One of the most beautiful things to come out of surviving relationship abuse is the connection to others who went through something similar or are currently struggling to get out, like I was in early 2017..
Just this past week, a woman I’ve known for a while reached out sharing her latest journey through a relationship wrought with abuse and manipulation. She did what I did only with a different man: she broke up with him and then went back only to find there hasn’t been any real change. I remember how confusing it was for me to believe the promises only to realize I was trapped in a hamster wheel of pain and abuse. In fact, I’d packed up his stuff TWICE in a year’s time only to take him back both times. The hardest part about it was everyone around me knew what was happening but I was still stuck in a cycle that I didn’t understand.
Those of us who have been through it get it. Somewhere inside, we know it’s not rational but we can’t quite figure out why we keep giving the abusive partner more chances. It seems black and white to outsiders but to us, it feels like we’re living in a thick fog unable to see why something that felt so right went so wrong.
For those of you dealing with this right now, I have some advice that I hope will help.
First of all, don’t shame yourself for believing in the good in people and trying to make it work. There are multiple reasons you’re doing what you’re doing that you probably don’t have a firm grasp on right now. Some of it could even be subconscious. You have a big heart and you’re used to giving people the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a crime; you’re a compassionate, caring person who does everything possible to make a relationship work.
Know that the rush you feel from working things out and getting back together even though you suspect deep down it will cycle back to abuse again is a physiological reaction caused by chemicals in your body. It’s called trauma bonding and it makes you physiologically addicted to the abuse. It explains why the thought of going “no contact” with your partner makes you feel terrified and like you’re coming off a drug. If you, like me, had never been addicted to drugs or alcohol prior to the abusive relationship, you might not even recognize the “high” as a high. You just feel like you went back to normal—the stage where you aren’t being blamed, shamed, yelled at, and abused.
I couldn’t put my finger on why I couldn’t escape the cycle easily even though, during times of abuse, I would get angry and stand up for myself and recognize that what I was going through wasn’t right, normal, or healthy. I didn’t fully comprehend that I was trauma bonded to him. Trauma bonding is a chemical bond created by the intermittent release of stress hormones and pleasure hormones caused by the abuser running hot and cold (aka, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Your adrenals get confused as you deal with the flip flop of emotions but you have no clue that your resistance to leaving the relationship is likely 75% chemical. You’re not just dealing with your broken heart, you’re fighting a physiological battle you didn’t even know was raging in your body.
The only way to heal and bring your body back into balance is to get off the rollercoaster. There’s no magic pill, sadly, to bring you back to the state where you aren’t experiencing all of the oxytocin (bonding), endogenous opioids (pleasure, pain, withdrawal, dependence), corticotropin-releasing factor (withdrawal, stress), and dopamine (craving, seeking, wanting) without once and for all getting out of the relationship.
You have to remove yourself from the situation when you’re ready and go no contact (if you do not have children with him/her) no matter how hard it might feel at the time. You’ve unknowingly been groomed to become addicted to the highs and lows which quite literally changes the way your brain/body functions. I can remember one telephone conversation where he was yelling at me—screaming at me— on the phone from the East Coast and I was shaking and crying uncontrollably and apologizing even though I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I knew it was the only way to make it all stop. What shocked me was every time he would hang up, I would dial him back up again. Who does that?!?! Why was I willing to subject myself to more yelling and screaming? Addiction, that’s why. I kept hoping (craving) to get to that point where he would calm down and I’d get that chemical release when the calm finally washed over us after a fight.
If you can understand that what you’re feeling is heavily influenced by the effects of trauma bonding chemicals, you will have a much easier time getting out.
To all of the women (and men) I know who know they are in abusive relationships but can’t seem to get out and stay out, I hope this helps. It was the one thing that finally made sense to me when I started to understand the bigger picture of what I had experienced and gotten used to for three years. It helped me recognize when I would feel cravings to reach back out to him. Logically, it made no sense but the chemicals were sure telling me that I needed that fix, again. It took about six months for my body to calm down after I finally went no contact and now, looking back, I can see how powerful a drug this type of relationship is for so many.
