BETHESDA, Maryland, October 1, 2014 — Betty* is a domestic abuse victim who lives, works, attends college and raises her son in the United States.
Before the relationship, I was confident, happy, sure of myself and my place in the world.
During the relationship, my priorities changed to everything about him. Keeping him happy. I would even get dressed in the morning and mentally consider if he would “approve of” or like what I was wearing. I became a shell of myself, but I didn’t know it at the time. I only see it now, in retrospect.
After the relationship, I crumbled. Everything that I had “known” and thought for 6 years was a lie and realizing that and accepting it and moving forward was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s hard to wrap your head around such a total mind f*%#. I had a breakdown. Literally.
The relationship began when a mutual friend set us up to meet. We met at a bar where a band was playing. He called me at 10 a.m. the next morning asking if I wanted to come to his place with his young kids from his previous marriage. I put the brakes on that. There was no way I was meeting his kids that soon. I was flattered, but my gut did a little lurch. I should have paid more attention to that.
He intoxicated me with sex, sex, sex. He told me he’d never dated anyone like me. He told me he loved that I was smart and independent and that he was usually the “rescuer” in his past relationships. He showed me off to his friends. He was over the top for my taste with PDA when we were out. I was his. He possessed me, and I was taken in. I had never had anyone pay attention to me like that. I thought maybe, just maybe, this is what truly falling in love felt like. How wrong I was.
He called me “beautiful” all the time (never used my name), but aside from that, I was treated like I was less than him. Everything was made fun of from the way I wore my hair, to my political views. All in a “joking” way, but they cut the same when you know the intent is there. When I was 5 months pregnant with our son, he told me he didn’t like my body. He made fun of how big my breasts had gotten. It was crushing. He would push me to the brink, and I would snap. Not being able to take it anymore, I would be called crazy, told I have mental problems and that I’m not happy unless I’m creating drama. He raped me 6 weeks after our son was born. He owned me, right?
Through the 6 years, we went to couples therapy twice. Neither time worked. He refused to see or take responsibility for anything or any part of our issues. It was always my problem. Both times it was a monumental waste of time and money. Neither therapist saw him for what he was. I think there’s a gross amount of under education in people who claim to be therapists, especially couples therapists and about personality disorders and the havoc they can wreak on lives.
I also went to individual therapy with a very good therapist. She told me he was passive aggressive (if it were only that simple!). She told me he would never be what I wanted and needed, and I would never be happy with him. I didn’t want to believe her, because I had so much invested by that point. He love bombed me again shortly thereafter, and I stopped going to her.
Cognitive dissonance was a way of life. He liked to keep me in a constant state of cog dis, because then I was confused and more malleable. He’d tell me he loved me and his family loved me, but then tell me his mother was trying to get him to go back with his ex wife behind my back. He’d act wounded about something with work, I’d shower him with attention, and then he’d rebuff me. During times it was really bad, like after our son was born, he would simply stop speaking to me. All of a sudden, I would not exist to him. It was my punishment for whatever perceived slight that I made. Sometimes these periods lasted for over a month. I would escalate my attempts to get him to talk to me, and all I would get back was hatred and venom that made me recoil, and then more silence.
I did not contemplate suicide during the relationship, but did end up with a stomach ulcer during the relationship. I was too consumed with living to make sure he was happy. It wasn’t until after it was all over, and I realized what I had been through that I contemplated suicide.
The first challenge was accepting this had happened to me. He never hit me, he didn’t need to, but the abuse was there all the same. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that someone that I loved so much and invested so much in was actually such a cruel human being. Trying to accept all that resulted in a severe depression for me, I ended up in a psychiatric outpatient program for 2 and 1/2 months. The program specialized in major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was diagnosed with PTSD. While in the program, I learned a lot of cognitive therapy to help with cognitive dissonance and negative thinking. I was encouraged to learn to love myself again. It’s a slow process, but I’m getting there. The program really helped me make sense of the ordeal and recover.
The final thing that I find is a huge challenge is trying to co-parent with my ex. He is combative, not collaborative. The person that suffers, though, is our son.
My advice to someone who is struggling with leaving their toxic relationship is to first get to therapy with a therapist that understands toxic relationships. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees when you’re in the middle of it.
Online groups and information have been a great source of knowledge and support for me now and through my journey of recovery and healing.
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.