On the heels of watching the interview with Anderson Cooper and Jennie Willoughby about her abusive ex-husband, Rob Porter, I just need to roar! YES Jennie! Thank you for your grace, your vulnerability and your courage to #standthefuckup!
It’s been 155 days since I had any contact with my abuser. 155 days to “get over it”. 155 days to “move on”, “let it go”, “forgive and forget.” But I will not get over it, although I am healing, I will not let it go although I will move beyond it and I will certainly not forgive and forget, although forgiveness will need to come. A forgiveness my abuser will never believe he needs to ask for because he, like Rob Porter, like other domestic violence perpetrators, will never own their crimes. I am stronger than I was, and I have no doubt that through working to understand what it is about me that needs healing so as to not be susceptible to abuse, I will be all the wiser and stronger because of it.
I know the words I’m choosing are harsh and some may judge them as overreacting. Fuck that. There is no overreacting in the pain and terror he caused. There was no over reacting when I experienced a constant “low grade terror” never knowing what I might do to set him off. There is some part of me that knew who he was from the start. I had an undercurrent of concern about the “slow erosion” of myself. I talked quite a bit about that concern of losing myself to a friend. And while I had that concern, I lost myself anyway. And that’s the scariest part of my experience. To be the victim of a master and while he was charming me and idolizing me and setting me up, he averted my attention away from the gut feeling I had and set the wheels in motion to ultimately try to destroy me.
When I worried about what size baggie I should use for left-over bacon or if I closed the toilet seat lid upstairs or where I left my shoes or God forbid, if I called the 'gravy' 'sauce' (seriously) – I know now that he created an unsafe environment where I never knew what the rules were until I broke them. Abusers set expectations not necessarily by saying “these are my expectations”. They tell stories of how bad their ex’s were as a way to teach the abused how to or how not to behave. It’s manipulative and it’s cumulative and it’s the “slow erosion” I feared. An example of this type of behavior was when my ex abuser told me how his ex-wife dared to embarrass him by wearing sweat pants to Home Depot. He said that she represented him when they were out and “can you believe she would wear sweats when we went to the store?” What that did was set the expectation for me on what I could or could not wear. Some may think that’s minor and I should have just said tough shit, but by that time, there was already a level of control set. I was already walking on egg shells and it doesn’t just happen in one day. It’s a process of first idolizing their victim and gaining the victims trust and mirroring the victims hopes and dreams. And then they test their abilities with very small controls, like sweat pants. I remember vividly thinking to myself, “okay, that’s easy enough to remember and not a big change I would need to make and okay, I’ll adapt.” And that is how they start.
The verbal abuse also comes slowly and they test their limits. They are experts at gaslighting and word salad where they will wear you down until you don’t have the strength to keep up the argument. You give in and hope to move past the issue. And that is a cycle that keeps repeating while the abuse becomes greater and you are eroded all the more. On one particularly frightening occasion, my abuser, we’ll call him Ant, had a black-out rage that had me shaking to the core. I was in shock and I was terrorized. It was the first major trauma I experienced in the relationship. The vile he spewed was as if the devil himself took hold of the Ant I knew and loved and the Ant that loved me. The next morning, he claimed to have no memory of the incident, just bits and pieces. The apologies felt authentic, the excuse of having a bad reaction to Benadryl was hopeful and the promises believable.
Jennie Willoughby so eloquently put it, “Abuse is an insidious
breakdown of the sense of self. It’s a systematic tearing down of what I knew to be true about myself”. When I finally stood up and pushed back was when he finally discarded me. But not before he sent me flowers with a card that read “we will meet again”. I take that as a clear warning. By that time, he had set his sights on his new victim and was already grooming her. I didn’t know it at the time but the women he kept warm on the side, the women that were “just friends” were being groomed and he was getting ready to move on. Ant detested his ex-wife so much that he was and likely still is determined to have the picture-perfect relationship. Not because he cares about his new victim, but he cares more about appearances. And because his ex-wife filed for separation, divorced him, kept the big house, kept custody of the children, created a happy, fulfilling life without him, he will forever be chasing revenge and trying his best to appear to be better off without her. I was one of his attempts to show her that he didn’t need her. She was the one that ended the relationship and for an abusive narcissist to suffer that blow, he will likely be seeking revenge for the rest of his life. I pray she has the happiest, most love-filled life and he witness that for his remaining days.
I gather strength from women that dare to share their experience and the bond I feel with them serves to strengthen me. I am fortunate that my abuser’s ex-wife was open to listen to me and validate my experiences and in turn share some of her torment. I am not alone in this. I am not ashamed of myself and I have a tribe that fully supports me. I am lifted up when women like Jennie Willoughby, Kiersten Parsons Hathcock (she's so smart and so kind), and Ant’s ex-wife show their bravery in standing up and saying no more hiding, no more shame. As my abuser’s ex-wife said to me, “you can’t be a domestic abuser if people know” and I brought his abuse to the light. And he can’t continue to claim that his ex-wife was crazy because now there are two of us who have experienced his abuse. And there will be more. And to them I say, reach out when you need to. It’s not you. You are not broken. He likely chose you because you are kind and beautiful with a soft heart. For those attributes, you should be proud. Don’t let him kill your spirit and #standthefuckup.