What I Mean When I Say I’ve Been in an Abusive Relationship Featuring an Open Letter to my Ex

What I Mean When I Say I’ve Been in an Abusive Relationship Featuring an Open Letter to my Ex

At some point last year, I found myself staring at a number of articles that read something along the lines of “signs you’re in an abusive relationship.” I scrolled down the lists of common signals, and started to cry. My boyfriend, who I loved completely, ticked every single box on the list.

Part of me was shocked. And yet, it made sense. I ran over some of the harshest moments of our relationship so far, only a few months in. I felt deflated. I couldn’t believe that I was in an abusive relationship. I had always had myself down as a strong woman. I never took shit from anybody anymore after experiencing some pretty crappy one-sided friendships. How had I let myself get into this situation?

The day that I Googled “how to tell if you’re in an abusive relationship” was the second bravest day of my life. The bravest day was the day that I told him I didn’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore.

Being in an abusive relationship isn’t always black and white. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love the person that you’re with, or that they don’t love you. It doesn’t mean that all of their traits are harmful, or that you’re always unhappy. In fact, a lot of the time my ex was absolutely lovely, and he doted on me. But that’s the messy part, and we’ll get to that later.

So, let’s start from the beginning.

I’m taking today’s list of abusive traits from Bustle. This was the first article I ever read about emotionally abusive relationships, and it’s also the article I had taken screenshots of to show my partner that his behaviour wasn’t acceptable. That, of course, went down horribly. But let’s get on with it.

1. The need to be right

This was the first item on the Bustle list. “If your partner absolutely refuses to take accountability for their mistakes and prefers to place the blame on others (including you), that’s a big red flag.” I had noticed that I was always the one apologising for things, even when I was the one in the right, and the one taking the fire. His anger was justified because I was always wrong and always messing up. He threw a toothbrush on the floor out of anger. It hit a glass. The contents of the glass spilled all over the floor. This, of course, was my fault, because I had been the one that had handed him the toothbrush and asked him to brush his teeth (he hadn’t brushed them for two days. I know, I know.) It’s never “I’m sorry that I threw the toothbrush on the floor,” it’s always “you made me throw this toothbrush on the floor,” and that’s the difference.

2. Putting you down

“Yeah you got a first at uni but you don’t actually work hard” or “your previous relationship wasn’t an actual adult relationship, you don’t know anything about real relationships” or “you’re a lazy piece of shit” or “you’re a fucking idiot”. I have thousands to pick from. Just ask.

3. Your opinion is invalid

My taste in music? Wrong. Pop punk or die, apparently. My political views which actually mostly lined up with his? Still wrong! Somehow, even when I was agreeing with him about something, he was arguing with me about it. Now that takes skill. But if you’re constantly being told that what you say or think is wrong, that’s exhausting and it makes you feel terrible. It’s also incredibly patronising.

4. Yelling and berating

I’m sure almost everyone has been in a shouting match with someone at some point in their lives. But yelling specifically to belittle and intimidate you is scary and, frankly, unacceptable. This is a common tactic in abusive relationships. It instills fear and creates a power dynamic.

5. Being compared to others

“Well at least she could please me.” I’ll say no more.

6. They withhold affection

After being signed off work for several weeks due to illness, he said, and I quote, “no cuddles no affection no help till you get a job” and “no money no meals.” That’s really something, isn’t it? Affection isn’t a prize and you don’t have to win it. If your partner is treating their love (or basic necessities such as food) as a prize to be won, that’s a big red flag.

7. Gaslighting

For those of you who don’t know, gaslighting is manipulating someone until they’re doubting their own sanity, and gaslighters will label you as crazy for remembering things a certain way. “You’re twisting my words,” he would say after I directly quoted something he said mere minutes earlier. He once put my problems with him down to “womanly bullshit.” Remarkably, I’ve got that one on video from a time that I secretly filmed him yelling at me. Incredible scenes here from a self-proclaimed feminist.

8. They place the burden of “changing them” on you

It’s not your responsibility to “change” an abusive partner. Even when me and my ex were splitting, he was still asking for my help and I was still offering it. I promised I would help him to get therapy and anger management – until I realised that he wasn’t my responsibility. “I can’t do it without you” and “I want to change for you, to make you happy” are old news now. Yes, you need help, but that burden is not the responsibility of your partner. Your problems are not my fault.

