BETHESDA, Maryland, October 17, 2014 — Quinn* is a survivor of domestic violence who is now enjoying living a fulfilled life in The United States.
Unfortunately, I had several relationships that were abusive; I just did not know it and/or could not stop myself from repeating the same behavior with the same type of partners. It took many years of repeated circumstances before I was able to be strong enough to say ‘never again’.
I would always say that before a relationship I was unsure of myself and thought by having ‘someone’ I would be complete (a very romantic notion). During a relationship, I started to defer to the other, particularly if I thought/felt I would be criticized. I allowed myself to be used in ways that I knew was not right but could not stop it mostly based on fear for myself and children.
After a relationship, I attempted to get back to myself, only to fall back into the same romantic notion that I needed someone to complete me.
Alcohol and sexual liaisons were a big part of some of my relationships, as well as the cause of the breakup of them. I participated in the drinking, some drugs and had other sexual liaisons to get even. Certainly not mature, but I was not mature.
While I thought their sexual betrayal of me was the problem, I never felt my own betrayal behavior was a problem, because I justified it by saying, “They did it to me.”
My biggest challenges since the end of these toxic relationships relate to (1) knowing and understanding that I did indeed have a responsibility to own up to my problems with drinking and inappropriate sexual liaisons; (2) recognizing my patterns, how to change them for good and realize changing them does not not happen overnight; and (3) knowing that I can have a wonderful life without a man in it.
It was a long twenty-plus-year journey out of toxic relationships. After the children left home and another marriage failed, I still was living within my fantasy that I was okay and just needed the right guy. I allowed another man to use me, a male friend who told me I should move away with him. So I did, only to discover that I fell into the trap once again.
Today, I call that time period my economic-suicide period; because I quit a good paying job, sold everything and moved, sight unseen, states away from my upbringing. It lasted one week; I found out that the male friend needed me to get a job to support him.
I drove back home to stay with my ex-husband – from the fire, into the frying pan and back into the fire. This was when and where I hit my bottom.
I must state that my ex-husband really felt that it was his fault I had moved away and offered to ‘throw me a life-preserver’ to get me out of the fix I found myself. We thought we could make it work, but the problems we had before were still there.
I went to an alcohol/drug counseling service, on the pretense that my ex-husband had a problem and our re/marriage needed help. But the counselor, figuratively, hit me between the eyes when she told me that I had a problem. I agreed to go to AA and moved onto Alanon, where I began to be open to my own problems, learn about co-dependency and understand controlling behaviors. Doing this brought to the surface the true cause of our problems – alcohol abuse.
Because of my economic suicide, I had to find employment. There were a series of part-time jobs including a job as a teacher’s aid in a residential home for abused teenagers. I was the in-the-room cop.
Talk about facing one’s problems head-on. These poor kids, ages 13-16, had been abused all their lives and they knew how to push everyone’s hot buttons. I still believe that the ‘gods’ were behind me getting that job, for I had to face everything I thought I knew about myself, my life and my children.
Eventually, my ex and I parted. Today we are still friends. I moved in with my daughter and her family for a month before taking a new job in a new city. This was the first time in my life that I started over on my own and without a man. I was 41.
In the new city, I joined another Alanon group and women’s support group meetings. I learned what many women had been living with, which turned out to be far worst than me. I took a training course on how to answer the hotline for abused women; that was a huge wake-up call. I never had the opportunity to work the line or in the safe-shelter because of demands of my new job, but what I had learned helped me.
It has been 26 years since I moved and reclaimed my life. I vowed to never be abused again. My first relationship lasted 10 years. It was after we lived together that tensions built up, and we knew we ought not to live together. I was starting to go into the directions of yoga, tai-chi, qigong, and other healing techniques; he was not interested.
So we parted but remain good friends today. He never raised a hand to me and only once raised his voice because I would not shut up.
My second/current relationship is now 16 years old and counting. We live separately, by choice, each respects the other and our opinions. We each do separate things and things together. It is wonderful.
My best advice for anyone struggling inside a toxic relationship is to learn from others, join support groups and discover what is available in your community for help/support.
Have a safe-kit available filled with clothes, toiletries, cash, IDs, a plan and a list of who to call.
My best advice for how to stay out of future toxic relationships is to be true to and for yourself, get hobbies and do activities alone without a partner.
I remember a poem from my days in therapy:
I was walking down the street and fell into a hole; it took me a long time to climb out of the hole.
I was walking down the street, saw a hole in the street and fell into the hole; it took me a long time to climb out of the hole.
I was walking down the street, saw a hole in the street, tried to walk around it but fell into the hole; it took me a long time to climb out of the hole.
I was walking down the street, saw a hole in the street…I crossed the street!
Never give up on yourself.
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.