I was in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Seeing that written in black and white is hard to swallow. It’s… stark. Undeniable. My admission. I’m not sure I can formulate the words aloud just yet. I wonder if this is how an alcoholic feels attending their first AA meeting? It’s terrifying, yet cathartic.
It has taken me a long time to admit to myself and close friends that my previous relationship was a toxic one. And, although I’ve admitted it, I wouldn’t say I have accepted, dealt with or moved on from it yet. It’s something I like to file away under, “Deal With Later” within the “Pretend That Didn’t Happen” part of my brain. It’s not something I am open with for a multitude of reasons but most interestingly, the dominant feeling is “I don’t want to make him seem like a bad guy.” This is an inane thought; he is a bad guy. I shouldn’t care about defamation of character: these are events that happened to me, and if he doesn’t wish for me to share them, well, he shouldn’t have been such a fucking c**t. However, as much as I would love to let the false bravado win, I am overwhelmed with guilt by writing and subsequently posting this article. I am determined to post it, though, no matter how long it takes me to work up the nerve. It’s part of the healing process.
I will never mention him by name, in part to protect him, and in part because he does not deserve a name.
I was with him for over a year. By the time it was over it had been two years since we’d met, although we were not together all that time. It took me a while to agree to go out with him; I remember seeing him when I came for my interview and thinking what a cocky twat he looked like. I didn’t think he was good-looking, either. However, I had broken up with my then-boyfriend, was living in the middle of nowhere, away from all my friends and family (read: isolated and lonely af.) and thought “What the hell do I have to lose?”
He was funny and surprisingly charming at first. That’s what led me to agree to the first date. He was the first person to make me feel special and do small, yet powerful, romantic gestures. If he was on the late shift, there would be a post-it note left on my desk to come into in the morning. If I was working late, he would bring me coffee and cheer me up with stories from the front of house, or something he had seen online. Single roses would be left in a glass by my computer. He was something I hadn’t experienced before. Christ, he was the first guy to actually take me on a “proper” date – he wore a casual suit jacket, had on perfume, and picked me up in his car! I was positively swooning like a teenage girl.
As I later found out, the first night we had gone out he had been in London beforehand meeting a… person… with plans that weren’t entirely platonic in nature. He had worn the suit jacket for… them… and come straight to me after. (Side note: Interestingly, whilst I perhaps – in some people’s minds, anyway – deserve to dish all the gory details, I can’t help but feel a desire to protect him and his reputation somewhat.)
In the beginning, it was all “I’m coming in 15 to take you out for pizza,” and “Get dressed, you’re coming to this birthday party with me,” which seemed delightful at the time. No longer was I spending evenings alone, hiding, in my rented, prison-cell room with a crazed-hippie lady I was desperately trying to avoid. I wasn’t alone, bored and sad. I had plans and someone who wanted my company! Someone who made the effort to come and get me! Someone funny, and charming! I was happy.
He knew how uncomfortable I was in the rented room I was reluctant to call “home“, so I had an open invitation to stay at his whenever I liked. Which was a lot. I still don’t know how two adults, sized as we were, managed to sleep on a single bed for so long. But we managed and space was quickly made for my clothes. Before long, I was living-but-not-officially-living with him.
I can’t tell you exactly when things changed. I don’t remember: there is no defining moment for me. But things did, and drastically. One of my dear friends who was living in the same courtyard as us used to whisper to me, “You two seem so happy! It’s so nice to see! I come out for a cigarette late and all I can hear is you two laughing so loud! I want that!” She used to beam and call us the “happy couple”. Then, it changed and she used to sigh, cuss him out in her own native tongue and say to me, “What has he done now, honey-boo-boo?!” as I tried to hide my tears.
My life had changed completely. From happy – possibly, probably, potentially in-love – to a constant battle-field of screaming matches, tears, and walk-outs. The next events I relay to you won’t be in order as that time of my life, although recent, is such a jumbled mess of mayhem that I cannot comprehend it properly.
I think it started with my weight. Ever since puberty really hit me I’ve not been slim. Whilst never obese, I’ve always been on the “curvey” spectrum with my 5 foot 5 (and a half!) height weighing in at the top-end of 10 stone, maxing out at 11 stone. He was a guy who spent 6 days out of 7 at the gym. He was used to the petite girls of his country that were as slim as a rake but curvy in the right places. Maybe it was gentle encouragement in the beginning, but it soon wasn’t. I vaguely remember one of the first times we were having sex he said, “I can’t wait ’til we get you in the gym.”
Soon any subtly had long-since left and he was incessantly grabbing at my love handles, thighs and belly. Pinching and pulling all my fat in disgust. I would be in the bath, and he would laugh hysterically: “You look like Homer Simpson! Your sagging boobs resting on your belly are his eyes, and your belly rolls are his mouth!” Oh, how he laughed. I can’t say that I did. Unfortunately, that name stuck. He tried to get me to go to the gym many times: I went now and then but never for long. So instead, he controlled what I ate.