9. They isolate you

Cutting off your friendships is one thing, but imagine my horror when my ex tried to tell me that my own mum wasn’t good for me, that she was being selfish and possessive over me, and that she was making my mental health worse. He even sent her a big text in response to her lovely “let me know if you need any help with anything” message, saying she was a bad mother and that she should leave me alone. It was actually this incident that snapped me out of all the lovey-dovey stuff and made me break up with him. Imagine trying to end my relationship with my mum (AKA my bestie) and thinking you would win. Nice try.

10. They ignore your boundaries

Cancelling our Valentine’s Day plans last minute when I was already ready and waiting for him to come and meet me? Chucking me out of his house when I was staying over? Refusing to move the marijuana he was growing in his bedroom out of sight when my parents came to visit, and then calling me boring, a nark, and saying that he didn’t like me because of that? Deliberately ignoring my requests that he didn’t do cocaine when he was going to be around me because it made me uncomfortable? Screaming in my face when he had always promised he would never raise his voice at me? Boundaries crossed. And obviously I was the crazy one.

12. They have “good days” that are tactfully slipped in between the abuse

This is where things start to get really complicated. Most often, abusive relationships aren’t actually abusive all the time. Otherwise, it would be easier to leave. Abusive partners can be just as loving as any regular partner. They can give you everything that you want, buy you things, take you out, dedicate time to you, tell you that they love you. That’s when you start excusing their behaviour, thinking that they’re not really that bad, and that it doesn’t matter that they called you names or hurt you yesterday because today they made you a nice dinner and 90% of the time they’re perfect anyway. It starts to look like the abuse is just a one-off thing, rather than a pattern of events, and it confuses you.

Nobody’s perfect, we all know that. But there’s a difference between disagreeing with somebody, and shouting at them to make them feel small. There’s a difference between asking someone to do the dishes, and calling them a lazy piece of shit. There’s a difference between not understanding someone’s line of work, and belittling their achievements.

The first time I wanted to end the relationship (and did actually end it, though of course the split didn’t last) was around two months in. That was the first time that he really flipped at me and started the name calling. My best friend had come to visit, and me and my ex had been arguing over something that I can’t remember. I sat with my friend, trying not to cry as he repeatedly texted me purposefully hurtful and damaging words. But I had seen how loving he could be, and the way he looked at me, and how he would show me affection at all hours of the day. And I let it slide. And I carried on letting it slide for over a year, until he texted my mum that nasty message and refused to apologise. Sometimes it takes you seeing the abuse targeted at someone else before you really clock what’s happening. He walked in from work, said nothing but “fucking idiot” to me, and I tried to hold back the smile of freedom as I said, “we’re over, I don’t want to be with you anymore.” The thought of breaking up with someone that I loved so much and had made life plans with had seemed so hard until that moment.

Basically, no one is allowed to fuck with my mum. And now no one is allowed to fuck with me either.

My family never knew until it was all over. Of course, some of my friends knew. And some of his friends knew, too. And they would tell me to leave, and I would tell them it’s probably going to be fine and that I was used to it anyway, so what’s one more heartbreaking argument when you’ve already had 100? What’s one more nasty insult when you’ve already taken 10 more? At least he loved me. At least he didn’t hit me.

You won’t leave until it’s time for you. You can be told over and over again by people who love and care for you that you don’t have to face the abuse and that you can and should leave, but you won’t do it until the right time hits you. You come to that decision on your own, even if it’s later than it should have been. If you’re reading this and you’re in an abusive relationship, I can’t convince you to leave. But I can at least open your eyes to the fact that your relationship isn’t healthy, and that thought won’t ever go away, believe me.

I wasn’t the first person to be abused by this guy. I reached out to his ex the day that he threatened me with physical violence. I needed to know if he had hit her. We recounted our experiences to each other, and found that some of the situations we had found ourselves in were near-identical. This was a repeated pattern of behaviour from him, and that was even more terrifying. With her help, advice, and encouragement, I put my foot down and escaped. Thank you, A. You were the only person that ever fully understood what I was going through, and your support was unrivalled.

An open letter to my ex

If you’re reading this, then hey man what’s up. No you can’t sue me for publicly announcing I was in an abusive relationship. By the way, while you’re here, thanks for that message you sent to my sister to pass onto me after we broke up – your master manipulation tactics don’t touch me anymore unfortunately, and the message has been discarded. You urged me to remember the good times. Sadly those don’t stick out in my memory as much as you calling me a spineless weasel (or a crazy bitch, or a stupid shit, or a boring human), saying you don’t like me, abandoning me in the middle of town after shouting at me in a busy street, all the hundreds of times you told me to fuck off, saying there was no point in being with me, and threatening me with physical violence through an open window before just stopping yourself from hitting me when you grabbed the duvet from me and threw it at the wall. Maybe you should have thought about that when you were actually abusing me, but whatever. And no I really, really didn’t cheat on you, but nice try at making me look like the bad guy instead. Gentle reminder here that you did actually cheat on A. Get help. Stop smoking so much weed. Open up to your friends. Have an honest conversation with your mum. Start brushing your teeth every day. Also, post my degree certificate to me already.

