The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at once.Yasmin Mogahed
Be patient. You are healing.
It started over a picture of cupcakes.
Lined up in cute little rows in front of a birthday sign I made. For x’s birthday party. Well, one of three birthday parties I threw him that year for his 50th.
I saw that photo and I felt a familiar kick in the stomach. One I hadn’t felt in a while.
It was an old photo. On the Instagram page of the woman – a friend – who made the cupcakes and has (or had) her own aspiring baking company. I had made the mistake of thinking that I was healed enough and that there wouldn’t be any landmines when I went to her page looking for the name of something she had made years ago when I was still following her account.
That photo. For the cupcakes I asked her to make for him. For the surprise party. That I spent weeks messaging with many of his friends who I had never personally reached out to in order to do something special for him on the actual day.
I was already throwing a family birthday party that next weekend. And I had fully paid for a trip to Cabo for he and I a few weeks after his birthday to celebrate. A trip he took anyway, alone, only days after walking out late at night on me and our daughter. Using the flights I paid for and the cash my father gave him as a gift for spending money on our trip to Cabo.
That picture hit a spot I hadn’t even thought was at risk at that moment. But it was.
That picture was everything I gave to him – even when I knew (what I thought) was the worst of him. It was me – and everything that kept me in abuse for so long. Because I wanted to give and give and make things be different – so, so different – and did it way beyond the point of my own safety, both physically and emotionally.
I saw that photo and that it was on her personal page and the bakery page and it made me hurt, physically.
I closed Instagram and went to check on my daughter who was trying to fall asleep in her bedroom down the hall. Sometimes – lots of times – her breathing helps to anchor me and to remind me that where I am now is so much better than where I was back then. But she wasn’t all the way asleep yet and so I kissed her forehead and tucked the blanket tightly around her feet the way she likes, literally wanting to be tucked in at night.
I went back in my room and that ache in my gut was still there.
I decided to leave a comment on the photo asking her to remove it please.
Let me tell you: every single group I’m in would tell me not to even make that request. Not one person would say it was a good idea.
Some would say I never should have taken the risk of looking at her account. For whatever reason.
The ones that wouldn’t say that would say that making contact with this person, no matter how kind I think she is, is a bad move. Either because it will prove something about me that x has said or it will open me up to being hurt again. Or both.
There are so many things about being the survivor of this kind of abuse that just aren’t fair.
One of the bigger ones (far from the biggest, though, sadly) is that you have to cut ties with everyone – everyone – still connected to x if you want to feel safe and fully heal.
I spent the better part of a year bucking against that truth.
I didn’t want to give up one more thing all because he is an abuser and will keep abusing both me and our child as long as he has any way to do it.
I resented it, for months and months, as I refused to believe it with a force that rivaled my denial over who he was once I saw it fully and without facade in September and October of 2019.
Internally, every time I saw an article or a post (or got the advice) that cutting all mutual ties is essential, I was like a toddler throwing a fit.
I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. You can’t make me and he can’t make me and screw you all if you think I have to.
I can do this without doing that. I can I can I can.
When I got sideswiped by x’s emergency filing of neglect charges against me, eight months post-break-up and only weeks after what I thought would be our last court appearance for a while, I slowly started to see that I would have to do what everyone said.
Like a toddler, I knew what I wanted didn’t trump what was best for me, no matter how slowly and begrudgingly I came to that awareness, and so I mentally prepared myself to finally give in to that bitter-tasting medicine.
X had ramped up his assaults of my sanity in message after message. Was sending me photos of very normal bruises my daughter had and was making veiled accusations.
I started, again, to feel like the whole world was unsafe. That anything I might say or do could be twisted to mean anything at all he wanted people to believe it means.
Social media, in particular, started to feel – again – like a place where I had no control over how things were manipulated.
Started to feel like leaving your front door wide open all night while you slept.
