**Please note, this post contains descriptive accounts of domestic violence and abuse**
I looked up from the floor of the bathroom at his blank face. My hands began to pulse and burn from the jagged shard of glass I gripped and held to my own throat in the minutes before, backed into a corner of his bedroom screaming not to take another step towards me. As I scrambled over the bed to the door, he pulled me back, gripped my wrists together and squeezed my palms tighter around the glass and I felt the heat of the blood running between my fingers. I cried out and he let go. I dropped it then ran to that bathroom and locked myself in. On my knees shaking uncontrollably, lodged between the sink and bath my eyes scanned the room frantically for anything I could use. He kicked the door open and stood staring silently. All I could hear was my heart beating furiously as I tried to catch my breath between sobs. I needed to stop crying. I wasn’t allowed to do that. He watched and I eventually looked up to meet his glazed eyes. ‘Why did you want to save me? Just to kill me?’ I asked. He rolled his eyes and turned around and walked calmly down the stairs to the kitchen, poured himself a drink and sat on the sofa. There he stayed. I peeled myself off the floor once I knew he wasn’t coming back up and it was over for the night. I crept back through the hallway, walking passed his lodgers empty room that he’d abandoned to sleep in his car when he saw my then boyfriend dragging me on my knees out of the road outside back into the house. I walked over the glass on the floor, brushed off the duvet and laid down staring out the window. I’d better not fall asleep. I’m thirsty but too scared to go downstairs for a drink. That’s his turf now. He came to bed hours later and was snoring in seconds. He was silent for days after that, as he would continue to be whenever we rowed and I cried. He knew the silence tortured me more than any other weapon in his arsenal and he used it repeatedly until I learned not to speak anymore. Not to cry.
I could hide the injuries and make excuses to the kids when I picked them up from their dad and went home. I was off work anyway because I’d had a car crash a few weeks before after I’d left his house early for work. I had a bad habit of forgetting to put my seatbelt on until I got to a main road, that habit ended that day when my face met my steering wheel at speed and I was repeatedly thrown around my rolling car until it stilled in a ditch. I found my phone in the footwell and not knowing what road I was even on to call for help, I called him. He pulled up and heard him mutter ‘Jesus fucking christ’ as he climbed down the embankment towards my car. He thought I was dead he said. Once he realised I wasn’t, his brief concern quickly turned into contempt and I could feel it bubbling. I apologised repeatedly while we waited for help to arrive. As I laid with the neck brace on looking up to the ceiling in resus, the paramedic’s face appeared over me and said ‘you must have someone looking over you to be that lucky’ and I couldn’t answer her. She stroked my hair and then said she noticed I hadn’t cried yet, that I was safe now.
All I could think about was the trouble I was in and how they would put my teeth back. She left and I laid there replaying the moments of being thrown around in that car over and over as tears started to run down my cheeks and pool in my ears. Then his face appeared, like stone. ‘Hey’ I whispered. My bottom lip started to tremble and he got in closer as I couldn’t move my head, I could see the anger in his eyes and my stomach twisted. ‘You fucking dick’ he sneered and sat down. There it was. He thought I’d done it deliberately because it had been a particularly volatile time, his mum had died and his abuse towards me had taken to whole new levels as he grieved. He drank even more than usual. Then the cheating that had been going on began to reveal itself, the plea’s of ‘why are you doing this to me?’ now a weekly occurrence. I didn’t crash on purpose but I was deeply resentful that I hadn’t died, that I now had to agree with the world that called me ‘lucky’ to escape death. It felt like living a life worse than death at the time. This was my fault and I’d be punished. But it was because I’d worried him and I deserved it for what he must have gone through. It was because he loved me so much. I could never speak of that crash again. I couldn’t say I was in pain when he forced me to walk from the furthest point of the half-empty car park at the shop later that day on knees that had smashed my steering column hours before, on feet that I hadn’t been home to wash the glass and blood from yet. I wasn’t allowed to say no when his friends wanted to come over the day after and I had to be presentable and smiling, as horrified as they were when they saw me that they’d listened to his ‘nah, she’s fine’ when they called to ask if it was still ok. I was pathetic if I didn’t go down on him before they arrived still with swollen split lips, teeth pulled back into place and a jaw too painful to yawn. That was to thank him for helping me shower when he finally got me home. He washed my hair, so he did love me really. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.
It wasn’t always like this. When the sneering and silences broke me enough and I apologised for whatever I could, he’d smile and hold me and tell me how much he loved me. I’d feel human again. He’d tell me I was beautiful. He’d tell me no one would ever love like he did. And when I’d find out about the next girl and say if you really meant all that, you wouldn’t do this to me, he returned to silence. Silence meant his attention would be else where, not coming home meant he could be with her. But that was my fault. He left girlfriends that caused drama. He left a date sitting in the cinema thinking he was in the loo because ‘she spoke too much’. He broke a colleagues jaw for warning a girlfriend he was cheating on her (so he said). He left a girl for returning from holiday too tanned… I’m olive skinned. So he nicknamed me shit-skin and if I was offended that was my problem. He wasn’t telling me directly what he wanted me to do, but I lived in fear of being like the ones he left before and not being good enough.
