is that we can talk about the most difficult topics and they do not seem difficult at all. 

Accordingly, we discussed the fact that illness and hospital stays had come to be traumatic for me. I told my partner that during my harmful relationship I was in a perpetual state of emotional exhaustion from the day to day bullshit I had to endure. On top of that, during breakups when I was still seeking calm, I would have my empathy used against me to be manipulated into the position of caregiver in order to achieve my abuser’s ulterior motives.

This ability to talk with my current partner reinforces what a positive and healthy relationship should look like. I am learning not to act upon my impulses and that in most cases, just talking about them with my partner is enough to cancel out my fears. Because of this, an illness or hospital stay no longer triggers me. I am now able to be present when I am needed.

For the first time since that traumatic relationship (and in some ways for the first time ever), I realize that love is calm, not nervous fear of losing someone. Love isn’t about shouting, or storming out of the room, or employing the silent treatment. Love isn’t about posturing and overcompensation. That’s all the result of insecurity. Love is about feeling comfortable and secure enough to sit down with someone and talk about each other’s truths and difficulties. Love is about being with someone and acting in a way that does no harm. Love is reliably showing up for each other in a way that can be counted on in the future.

I’m not saying that a relationship can heal me or that it can heal you. This is not a story about being destroyed by one person and being healed by another. As I mentioned, that healing work needs to be done by me alone. Rather, this is just a way of saying what a benefit it is to find someone who prioritizes my emotional health as much as I do theirs. This coupled with my willingness to take responsibility for my emotions has been a help in my recovery.

As an important aside: people are fond of saying that a person has to love themself and heal themself before another person will love them. I think when people have been through an abusive situation they might have a tendency to believe this. I’m here to tell you, as English punks may say, that this notion is complete bollocks. 

I think the intention here is probably well meaning. I hope what these people are trying to say is that self-worth comes from within. That isn’t what is happening though. They are saying that you, me, and everyone else cannot be loved until we love ourselves. The truth is, you are worthy of love and capable of being loved despite not having every corner of your emotional house squared away.

Plus, there are some issues that can only arise from being in a relationship. I could have stayed single for 4 or 5 years until I thought I was healed and happy, but I would have never have encountered a partner going into the hospital to know that I had a hidden trigger. Trauma responses that form in a previous relationship often surface in a subsequent relationship, not while you are single. If you feel it’s important to remain single for a time then by all means do so, just do not think you cannot be loved as you are.

Ultimately, what is important is that you are willing to do the heavy lifting in order to solve your emotional difficulties and not make them the responsibility of others. If you are willing to heal then that can happen while single or while partnered. You are lovable either way.

And eternity, my friend, is a long fucking time. 6

As I sat down to write this piece, I had recently come to a conclusion that may be too soon to hear for some people affected by a narcissist and perhaps overdue for others. I had horrible things done to me. These things were done by someone who, make no mistake about it, is the personification of guiltless evil. And yet, here I am.

Why should I let someone so bereft of human decency and moral compass affect my entire life? The answer of course, is that I shouldn’t. I allowed this person into my life and they willfully and knowingly visited trauma upon me for two years. I have lived in fear for an additional three years. That is enough. They don’t get to scare me for the rest of my life. I do not give them that power. I don’t have time for childish, selfish nonsense, to derail who I am. The idea of her is approaching a state of total irrelevance. That’s exactly where I need to be.

I know what I went through is a serious matter and in a lot of ways it did temporarily destroy me. I also know that abuse is not a laughing matter. I was lucky that I did not experience physical abuse. However, there are times when I recall the outlandish meltdowns of my former partner and I have to admit that now I find it rather comical. Seeing what I went through as the product of an emotionally immature person has made me realize how silly I would be to let this affect me any longer. This too feels like healing.


I’m out of clever lines, I guess this is goodbye 7

I began by asking a very grim question about wanting someone dead. I’m thankful to say I no longer feel this way. Mine is still a story of partial recovery, but even partial healing is better than where I have been. Currently, I feel as if I’m about to break through to another level of well-being. It’s an odd feeling, kind of like a bubble that is building and about to burst.