My diet, which had previously been entirely junk-food based, had changed into a strict regime mostly consisting of eggs and protein-filled granola. Yes, maybe I sound harsh by saying this: “He was encouraging you to eat healthily, how is that bad?!” The issue lies in my lack of choice, not what he was making me eat. If I want to only eat junk-food, I should be able to. Instead, every calorie was monitored. I used to buy kit-kats and hide them in obscure places, hoping he wouldn’t find them. Then, I’d sneak the wrappers out later and put them in the public bins at work. This was after many incidents of me buying food I wanted, and suffering his aggressive screaming, calling me fat pig – and any other name you care to think of – and throwing it in the garbage. We didn’t have much money at the time; I remember yelling at him, “That’s my money. I bought that with my money! You can’t throw it away! You don’t get to do that!” but he did. And the days that he didn’t, he used to eat them in front of me citing, “I’m fit so I get to eat it. You’re too fat.”
It was something that followed us to work. At this point, I had changed departments and we worked pretty much alongside each other. If we weren’t working the same shift, it would most likely be one that overlapped. He would check what I was eating: Had I taken any of the afternoon tea cakes from the lounge? How many coffees had I had? With how much sugar? Stop it. You don’t need it. You’ll stay fat. On many occasions, the girls I worked with would try to intervene, half-heartedly saying, “Come on, leave her alone.” Some of the older ladies would look on concerned, “He’s quite controlling, isn’t he?” I just smiled, said, “yeah,” and laughed it off. What else could I say? By the next day he would have flattered them into forgetting, anyway.
When he wasn’t repeatedly picking on my size, he was calling me stupid. That, besides Homer, seemed to be one of his favourite insults. Everything was always my fault, and I was always stupid. I distinctly remember one incident where his coffee spilled on the floor. He had rested it on the arm on the sofa (not on the coffee table in front of him). I moved on the sofa, which caused it (and the arm) to move. His coffee fell onto our fresh, new carpet. I immediately jumped up and started cleaning it – he was far too busy screaming his head off to do anything about it – and then he started: “Why did you do that? You’re so fucking stupid! You idiot! Look what you did! The new carpet! Clean it up. Make me another one. I cannot believe you fucking did that.” I stopped and looked at him like he’d grown a third head, “Excuse me?! I didn’t do this! Why did you put your coffee on the fucking arm? Why not use the table? What it’s there for?!” At this point, his head was likely to explode. I could see fire radiating from him, “Me? You think this is my fault? You are the clumsy one. You fucking knocked it. You did this. You’re so stupid!” I know that, had roles been reversed, it would have most definitely been my fault for leaving the coffee somewhere so precarious – what a stupid place it would have been to put it, and how stupid I would have been for putting it there.
Shouting and fights were consistent throughout our relationship. Neighbours would comment on it. My close friend who once enjoyed our laughter was now concerned with our screaming matches.
I didn’t realise how used to his name-calling I was until I got together with my current partner. The first time I had what I jokingly-term flashbacks was when I was laying in bed with my current man, and my foot accidentally caught the power on/off button of the computer that sits at the end of his bed. I froze, curled up into the fetal position somewhat, and began frantically apologising, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m such an idiot. I should have been more careful. I’m so sorry.” My new man looked at me oddly, “Why are you apologising? It was an accident. It’ll take a minute to turn back on.” Wait, what? Where was the shouting and name-calling? Where was the verbal attack?
More recently, we were sitting in bed and I was trying to revise but I’d lost a crucial piece of paper. I looked through my notebook three times, under the cover, under my butt and couldn’t find it anywhere. I was getting annoyed and jokingly asked my man, “Did you steal it?!” Eventually, I found it… in my notebook. I immediately called myself stupid – I had got myself into this habit: if I called myself stupid first, it wouldn’t hurt so much when he did – and prattled on about what an idiot I was. My partner leaned over, moving his hand towards my head. I flinched right back. We froze. Then, he continued moving, brushed my hair back off my forehead and kissed me there before saying he was going for a cigarette. What was a moment of endearment I had seen as an attack.
I was lucky though; he was never really violent. Not to me. He threw a bowl at me which shattered on the floor into a thousand pieces. I used to see the anger in his muscles. He pinned me to the floor a few times, and frequently smacked me upside the head for being “stupid”. But he never beat me. Although, he did like to remind me of the time he threw his ex against the wardrobe, whacking her head into the wood. “It was her own fault,” he would say. “She deliberately pushed my buttons.” That story always hung heavy in the air; a blanketing threat. My friends recall a time when we were at theirs for some party or get-together. There were the usual low-rent snacks on the kitchen table I was picking at. They say, I started eating something – crisps, maybe – and suddenly a resounding slap echoed across the room as his heavy palm whacked against my thigh. He told me off for eating what I wasn’t allowed. They say I didn’t even look up – it was normal for me – however, my friends and family froze, and stared at each other in shock. “What the fuck was that? Do we do something?” They later said to one another when we were out of earshot.