For more information on this very topic, check out these additional articles:
Anyone out there watching Bravo's take on the Dirty John story? If you've been in a relationship with a sociopath/narcissist, it's either going to be must-see TV or you should stay far away from it, depending on where you are in your healing.
For about a year, people who knew what I endured from 2014-2017 kept telling me to listen to the podcast "Dirty John." I didn't for the longest time but when I finally had the chance earlier this year, I was blown away by similarities. I wrote about that experience HERE. If I've learned anything since I started receiving messages from women around the world who also let my ex into their life, it's that the tactics and MO employed by the abusers are not only similar from case to case (in my case, from woman to woman), but they manipulate and control in very similar ways to other abusers.
Many of these individuals do and say the same things. And they're frequently called pathological liars and serial cheaters by mental health professionals. Chills went up and down my spine when I saw "pathological liar" on documents pertaining to Dirty John Meehan that Debra found in the latest episode. This was consistent with what I came to learn about my abuser as well.
I'm in the process of writing a book about my journey which means I've had to revisit messages and documents recently and each time I do, now that I'm farther away from the abuse than ever, I find new "aha" moments.
For example, I remember being told in the beginning that he never wrote about his wife on social media much because he just didn't feel that connected to her. After all they both supposedly were "separated" but living together for the kids/financial reasons and just waiting until the kids were older to officially split. He said everything was different with me—he wanted to shout his feelings for me from the rooftops. I believed that line because he gave me no reason in the beginning to question it. He was friends with some of my friends who I know are really good, honest people so I immediately labeled him "innocent" by association. This was a bit different from what Debra experienced with Dirty John, whom she met online without any association. I simply thought if he was a bad guy, my friends would know and they would have told me. That was my first mistake, honestly. Especially when dealing with narcissistic/sociopathic personalities, the outer friendship circle who is not intimately involved with them will believe who he presents himself to be because they are masters at creating the facade.
Anyhow, when I read back through the messages from multiple women, I realized that he wasn't posting about his wife or anyone in his past because he was wooing multiple women at the same time, telling several of them he would leave his wife for them. Of course, none of them knew about one another at the time.
I seemed to be the only woman he "shouted from the rooftops" but I was also the only woman he targeted that had a brand, a bit of industry clout at the time, and a way to possibly get his furniture made on a bigger scale. It all makes complete sense, now, but back then, I simply believed what he told me. His very vocal profession of love had nothing to do with love and everything to do with personal gain.
I hope that by sharing these types of revelations, it will help others who have either been through it and can relate or it will help those who are on the look out to avoid this type of predator.
If you have similar stories, I'd love to hear about them either in comment or private message. The more we share, the more we can help other women (and men) make their own handbook for what to look out for and how to discern if someone is a charismatic, charming con artist like Dirty John.
The whirlwind and constant focus on the Ted Talk meant I had to ditch working on the book for a bit. And I honestly wonder if I subconsciously had to get through the talk first in order to write the next few chapters of the memoir.
I’m about 17,000 words into the tale of the journey I’ve been on and I’m feeling stronger than ever. Prior to baring my soul on stage, I’d been dreading drudging up the past to write the next chapter. You know, THAT chapter of my life. It’s still not easy to think back to the days of walking on egg shells, intoxicating highs and desperately low lows, financial devastation, and being called a “thick fucking brick” but I knew in order to keep moving forward in the memoir, I’d have to face it. Just like I faced being vulnerable on the Ted stage. I didn’t feel ready to relive those three years until this very moment. I can’t really explain it, but something has changed in me. Maybe it’s called healing? Whatever it is, I’m grateful for the feeling.
Ironically, one of the folks who organized Tedx Sedona said to me, in tears, “I can’t believe how much you’ve been through yet there’s such a lightness about you.” I feel lighter. Prior to the Ted Talk, the thought of looking back at that period of my life and having to recount it—one abusive episode after the next—paralyzed me. Now, for some reason, I feel like I can take it on and not absorb it.
It’s been a year and a half since I received the first email from a brave woman telling me her story (and screenshots) about being used and abused by him while he was still trying to keep me on the hook, and here I am, finally ready to take on the memory of it all head on.
Turns out, I’ve got this. I can write this. And that chapter I’m about to write—tentatively called “TNF”—will lead to the next one which is undoubtedly the best chapter of my life.