You once said to me, “try and find a boy who treats you better I fucking dare you.”

I will. Thanks for the advice.

Olivia.

If you’re in an abusive relationship and you need help, please click here.

Rebuilding

Rebuilding

So, it’s been a while. Over four months, actually. Sorry about that! But I think my break from blogging has been an important one.

It’s time for a long overdue catch up I think, so settle down with a cup of tea and let’s get on with the chin wagging! You might remember this post from back in November. If you do, you’ll know that I had a pretty bumpy time of things a few months ago. It was, in all honestly, a time I didn’t think I would get past. Well, have I got a surprise for you!

I think that one of the hardest things about having a low time is the belief that you’re not going to reach the other side of it. My mindset has had a complete transformation since those days in more ways than one, and I’d like to share with you some of the little things that have pulled me through, and how I have learned to (finally) love myself after years of self hatred and destruction.

It’s been a wild few months, but a good few months too. I am, for the first time in a very long time, exceedingly happy. What a nice thing to type. Of course, I have my wobbly days, but I have reached a point in my life where I have come to appreciate the little things enough to not let the bad things take over my day. For example, on Thursday, although life gave me a bit of a kick up the bum, my flatmate Jaz brought me cookies, I read a novel for pleasure for the first time in months (The Outsider by Albert Camus, in case you were wondering), and I made a really great curry for my tea. All small things, but significant things all the same. It is up to me to find beauty in even the most difficult days.

First of all, let’s talk meds. I am now completely free of all kinds of medication. Coming off antidepressants was not easy, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s the answer for everyone, but this was the best decision for me. Although they helped me at the time, I reached a point where I needed to give my head some space to breathe. I felt so suffocated and changed by medication that I just wanted a break to be myself again. It was hard at first, but I think I made the right decision, and I have definitely benefited from it in the long run. But citalopram isn’t the only medication I’ve booted. A few weeks ago, my doctor took me off the contraceptive pill because I was at high risk of developing blood clots (scary, I know). I was pretty scared of coming off it at first, because I’d gotten so used to it and the benefits that it brought. After being on the pill for about a year and a half, I’d never really noticed that it had such a huge impact on my moods, but within a week of ditching it I felt infinitely better. My mood lifted, I felt happier, more energetic, even more confident within myself. Of course it comes with its downsides, but the change I’ve seen in myself is so worth it. Since dropping all medication, I’ve learned how to handle my own extremes of emotion and bouts of anxiety a lot better, so I feel nice and stable and I’m learning how to balance myself in ways that I never could before. I have taken control of my own mind, my own happiness, and my own health, and I’ve pretty much kicked mental illness’s ass. Although medication (or lack thereof) has played a big part in this, it isn’t the only thing that’s had an impact on me.

I want to have a bit of a chat about social media. In a culture so obsessed with keeping the world updated with our everyday lives, it can be really hard to disconnect and switch off from everything. It’s far too easy to fall into the pits of negativity, jealousy, and self pity when you’re reading about how great someone else’s life is on their Facebook or eyeing up all their flashy new things on Instagram. It feels like everyone else has got it so much better than you when you see people getting amazing jobs on Facebook, someone’s new car on Instagram, your friends going out without you on Snapchat, or a festival you’re not going to on Twitter, and it dampens your mood for the day. At new year, when I was watching everyone else entering 2017 at a party with their best pals or with a kiss from their other half while I lay alone in bed with the flu, I decided that enough was enough. I deleted every single social media app from my phone, and I left it all alone for about a month. It wasn’t an excessive amount of time, but it was enough to take away the urge to see every single post on my timeline and to make me realise that there are much better things to be doing than scrolling through Instagram. I suddenly felt kind of free, and a hell of a lot happier about myself. I was no longer comparing myself to other people, and I came to appreciate my own life a lot more.

I eventually came back to social media, although I never got the Facebook app back. I didn’t come back because I felt like I was missing out, but because I finally felt comfortable enough in my own skin to know that it wouldn’t cause me to self destruct anymore. I learned a lot about myself in that month away, and I think that my social media presence is a lot different now. It’s certainly less frequent, and it’s much more focused on self love and bad jokes than self pity and complaining. I think it’s working out well.