And they did try: they broached the subject of him not being such a nice guy. But I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t see it. Or I did but felt I had no other options. One, poor friend, in particular, used to have me crying on the phone, or on her sofa surrounded by her cats, “I can’t do it anymore! We’re over!” I would wail, then be back in his bed the very same night. They must have been sick of it, and me. And at the same time, he was also poisoning me against my friends. My bestie, my longest running friend of 6-or-7 years at the time, he tried to turn me against. “She’s no good for you. You’re better than her. Stay away, she’ll only bring you down. You don’t need other friends; you have me.” He even made exorbitant fusses whenever we went to see my family to try and stop me from going. He was isolating me; making me believe that I could only depend on him. He was the only one I needed; everyone else was bad for me.
So he called me fat; called me stupid; controlled what I ate; was openly hostile (although not violent); tried turning me against my friends and family, and began controlling who I saw. I had no self-confidence. I didn’t know who to trust. I saw myself as this ugly, fat thing. I started doubting my intelligence. I was a shell of who I was. And then came the sex.
I would have previously deemed myself a sexually confident individual. Whilst not a whore, sex has never been something I’ve blushed at or shied away from: I’ve always been comfortable with it. He ruined that for me. This is something I struggle with the most. Because, he has taken something positive and made it a raw, vulnerable experience for me. Every advance I made was shut down: either by anger, or ridicule. Repeatedly. Over, and over. It was on his schedule, whether I wanted it really, or not. I am not accusing him of rape – I never said no – though there were many times I did not want it to happen. Other times I would be pinned to the floor saying, “No!” and I wasn’t truly sure if he was going to stop. He was so strong. But he did, eventually. Other times, he would look at my naked form, disgusted, and toss me aside. Eventually, he pushed me down on the hard, carpeted floor whilst I was wearing nothing but my knickers. His muscular form loomed over me. Looking down, he said, “What can I say? You’re not sexually attractive to me.” I was in shock: I wanted to cry. My partner, who was supposed to love me doesn’t find me sexually attractive? Tears started to well. “Oh, you’re not going to cry now, are you? Baby. You don’t do it for me, get over it.”
And so, he told me about all the different pussies he’d fucked that were better than mine. He’d tell me whilst he fucked me. I would walk in on him filming himself doing… things… that he would send to other… people. But I had to be OK with it because it was giving him the sexual satisfaction that I wasn’t giving him.
I remember the first time I found his online… dating… profile. He was at the gym, and I knew something wasn’t right. It was there, on his laptop. He’d used the pictures from our Valentine’s weekend break together to attract new pussy. I broke. My friend, that lovely, lovely friend who used to comment on our laughter hammered on the door calling my name, “Are you okay?!” I wanted to seek out her comfort, but I couldn’t move. I was so ashamed. I wept. I howled. I packed my bags. I left. She was waiting for me outside, “Are you okay? What’s going on? Did he hurt you? From that noise, I thought he’d killed you! Are you hurt?” I couldn’t form words. I could only cry as I tried to drag all my bags into the car. That was one of the many times I left. I always came back. He was always sorry, apologetic, and sweet. He would promise it would never happen again. But it always did. Back to normal: a normality I had to accept. It became so normal that when I walked in on him whacking one out on webcam, I didn’t bat an eye. I simply left the room again to let him – and whoever was on the other end – finish.
I don’t think I can ever convey in words what I experienced. I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t experienced it can ever understand. You can’t know what it’s like to drink a bottle of rum alone on your birthday, then take yourself off to the bathroom at midnight to hysterically cry and slice your leg open with a mutilated razorblade as you sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. All because the person who’s supposed to love you hasn’t said one word to you all day. The person you woke up in bed with that morning, spent all day at work with and sat next to in the evening. All that time and not a single word exchanged. Not one single “Happy Birthday”.
As much as I have gone on, I can never convey it all. But you will never hear me say that what I experienced is the worst. There are people in far worse positions than I was ever in. Equally, I wasn’t left beaten and bruised. However, I still suffer from the lasting effects of that toxic relationship.
Today, it still lingers. It is in my flinches when my love tries to kiss my forehead. It is in what I see in the mirror. It is in my anxiety attacks that tell me I’m not good enough. It is in his voice that never seems to leave my head, forever reprimanding. It remains in my altered sexuality and confidence. It is in my distrust and skepticism.
I hope, one day, he finally leaves me. But that day is not today.
This is my story of emotional abuse.