None of what I have discussed here will resolve my past, it’s not meant to, that’s an impossible feat. I know I can never get back to exactly who I was before my trauma and anyway, I don’t want to. How I felt then was just as situational as how I feel now. I am better for having gone through it and come out the other side still full of empathy and with an improved understanding of who I am and what I deserve. I find myself in a much more centered position than I have ever been. I will take all of this and keep building the new and beautiful me. After all, I stood up for myself. I got out. I survived. I will thrive.

As we part, I want you to know that the road to recovery often seems dark because we have been driven underground. You will begin recovery within the dark tunnels of your psyche. There is nothing wrong with being here. It is where all self-searching journeys start. It allows you to see whether the foundation of everything above you is secure or if it needs rebuilding. It is work that is necessary to know who you are.

In this long dark tunnel, you can’t always see the light at the end. You may bump along the walls as you go, but it’s the going that is the most important part. Eventually, a dot appears in the black. It’s not a light at the end of the tunnel yet, but this infinitesimally small dot represents hope. As you get closer you bump into the walls fewer times and your path begins to straighten as the light becomes an increasingly blinding force. You are on the precipice of a simultaneously intimidating and exciting self-discovery.

You will emerge into the light basked in warmth with an appreciation that can only happen because of where you have been. The world now opens up before you. When you look back into the tunnel you will see black, but it is self contained. It is now the light which envelopes you. Where you venture from here is up to you. May all your dreams come true. I love you.

About the Author

Jeremy got his start writing philosophical and sociological articles which led to a desire to help others. He is currently writing at the blog Sex Love & Ire (sexloveandire.com) and working on a few books to help people live meaningful lives.

Works Cited

1 – Alkaline Trio, “Nose Over Tail,” recorded 1998, Asian Man Records,
track 4 on Goddamnit, 1998, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5FIxAb_QdhY.

2 – New Found Glory, “Happy Being Miserable,” recorded October 2016,
Hopeless Records, track 4 on Makes Me Sick, 2017,
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NLwxPReIZDw.

3 – Suicidal Tendencies, “Institutionalized,” recorded February 1983, Frontier Records,
track 6 on Suicidal Tendencies,1983,
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LoF_a0-7xVQ.

4 – Lancer, Darlene. “The Concept of Narcissistic Supply.” Psychology Today.
August 7, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/
202108/the-concept-narcissistic-supply?amp.

5 – Four Year Strong, “Brain Pain,” Pure Noise Records, track 6 on Brain Pain, 2020,
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lfjwGuRfN-A.

6 – Bad Religion, “You,” recorded June 1989, Epitaph Records,
track 10 on No Control, 1989, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2s7paN4AHpE.

7 – Face to Face, “Farewell Song,” recorded 2020, Fat Wreck Chords,
track 12 on No Way Out But Through, 2021, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/
So_Long_and_Thanks_for_All_the_Shoes.

The Hardest Article I Have Ever Written: State Of The Relationship Address

queer_house

Most of this article was created about a year prior to this publishing. I’ve written a lot of things throughout my life. I’ve written articles against the government as run by both republicans and democrats. I’ve railed against religion and the belief of god in general. As someone who is a critical theorist I have written articles wading through the topics of gender, sex and identity. When I was an animal rights activist I penned numerous articles against hunters who in turn wrote me death threats. I’m sure I’ve offended those on all sides.

I don’t say this to brag. In fact most of my work has gone largely unnoticed so I couldn’t if I wanted. Rather, I say it so you know the gravity of the statement that will follow; that I’ve never been more scared to write what comes after this sentence.

This is because over the course of two years I learned to fear someone who was also my partner. It was an emotionally abusive relationship that stemmed from her insecurities and while we had some particularly good times, in the the end those moments couldn’t overcome her unhealthy behavior and the damage I accrued.

I don’t write this to demean anyone. I mainly want people to know what this type of behavior looks like because even though I hope people don’t have to go through this, someone reading this is. I want you to know that you are not alone.

