My ex-boyfriend of 5 years changed the way I do certain things.
- I used to say “supposebly” and now I say “supposedly”.
- I button up the very top button on collared shirts when I hang them to maintain the shape of the collar.
- I cut my food with my fork behind my knife instead of in front of my knife.
- I listen to recipes when they call for cutting food a certain way (ie: chop, dice, slice)
You may be thinking that my ex has imparted helpful wisdom. You may be thinking that he has helped me learn how to speak better, perform tasks better and gave me skills I did not have before. I’m sorry. That assumption would be wrong. My life was fine when I did none of the above. No one hated me because I added a “B” to supposedly or because I cut my food the way I wanted to. But my ex’s life was not fine when I did those things and he let me know it.
All of the above I changed out of fear. Not because I saw the value it would add to my life. I changed it because not doing it meant I would be yelled at and belittled. Even though I have not been with that ex for almost 3 years I still do all of the above because I am afraid that if I do not then I may be at risk for more yelling and belittling from my current partner (who could care less how I talk, do laundry or cut food). This is the power of abuse.
Other things he taught me:
- To be ashamed of the music I listen to.
- Not knowing something is bad.
- If I do not do something right I am a bad person.
- My needs don’t matter.
- I need to change who I am.
The impact the abuse had on my mental health was staggering. Where I noticed it a lot was in my ability to make decisions. Every small decision caused me great agony because choosing the “wrong” thing usually meant disappointing my ex and causing a fight. I struggled to pick a restaurant as if he was upset with his meal he would mope for the rest of the day. I dreaded picking out new clothes for myself in case he didn’t like what I bought and told me I looked bad in it. I broke down in tears frequently because I was so afraid to make a decision.
With my mental health steadily declining, I knew I had to leave the relationship (if I could even call it that). Leaving was the first step in improving my whole life. Not living in fear meant I could focus on healing and becoming the person I wanted to be. There are a few other key things I did that have contributed the most to my healing process.
The first is reading books/articles that support me in understanding what I went through. Even though I knew the abuse was wrong, in the beginning, a part of me still blamed myself. Reading books and articles that told me I had done nothing wrong and that the abuse was the responsibility of the other person validated me. Reading the stories of others who had lived in and left abusive relationships reminded me that I am not alone in my healing. A book that really helped me was Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft.
The second, finding a good partner. After finding myself in many abusive relationships, it was time for me to find a person that would build me up. I decided I would not settle for someone who treated me any less than what I knew I deserved. This meant I had to be ok with being alone. I needed to respect myself, my values and boundaries. I am fortunate to have found a good partner in someone I have known for many years.
And the third was reminding myself every day that I am safe. When I entered into my current relationship, I found myself constantly on guard and ready to attack. If my partner and I made dinner together it frequently ended in a huge fight because I interpreted everything as an assault on me. I figured that if I was ready to be hurt by my partner then I wouldn’t get hurt (this did not work at all). With the support of my partner, I began to tell myself that I was safe. If he did something that made the alarm bells go off in my head I would ask, “Is that a suggestion or are you telling me to do that?” He would lovingly reply that it was a suggestion and we would carry on. When I found myself buttoning up the top button on my partner’s collared shirts I tell myself that I am safe. Nothing bad will happen if I choose to not button up the top button.
This healing process has taken time. It is not over. I am a million steps ahead of here I was 3 years ago. Everyone will have a different journey, different skills that help you cope and heal. Even if what I have done isn’t what you would do, I hope my story can at least let you know that you are not alone.
About Kristen Bellows
Kristen lives in Southern Ontario with her partner and their new baby boy! She identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. Kristen is a registered social work, working as a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) skills group facilitator. She is also training to become a birth and postpartum doula. Since giving birth, Kristen has become interested in exploring how mental health issues intersect with motherhood. Kristen identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. She loves cats, reading, singing, pickles and learning. You can read more of Kristen's blog posts on her personal blog www.prideinmadness.wordpress.com