BETHESDA, Maryland, October 6, 2014 — Faith* is a survivor of intimate partner abuse living, dancing and recovering in Canada.
Before the relationship I was happy, confident and outgoing. I had grown up in a neglectful, abusive single-parent household but had managed to do alright nonetheless, I believed I was liked by my entourage and had fair self-esteem levels. I was involved in my ethnic community, as a dancer, and counted many friends in the band we were all a part.
I didn’t have any grand romantic ideals, no expectation of prince charming on a white horse, until I met my Love. When I first met him, he returned to the band I’m in, but shortly left thereafter, to me, he was just a nice fella who had read my palm when we first met. Shortly after that, I heard his wife had been diagnosed with cancer, and not long after that, we learned that she had passed away.
Two years later, I lost my cat, and when I finally found him (after midnight several days later) I was so excited. I texted everyone I could think of who might still be up, including him, since he worked the overnight shift. This began a courting by text that quickly evolved into an extremely intense love affair. We spent every waking moment together and were apart only during our respective working hours. I cut my friends out of my life, I left my band, and I stopped dancing, at his insistence, or, in the case of dancing, before he could insist.
We began having problems early on. He would say I was challenging him or defying him, but I usually gave in to his wishes; his explanations and arguments were always so logical. It did not seem like anything other than give-and-take, at the time, and I felt that I could count on him to show the same level of understanding as he expected to receive. After 9 months, we had our first blow-out (I understand now that this was a phenomenally long time to be able to avoid experiencing these outbursts). He walked out and was gone for four days, during which time I did nothing but cry; no sleep, no food, nothing. He returned eventually, and I took him back without a second thought, thinking the event was over, and we could embark on our happy life.
As I become more aware of his tendencies, I became very paranoid, I was careful of my every movement, of whom I spoke to and my speech around him, lest word get back to him and he decide I had committed some fault and leave again, after destroying me, as he always did prior to departing. While he was gone, it was always the same thing: I could not eat, I could not sleep and I became a frightened and anxious person. I developed acne and panic attacks and other serious stress-related health problems.
I was constantly on my best behavior in order to avoid him becoming upset enough to leave again. All of my effort was put into avoiding another outburst, but they continued to come, and he continued to leave, always with the same result: I wanted to die, and after two months, he would return.
I knew he was following me while he was “away.” I could see his status messages on social networks detailing the clothes I was wearing on a particular day or some such detail, always being very discreet in his wording, so no one else would be aware the message was aimed at me. I maintained the careful behavior while he was gone, as though I was still under the constant pressure, control and intimidation I had experienced while he was present, avoiding friends, minding who I spoke to and interacted with, as I knew he would be back. I also started a log of all the threatening and abusive text messages he would send and the hundreds of crank calls I received.
Since his most recent departure, I have been slowly returning to my old self, again, my weight is stable, my skin has cleared and I sleep as I once did, but I still reach for him when I wake, I still dream of him and I still long for his company. Only he could provide me with the level of attention I had become accustomed to, and although I know that this is something that will gradually pass, it is very painful, almost like withdrawal.
Despite this deep pain and longing, I have renewed my ties with my few remaining friends, and have once again become active in my community. I have been seeing a therapist and am getting good feedback from her, but I still have the sensation that nobody quite understands just what went on between me and him.
As I readjust to normal life, I remark that my personality has been altered; my sense of humor has darkened, my tolerance for the mundane or irritating has dropped, and I am more skeptical of the good intentions of others. I look different, too, far older. After more than three years with this man, I have developed a series of wrinkles I didn’t have before. I have also developed a smirk instead of a smile, as I scroll through old images of myself, I can see how it developed as time wore on. My mouth looks less curved, my eyes became deep pits, and my forehead showing deep lines. The most obvious thing is my eyes, always looking vacant, with my new trademarked thousand-yard stare.
He was a widower and often told me that I had shown him how to love again, that I had rediscovered his heart for him, that he had resigned himself to never loving another person again, that I completed his life…so many beautiful things to hear from the man you love.
He told me that we were kindred spirits, that I must have read the instruction manual for him, that I could read his mind. He assured me that I was a goddess, that the whole world was awed by my greatness, all women were jealous of me, all men were beside themselves with their desire for me. He would tell me that his deceased wife and father had chosen me for him and even that I had been delivered to him by God.
He bought me everything I laid my eyes upon, which was difficult for me; I come from a rather meager background. Diamonds, clothing, shoes and outings – everything a kept woman could ever want. He paid my bills, we went to restaurants almost every night and he insisted that my money was to be used for “lollipops and unicorn rides” exclusively.
We were in perpetual contact via text, to the point that I received a formal reprimand at work, which did not suffice to stop the constant texting, although he worked the overnight shift and was supposed to sleep during the day while I was at work. He would pick me up in the morning to drop me off at work, but somehow I would end up being 15 minutes late, every day, and this became 30 minutes and even 45. When I tried to get the texting to stop, and asked him to try to get me to work on time, he would question my commitment to him, asking me what was so important at work that I just had to be there and paying attention. He suggested I was sleeping with my co-workers and my boss and began turning up at my office at unusual times to “surprise” (catch) me.