I’m also writing because, terrified as I am, I feel like publishing this is a measure of control that I need to implement in order to take back my life. I think as you read my story from over the span of two years this will begin to make more sense.

I have been writing in genderless terms as of late and I wholeheartedly love it. I’m going to place that aside for the moment because it’s important to realize that while this is a story of abuse, it’s also a story of a woman delivering abuse upon a man. This is especially important because some people seem to think this scenario isn’t possible or that when it happens that it’s not a big deal. Men are supposed to be tough and women not so much. So how could a woman pose any threat. As men we should just shrug it off and move on. This is how patriarchal ideas harm men by denying us our own individual realities.

This effect is even more amplified in my case because my abuser is charismatic, outgoing, seemingly selfless, popular, well connected and extremely short. When people see a picture of her they always say, it’s amazing that someone that small could cause so much chaos and yet every word that your about to read is true.

Overview

My relationship story begins as most do, in my case a boy meets a girl and they hit it off. As we went things progressed quickly and little did I know that the outline of my next two years had been played out in the first week we were together.

The week was a whirlwind. It started with the first four days being amazing and the last two culminating with her getting angry and breaking up. This short cycle of ups and downs was one of the overarching themes of our relationship. It was the pattern that would repeat nonstop.

As I said, there were some good times and the good times were great. In truth, these times and hope are two of the things that kept me going. During these moments I would hear that I was wonderful and that she loved me more than she had anyone else.

When the dark behavior rolled around she would say I didn’t care about her, and was using her. Sometimes she would breakup and sometimes not.

With such extreme polar opposites it became hard to believe that either state of being was true. I was the subject of her emotions during the highs and the lows. When she was down I was more of an emotional punching bag than a partner. Everything she felt, whether good or bad, by her reckoning I was the reason for it. Instead of taking responsibility for her emotions I was the one expected to work through them. I found myself in the position of always reacting to her and it was exhausting.

Isolation

One of the ways her insecurities manifested itself was to whittle down the world in which I lived. She viewed most outside people as hostile to the relationship and so would monopolize my time. I love to spend time with a partner, perhaps even more than most people do, but this was extreme.

Though we didn’t live together (at first) I would spend a week straight with her, leaving my bed with her in it and coming home after work to meet at my place. After this week I would want a little time to try and center myself and escape the emotional cycles for a day. My request would cause her to become distant or even angry. Numerous times she stormed out and went home then bombarded me with messages for the rest of the evening.

I did manage to get some nights to myself but I still couldn’t get the space I needed. Throughout the evening she would message me so often that I couldn’t focus on anything else. Generally I like a stream of messages from a romantic interest as it makes me feel connected. In this scenario though the messages were bombs waiting to detonate. If I didn’t respond quick enough or in the right way I would face her frustration and fury.

It’s not hard to see how this resulted in a fight via text. Numerous times she threatened to, or actually did, break up. Each scenario usually culminated in her calling me on the phone where we would have to hash everything out for an hour or so. The lesson for me was, if I take time to myself then I can expect tumult which will mean I won’t get the space I need. Additionally, taking time for me might possibly cause her to end the relationship.

Sometimes rather than hit me with the stick she would dangle a carrot from it. She would find an event that I might like to go to and ask me out for it. If I said yes, either to my interest in the event or from her pressure (and my fear) then my night alone was over before it began.

It should be clear from this that trying to get some space and tend to my emotions was a fruitless endeavor. I was spending so much time trying to take care of her that I couldn’t take care of myself. My emotional stability began to crack and fall away.

Even trying to spend time with her wasn’t easy. It could become quite literally absurd. For instance, one morning I said “let’s go do something together.” Her reply was that she didn’t want to. She just wanted some down time to read. I thought this was fine and said “okay, if you’re going to read I think I might go to the park down the street and do some bird photography.”  As I was packing my gear she started to get dressed and I asked what she was doing. She said, “I’m going to go out since you don’t want to do something together.” I told her that the only reason I was going out for photography was because she didn’t want to do anything. If she wanted to spend the day together then that would be great since that’s what I really wanted to do today anyhow. Somehow that wasn’t good enough. She said she would just go spend the day with her ex-boyfriend.

