When I’m talking with other abuse survivors who survived relationships with sociopaths and narcissists, I hear, “I wish I would have woken up sooner.”
“If only I had put a final stop to it all before I did.”
“I can’t believe I let it go on so long.”
Believe me, I get it. And I’ve said those things before but the further away I get from the abuse, the more I realize that maybe it ended when it should have ended. No earlier, no later.
One thing I know for sure is survivors carry around a lot of guilt and shame to begin with, whether it’s self-inflicted or not. Shaming oneself (or being shamed) for not getting out of an abusive relationship earlier undermines the survivor who is desperately trying to stand on her/his feet again after enduring pure hell. Personally, the survivors I know are the strongest, most loving people on the planet.
With that said, I know in my heart that if my personal hell would have been cut shorter than it was, I wouldn’t have learned several very valuable lessons about the journey I was on to heal myself. And I wouldn’t have learned different types of drastic measures taken/used when the abuser doesn’t want the partner to leave. Measures that I’ve been able to pass on to other survivors who, like me, were finally able to recognize the manipulation at hand and stop blaming themselves. I’ve taught a few how to investigate for proof, when proof is available. It’s the proof that helps survivors see the truth of everything they endured. It wasn’t until I saw proof of what I had suspected that I started making my way down the long, dark hall to the final exit door.
For those of you struggling or on the other side but you’re trying to make sense of what happened, know that what I’m about to describe is sadly textbook M.O. for many abusers. When you start to recognize emotional and psychological abuse in a relationship, the lengths to which the abuser will go to in order to keep control and reel you back can be drastic and unthinkable.
Had my relationship ended before it did, I wouldn’t have been on the receiving end of the:
I didn’t know that a loved one would be capable of causing such horrific pain by pretending to be hospitalized for a heart attack and then cutting off communication for a good length of time (silent treatment) AND would then go on to pretend to be standing on a bridge about to jump while I was 3000 miles away.
My intuition (and my detective skills from working on cold cases) came in handy, even though I still believed he was telling the truth the whole time he was sending me messages, because something felt off. In both cases, I resorted to tear-filled fact finding. In the case of the fake heart attack, I called every hospital in Philly to learn that not one had admitted someone by his name. (Unless the patient specifies their name not be given out, the hospital is allowed to confirm the patient is hospitalized.) Later on, I went straight to the source (those who knew where he was at the time) and received confirmation that despite a very elaborate tale of heart attack symptoms, an ambulance ride, his mother and brother by his side supposedly texting me on his phone from his hospital room shaming me for causing the heart attack, there was indeed no heart attack. No hospital stay. Only a ploy to make me feel it was my fault—which was thrown at me multiple times—and a way to reel me back into the relationship.
I continued talking to him despite knowing that he was likely lying about all of it, but at the time, I didn’t have the proof I needed to know for sure. Abusers tend to be very good at lying and part of me wanted to believe he wasn’t capable of doing something like this. To add insult to injury, I was still stuck in the cycle of abuse both emotionally and chemically, I just didn’t realize it. I went back to believing him even though my intuition was screaming at me.
About the time I was starting to pull away again after more abuse and control, the second ploy was, well, employed. This time it was a suicide attempt. Again, I believed him. I was in tears pleading with him to slow down and take a breath on text. He wouldn’t talk on the phone. Again, he blamed me for hurting him so deeply that he was led to the bridge that night to end his life. “Goodbye, my precious precious, love,” he wrote. Of course, this was after writing that he wished he’d never met me and that no one would ever hurt him again like I hurt him. I threatened to get his cousin involved in order to stop him from doing what I thought he was about to do. He flew into a rage. I now know why: he wasn’t about to jump. Hell, he was probably sitting in his car somewhere fabricating this whole scene while smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.
In a puddle of tears, I frantically called one of my dearest friends who is an intuitive and she said, “Kiers, this isn’t true. He’s trying to reel you back in. He needs your reaction.” My cousin said the same thing. Others around me pleaded with me to recognize that it was, again, just a tall, excruciatingly painful tale. This time, it hit home.
A short time later, I came to learn that the bridge he mentioned in his text message to me was not a large bridge like I was envisioning in my head. Not even close. For the record, maybe he didn’t think I’d go as far as to investigate this (or that he should have used a different name of a bridge) but I did and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Turns out, this particular bridge is featured all over Youtube as a family-friendly place for pre-teens to jump into the water below while the camera is rolling. Parents are applauding their daredevil kids who decided to take the plunge off the beautiful, stone golf course bridge. The height of the bridge suggests that a jump off of it into unusually shallow water might possibly cause a break or a bruise. Or maybe he would have simply gotten lucky and found a few lost golf balls.
I’m now grateful to know the truth of all of it and be able to pass on the lengths psychological abusers will go to in order to keep control in a relationship. Before I experienced it, I never imagined it possible. Who knows, maybe the timing of this post will help someone struggling with something similar. I sure hope it does. And I hope if you’re beating yourself up about how long it is taking (or how long it took) to get out of an abusive relationship, you will take some comfort in knowing that there might just be a bigger picture you can’t see in the moment. Just keep trusting your intuition and keep searching for answers.
Timing truly does mean everything.
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.