Maybe we all have chapters we have to get through to get where we’re supposed to be.
I know one thing: it’s time to fire up the keyboard, again.
This past weekend, I completed what is the equivalent of running a marathon for me—a Ted Talk. And I lived! J
Not only did I meet the most amazing people from all over the world, I got the chance to talk about healing from childhood and adulthood abuse on a big stage with a big red dot. (I’ll tell you later how I “fell off the red dot” at one point because you know, it’s hard to stay on a rug while you’re speaking. Ha!)
I have intuitively known for about a year and a half I would be doing a Ted Talk but you see, Ted is pretty picky about what it allows. I wasn’t sure my topic would be approved. And it clearly wasn’t when I applied for Tedx Las Vegas and didn’t get picked. Thankfully, the good people at TEdx Sedona said yes to my story and topic just three months after I was turned down in Vegas.
With that said, I did get a little push back about including the “visions” or mediumship talk (about working with cops) but I stuck to my guns and in the end, one of the organizers told me how happy she was I pushed back on them. I found myself in a similar position with Shark Tank producers, as well. Maybe it’s just one of those things I have to do. More tests and faith to trust my intuition on what I should share until I never question it?!? Not sure, but I’m happy to report it seemed to work well with audience members, too. Many who were laughing and crying during my talk came up after thanking me for being so vulnerable and real. Naturally, I teared up, too, when they approached me. And I choked up a little during the talk but managed to pull myself back together and keep going. I honestly didn’t think it would as emotional as it was, even though I know the subject matter is deeply personal.
In addition to being nervous about not being picked, I was super nervous about not being able to memorize my speech. You see, my memory sucks to begin with (because of the abuse as a child and then repeated abuse as an adult) so I really questioned if I could do it. I did my best and only forgot a few small parts so I am calling that a major win for my noggin!
Before I walked onto the stage, I thought of all the women I know (and a few men) who are still trapped in abusive relationships and even a few friends who have passed on who never got to really, fully enjoy life as it should be. I thought of my dear friend, Jason, who has been with me in spirit since 2013 and his mom, Yvette, who helped me trust my intuition and climb out of abuse. He was a childhood abuse survivor, too, before he passed.
When I was told I would likely get a spot on the Sedona roster by the head of the event but I had to do a few things, Jason came in with a message for me saying that it was happening and my life would change in amazing ways because of this talk. That news came on my birthday on September 9. Now mind you, Jason was also the first one to alert me to the fact that the abusive relationship I was in from 2014-2017 “wasn’t what it seemed.” When he said this a few months into the relationship when everything seemed perfect, I didn’t want to believe it but deep down, I knew he was right. He’s always right.
Little did I know (because I was all wrapped up in my own Ted Talk head), that Saturday, November 3rd was the 20th anniversary of Jason’s death. And it was the day I was doing my Ted Talk. He came in spirit saying that was no coincidence and that he has my back. He’s a funny guy so he also began singing The Carpenter’s song, “We’ve only just begun.” I didn’t get the full significance of it at first other than it’s a new beginning for me but he continued on…. “Plus, you know, like your belt. Your CARPENTER tool belt. Get it.” Ahhhhhh, yes! I get it! His beautiful mom, Yvette, shared all of this with me (she channels him with such precision) and said he hadn’t really been around her in spirit much until I popped on to tell her about the talk and see how she was doing. But he popped in to cheer me on and tell me he was there and is always there, helping me do what I came into the world to do.
I’m constantly amazed by how much we are guided and helped to be where we need to be at the right time. For all intents and purposes, I probably shouldn’t have been accepted because of Ted’s strict rules about pseudoscience but I’m so happy I was given the chance to tell my story.
And I was even more thrilled to look out into the crowd and see my husband and kids proudly smiling back at me, and sometimes with tears in their eyes. None of this road I’ve traveled has been easy on them and it affected all three of them deeply in many ways.
After the talk was over and Noah was heading home, I got a message from him saying that I was a kick-ass woman who is going to change the world. Of course, I teared up reading that. I’m just overwhelmed with love and admiration for Scott, Noah, and Grace, and I’m so eternally grateful they are mine. And I hope with all my heart, our children and their children will never have to experience anything I did in their lifetime.
