I never thought I’d end up in an abusive relationship.
I’m too strong. I’m too independent. I’m not like other girls who fall apart when their lovers leave. If a man ever laid a hand on me, I wouldn’t give it a second thought: I’d just leave.
Or so I thought.
In reality, it’s not that simple. An abuser gains emotional and even financial control over you, often before s/he ever uses physical force. It’s like you’re under a spell, and it starts to feel like there’s no way out.
I thought I had met Prince Charming. He took me out to my favorite restaurants and often bought me flowers. He knew I wanted to move to DC, so he flew out to find us an apartment while I stayed in LA and finished finals. He knew I loved Hawaii, so he took me to Maui for my birthday. He knew I wanted a new camera for work, so he did some research and bought me a fancy DSLR.
He gave me everything I wanted and more.
So when he got drunk and spit on me and told me that I was nothing, I thought, “That’s strange, but he’s never like that when he’s sober.”
And when he hit me in the face, right at the airport, right in front of the police who then handcuffed him before I explained that it was just an accident, I thought, “That’s strange, but he’d never do something like that if he were sober.”
I didn’t see that he was testing me, seeing how much I could take before he pushed a little further.
I bragged about him to all my friends. I bragged about the trips we’d take, the jewelry he’d buy, the flowers he’d bring to my door or even send to my office. I bragged because I thought, “Well, he’s Prince Charming — at least when he’s sober.” I thought I was so lucky.
We referred to his addiction as “the alcohol thing” — the minor setback that kept us from having the perfect relationship.
I urged him to go to AA; he went. I urged him to see a substance abuse counselor; he scheduled weekly appointments. I thought that if I could somehow cure the alcoholism then I could have my Prince Charming. “He’s trying his best!” I’d say, and I believed it because he was going out of his way to show me that he was ready to change.
But he wasn’t going to change.
I went to Al Anon meetings to support him. I bought books and watched videos about coping with someone else’s alcoholism. I thought we were in it together. But he wasn’t going to stop drinking. He wasn’t even trying. He was only doing everything that he had to do to manipulate me into believing things were going to get better, to manipulate me into staying with him.
I tried to leave; he was persistent. I’d get worn out, and I’d give in.
I was so delusional about the abuse, blaming it on his alcoholism, that I got to the point at which he’d scream at me in the middle of the night and tell me, “You’re a weak piece of shit!” and I’d respond with something like “Your alcoholism has gotten so bad that you’re starting to act drunk when you’re sober!”
After I threw him out of our apartment, he didn’t want me to get a roommate. “I can just continue to pay half the rent, and when we work things out, I’ll move back in.” I said no, but I let him keep paying some of the bills. One of them was my phone bill.
That’s when I had to get used to him snatching my phone away from me at a moment’s notice. “This is my phone,” he’d say. “I bought the phone, and I pay the bill.”
It’s the little things that he’d do that seemed so kind, so generous, so thoughtful — those were the little ways he was taking control. But you don’t see it happening.
While we were living apart, we had a few months without an incident of physical violence. There were still drunken episodes and cruel words; there were still nights that he’d show up at my apartment in the middle of the night, drunkenly banging on the door until I gave in; but there was no more wrestling with an angry drunk, and there was no more trying to hold the bedroom door shut while he pushed his way in. So, in a way, I thought things were better.
And when he got an apartment 700 feet from my job, timed perfectly with the end of my lease, I was half scared and half flattered. He wanted me to move in. He made me a key that had a floral pattern he knew I’d love. The commute would’ve been unbeatable. He even got a second litterbox for my cat, so she’d feel at home there, too.
But when he drunkenly took me by the throat, choked me, and threw me across the room, I had second thoughts. I brought all of my things back home. The next day, he took me out to breakfast and bought me flowers. I forgave him. I brought my things back. With all that I’d already allowed him to put me through, I thought I’d never leave.
He went out drinking again that night. My bruises ached for days. The police had told me before, “It’s only going to get worse.” I always believed I could make it better.
Staying in my abusive relationship wasn’t about being weak; it was about being strong. It was about saving someone’s life. I didn’t want to leave the relationship; I just wanted the abuse to stop. But I finally realized that he was going to kill me one day, and I couldn’t save his life in exchange for my own.