As I weather an uptick in post-separation abuse, I have again started leaning heavily on my closest friends. I thought it was a good time to bring over this post from February, when I was still muddled and clawing my way out of the fog and became so very aware of how lucky I have been to have these women stand by me through all of this madness.
One hundred and forty-six days ago I took the final step away from a relationship that was, virtually, eating me alive. Almost eight years total and the last three had been brutal. In just one summer of one of those last three years, I lost forty pounds and spent my birthday in the ER with symptoms of a heart attack. My friends and family, who knew only part of the story, were beside themselves. I could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. I could almost hear them saying what the fuck are you doing?
I was somewhat unusual in that I knew what was happening was not OK, I knew I wasn’t crazy, I knew it wasn’t all my fault. And still I stayed. For so many reasons. Some days were good and so I hung onto those ferociously to keep from having to leave.
I didn’t allow myself to face things I am only now able to look in the eye directly – and even now with great pain and an urge to look away from it all that is so strong that it nearly buckles my knees some days – because I needed it all to work out. I needed it to be transformed into something redemptive.
And facing the truth of who I was with – and what was being done to me – would mean I had to leave, right away, forever. That’s how I was so typical. So many of us stay, even when we know we deserve better, because we think we can strong arm the situation into something healthy. We think we can fix it.
These last one hundred and forty-six days have made it impossible to not face the truth of what I lived in, though. The first ninety days after I banished him from my home for good were such a bizarro land of him doing and saying things that went so much lower than I had even imagined would happen. So much. So fucking much. And I was prepared for some serious hatred and character attacks.
The last fifty-six days haven’t been a cakewalk, for sure, and my future, because we share a child, will always have these landmines and the hangover of what people around him will always believe of me no matter how untrue. I’m surprised, maybe weekly now instead of daily (thank lawd), that I’m still surprised by what he will say about me or accuse me of or the action he will take to try to force me to comply with his reality. The tactics he will employ to try to make me afraid to go against his demands.
This is my life now. Still far better than it was one hundred and forty-six days ago.
A Facebook friend recently posted an article about ghosting friends who are in toxic relationships. It made my chest ache when I saw it. I imagined the last three years with my closest friends slowly disappearing from my life.
I get it. I do. That sometimes you have to do that. That sometimes you just want to and, because everyone gets to make their own lives what they want (need) them to be, it’s a choice that each person gets to make without being guilted into staying connected. I get it.
All I could think about the night I read that article (and the next day – and still, really, weeks later), though, is how fortunate I am that my closest friends, the women who always have my back even when I seemingly don’t have my own, never did that. They were always there – via email or phone or text (and when I was lucky enough, in person) – to listen and hold me up when I thought the world was, literally, falling out from underneath me. And I do mean literally. There was a whole year where I had to, often, tell my brain that I was not actually stepping into a sinkhole that would swallow me whole. Literally. I had to say that to myself and breathe slowly and leave work, sometimes, to convince my body I was safe.
Trauma is fucked up like that. You can know – and still not know – that you are not about to die from the pain and uncertainty and emotional fuckery. When my daughter was born, my doula gave me the mantra the only way out is through and, in the toughest year of triggers that made me feel, daily, like I could literally lose my attachment to gravity and be flung from the earth, I used that same mantra.
The only way. Get through.
If I hadn’t had the handful of friends who knew more than anyone else about the illusion my whole life had been until 2016, I may still be on that hamster wheel of false life or death moments.
My friends, the women I love as much as I can love any human I did not birth, not only took every call, responded to every text, made last minute plans to drive three hours to spend the weekend with me, dropped plans to let me come hide out at their houses on weekends I couldn’t stand to look at my house and see everything that it no longer was, let me fly up to see them and hide out for a few glorious days while I complained and complained and cried – they not only did these things, but they did it without telling me I had to leave him, without telling me I was a fool for believing it would change when the mountain of our own history showed that wouldn’t happen, when his own words and heartless reactions to his own lies and betrayals showed so clearly that it would never happen.
