An open letter to my ex boyfriend,
To the untrained eye, the letter you left me might look like an apology. From your selfish mind it may even have felt like that. But were you really feeling sorry, or just sorry for yourself? In some ways, I am pretty attached to it - it’s one of the few bits of tangible truth that I have. One of the few times you openly admitted to me and to yourself that you were physically abusive.
The more disentangled the shit show that was our life became, the more you stopped bothering to apologise to me for the pain you were causing. The more energy you started pouring into the lies you were telling other people. The more your time and efforts went into convincing people (and yourself) that it wasn’t abuse, but mutual combat.
The couple of times that you hurt me enough that I hit you back, suddenly became common knowledge. People could recount the details of your minor injuries at the drop of a hat, but the story never started at the beginning did it? It never covered what you were doing immediately before I retaliated; it always started in the middle, from the point where you broke me and I hit you back. That’s the problem when someone has such a delicate ego.
When you met me you probably had the lowest self esteem of anyone I’d ever met. You felt continually victimised by your friends, your family and your peers. There were so many times that I heard stories that sounded trivial to me (like the time you were blamed for pulling the cat’s tail?), that seemed to have shaped you as a person. I couldn’t really understand it, but I bought into it.
The first few months we got to know each other were very strange. Looking back, I can see the signs now of the control and abuse that was to come. You were totally unable to let me live a life independent to yours. When I was with you, you doted on me, you told me you adored me and that I was your world. When we were apart, it was different though, a barrage of texts and phone calls - demanding to know where I was, demanding to know who I was with, demanding for me to come home.
You were vulnerable. Different. Someone who had always felt like an outsider in life. It was like you created your persona to evoke my empathy: a kind and thoughtful guy, who had always been misunderstood. You just needed some kindness, I thought, someone who was open to mental illness and all the symptoms that go along with it. You quickly got me to open up about my experiences with mum, and you know as well as I do that it wasn’t long before that got used against me.
I was so far under your fucked up spell that I didn’t ever blame you. ‘Being drunk’ became an acceptable excuse for you to punch me in the face, throw food at me, wake me up in the middle of the night by dragging me out of bed, snapping my phone, pinching my face, smashing my head against the wall in our flat, looking me straight in the eyes while you strangled me.
Instead I blamed your friends and family, I genuinely believed that if they were more supportive of you, you’d stop. You were happy for me to believe this, of course you were, it fitted in so well with your victim agenda. You fed this theory. Always complaining about someone or something, before taking it out on me.
The more I tried to help you, the more you lashed out. The more I forgave, the more you started to blame me. It was like you grew stronger, the more you broke me down. Like some weird homage to Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets.
On a daily basis, you wore me down. I was regularly called a slut, a whore, a bitch, selfish, lazy, manipulative and spiteful. The abuse never stopped, each time I tried to remain numb to it, you’d keep on going until I’d show emotion. Mostly I pleaded, to which you’d call me pathetic. Sometimes I’d cry, and you’d imitate me and laugh. “Your life has been so easy,” you’d say “what have you got to cry about?” and then you’d list all the things that had been difficult in your life, repeatin the cat story, as if it somehow justified your cruelty.
First you made me numb. I didn’t trust my own emotions anymore, they had to go. Any emotion I dared show would be used against me. I became untrusting of everyone. I started my new job and I’d come to work and be silent; not daring to build any friendships with my colleagues, for fear you’d disapprove. I stopped being able to understand laughter, how did other people find things to laugh about?
I stopped spending time with my friends and family. They stopped wanting to spend time with us as a couple, and I’d rarely be anywhere on my own. Partly, you didn’t like it - you’d convince me that people were rude to you, that it was their fault. Partly, I didn’t want to leave your side, for fearing that I’d miss one of the few times you would show me kindness.
The more perceptive of my friends clung on. Waiting in the wings, praying for the end that they hoped would come. They could see the change in me, it was intense and sudden and they had known me for many years. They couldn’t understand why I had chosen you. Why had I chosen to spend time with someone who publicly sulked and lost his temper, someone who couldn’t even play a board game without storming out and slamming doors. They couldn’t understand why I would always justify your bad behaviour, why I would comfort you instead of standing up for myself.
Of course, they did understand. They knew full well what was going on. They only hoped it wasn’t true.