Getting time with my friends was a struggle as well. According to her I shouldn’t spend time with them because they were too dumb, too young, or as was often the case too female. Now . . . I choose my friends carefully, perhaps too carefully sometimes as it limits my contacts. Still, my friends are anything but stupid. They are generally emotionally and socially aware folks. As such, they are part and parcel of my well-being and help me stay in touch with reality when I get off track.

My partner knew this and successfully managed to isolate me from them all. A female friend would later say that she stopped messaging me because she knew it would create problems with my girlfriend. She wasn’t wrong. When my phone alerted me to a text (or if someone responded in some way on social media) I instantly became scared of the inevitable questions that would follow if it was a female. She wanted to know who it was, what the person wanted, when the last time I talked to them was and what about.

One day my girlfriend gave me an ultimatum. I had to renounce one of my female friends if I wanted to keep our relationship together. The reason for this was that I might fall in love with this friend despite every bit of evidence suggesting this would never happen. Case in point; shortly after this my friend got married (not surprisingly, to someone other than me). I resisted the demand at first then reasoned that the success of the relationship was worth it and that this was a good way to prove to my girlfriend what she meant to me (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

Control

In place of my friends hers were inserted. When we would all get together it was talk of cycling and gossip with no apparent concern as to whether I was involved in the conversation or not. I’ve rarely felt so alone and unstimulated as I was in those moments. As I would later learn, those that my ex placed close to me were there for a reason. More henchmen than friends, they would be called upon at pivotal moments throughout the relationship.

For example, I was given a list of three people that I could talk to about our relationship. Her best friend was the number one person on that list. Soon after that, my two friends proved too much for her to handle. I could now only seek the council of her friend.

Once when I did go to her friend, I tried to relate what I had been going through and my attempts to understand it. Her friend replied, horrible things happen in a relationship, just move on. Perhaps it wasn’t the friends fault. She was just too close to my girlfriend to see my reality.

Social media was another pillar of independence to fall. If I posted anything (even a nice sunset pic) when we were together without tagging my girlfriend she would get mad. Accordingly, I made sure she was tagged in the things I posted. Numerous times I visited her page to see what it looked like with our events posted to it. None of them were there. I had spent the effort to make sure she was tagged in everything we did and she didn’t approve them to her page.

In fact, there was rarely an instance when someone could look at her page and tell she was in a relationship at all. It was important for her to maintain an omnipresence on my page that eclipsed everything else, but she would become very upset and claim she was a private person when I wanted some modicum of recognition on hers.

Because most of her friends on social media didn’t know she was in a relationship she would still have men flirting and asking her out regularly. Interestingly, she rarely told them outright that she had a boyfriend. I came to think that this was part of her plan. That she needed me to stay invisible should we break up so she could resume dating anyone she might have been cultivating a connection with before.

At the very end of the relationship she was using my phone and writing my Facebook posts instead of me. Seeing words on my wall that weren’t in my voice was disturbing. I tried numerous times to get a little recognition on her page or wrest control of mine from her. My attempts were met with hostility that usually ended up in her getting what she wanted.

Her control overflowed into this blog as well. If I wrote something about myself or my ideas it would be subject to criticism and so I only posted links with small bits of commentary. I even penned an article about how to look at conflict differently and while I still think it has merit as a mental exercise (in a healthy relationship) it was indicative of me trying to get a grasp on reality at the time (thanks gaslighting).

When I found out I had herpes I wanted to use this blog, as I am now, to become a voice for others. It was clear that she didn’t want this. She actually said that it would reflect poorly on her. She didn’t want people to know she was dating someone with herpes, she would seem dirty. She stayed with me mind you, but with statements like that who needs company.

Love Bomb In Reverse

It also became evident that the kindness extended to me came with strings attached. She attempted to use nearly everything as leverage at some point.

