Can You See Her? Hope After Abuse

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Calls are confidential.

I want to start by saying that not all addicts are abusers. And not all abusers are addicts. But in my case, he was. Both. Well, perhaps an “addict in denial,” but most definitely an abuser.

Of course, it didn’t start out like that. Did I think he drank “just a little too much?” Yes. But did I ever think that he’d put alcohol over me? Never. Did I think he loved me? Of course! At least, in the beginning. But in reality, he was more in love with himself. After all, one of his past girlfriends had remarked that “he was like a God” to her, so it was no surprise that the narcissist that he was lapped that up and believed it beyond all reasonable doubt.

But did I ever think that he would drive me to think about suicide, harm myself, and erode all of my self-confidence? No. Never.

I was a confident, well-traveled young British woman when I met him. But I was vulnerable. And grieving. At least, I know that now. I didn’t know it then.

Grief is a funny thing. It doesn’t always look like you think it looks. I had just lost my first husband to sudden death in my mid-30’s and struggling to re-find “my place” as a young widow in, what was to me, an alien world. I didn’t “fit” into all of the societal boxes anymore. What to do?

Looking back, it was no surprise that I was attracted to the charming American I met on vacation and the life that he offered far away from judging eyes, and the traditional values of my British roots. I felt like someone “got me” – finally. And starting a new life with him in a new country was the breath of fresh air that I much needed.

At least, that’s how he presented himself in those early days. Of course, I now know that that was just a façade. A trick to lure me, hook me, and never let me go. Whether intentional or not, there were many times that he could have proved his love to me. But instead, he consumed me, chewed me up, and spat out my shattered heart on the sidewalk. The little questions: “Should someone like you wear that, darling?” The subtle erosion at my self-confidence: “You’re too sensitive.” The isolation from all I knew and loved, built up ever so slowly over the years until I became a neurotic, needy unrecognizable shadow of my former self.

Of course, I begged him to stop drinking. Many times. I thought that I was the one who was “going to save him.” Three ex-wives, numerous ex-girlfriends just “didn’t get him.” But I did. He laughed in my face. The snap and hiss of a beer can popping open at 6 am, as I opened my eyes to greet the day, became a sound of dread and fear. I still jump when I hear it. It signaled that my day could go south before it had even begun. Yet, I hid this shame from the world, fearful that I was the root cause of his drinking (even though he had begun long before I arrived on the scene), and I would just anger him more.

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When I couldn’t cope with the emotional burden anymore, I began to self-harm. It’s true. It does help to relieve the pain for a moment, albeit at the cost of scars deep within the skin. I even told him what I was doing, and he begged me not to tell anyone. He made me promise that I wouldn’t reveal to anyone about what I was doing, even though it was a blatant cry for help. He was ashamed that people would ask, “Why?” and it would reflect badly on him. He convinced me that I would be “taken away” from my beloved dog as people would see me as mad. It wasn’t until years later that I actually saw his smirk as he turned away. And so, I carried on. In secret. And he carried on. Drinking. In secret.

But when I looked in his eyes that last time, they were dead. And I knew. I wasn’t going to let fear rule my life anymore.Some nights, in the early years, I packed a bag and drove around in the dark, crying my eyes out, alone and lost, never quite having the courage to leave him. After all, where would I go? He was very fond of reminding me that I couldn’t manage without him – financially, emotionally, and physically, even though the money was mine (in the end, I had to ask him permission to have some of my money), and I had been a confident, self-supporting young woman when I met him. Who was she again? I did not recognize the face staring back at me in the mirror most days.

I tiptoed around him on eggshells. He could snap at nothing. And “punish” me for days with a deafening silence. When I did challenge him on anything, it never turned out well. Like the time that I was having a panic attack going down the freeway, due to his erratic driving, begging him to stop the car and let me out. I was literally clawing at the door handle and window, hyperventilating, and he just looked at me blankly and said if we stopped now, it would take longer to get there. Longer before he could have a drink, was what he meant. Or the time that he popped open a beer can, 10 minutes from home, while driving. “Can’t you wait?” I questioned nervously “We’ll be home soon.” He yelled at me. “I’m thirsty!” and continued to swig back the beer can. I asked for a police cruiser to go by. Please stop him I prayed silently. But it never happened.

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The day that I finally began the long journey to leaving him (for real. There had been many “aborted” attempts previously) was not planned. A routine doctor’s visit led to an outpouring of grief, and I blurted out my sorry tale. She didn’t look surprised. Or judgmental. She calmly assured me that the worse was now over and that I was no longer alone.

From there I started therapy and was then referred to the local domestic abuse legal support team. As she sat there explaining I needed a “safety plan,” I still disbelieved that she was talking about me. Why do I need a safety plan? After a series of questions, she determined that I had answered 8 of the 18 questions in a way that the police profiled how women had been killed by a partner. That meant I was at 44.44% risk of losing my life if I stayed with him. He had even told me that “in the past” he would have hit me for something. He only pounded on me once in his sleep. But the constant fear was there. Did I want to stay with him until he had me against a wall in a drunken blackout with no escape? I was in shock.

Of course, he sucked me back in several times before first came the separation, and then the final “no contact” and divorce. He lied to me and used me again within that time. But when I looked in his eyes that last time, they were dead. And I knew. I wasn’t going to let fear rule my life anymore.

With the help and support of family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, I got back on my feet, established a safe home, created a garden, and built a business. I look back at old photos and now see the beautiful young woman who was there all the time. Confident, outgoing, independent, and strong. I just couldn’t see her.

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Last Updated on January 10, 2022

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