He refused to have me go anywhere alone, citing that I was too good for the “stinky-bus.” He would drive me everywhere (but not his daughter, who was often going to the exact same place) and wait outside until I was done, even during daytime outings, while he was supposed to be asleep. It made me uncomfortable that he would be up and waiting for me when he could be sleeping or at the very least doing some of his own things, so I stopped going anywhere but work, giving up my outside activities, friends and interests.
When I would disappoint my Love, he would begin to interpret any and every situation with a negative view, forcing me to defend my action with explanation after explanation, no matter how benign the offense. In the event I would refuse to do this, I was considered to be admitting my guilt. In his opinion, I had obviously been having illicit affairs or improper actions with my entire entourage or I would not be so inclined to defend them and spend time with them.
When he decreed me guilty, he would tell me his heart was broken by the thing I had done or said (or failed to do or say) or he would say I was killing him, making him rot inside.
During his periods of departure, which would last between a few days to two months, and once, even 3 months, he would post bizarre status messages aimed at me, suggesting I was a thief, corrupt, immoral, unfaithful and took part in illegal activities like drug use and prostitution. He would engage our mutual friends (the same people he would tell me hated me and were sabotaging me because they couldn’t “have” me) unexpectedly in an effort to give them information about me he “just couldn’t keep” to himself any longer, then proceed to tell them awful and untrue things about what I had done to him, always exaggerated to the maximum. He would do this in a way that ensured I would know.
Upon his return, I would be expected to answer his every question about my activities during his departure in as much detail as he required, who exactly I had spent time with and what they had said to me, when that occurred and always if I slept with them or not, it being rather important if the people in question were male or female, young or old. He would tell me about how many of my friends and acquaintances had approached him and spoken to him of their concern for my health, safety and well-being. Of course, this was used as another opportunity by him to spread further rumors about me and to tell people about how much trouble he had been put to because of me. He would tell me I had brought this upon myself, that I had caused the problem that had driven him to abandon me again and the consequences of my actions were to be aware that “everyone knew”– knew about the drug use, that I had sold myself for money for the drugs, my mental instability and physical outbursts – all the terrible things he had made up about me.
During our time together, he had a strong sexual appetite but would become disgusted with me with little provocation and then refuse to see me, since he knew we weren’t going to have sex. Changes to my appearance were met with uncomfortable compliments, usually followed up with admissions that he preferred the old way I had worn my hair or dressed. My drastic weight loss and increase in acne were alternately ignored or attributed to my not being able to properly take care of myself. His insistence that I was a closet junkie was consistently a topic of discussion. He would often say that I looked stoned, particularly if he had made me cry and would often ask me straight up if I had been drinking or doing drugs.
Another question that came up often was whether or not I had betrayed him sexually. No matter what my reply, it was often met with the answer, “I can see the lie in your eyes”.
We began couples’ therapy after about a year, although I had been bringing it up for a while already. He attended a single session, during which the therapist asked him to undergo a psychological evaluation. He got up and walked out of the office. I still see the same therapist, and she provided me with a measure of comfort and insight.
A year after that event, we managed to go see another therapist, who it turns out was merely an intern, despite my being very clear at the onset that we be treated by an experienced professional. We attended regular session for several months, with the occasional incident, like my Love telling me he could not make an appointment and would change it to a better time, only for me to find out later that he had cancelled the existing appointment and failed to schedule a new one.
We also went through additional break-up incidents, for which this man provided zero help to the point that I was forced to ask myself and eventually him, if he was actually making an effort to help or if we were simply a source of income for him.
I felt I got very little out of the second therapist, my Love would get caught in lies (dangerous lies) and have no accountability. The therapist would ignore that my Love had contradicted himself, choosing instead to focus on his accusations against me, essentially validating my Love’s psychotic behavior. It was a nightmare.
During the time that I was contorting myself to please my Love, I experienced great depression, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as severe paranoia. If I heard the door to my building open, I would have an attack. If I saw his car, I would have another. These progressed to the point that I would have an attack if I saw a car that looked like his or if a neighbor happened to open the door even when he was already with me.
I started covering up my tracks, feeling obligated to lie to protect people. Occasionally, one of my few friends would beg me to run from this man. He would inquire every day if I had spoken to anyone. I would always respond with “no” whether I had or not, and I became a master at deleting my telephone history in an effort to shield my loved ones from him.
Others joined the ranks. Despite a loving relationship that developed between his daughter and myself, we were not permitted to spend time together alone unsupervised, and so our relationship went underground where it remains to this day.
My stress levels have yet to return to normal. I continue to have panic attacks if I make a big mistake at work, and I even once came running home from a vacation because I realized that he had found out I left town and began terrorizing the friends I was with.
I endure some rather debilitating depression. Although I have accepted and managed to extricate myself from the immediate danger posed by my Love, I have to deal with the thousand questions turning in my mind: I may be free to be safe in my own person, but I still must come to terms that someone who claimed to love me could do so many terrifying and cruel things to me all in the name of that same love.