X had already doctored texts to get a lawyer to harass me. He had doctored messages from his own social media accounts to look like I had sent them. He had cropped emails to craft a narrative that was so very far from reality.
I had to accept that giving up even more people – on top of the people I thought were safe and I found out were not, like some of x’s family, that I had severed ties with right away as their threats came quick and clear – giving them all up was necessary to protect myself and my daughter.
Was necessary to, at the very least, feel safe sharing my life with the people I trusted implicitly.
To, at the very, very least, hold my own soul and spirit together so I could both protect my daughter and give her as much stability as possible in the awful process of perpetual family court.
I struggled with the realization that I had to do it and then I struggled as much with the how.
I didn’t want to just ghost people. This was eight months post-breakup and the harassment had been going on that long by then. Anyone I was still connected to on social media was because I valued something about our connections. I had unfriended and unfollowed everyone connected to x that I didn’t feel that way about months and months before.
In the scheme of hurts this relationship has brought me, this wasn’t in the top three, but it was certainly in the top ten and it hurt. Like another kind of phantom pain of the life I thought I had.
And I was still struggling immensely (truth be told, I still do on my hardest days) with the unfairness of everything I have to do because of who he is and so I could feel that inner-toddler stiffen her legs and prep to stomp, again and again, and shout it’s not FAIR NOT FAIR NOT FAIR!
In May of 2020, I posted an honest update that because the harassment was on the rise again, I was having to batten the hatches. I said that if someone was still reading this post then they had meant something to me and that it was nothing personal but that I had to do this for me. That it was the advice of every therapist and support group I’d seen for this type of situation. I asked anyone who was no longer connected to x or wanted to cut social media ties with him to message me if they wanted to remain connected virtually. But that I understood if they didn’t and I wished them well.
I heard from a family member of x’s who expressed sadness but said she understood why I had to do it and maybe in the future we could still email or visit.
I had one friend, that I met through x, reach out and make sure it was ok if she still ran into him, especially at music shows as she could’t avoid that, and I said of course. She and I are still connected and her reaching out softened the blow. She was one of three people I had most hoped not to lose touch with and it made it a little easier to know I wasn’t cutting every single tie.
Posting that on my page made me uncomfortable, but it’s important to me to be direct and honest and this felt like the best way to do what I finally knew I had to do. It felt vulnerable. But right.
The woman who made the cupcakes was another one of the three I really didn’t want to lose. But I didn’t hear from her.
Her husband has been friends with x for a long time. I knew that even if she said she’d cut ties, it would be a small weephole in the security seal I was trying to wrap around my new post-separation life.
I was willing to try it, but she didn’t reach out and I respected that. Her life, her choice. What a position to be in, anyway – remaining friends with someone x has called psycho and manipulative and harassing while her new husband maintained a friendship with him.
So two days after that post, I sat alone in my room after my daughter went to bed and I hit unfriend and unfollow on everyone I had met through x and anyone who might still be connected to him that had met him through me.
I cried. I dreamt that night of my house walls becoming gauze and the outside seeping in and me not being able to control it. I dreamt of being at a party and slowly everyone walked away from me until I was standing there alone, some old record skipping on an old gramophone and my daughter somewhere off in the distance, out of earshot, not hearing me calling her name.
I woke up mad – at x, at the world, at the noxious illusion – the complete fabrication – of x that people buy into (myself included once upon a time).
But over a few days and over the next week, I began to feel safer. I felt strong for having done what I had put off doing for so long.
I didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to believe everyone who said I had to do it. But once I did it, I felt safer.
It’s really not about who the other people are, specifically. It’s about connections remaining open – like windows into your life for someone who only aims to destroy it.
I think of it now as akin to refusing to board up your windows for a hurricane. You lock the doors and make sure you have food and water but don’t think you should have to board up the windows because you want the light. You want the air. You shouldn’t have to sit there in complete darkness just to save your house and your life.
But you have to board up the windows. You have to.
