“I’ve been with girls who would put you to shame.”
“For someone who works out so much, you sure don’t look like it.”
Two statements from two different guys.
I was with the first for almost 6 years and the second for 10 years. I wish I could say that’s the worst they ever said to me . . .
When I was growing up, my dad was physically and emotionally abusive. Combine that with growing up poor and never feeling like I was good enough, and what you get is the perfect recipe for the 15+ years of unhealthy, emotionally abusive relationships that would follow.
A friend said to me recently, “You don’t seem like someone who would take shit from someone.” I never saw myself being that person either. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like you slowly give up a little of yourself time and time again, and they figure out what works to control you. And when something doesn’t work, they try something else, like either being meaner or maybe even being nicer. They withhold love and attention so that you’re compelled to work for it—to earn it—and when you finally get their affection, it literally gets you high. And then you’re left working and waiting for your next hit. That hit doesn’t come easily and it’s costly.
And when things are “good,” you work hard not to rock the boat; you walk on eggshells and try to keep them happy because it’s easier than dealing with the alternative. Over time you start to doubt yourself, like maybe you are as stupid as they say.
My ex-husband was extremely manipulative, controlling, and verbally abusive. I wasn’t allowed to do certain things. I wasn’t allowed to go to the mall with one friend, play basketball with another, or travel overseas to see my best friend, even though I was a grown woman with a job (two to three jobs at any given time, to be exact). If you have never been in an abusive relationship of any kind, it probably sounds ridiculous to hear me say I wasn’tallowedto do things. I get it. It sounds completely ridiculous to me now.
Every morning, I’d again feel sick to my stomach as I came home from the gym. If the kitchen blinds were open, that meant he was awake and who knew what mood he’d already be in. If the blinds were shut, he was still asleep. I’d pray every morning for those blinds to be shut.
I’d get physically sick when I saw his name pop up on my phone while I was at work. What had I done now? It was usually a call or a text about how I had done something wrong and how stupid, lazy, and retarded I was.
Toward the end of my marriage, I began accepting the things he said to me, like that I was stupid, even to the point that I began to feel like a fraud at work, like I was unqualified and undeserving of my position.
While I had thought about leaving so many times, fear kept me from leaving. Yes, I was in this horrible, unhealthy relationship, but I felt like I had made it in life. I had this nice house, a nice car, a snowmobile, a dirt bike, a camper—all of these material things that I was afraid of losing because I was afraid of starting over and being poor again.
What’s crazy is, after everything I went through, he. left. me. You read that right. He left me for someone else. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the night he told me he was leaving me, I cried and begged him not to leave. BEGGED!! BEGGED!!
Looking back, I can’t believe that was me in that marriage. I knew the relationship was unhealthy while I was in it, but I didn’t really see how sick I was until I was out of it. Yes, ex-husband and the guy before him were assholes, but I played a part too. I was choosing these assholes and allowing them to treat me that way.
When I think back to the person I was in my previous relationships, it makes me really sad. That girl had little to no respect for herself. She didn’t fully know her worth or how she deserved to be treated. She didn’t have clear boundaries in her relationship or even her friendships, for that matter.
My ex-husband leaving me is the best thing that has ever happened to me, hands down. I got a roommate and picked up a second job again to make ends meet. I took time to focus on what made me happy. I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of relationship I wanted, how I wanted to be treated, and what I refused to put up with. I spent a lot of time reflecting on it, and I realized I would rather live alone for the rest of my life than ever live like that again.
It wasn’t until after my divorce that I got into backpacking. I bought a bunch of cheap gear on Amazon Prime Day, shoved everything into my pack super inefficiently, and set off into the mountains with two of my girlfriends. I will never forget how empowering it felt to hack away at a fallen tree for firewood, to filter water for cooking and drinking from a flowing stream, and to sit down at the end of a long, tiring day and enjoy good conversation with great friends and no distractions. It’s those feelings of strength and sisterhood that I want to pass on to other women, to know what it’s like to only have the stuff on their back, the women beside them, and—most importantly—themselves to count on.