Although I never thought I would attempt suicide, I often wondered if he would only be pleased if I were dead. I often thought I might simply die, from fright, shock or heartbreak.
The thought of his dying made my heart hurt even more. I could not have caused the slightest harm to him or even wished it upon him, despite his repeated offers to kill me. Since his departure, I have found myself falling into the old trap of wanting to protect him even at the expense of myself.
I wanted very much to return to my old life, as a professional in my field, as a member of my group of friends, and I particularly wanted to begin dancing again. I had been an avid dancer in the Scottish community but had stopped as I realized that more and more things were becoming off-limits to me in an effort to have this one remaining activity be something I could still take part in from time to time.
I desperately wanted to immerse myself in my work, friends and dancing, but I found it impossible to concentrate at the office, causing a tremendous lack of productivity. I was too weak and depressed to attend dance class and found that many of my friends were alienated from me, so I was unable to find solace with many of them.
My biggest distraction was hunger, or rather, the lack thereof. In my childhood of poverty, I developed an ability to endure and ignore hunger, which was brought to a point each time my Love would leave. His departures lasted for 8 to 12 weeks at a time, and during this time, I would stop eating almost entirely and was unable to convince myself to take any food. My weight dropped dramatically, and I bore less than 100 pounds for my 5 foot 6 inch frame, leaving me gaunt and completely without energy, which would in turn cause me to sit and do nothing, especially not eat.
Accepting that my Love had two very opposite sides and dealing with the loss of him is a terrible weight. I look for him and still reach for him. I still wish to hold him and be held. I miss his presence, and I have a hard time controlling myself when I know he is nearby, although I maintain no contact.
Dealing with the fact that the man I loved manipulated, controlled, threatened and abused me physically and psychologically raises nothing but questions in my mind; he spent so much time, energy and money to convince me that he loved me. The contrast is so terribly difficult to grasp, and I do find myself falling back into the mindset that “This must be mistake. If I just explain the situation to him…..”
I loved him with all my heart and did everything I could think of to facilitate a happy and healthy relationship with him. Realizing that I will not ever have what I wanted, despite how much I worked for that goal and that the biggest Love of my life was in fact a complete falsehood has been a terrible blow to my psyche.
I attend regular therapy sessions, fortunately with the same therapist who treated my love and I together, so she has some degree of his mental state in a person sense. She provides me with insight and some thoughts as to what I can do to make myself less of a target for people like him.
I have reintegrated myself into my community and distract myself by doing things with and for the Scottish culture of my city.
I write a fair amount, in an effort to release the feelings, and I have deliberately started doing things that were of interest to me before this whole life-changing event took place in an effort to remind myself that the old me is still in there…somewhere.
I take my courage in my hands and do things that were forbidden to me and try to be gentle with myself on the days where none of these tactics work and I return to being the sad, worthless and abandoned shell I was when I was with him.
My best advice to someone who is struggling to leave a relationship like this is to find someone who will help. Find as many as possible. There are so many available options, but in my case, at any rate, I was so confused and misguided that I was unable to take advantage of them.
A person in this situation must harden their heart and do what is necessary to remove themselves from this situation, but only when fully ready and capable. To fail at this rupture will make things far, far worse.
I began to save the really nastiest text messages and voice-mail messages, as well as the long-winded and dramatic apologies, which I would e-mail to myself for safe-keeping. After I realized he had the habit of going through my phone, I subscribed to a skip-trace service to unblock the number that was calling me day and night, and I contacted the police to open a file regarding him. In the event that he decides to start his threatening activities once again, there will be a record of his previous attempts.
It is not easy, it hurts, but one can overcome this hurdle.
People rebuild their lives all the time. It can be done.
The research I have done on this subject and contemplation I have done on my own have gradually let me understand that I was psychologically and physically abused by the man I loved. This has caused so very much conflict in me. He was not always a raving screaming angry man, and I loved him so much that it became difficult to understand that my love and my abuser were actually the very same person.
His offers to become violent during confrontations were as much violence against me as the actual corporal punishment I eventually received, despite my extended efforts to avoid such an outcome. When I found myself with his hand around my throat, it suddenly became second-nature to avoid his outbursts. It was almost easy, all I needed to do was be on high alert for every single second.
Taking the time to really ponder these questions has given me insight to my own problems, and writing them down has had a cleansing effect, but it also shows me in how many directions my mind travels after this event. In re-reading my own composition, the writing appears disjointed to me, and I realize that my feelings change from moment to moment, quite literally. I am still suffering from this event, and it often feels as though I will be marked by his actions for the rest of my life.
After nearly six months since his final departure, I still find myself questioning my own actions and intentions, doubting my own worth and abilities and worrying that the world at large has accepted his declared version of events despite frequent and repeated declarations to the contrary, and my own knowledge that I did everything I could. It is so easy to simply fall back into the pit of despair once again and find myself in a crumpled heap of misery and all about the man I loved.
Each day during the month of October, column author Paula Carrasquillo will feature a story written by a survivor of domestic violence. At the end of October, a compilation of all stories will be available for free as an e-book.
*All names have been changed to protect the survivor and the survivor’s family and friends.