Money was the main method for her to exert control (or so she thought). As a trust fund kid (and probable millionaire) it wasn’t hard for her to come up with money. Once she told me that since she buys things for me she expects a certain kind of treatment in return. On another occasion, after one of our breakups, she bought me a pair of shoes that I didn’t really want. She insisted I have them so I could look good when we go out. Then she asked me, “you’re not going to break up with me tomorrow are you?”

I would repeatedly tell her that if I need something I’d find a way to buy it and that she was not my provider. I asked her numerous times to stop buying me things and let her know that money doesn’t buy behavior. I suggested we only do things together that we could both afford, but she didn’t want to live that kind of “limited” lifestyle. Nevertheless, I was repeatedly given things only to later have them used against me. Those items would ether be taken back when she was upset or used to remind me that she bought them for me at a later date.

She would also exert control over what was sentimental. When she was upset she would remove the meaning from our relationship tokens by saying things like songs that were special to us didn’t mean anything anymore. In the end I’m pretty sure there was nothing sentimental left that she hadn’t decided was meaningless.

Sometimes there were nice gestures that became weapons to wield against me. She threw me a surprise birthday party once and I told her how much I appreciated it. No one had done something like that before. I was extremely grateful and for one of the few times in my life felt appreciated (I struggle with this). I posted to social media of my own accord about what a wonderful night it was. Afterwards, I was scolded for not showing enough appreciation. She said it was a waste of her time and money and she will never do it again.

Gaslighting

Whenever I tried to stand up for myself I was told I was mean. By now I didn’t know if this was true or not, my reality had been supplanted by hers. The distortions were palpable and I just didn’t know if I could trust my thoughts anymore.

One of the only things we had left, which was the physical part of the relationship started to come under fire as well. We generally had sex at least once a day. If one morning, for instance, I said I didn’t want to have sex right now, let’s see about later in the day then she would get angry with me. When I would relent and have sex for the “good” of the relationship then later that night she would tell me she didn’t want to have sex and that she only did because I wanted to. The insinuation being that I had forced her.

I was also blamed for other things that I shouldn’t have been. A couple of times after huge disagreements, we made up and she said “you make me so mad sometimes.” I knew she was blaming me for her behavior, but I didn’t want to start another fight after having just ended one so I kept quiet.

Every now and then she would say something that confirmed my reality. When it looked like I might break up she would tell me that she was the reason I was broken, that she couldn’t control her emotions and that she was going to go back to therapy (she got kicked out of group for not doing the work and went a couple times to private sessions).

These admissions kept me in the relationship because it confirmed what I was feeling for once. Whether this was strictly a moment of truth or another way to keep me in the relationship I truthfully cannot say. Either way, I stayed.

Belittlement

There was subtle and outright verbal abuse as well. A pair of my friends ask me to officiate their wedding and she couldn’t wrap her head around why they would ask me to marry them. Silly me, I just figured it was because they valued me.

Once when we broke up one of her friends got ahold of her phone supposedly without her knowing and sent me a message saying “they all hated me and always had.” Obviously she had been talking negatively about me. Nothing was ever said to this person by my girlfriend because “they were going through a hard time.” If my girlfriend couldn’t protect me from herself then why would she do so from other people. It let me know my ranking in her life.

When she was happy she would say that her friends liked me and when she wanted to hurt me she would say that they didn’t.

Once when we broke up she told me that the only reason she was with me was for the sex. Dating me was like dating a homeless person she said (because I was working class and she was rich). I knew she was using this as a means to try and distance her emotions from me so I let it slide when I shouldn’t have.

Breakups

Over the course of two years we probably broke up around a dozen times, usually at her insistence. During those times I would repeatedly ask for space. Despite asking, telling, and virtually pleading for her not to, and me often getting mad over it, she would keep talking to me about the prospects of who she was dating and lining up to sleep with next (sometimes hours after we broke up).