I couldn’t be too clever and I couldn’t be funnier than him unless it was in front of his friends, but to a level I’d had to learn along the way. Too much and it got me stonewalled for an entire New Years eve, too little and I wasn’t making an effort. No matter what he did, he was the victim. He was the victim to his own impulses. ‘I’m just a man babe’ was one of favourite answers, up there with ‘if you can’t control them, marry them’ when asked why he proposed. He never wanted to hurt me and he never meant to, I made him. He had to lie because of how I reacted if I found out and he used my pain to reinforce his lying each time. He told the marriage counselor he was scared I’d hurt him if we reconciled and when I screamed my words in response, I played right into his hands on that victim stance. I couldn’t win. I felt unhinged. The counselor asked me in my individual session to acknowledge that I was in an abusive relationship and I answered ‘yeah, I know’. She asked if I knew, then why was I there agreeing to try and work through it? It was always the same answer whenever anyone asked me this. ‘I don’t actually know. I still love him’. It reinforced it more that this must be fine and just me being sensitive when she cracked on with then trying to help us get back together.
His first love, the first time he says his ‘heart’ was broken was with a girl that had an ED. Later transpired that he was cheating on her too, with a woman who he later cheated on me with as well but he used that as a reason why me having an ED didn’t bother him. What I didn’t click on to was that actually, I must of somehow met a criteria with my ED that was going to allow what followed, that my ED and the severity of it at that time was quite possibly the attraction in the first place. He knew about it as we were friends before, there were no surprises and I didn’t pretend to be someone I wasn’t. The love-bombing and mirroring began and it was successful, there was no way on earth I could exist without this man. His insistence initially that I needed help made me feel he cared and that he loved me although I was always conscious of the fact he hadn’t tried anything before when I was overweight. I questioned myself constantly if I was only attractive to him if I was skinny. I question myself now if that’s why I’ve not been shall we say, overly geared toward recovery in the past before we separated. I wasn’t happy to keep my ED, but with all the rules of his about what I should or shouldn’t be I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t petrified more so that anything I did would land me in more pain.
For all the times he told me I was beautiful, he’d take it away with a remark out of leftfield, like the time we sat at a concert and he told me if he saw me in a bar, he wouldn’t bother talking to me. I asked him why and he said he wasn’t attracted to me now, quite flippantly. It hurt me so much that I couldn’t not cry when he went to get a drink, but I made sure the tears were gone before he got back. When we were catching the tube home after and I said that hurt, he sighed and said he’s told me often enough I’m beautiful, my issue if that’s what I want to fixate on. My problem. My fault. And my ED with all its glorious amounts of guilt, loathing and zero self-worth fed off of every single verbal backhander he served me. This man was never on my doorstep to champion me, to encourage me, to care for me or love me. I was someone to destroy in anyway he could. I was sport. I was power. I still struggle with the knowledge that people like that are actually real. I still struggle even though I finally know it now, that this is really who he is. I struggle because I fell for it and I let him do those things to me.
What I also didn’t consider when he said I needed help, was where that put me in both his eyes and mine. He never helped me himself, just told me at the start I needed it. He never read up, he never asked what I needed him to do, he never asked how I felt or tried to understand. I was absolutely of course, never allowed to talk about it. When I did want to eat somewhere specific, he wouldn’t encourage it and we’d always end up where he wanted. But telling me I needed help, starting the relationship like that immediately put this dynamic in place on every single aspect of it. He was alright, stable, healthy, logical and strong and I needed help. He was right and I needed help. No he wasn’t cheating again, it was my anxiety, my paranoia… until it wasn’t and then it was just my fault. His impulses be it heavy drinking, abuse, cheating and lying always came back to me and that I wasn’t capable of doing whatever needed to happen to stop it, because I was ‘sick in the head’. Weak. And because I couldn’t get out of the relationship with him or my ED, it reinforced the feeling all the time that this was all me and I was lucky to have him. I was lucky he put up with me. I was lucky he accepted me. I was lucky he tolerated me. I was nothing more than a burden for him and I should be grateful, even if I knew our perfect couple image to the world was total bullshit that I even got to act out that lie. He was charming and warm and funny to everyone in our lives, so even when they knew what he’d done (which I was careful not share too much of) they forgave him and told me we were brilliant together. So then it’s me. My fault. My problem. Keep trying.
I can say this now. I can admit it as ridiculously hard as it is to, harder than ever admitting to having my ED. I can admit I stayed through that, that I chose to stay through that. That I believed this was love and it was exactly the love I deserved. He wasn’t my ED, my ED wasn’t him but they fed off of each other so seamlessly because I let them. Because I thought my strength came out of my ability to endure rather than the ability to let go. I thought my courage was to lay in a bed shaking and show I wasn’t budging, that he didn’t scare me. I thought my courage came from hiding pain. I thought my resilience came from forgiving him. I thought I could love him enough to make him see my worth, even though we both knew I couldn’t see it for myself. He needed that. My ED needed that. The moment I found the strength to start letting go of him, I started finding the strength to want to let go of this. If you are reading this and you are in a relationship with someone that makes you feel you are less than, that you deserve hurt, that you are only valid if you are silent and you are too petrified to discover what you are on your own like I was… run. I beg you. Facing that fear isn’t nearly as tough as enduring and you can do that.
The shame I feel for it will never quite leave, but I will never let it be loud enough to back me into anymore bedroom corners again. I wouldn’t take back the lessons I’ve learned and most importantly, the strength I’ve now truly gained. It’s me in my head now and I’m so much kinder to myself than he ever would have been, so now I really have a chance. I intend to take it.
He was absolutely right about one thing, no one will ever love me like he did. I will never, ever let someone love me like that again and that was on the assumption, it was actually love. Now I know it wasn’t. What I’m doing for myself right now? This is.
Who’s got the power now, kid?