The point of no return was when you held a pillow to my face and pressed. I was lying on the bed. As still as I could. I thought I would die that day. The minute your curiosity outweighed your anger, you lifted the pillow up to look. What did you see in my eyes that day? Fear? Hate? Or just the regular numbness we’d both got accustomed to?
I locked myself in the bathroom. You put a lot of work into convincing me to come out. I knew better. I waited. I contacted a friend. I arranged a meeting place with the remaining 2% battery I had left. And when you’d softened enough that I could hear the worry in your voice, worry that I had called the police - I pushed past you and ran.
I have never been more grateful to see a friend. Never. She listened patiently as I sobbed my way through what had happened. The look of horror on her face was a reality check. I knew that it was how I should be feeling. How I would be feeling if I was sat on her side of the table. And so I knew I couldn’t go back. I felt so strong, so resilient and so I checked into a hotel room.
And I slept with someone else. Of course I did. You never really understood that, did you? How could you not understand that? All he had to do was be nice to me. It was that easy. He’d shown me kindness and affection at a time when I had nothing. At the time, he might have hated you more than I did.
Finally, I was out. I was free. We weren’t together anymore. We made each other promises. When I moved out, we’d try going on some dates. We’d find out if it was easier when we didn’t live together. You promised to get help, hell, you did get help. You went on medication. You became caring, gentle even. You started to show me the qualities that you had at the very start. I was hooked again.
One day I broke down into tears. “I don’t want to move out. I don’t want to leave you. I just want things to stay like this. I want to make it work.” I had something I needed to tell you though. I didn’t want to start our new relationship on a lie.
You sensed that I was scared, and you desperately wanted to know. You had been cheated on in the past, so it was something you’d almost been waiting to happen. You gave me your keys, and you locked yourself out. I told you through the kitchen door. You cried and I felt like a monster. You seemed so small. I never wanted to hurt this version of you. I loved Dr Jekyll, I only wanted to be free of Mr Hyde. You showed a surprising amount of understanding and I was overwhelmed. I felt so much relief, that I confused it with happiness.
It was different when we were apart though. You made sure that your friends knew exactly how much I had hurt you. How you were a better man, for showing forgiveness to a girl who was now tainted. A girl who had dared to seek affection elsewhere. You relished coming home and telling me who you had told and exactly what they thought of me.
Your friends, who had previously stood up for me, started to turn their backs. At least that is what you told me. “They think you’re disgusting. You’re just as bad as me. Nobody cares anymore. They can see what I see now.” You’d always called me a slut and a liar anyway, but people stopped protesting as much. People would say “you can’t let him speak to you like that.”, but nobody corrected you anymore. It was now my responsibility. My job to make things better. My job to leave.
And the violence crept in again, this time though - there was no reasoning with you. No hope for an apology, or for any mercy. My indiscretion gave you justification for the anger. In reality though, you were angry at everyone else too; your parents, your friends, your colleagues, your employer. Nothing was ever your fault.
You quit your job and roped me into lying to your family for you. I kept up the pretence that you were working. You drank most nights, it didn’t matter to you that you were rocking in at 4am on what was a work night for me. It didn’t matter to you if I stayed up crying, not knowing you were safe. Reliving the night that my mum was unaccounted for, terrified that the one time I didn’t stay up would be the time you would need me to.
Eventually, you reduced me to little more than an animal. Full of fear and anger and shame. I would become a screeching wild creature during our arguments. Backed into a corner. Your hands around my throat. Of course, I lashed out. When you pinned me down and hurt me, I’d dig my nails into your arms, your face or your shoulders. I’d leave little moon marks all over your skin. You would kick, punch and pinch me; always careful to never leave any permanent scars.
Except you did, didn’t you? I’m permanently scarred in so many ways. I see your behaviour in everyone around me. The slightest annoyance in my loved ones has me shutting down and wanting to run away. Fearful that they’ll become violent, terrified that it will prove your theory to be true; that I really did drive you to it.
It’s getting better with time and love. I no longer hallucinate. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night. I no longer scream and cry out in my sleep. I don’t always flinch when someone moves suddenly. I’ve learned to let love in.
So in response to your apology letter, I suppose this is a thank you note. Sincerely, thank you for walking away. Thank you for allowing me to stop being a victim and to become a survivor.
Against all odds, you set me free. My story is my own again.