They just sat with me. Laughed with me or let me cry. Without judgment and without demands.
I can’t even imagine how hard that was on certain days – hell, most days. I am a fixer and so it’s the hardest thing in the world for me to not see the escape, see the solution – to not say stop it now before you shave off even more of yourself. For fuck’s sake, get out now and demand a better life.
I read an article tonight about how to support a friend in an abusive relationship. I’ll put the link to that article at the end of this post because I think it goes against every after-school special we’ve ever seen, in some ways, because it says to do exactly what my friends did for me. Which, I think, in the moment, can feel like nothing. Certainly, like not enough. Even like enabling.
It had to feel like a long, long time of me not choosing the right thing. Like forever of just being there for me. It had to be hard to sit there with me and be in my moment instead of the one they wished for me.
Now, they cheer me on and prop me up when the craziness of what I’m up against teeters on the peak of almost absurd but so fucking sad and scary. Now they let me send them screen shots and anecdotes of the insanity coming at me and give me space to share the things I can’t share anywhere else.
Now they tell me, even though they knew so early that what was happening was far from OK: it was abuse, I’m so glad you can see that now and start to heal. They help me own it and face it and name it.
I wasn’t ready to leave – wasn’t at all ready to see it for what it was – until I was ready. One hundred and forty-six days ago. I can imagine how much more lonely and hopeless I would have been – and I was already so lonely and hopeless for the last few years – if my friends had decided that they couldn’t be there for me as I hit my head on the same wall of this can be fixed for so goddamned long. If they let getting tired of my same old bullshit force a distance between us.
I don’t have any doubts that their one-thousand-plus days of listening to me complain and cry about the same damn thing as though it wasn’t the same damn thing happening over and over is why I now have one hundred and forty-six days of my home being free of gaslighting and mind-fucking. Of a new hope for what my future can be instead of strings and strings of days of being unsure and unhappy and staying in what had become normal instead of weather the hurricane that ending it would (did) cause.
I was terrified of what would happen after I ended it. I had seen into his past and seen actual messages to his ex-wife when she finally called it for good. I was afraid because I had seen what my future was and it took a lot of strength to know I could handle that and stay calm and steady for my daughter at the same time.
And I was right to be terrified. It was, temporarily, worse than staying. I could have stayed in the pain I knew forever to avoid the gauntlet I had to run to get to today. If I hadn’t felt like I had friends who would instantly know that what was happening was made up and retaliation and desperate attempts to preserve his own false image – that what he was saying out loud and all over social media was horse-shit – I may have stayed much, much longer.
If I had had to stay silent all those years because no one wanted to hear it, those first ninety days free may have been too much to bear.
Without those friends who knew our past and who I could turn to with the shorthand that comes from sharing the deepest, darkest stuff with someone who just holds a space for you to share what you are ready to share, I don’t know when I would have taken the leap.
So ghost if you have to – really, I mean it. You can’t destroy yourself or your family for someone else. But also know that just listening, even if your friend seems like she’ll never ever figure it out to get her ass free, helps. Just having that space, that outlet, to feel loved and heard and not countered and not ordered to do a certain thing, can be what saves her, eventually. What gives her the strength to weather the fall out of leaving.
That having someone to turn to, even when you’re not ready to make the leap, can be exactly what gives you the energy and will to start building an escape hatch.
I will never not owe this handful of women for what and who they were for me through these last few years of my life. They are an integral part of my daughter getting to grow up with a different version of how people treat each other, of having a mama who’s not in and out of doctor’s offices and crying into bath towels as soon as I can hear her snores in the next room, of not learning that you put on a good face and truck through your day as best you can because you’re terrified of the alternative.
Thank you, ladies, for not telling me what to do and for not, also, completely biting your tongues. For meeting me wherever I was on any given day. It’s nice to meet you in this place today. Thank you for sticking around and helping me get here. May I be half the friend each of you have been for me. May you never need me in the ways I needed (and still need) you.