Reflections of Abuse

On June 7, 2010…

…my day began with an explosive argument about my (then) boyfriend turning off my alarm, making me late for work. It grew when I needed him to move his car so I could leave, and began running when I habitually locked the apartment door behind me so that he would have to use his key to get back inside. I was a quarter-mile up the road when he texted me that our almost two-year relationship was over because I was so inconsiderate. I was counting out the service desk tray in the cash office while I left him a voicemail telling him that I didn’t care what he did – that I didn’t care about him – that I just couldn’t move out the day after my mail finally showed up to the right place. I was setting up the Lotto drawer when he texted me he had changed the locks and I was working on the media bags when he texted me a picture of his application for a restraining order to have me removed from the apartment – without any of my belongings. At approximately 1 p.m., I attempted to break into my own apartment with help from a friend. My cat was inside. My wallet, my identification, everything I owned of value; I had been running late for work and walked out of the house without anything but my car keys and my cell phone. I desperately banged on our neighbors’ door, begging them for our landlord’s phone number. He couldn’t possibly be aware of what was happening, I’d lived there for more than two months, I had rights. My landlord informed me that the apartment was my boyfriend’s and he could do as he wished; my landlord was an officer with the local police, so I had no one else to call. Frantically, I decided to go to family court and request an emergency order to get my belongings from the apartment.

When I arrived at family court, it was a very different experience than when I had been there previously. It’s an emotionally charged building where very little positive happens. The darkest moments in people’s lives happen in that building. The summer before, during my paralegal internship, I had watched a woman sign off on her parental rights. Watched as the bailiffs yelled at her to stand when she physically couldn’t hold herself up anymore outside the courtroom. So, when I arrived there, dressed in dirty jeans and a tank top, I had only been there before as a clean, hopeful paralegal intern. The difference that made was incredible. People I remembered talking to during my internship, briefly asking them for directions, had been nice, helpful, kind. As a manic, dirty, overtired and inappropriately dressed 21-year-old, their responses were short, angry, inconvenienced. It all seemed to punctuate the opinion that people whose lives are in shambles obviously have done something very wrong and don’t deserve to be treated humanely in their moments of greatest need. I was told that there was no such order that might allow me access to my belongings without police escort and a fifteen minute time limit, but if I wanted, I could file for my own restraining order, and request that the court include an order regarding my property. So, I did it.

Mutual restraining orders and three hours later, I was literally crying in front of the parking attendant because I had no way to pay him. I didn’t even have my driver’s license. Three years later, I’m still grateful for the small kindness that person showed me by letting me leave without paying for parking.

 

On March 28, 2013…

…I received a checklist of the behaviors associated with different kinds of abuse. Those mutual restraining orders came at the end of a twenty-one month relationship which embodied a lot of that checklist. I wanted to save this entry for the three year anniversary of the beginning of my recovery, I want to share this now – yesterday, even. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about that relationship or who I let myself become while I was participating in it. I spend almost as much time wondering how I let myself fall into that situation at all. I spend a lot of my days blaming my father, even more blaming myself. What’s really warped is how little time I spend blaming my abuser. From the moment we started dating, my job performance suffered. Everything snowballed. One moment he was bringing me flowers while I was at work, I offered to help him buy a new computer and then before I knew what was happening, we’d had to give away a puppy because he was beating it, I’d been involved in a fight that resulted in me being forcibly pushed from an apartment in the cold at 4 am in early March cold without a jacket after kicking someone across a room in self-defense, and everyone who had been my support system had essentially disappeared.

Why I stayed for as long as I did probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who knows what a stable, loving relationship looks like: I thought that was how it worked. I thought that if I could stay with him throw the time it took for us to become invested with each other’s lives, through all of the ups and downs, then we would just be okay and happy. I had this bizarre vision of myself when I was in my seventies, glowingly happy, reminiscing about what a headache he was when we started dating.

He left me several times, that was part of the abuse. He would create an excuse, something I supposedly did wrong, and leave me. He’d then tell me that if I did X to make it all better, we’d be okay. And we usually were, until the next incident. Every time it escalated. The cycle just kept repeating: Good Dan, Crazy Irrational Mean Dan, Abandonment, Atonement, Honeymoon. It didn’t even occur to me that there was a problem until he left a hand print on my arm after almost two years of this insanity. Crazy was normal. I didn’t really even get it after we had mutual restraining orders. The clarity came about a week later when he tried to make up with me, but refused to drop the restraining order. He was intentionally trying to lure me into committing a felony. It clicked. And I’d like to say I never looked back.

The injuries inflicted from this period in my life are deeper than I think I even know. I tolerated abuse at work because of the abuse I suffered in private. I sacrificed friendships which were immensely important to me. I shot, buried, and built a concrete slab over top of my self respect. Trust is difficult. Love is terrifying. Separation is torture as a result. When anyone says they’ll call or be somewhere at a certain time and I don’t hear from them, I usually believe that I’m honestly never going to hear from them again. That was always the threat. There are days when I’m not sure every person in my life isn’t going to wake up and decide I’m not worth their time. I didn’t cry for a year and now I cry if I remind myself that I’m in an actually loving relationship.

The best and worst of it is that there are days when I feel so strong I could fix the entire world, but there are other days when I feel so broken that I’m sure everyone can tell without even looking at me.

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