No matter who gets hurt by that. No matter who takes it personally and gets offended.
I was the most aware of how much it had created a safe wall for me when, five months later, x’s ex-wife reached out to me and even after we had shared info that made me feel safe that she wasn’t reaching out on x’s behalf, didn’t have some nefarious motive, (because coming out of the fog of loving – and being abused by – a sociopath makes paranoia obsolete – you have actually been the target of unbelievable levels of lies and deceit and refused to believe it could be real, so now you know how unbelievably awful people can be to you even if you don’t want to see it), my nightmares about x coming into my home and trying to hurt me returned with a vengeance.
I dreamt of him smothering me as I laid paralyzed in my bed. One of those dreams that seems so real, you are haunted by it for days.
I felt his whole hand over my mouth. I smelled his skin and the deodorant I thought was cologne when we first met. I felt his breath on my face as he told me he’d kill me.
I had ripped a tiny little hole in the protective web I had spun around my life and I felt it immediately.
I knew after that dream that I had made the right choice back that May when I finally gave up one more thing I shouldn’t have to give up.
It had helped me heal and cocoon against the madness that is having left him.
The night I saw that cupcake picture on x’s friend’s wife’s Instagram account, it had been over a year since building that shelter in my life and so I was caught completely off guard by how it felt to see that picture.
I should have known better.
I had forgotten that there are always landmines in those places where connections still exist.
It’s like that Kevin Bacon game – only full of cPTSD triggers instead of movie roles.
I also should have known better than to make the request I made of her.
But it seemed a small thing to ask of her, to me, that night, with that knot in my gut.
And then after I asked again – said please again – and linked to my writing, she sent me a message. One I haven’t responded to as of yet.
And when she sent it, the photos were still up on both accounts.
She said if I really wanted her to remove them she would.
But I had already asked. Twice. And said please. Twice.
I guess I needed to say it a third time.
But I haven’t.
She said she sees both sides.
After saying she sees him for what and who he is.
But if she sees two sides, then she doesn’t really see him for what and who he is.
That’s the thing. There is no both sides when you see what he is – there is just him acting in ways that are meant to scare and intimidate and deceive.
I made that request of her, in particular, because somewhere in those nonverbal places we have, I trusted she would just do it even if she didn’t really understand why I would need that.
And I shouldn’t have.
I believe she’s a good person. I do.
I believe she has a very tender, giving heart.
But she never once came to me, before or after I posted that I was having to lock down my life due to abuse nor during any of his lies about me online, to ask me my side of the story.
I didn’t need or expect her to. It would have meant a lot if she had, but I held no expectations.
However, knowing both sides means at least hearing both sides, right?
What she said in that message was all re-focused by saying that toward the end.
If I had been raped by him, would there be two sides?
Would she want to know how short my skirt was or if I invited him into my home?
I don’t think so.
If he had actually given me black eyes, would there be two sides?
Would she ask what I had said to him right before he hit me to deserve those marks?
But this abuse is insidious and invisible and becomes, especially for people who only listen to the abuser’s version, an easy to dismiss game of he said, she said.
I wrote recently about the ways friends of an abuser will look the other way to not feel the discomfort of seeing that person for who and what they are.
About the ways they praise them on social media and feed into it instead of facing the full, ugly truth of this type of abuse. A like here. A good job there. A heart emoji when he does something sweet.
I know better than to be vulnerable with someone still in that space at all with x.
There is no both sides to these situations.
There’s not. There just isn’t.
I had made a request. Not once, but twice. And I even linked to my writing hoping it might clarify the request without me needing to justify it.
Because I don’t do that anymore.
It’s a crucial part of healing. You don’t beg people to respect your needs.
Those of us who’ve been with sociopaths have spent years and years over-explaining as though they just don’t understand what we need or why we need it.
Over and over and over.
And then they call us nagging. And too wordy. And over-emotional. Impossible. Needy.