Half the times we broke up she would end up in the hospital for various things (gastroparesis, a cold, dehydration, passing out, a seizure, and twice because she said someone drugged her on a date). I realize now that they were probably fabricated. Her extensive experience as a head trauma nurse gave her a working knowledge of illnesses and medical protocol. Nonetheless, these crises would usually draw me back to her side.

After one breakup she ended up hospitalized and they had to keep her overnight. She asked me to stay. I told her I had plans and that I just came to visit, but she pleaded for me to remain. I cancelled my plans for that evening and spent the night in the hospital with her. The next morning after we woke she told me to leave and that she never wanted me there in the first place.

After our penultimate breakup she used the opportunity to tear asunder anything that I might still find dear to my existence. It was a way to remove everything she had “given” me.

In the course of those two years I had used every day of my vacation time and more helping her to establish a new career and volunteering with her for a foundation which helped women in cycling (something that was near and dear to my heart). She became the executive director of the race team and when I refused to get back together with her she removed me from the staff. Granted, I didn’t really want to work with her anymore, but a conversation rather than an edict would have been courteous.

All of her friends with which she was so fond of me cultivating relationships walked away en masse. Overnight about 30 percent of the people on my social media unfriended me. She had one of them message me to pile on the harassment and ask for a cycling kit back that they gave me because they didn’t want me representing their team anymore.

She contacted my ex-wife and tried to plant the seeds of dissension by saying I was a downer and mean. She told my ex that all her friends saw it and she was “just trying to help the poor guy (me) out.” The picture she tried to paint of me wasn’t what my former wife had remembered or ever experienced. In some ways though she was right. I wasn’t the same person that my ex-wife knew. I had been through two years of emotional abuse and I was tattered and worn. Still, my ex-wife knew the score because she had also witnessed the ways in which I was striving to be there for my girlfriend even when I shouldn’t have.

My ex-girlfriend came into my place of work repeatedly; once she screamed at me in front of the store. Another time she walked through my area to ask me where something was in the store. I’m sure it happened to be a coincidence that she was dressed up for a date which she also used the opportunity to tell me about. I saw her staking out the coffee house I frequent and circling the employee parking at my break time to find me. She started using an app to get around the fact that I blocked her in every way I could. She also left letters on my car and mailed them to where I lived.

In a move that chased me from where I lived she began dating my roommate two weeks after our break up. She was sleeping over every night with him. I couldn’t get away from her and he was too miserably lonely to see what was really happening.

They camped out in the room right outside my door with the television blaring. The effect of which was a constant reminder of her presence. All I wanted was space. I was a hostage and boxed in on all sides. It got so bad that I started keeping a bottle in my room to pee in when they were awake so I didn’t have to use the restroom and risk seeing her. Sadly, it had come to that.

One cold rainy evening I called my parents sitting outside the house in my car afraid to go inside. I don’t know how much they understood because I was sobbing uncontrollably. I was trapped and utterly fucking miserable. It was clear that she wanted me to lose the place where I lived because she had recommended it to me. It was one more thing she had “given” me that she was determined to take away. She asked when I was moving out so that she could move her stuff in. I let her have it and took the first new place I could find.

If you haven’t wondered by now it will probably come as no surprise that she would go on to say on that breakup that I was sexually abusive to her. It was the final thing she could do. Because I’m pro-feminist and a writer/author, floating the idea that I was an abuser denies me credibility and an audience. I’m sure it was also the story she used to get her friends to run away from me.

In one way I guess I should be happy. She posted this latest “revelation” to social media and I finally made it onto her Facebook page. She also started tagging me in derogatory comments linked to my photography page on Facebook. Having pushed me out of every part of her life it was all she had left to do.

I began reaching back out to those friends that I couldn’t before. I realized what my ex was afraid of and it was their experience and judgement. One of the first things a male friend of mine said from back home was “I believe you Jeremy, I’ve been exactly where you’re at.” Time and time again nearly everyone said that I should get a restraining order (I almost did), that I was being gaslighted and that I was most certainly emotionally abused.

