After enduring this abuse for so long, I had finally ended it. But my emotional suffering didn’t stop there.
Then, one afternoon I returned to my apartment with a friend to pick up my mail and check on things. My heart sank into my stomach as I saw a large square package duct taped to my front door. I moved closer to the door and saw it was a letter. 22 pages front and back handwritten on notebook paper.
The letter started as you would guess, he was sorry, just talk to him, things will be better. I kept that letter for many years, to remind me of his two sides. By the end of the letter, the handwriting was hard and jagged. And again, I was the cause of his behavior. If I were just more this, and less that. And why couldn’t I understand how hurtful and disrespectful my behavior was?
But my emotional suffering continued.
For many years after leaving my abusive relationship, I continued to have nightmares about him. Even up until this last month, when something stressful or anxiety producing was happening in my life. I would end up dreaming about him, upset and confused as to how I could have ended up with him. The emotional suffering is long lasting.
Ironically, my running habit started one night at 3 am when I was sprinting from his dorm trying to get away from him. I ran almost two miles before I realized, “wow, I can run pretty well.” This new found hobby eventually led me to run marathons and half marathons. I didn’t realize at the time that running was an attempt to heal myself, it was physically and mentally cathartic. It is still my go-to method of settling myself or thinking through the tough stuff.
Last month, a friend of mine passed very unexpectedly. I was on her Facebook page, scrolling through all of the messages of condolences and fond memories of her. A name caught my attention. I looked at the profile picture of a woman with her family. Then, I instantly was sick and knew what I was looking at. I clicked the profile and was met with a family portrait of my former boyfriend, his wife, and their two children. I stared at the photo, still in disbelief.
He was rounder, softer, and not at all physically imposing. When we were dating he was very muscular, strong and athletic. Life has affected him in the way it affects most parents of young children (I’m not judging). But I was struck at the effect seeing that picture had on me. In my mind, he was still that younger, raging man. I looked at his children and wife and prayed that he was the person he was when we were children. I hoped he had found his way, and that he was happy. But, I haven’t had a nightmare about him since. Seeing that picture was like having someone flip on the light switch, and instantly, there was no more darkness, nothing to be afraid of.
Keeping it from my family
Not many people know this story. My parents to this day only know a shortened, much more sanitized version of what I lived through. My husband does not know the details of my time with him either. I showed him the photo, and for the first time in sixteen years, I shared more of the details with him than I ever had – including the continued nightmares and emotional suffering. I could see him try to control the look of shock on his face.
The point is the people closest to me in the world had no idea. I wanted it kept that way because I was humiliated. One day soon I will need to find the strength to share my story with my girls – before they begin to date, and certainly before they head off on their own. I know they will be shocked, and probably sad for me. They won’t recognize the person I describe as their mom, but then again, I am not.
Talk to your children about their dating behavior, and healthy boundaries. Make sure they know that finding themselves in an abusive situation is not a failure, and it is not their fault. Do not take it for granted that it won’t happen to your child. If it can happen to me, it can happen to them, and you may not even know it. Take the time this summer to talk to your newly minted graduates before they head off on their own. It may save their life. Go to this website for more resources on helping with abuse.