Sometimes you still want to explain and explain – that night I saw that cupcake picture I certainly did – but I just linked this blog and let go of the request.
I had made an ask and it wasn’t given. End of story.
In my mind, I asked nicely. Non-confrontationally. Without intruding any further than the request I felt the need to make that night.
But it wasn’t the right way to ask for her.
How I cut ties wasn’t the right way, for her.
And it’s her right to feel however she feels about what and how I did what I did. At least as far as it affects her.
But I can’t spend time trying to defend my need to her. Or anyone.
I would have felt better if those pictures were gone.
I commented with that request to be able to ask in the least wordy, least obligating way.
A direct message would feel like maybe there needed to be a reply. There didn’t.
It was a two year old photo buried in her feed. No one would see that comment if they were’t looking for it.
For her, that was the wrong way.
For me, it wasn’t.
Both things are true.
In that situation, there very much are two sides.
Both of our feelings are valid.
But there still aren’t two sides to why I wanted that picture gone.
There still isn’t two sides to the lies and the abuse.
Those just exist and are – one-sided and harmful and inexcusable.
Writing this, I’m aware she (or you) may feel that this is the wrong way to address this all instead of just messaging her or choosing to completely let it go.
But I’m writing this here because of what it taught me, again, about the things we need to sacrifice to heal and be safe.
Again, every support group I’m in would tell me I shouldn’t have asked her for that. Mostly because I shouldn’t have looked in that account no matter what other thing I was looking for.
That I needed to remember to not forget that those painful memories can hit you when you forget they might be there.
And asking someone for something in a sincere and direct way doesn’t mean your intentions will land that way.
And, importantly, that someone who hasn’t reached out in two years, knowing at least some of what is happening, isn’t likely to just do what you asked no matter how small a request you think it is at the time.
Sometimes, we hit times in healing where we feel proud of how far we’ve come. When our therapist says the difference is so noticeable. And you can feel it – in your marrow.
You are different. You are better – so much better.
And you have a reprieve from the weekly abuse and so you feel both powerful in your own progress but you also start to grieve, in knee-buckling ways some days, because you finally can.
Those two things together make you susceptible to triggers in a way that can knock you completely loose some days. So so loose.
Looser than the very same things can when you are deep in the throes of survival mode, of mama warrior mode. When you are armored up and standing guard.
I felt safe trying to look up that other baked good.
I was too full of re-hatched grief to do that looking.
Way too full of fresh-again grief.
I felt solid enough, finally, in my right to ask for what I need to ask.
I was too lost in the grief of how unfair this new life is to weather her response well.
Just don’t even look, they all say.
I remember why, I say.
I hear you, again, I say.
Yet again, I don’t want to believe I have to give things up, but not wanting to believe doesn’t make what they say not true.
Cupcakes. Seems so fitting to me. I love cupcakes. Everyone who knows me knows that.
Of course I could be unhinged by cupcakes. Of course he can have turned even those into little emotional landmines.
Fuck the unfairness of all this reality and grief and healing.
The hatches are battened again.
The judge gave us a reprieve. And so I am healing again.
And healing is a clumsy, painful carnival ride of emotions.
Healing is full of bruises and tears and some crystalline moments of diamond sharp clarity.
Healing doesn’t have any sides. Only wide open spaces to get lost (or found) in.
And so, right way or not, I’m sharing this here because it’s so easy to present healing like a steady climb to the peak and the view and the thin, clear air.
But it’s never that.
It’s stops and starts and turns and loops and you have to re-center yourself and find your compass again to keep heading to the true.
Not north. Where is that anyway?
It’s trusting the magnet and the thin, raised arrow and the way it flits and lifts and moves with any tremor. Trusting it – trusting yourself – to learn and relearn and react differently, even if you didn’t know you’d have to react at all right then.
Healing is hard and messy and many will see your way as not quite right.
There are no sides to that.