Romantic love is a rarity and if you’re naïve enough to disagree, you could find yourself in my situation. Manipulation, on the other hand, is happening everywhere. I escaped a domestically abusive relationship four years ago. It changed my perception on love, victims, abuse, and life in general. Abuse can be blatantly obvious to the ones witnessing it, but less obvious to the victim. Escaping is like trying to escape a cage that bears your pride. You must accept the fact that there will be no crutch to hold you. Then set fire to the weeks/months/years wasted on the abuser. With enough bravery, you can find the justice you deserve and escape abuse.
The interesting thing about abuse is the cage you are in may appear blatant, fuzzy, or hidden. Everyone saw my cage because my abuser isolated me from my friends and family. This did not change my chances of escaping the abuse or noticing the cage myself. To me, it was invisible; it did not exist. Posts on social media told me “When I fight with you, I’m fighting for us.” Of course, I read those in my abuser’s voice that reassured me he loved me.
Reassurance should never exist in a healthy relationship. But all I could do was beg for it every time my abuser told me I was “bitch.” He referred to me as a bitch when I refused to do something from him, certain things I was not comfortable with proceeding in doing. If I rejected him, he would hit or bite me, and not in a playful way. His favorite form of abuse was shooting me with an airsoft gun with the safety off. My motionless body was a target to little pellets that stung and left bruises. There is no lower feeling than being a literal target for mockery. I held in tears when he did this. They would burn my nose, but I knew the tears would be followed with a sardonic comment from my abuser, telling me I was being too sensitive. In the midst of this, the back of my mind patiently waited for him to cool down and reassure me that I was important.
You should already know your significant other loves you without reassurance. If support does occur in an abusive relationship, it usually happens in two steps of the abusive process: reconciliation and the honeymoon phase. My abuser would apologize and beg for my forgiveness, lacing his words with glimmers of hope. “I love you so much,” he would say, “I was only kidding, but what I did was wrong and I am a fool for it.” He would proceed by taking me on extravagant dates, spending loads of his paycheck on me.
“This can’t be abuse. We are genuine lovers with chemistry beyond what most people experience,” I thought. We did indeed have chemistry and talked for hours about anything. I remember our ‘honeymoon’ nights very clearly. I would call him and we would laugh over unimportant things like the fact that our math teacher raps or that Clair was caught with marijuana again.
Recognition is the first step to escape the cage. This recognition may simply happen as an epiphany, but that was not my case. I saw my abuser abuse someone else in front of me. My best friend, Ellen, joined on our walk to the park one day when my abuser revealed he had cheated. I tried to yell at him, but he dictated the fight by cursing at and belittling me. I remember him saying, “Crazy bitch, stop crying. How much attention do you need, god damn?” before Ellen stepped in between us to defend me.
“Stop talking to her like that.”
“Fuck off!” he retorted, and grabbed her. Suddenly all I could see was the brick wall in front of me. Confused, I looked down to see my abuser strangling her on the concrete. The shock left me helpless and weak, too weak to help her or speak. In the mess of their bodies I saw my abuser’s eyes widen as if he had understood he was making a mistake. He released her, and I quickly took action by grabbing hold of Ellen and pulling her up. I ran with my arms around her until we reached her home. As we walked home, I admitted to myself that his habits were unethical, manipulative, and narcissistic. Yet, this was only the first step in escaping the abuse.
Your epiphany may happen differently. Signs you are being abused may not be as obvious as mine. Look for signs of jealousy, narcissism, hypersensitivity, forcefulness, power, and control. These are traits my abuser had throughout our entire relationship that I was unable to recognize. The easiest way to recognize them is to focus on the way you are feeling. Does this person make you feel small or unsafe? Be open to the idea that you could be experiencing abuse.
I wish I could say I left my abuser after he strangled my best friend. What I experienced instead was extreme Stockholm Syndrome. This is a feeling of trust and attachment to the abuser although one has been abused. It is extremely hard to understand unless one has been through it. One restraining order and a few secrets later, we had fallen into an off and on relationship that no one knew about. It was exuberating and ‘romantic’ to us. I thought my actions were justifiable because he was now in therapy and would get better. I would not admit it to myself then, but with every break up I lost a little more faith in him. My friends and family were slowly making their way back into my life. Movie nights were something my mother and I shared. Instead of sneaking away to my abuser every night, I spent most with my mother. The movies took me away from reality and placed me somewhere warm and comfortable. Although I was spending more time with friends and family, Ellen was smart enough to discover my relationship had not ended. She was the ultimate blessing, and instead of getting mad simply suggested I do the smart thing. I remember her saying, “You’re still seeing him, and I do not understand, but I love you.” I broke down as she hugged me.
Even with recognition, an abusive relationship is hard to escape, but turning to a support system is your best possible action. People that love you will not judge any length you have gone to please your abuser. Do not be ashamed of anything, and realize your abuser has manipulated all your actions. I strongly suggest therapy as another form of support as well. Working with a professional is a sign that you are dedicated to bettering your life. Long months of therapy prepared me for the final breakup with my abuser. If I had not prepared myself, I would have failed.
There was an opening of time for me, of true and utter perfect timing. It was spring and all the world’s buds were about to reach their flowering peak. I had gained my confidence back, slowly distanced myself from my abuser, and now he was about to move an hour away. My therapist hinted at this being a good thing. I would not have to monopolize my life, and figure out different ways to escape. He simply had to leave with his father and had no means of transportation. With a gentle nudge from my friends and family, I officially ended my relationship. It was terrifying at first. I traveled through the month of May ignoring texts and phone calls that were only filled with his toxic remains. He was dead to me, and there was no logical reason to see him again. I remember walking to the park by myself on a bright spring day. It was the day he officially moved away from the little town of Waldorf. I swung on the swing set, imagining myself flying. In that moment, I knew I escaped the cage. It had always been unlocked. All I had to do was open the door.
I would like to disclaim that I experienced my abuse as an adolescent. I was not bound to this guy by any law which was lucky for me despite the violence. Someone who is married or economically bound to their abuser will have more difficult time escaping the cage. The door may not appear to be open, but it is never locked. There are people that dedicate their lives to defending domestic abuse victims. I can only speak from my own experience, and all I can recommend to a bound victim, is to seek help from a professional. Understand that there is hope even in a complicated situation.
Escaping the cage takes one difficult moment of courage; real courage. You must leave knowing you will never take him or her back. Stand your ground and say what you need to say, because you deserve to say it. This will not happen as easily if you do not have the correct mindset. The above steps of recognition and finding a support system are vital in making it through the break up process smoothly and without harm.
I still have trauma from my relationship. Luckily this trauma only occurs in nightmares. It is a part of me that had brought wisdom to me at the young age of 16. About six months after the end of my abuse, I decided to open myself up to a healthy relationship. The new relationship was the final closure to my abuse that I never knew I needed. I would tell him, “You’re the realness I needed.” He was always confused on what that meant until the day he admitted he loved me and I revised my quote to, “You’re the love I needed.” ‘Love’ was the truer sense of the word, ‘realness.’
While healing, let your supporters love you unconditionally. Do not be afraid to go out and meet new people. Certain people may give you that certain kind of love you needed whether it may be platonic or romantic. Meeting new people will also help you trust again. Overall, the right kind of people will give you the right distractions.
Be patient for the rare person that will grant you the love you deserve. There is a lot of mystery and fear that comes from leaving a relationship. Your real loved ones will understand and support you in your steps to freedom. Never forget that you are the priority. Allow yourself to heal and get out into the world again. The cage is unlocked all you must do is push the gate open.