More recently, I’ve started to realise my own value. I no longer want to take any shit (sorry mum) from anyone. If someone is treating you badly, if someone isn’t putting the effort in, if someone isn’t caring for you the way they should, don’t waste your time on them. It’s okay to end friendships that make you feel crappy, or to distance yourself from those who fail to see your worth. Surround yourself with people who see your value, treat you as an equal, and make you happy. That might be a very small number of people (hello Paige, George, and Elliott), but that isn’t what matters. In the words of Elliott Fudge, “giving things to other people and not getting anything back won’t make you happy. You don’t have to tolerate being around people who make you feel second best”. I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of friendships or relationships where you feel like the only one who ever makes an effort. I know I have. I absolutely tore myself to pieces over people who wouldn’t even give me a second thought. That ends now. Frankly, life is too short and I am too great for that. I won’t let it happen anymore. Get yourself friends that bring you Kinder Buenos when you’re having a bad day,  get you books they think you’ll like, put your favourite song on just for you, make you toast after a night out, build you up to no end, and who never make you feel like anything less than important.

Speaking of friendships, and any other kinds of relationships, I have finally learned a very important lesson. In the past, I have always relied heavily on other people for support, and for my own happiness. I never really realised how unhealthy it was for me to invest literally everything I had into one person, and then when things fell through I would be like a fish out of water. I didn’t know how to be okay on my own.

It has only been in the past couple of months that I’ve finally learned how to be okay on my own. That doesn’t mean that I am literally alone, and I still have a ridiculous amount of support and love from friends and family, but I now stand confidently as an independent person. I don’t rely on other people for my happiness, which means that I also don’t let them cause my sadness either, if I can help it. This has been, admittedly, hard for me to do. But I have never had so much appreciation for myself and my own strength. I can do a lot more on my own than I once thought, and I don’t need to depend on other people anymore. I wish that I had learned this sooner, so that I could have saved myself a lot of tears. But I am finally my own person who is in control of my own happiness, and it feels amazing.

I have also closed certain chapters of my life that I left open for far too long. Dwelling on old pain and allowing myself to hurt over things that no longer mattered held me back and caused me unnecessary heartache. Closure is a wonderful thing that can put your mind at rest. Letting go of bitterness, dropping that grudge you’ve held for years, forgiving people who hurt you, and moving on from sourness is so freeing. Your present is more important than your past. You will thank yourself for letting go.

But finding happiness doesn’t have to involve huge, life changing steps. Little things can have the biggest impact. For me, making myself a playlist of happy and empowering songs really helped; I actually have a sassy independent woman playlist that gears me up for the day and restores my confidence when I need it. Exercising more makes a big difference to me too – it gets me out of the house, gives me something to do, and makes me feel great afterwards. I make sure that I’m eating proper meals. I try to make more of an effort to make myself feel nice, whether that means putting on my favourite lipstick or waking up a few minutes earlier to do my hair. For my 21st birthday, I received a gorgeous “thankful journal” from my family. You can write the date at the top, and then it has space to write four things that you are thankful for that day. It’s simple, but it works. It helps me to look for the positive, no matter how small, and to appreciate how lucky I am. Taking five minutes out of your day to write down a couple of things you’re grateful for is a wonderfully positive habit to get into, and it’s one that I’ll be sticking to. It’s little things like this that make all the difference.

Balance is a process. I am working on it every day, little by little. Mental health is about maintenance, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of taking control and rebuilding myself. I have never had so much confidence in myself, and I have never felt so secure in my own being. I may not have all the answers, but I’m learning and making progress, and that’s what matters.

A Wedding Anniversary

A Wedding Anniversary

Six years ago yesterday, my sister and her husband started dating. One year ago yesterday, they tied the knot.

My brother-in-law had been part of the family long before the papers were signed. Andy is definitely like my older brother, so the day that my sister announced their engagement to me in January 2015, I couldn’t contain my excitement. They’re the perfect couple.

Despite the fact that they’ve been together for six years now, Jessica and Andy continue to amaze me with their strength and the unconditional love that they have for each other. I look to them for inspiration constantly, as they have full trust within each other and have supported each other through everything that life has thrown at them.

Their wedding day was the most beautiful and wonderful day you could imagine. There were tears, there was laughter, and there was lots of dancing, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate their love.

I can’t believe that a full year has passed, and I think that we all wish that we could relive that day. But now we get to celebrate the anniversaries instead, and they’re an even greater milestone.

So happy first anniversary to my beautiful sister and the best brother-in-law, and I give all my love for the years to come.