If my Ted Talk opens up channels of communication with just two people about the bigger picture of life, stuff that can’t be explained by science, patterns of abuse, repression, and rebuilding life after all of it, I am a happy woman.
For now, I’m going to kick back and relax and NOT MEMORIZE ANYTHING for a long time.
Now what was I doing? Oh right…NOT MEMORIZING ANYTHING and enjoying being exactly where I am at this very moment.
More on the topic of memory loss related to abuse:
Here's a snippet of the Ted Talk that was filmed by our son, Noah. The official Ted Talk video will be uploaded to TED in a couple months, I believe. They produce a beautiful video for each presenter. So grateful! You can find more info on Tedx Sedona at www.tedxsedona.com.
I sat on the couch yesterday morning watching CBS cover something I didn’t even know happened over the weekend: #whyIdidntreport in response to the Brett Kavanaugh assault allegations.
Then today, I watched as the networks covered the Bill Cosby sentencing.
It got me thinking—I’ve never spelled out why I didn’t report my childhood abuser. And what happened when I started talking about it. In addition, I want to share what happened when I started talking about the abuse I endured as an adult.
I did not report my uncle because I repressed the memories of abuse, and subsequently didn’t put together all of the clues until I was 40. At that point, it was so far past the statute of limitations that I couldn’t even try to hold him accountable legally. I was 5. I finally understood what happened to me at age 40. (According to many psychology experts and my own survey work, this is common with extreme childhood abuse.) Not only did I have physical “proof” in the form of vaginal surgery at age 19, but as a medium, I also had help clarifying the harrowing visions I was seeing. My dear friend and internationally renowned medium, Necole Stephens, tapped into the rape scene and managed to describe (without knowing a thing) details like drapes, room set up, room color, bedspread detail, and much more. Now, I couldn’t remember it all to a T but when I shared what Necole said with my sister (whose memory is spot on), she confirmed it all. I finally knew what happened to me and connected the dots of my life. And it finally made sense why so many of the kids in spirit who were killed by pedophiles were coming to share messages with me.
But then there was the telling.
When I discovered it all, I told my parents who were devastated. I assured them it was not their fault. No one could have known. Most predators are just that good. I'm learning that year after year as I help law enforcement with cold cases (If you just thought to yourself, "WHAT??!! She works with cops?? I thought she built furniture??", go to HERE for an endorsement by ex-NYPD detective, Mark Pucci). Sure, there were clues but they couldn’t have known. They believed me, for the most part, but I still think that unsure part was mostly shock. I know it’s hard to receive that kind of news. They knew who he was as a person and what he’d done with hundreds of women so it wasn’t a far stretch to think he’d also abuse young children. I know I’m not the only child. There are at least 4 more who are now grown.
Now, when I told his ex-wife, I received what most survivors are told.
“You must be mistaken.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“ We weren’t together enough.”
Denial? Probably. Heart wrenching for me? Absolutely. It take so much courage to come out and share what happened because there's shame and fear around all of it. Deep-seeded, subconscious shame that keeps most survivors from talking, even childhood survivors like me. But also, if they do talk, they know they may get the shamed, blamed and/or dismissed…again.
I saw this happen AGAIN when I shared the narcissistic abuse I endured as an adult. Many of his long-time supporters can’t fathom he could be one way on social media and another in real life. So instead of looking at the facts. The public record documents like restraining orders and such, they call me crazy. Call me a liar. And here’s the thing: most of them are WOMEN.
If you are one of the folks wondering why women (and men) don’t report sexual abuse (and other types of abuse), maybe consider this: Not only is it dangerous for many survivors, we know we will likely be re-abused in more ways than one. We simply don't believe survivors as a society. Cosby drugged and abused 60 women. Some folks STILL don't believe he did it.
Bottom line: Stop shaming and dismissing survivors because you feel uncomfortable. Because you don’t want to look at it without rose-colored glasses. Because you believe the façade. Just stop.
Abuse is a silent epidemic and thank god many of us refuse to be silent anymore. It is not our job to protect our abusers. Never has been, never will be. #ENOUGH #TIMESUP
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