I cried so many times because finally someone fucking believed me and for one of the first times in a couple years I realized that I wasn’t crazy and that my experience was actually real (something I still have trouble believing). Having contact with my friends helped to recenter me and see a few things clearly. Well . . . mostly that is.

The Ultimate Breakup

I thought I could hate her forever for what she did to me. The hate felt pure, it was strong, and I was strong because of it, or so I imagined for a second. I thought that hate would be enough to keep me away from her for the rest of my life. I was wrong on all counts.

Eventually I just got tired of being angry about what happened and so . . . we got together for a beer. Then we met again the next night. She said I seemed happy again and told me she was sorry for everything she had put me through. She said she broke me and put me through hell over the last 18 months and realized if I went through that without leaving then she could finally trust me and wanted things to work out.

Then because this is what we did, we got back together. To be honest, I’m not sure why. I think it was just familiar. My friends had cautioned me about dating her again. They were right to be worried about my safety of course. The time apart had let me center myself enough that I knew I could handle one last chance. If it didn’t work or became unhealthy I could leave this time without the crushing aspect of our last breakup.

So, by the end of that second night we were together again and her boyfriend/my ex roommate was out (although it took her another 10 days to tell him that). She said she didn’t want to hang around her friends anymore; that she didn’t enjoy spending time with them because they were immature. I think her friends were easier to cast aside than to admit we were together and that she had lied about me.

A couple of weeks or so later the new place I had moved into didn’t work out as my then roommate proved to be unstable (can I pick em or what). My girlfriend said I should move in with her. It wasn’t a good decision but I had to go somewhere quick. Living together wasn’t good for us. It wasn’t our time to live together and I knew this from day one. I would need to get my own place, but she would have to realize it as well. When I suggested that it would be healthier for our relationship to each have our own places she told me that if I moved out we were done.

That ultimatum was very unfair to me. The only move that could save the relationship was the one that if I made would also end it. There was no good way forward. When I was trying to decide how to navigate this conundrum she started demanding I get out and contacted a lawyer about having me removed. I moved out once more to the first place I could find. Luckily, I landed in a good place to live this time.

Two weeks later she would tell me she was okay with us having separate places and that moving out was the right decision. She wanted to start dating again. What I told my friends was correct. I could step aside if it didn’t work that one last time. I declined, I was more than ready to move on. There were too many wrongs and too much pain that I couldn’t overlook and rightly so. To be frank, I was treated like a piece of shit she stepped in and I had been wiped off of the bottom of her shoe for the last time.

The Friendship Attempt

Even friendship was unsuccessful.

As I stated before, my repeated statements that I didn’t want to hear about her new love interests went unheeded. She would say, “but if we’re friends we should be able to talk about this.” In most situations that would have been true, but not one where we had been recently separated and that type of information had previously been (and still was being) used to hurt me.

She was also fond of telling me about all the things that we would have done together if we had remained a couple. “We would have had a race car (a mutual interest of ours) and I could have built my dream project vehicle” as if offering me things would bring me back. It was clear friendship wasn’t going to work. I decided to cut off contact.

After a month of no contact she bumped into me at a stock car race and made sure to remind me of how she bought the coat I was wearing. I guess I’m still indebted to her. She also tried to find out where my new job was with the bait of giving me sales. It’s worth noting that one of the perks to my new job was that it is 40 minutes away so she can’t just pop in to see me. She inquired as to where I lived now. Some people never change. Except that I do and I don’t want to be around that level of control and insecurity anymore.

Ten months into no contact letters still end up being mailed to me or are left taped to my truck window in the middle of the night (so much for not knowing where I live). She sent me a photo of me sitting in my truck at a stoplight, one which I had just bought and she had never seen, with the caption “I see you.” Accounts where I forget to block her have messages waiting for me. I don’t read them; I already know what they say. One of the messages would read that she has dated and no one is like I was and she compares everyone to me and they come up short. Another would say how she missed me as a friend, then it would go on to take abusive shots at me by saying it’s for the best that we’re separated because in the end she didn’t care for me anymore and was just having sex for the good of the relationship. Then she would make mention that she doesn’t want to date because she is seeing (insert new guys name here) and she’s working on building a relationship with him. She’s so happy now that she’s almost beside herself.

Even her letters follow her desperate emotional cycle from which I fought to extricate myself. They are an attempt to keep me close so that something between us can start up again. If we were to start a relationship again then that wonderful guy she was on about will end up in the trash along with those letters. I’ve seen her do it numerous times before. At least he’ll have some reading material.

Even though I don’t read these messages, seeing them has the same effect as if I did. My heart starts racing, everything comes rushing back and I get that flush feeling like after you’ve taken a hard fall and you realize you’re injured. Fight or flight takes over and though I’m gradually getting better, it still takes a toll. The letters, emails and cards regardless of what they say are a steadfast indicator that I’m still responsible for her emotions. She still won’t let me live my life and yet I’m only happy when I’m free of her.

James Baldwin said it well, “I cannot believe what you say because I see what you do.” Her words aren’t worth hearing. She has apologized for her behavior dozens of times and has said that she is the reason I’m broken. That doesn’t matter anymore because those realizations and her apologies won’t heal me and they definitely won’t stop her from turning around and abusing me tomorrow if she feels the urge.

The only thing that will stop this pattern from repeating itself is me. Happily, I have.

Out Of The Void

If you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted just from reading this then you can understand how I was on the verge of a mental breakdown from living it. Unfortunately, this was only a portion of the things I endured.

Whether knowingly or not, I think she kept me close for whatever emotional need (to love or to hurt) she had. I believe her when she said loved me and when she said she felt as if she wasn’t good enough for me. Those competing impulses: the feeling of longing and of potential loss, kept her from acting from a place of love and it put me in a dangerous and abusive place. Truth be told, I’m not really sure she knows what it is to feel love.

Prior to this my moral compass had guided my life and made me feel healthy, surefooted and steadfast. During and after the relationship though I was set askew and couldn’t trust my own thoughts. My reality had been questioned, altered and controlled.

Because I wanted to keep the relationship together I had to stop trying to establish healthy boundaries. Now that sentence is pretty messed up I realize, but true nonetheless.

I know now that I was enacting a failing strategy. No amount of care I give or well-being I sacrifice for an extremely insecure (possibly narcissistic) person will sooth their behavior. There will always be some other concession they need to be made and I will always be the one making it. Here’s a life tip: when someone in a relationship continually refuses to take responsibility and be accountable for their emotions then you either respond as if the burden is yours (normalizing the behavior) and begin the cycle of codependency and potentially abuse or you call them out, and in the absence of change walk away.

Her insecurity manifested itself in a need for total hegemonic control of the relationship. I went into this relationship the happiest I had ever been. I came out a nervous and shattered individual with some symptoms of PTSD. Putting myself back together again has been real work but it has certainly been work worth doing.

The Takeaway

I’m a believer that there is no such thing as a wasted experience. If I learn something from less than ideal circumstances then it can guide my behavior in a way to make a better life.

In my case I was open to abuse because I believe in being vulnerable. I also critically examine my behavior and seriously consider the critique of my partner. I want to be there for my partner and that trait was wielded against me in the most pernicious of ways. I still strongly value vulnerability and openness but have learned that those traits without healthy boundaries are a recipe for abuse. I can still be open and loving and expect something similar in return. I’ve already used this lesson to side step what would probably have been a few dating/relationship disasters.

Certainly I can’t go back to the happy me before I met this person. That exact time has passed and I can never return. However, I am becoming happy again and I will continue to do so with new experiences under my belt. It will be a new, even better, version of me with the my past as a guide.

After all, I have learned that there are far worse things than being single.

 

Postscript: Since these events I have reassembled myself into something very much like I was before this trauma. Recently I have been spending time with someone who has been doting on me in a way people used to. Not only that but she is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. She and my friends have helped me realize that all of the good in me is still present. I don’t feel like a pile of ashes on the ground anymore. I’m the nourished sapling that has sprung from ruin. Knowing that makes me very happy. May you also rise from your ashes.