There’s a lot I’ve talked about since first coming out of my abusive relationship with Randall; speaking with loved ones who had no idea what happened to me, talking in group therapy sessions and on forums where I’ve connected with other men and women who’ve been through similar situations, processing with a therapist, and writing/sharing in spaces like this one.
It’s important to do, although it can feel pretty awkward and strange at first. I think it took me a few months to even be able to say out loud the words ‘abusive relationship’. But professionals and friends and family kept encouraging me along, and over time the awkwardness and barriers slowly fell away.
Detailing experiences and talking about the abuse in a sense strips the abusers of their power; because ultimately more than anything else while I was with Randall I kept his secrets from the world, maintaining silence about everything that I was living with on a daily basis…and also as a result having to stifle my own feelings lest they rile him up to the point where he’d act out in anger. That’s something many survivors of abuse will tell you: secrecy and silence became a big part of their lives, along with constantly minimizing and downplaying everything whenever they were forced to share anything.
Talking about the abuse also starts to change the feelings of isolation and loneliness that you acquire when you’re in that kind of relationship. By talking out loud, you can receive the validation and love of those around you, who take what you say and reflect back to you the truth of your situation, rather than the distorted reflections and manipulations the abuser wanted you to to see and believe. Slowly but surely you begin to feel less crazy. Less unstable. And with the love and support of those around you, you come to understand exactly what happened.
So talking is a great thing to do as part of the healing process. And I do plenty of it.
But there’s one thing I realized recently that I don’t talk about very much, and while I certainly don’t speak for all people on recovering/healing journeys of their own, I know several of the friends I’ve made in my healing circle have admitted they don’t talk about this one thing much either.
What is it? Nothing more or less than the most basic and human of all feelings. It’s there like a swirling undercurrent beneath the calm, smooth surface of my life; and to be honest, at this point I’ve become so accustomed to it being there so that it no longer hinders my ability to function day to day. It’s just an ache I’ve learned to work around.
I’m talking, quite simply, about the pain of a broken heart.
It’s not something you hear talked about much among survivors of abuse. I’ve been contemplating why that is for a while now, and though I can’t speak for others, ultimately for myself I’ve come to recognize I don’t talk about it for two main reasons:
First, there’s a high risk of slipping into feelings of regret and doubt when I recall the love I had (and on some levels still have) for Randall. I’ve spoken about the concept of Cognitive Dissonance in other posts, and when I think too much about how heartbroken I was and on some levels still am, that often triggers moments of CD. This is primarily because the feelings of love and loyalty I had were also some of the strongest tools Randall used to manipulate and abuse me in the first place. It’s what all abusers do; taking something that’s supposed to be beautiful and instead twisting it and warping it into something else, so that in the end it all ends up connected. It’s how they manage to create such strong, intense bonds that can feel so difficult and overwhelming to break free of.
On the other hand, I’m much more comfortable feeling anger. It’s certainly a far more productive emotion than heartbreak, and it has the added benefit of serving as a shield or a suit of armor against the world. Focusing on the abuse and the trauma he caused can seem preferable as a result, as it keeps me grounded in the reality of what that relationship actually was instead of romanticizing what it was not.
The second reason I don’t tend to talk about it is because there’s shame tied to those heartbroken feelings. Shame because I know it makes no sense to most people how or why I could possibly have loved someone like that; someone who would do such cruel things to me and to others. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to myself. And so I’m left feeling as though I’m damaged or broken somehow as a woman, since surely only someone who is damaged could love an abusive person. (I understand logically that isn’t true thanks to therapy and a lot of research and learning, but emotions have very little to do with logic most of the time.)
And this feeling of shame can get magnified further whenever I do try to address the heartbreak, as more often than not I’m met with responses framed by impatience and frustration. The people I love just want me to be happy and healthy again, and in their minds part of that is somehow magically deciding I never loved Randall in the first place, because to them he wasn’t worthy of that. Everyone means well, but ultimately it results in me shutting that part down and internalizing it instead.
It’s why ultimately I wanted to write about it here. To try and promote understanding for the general population, and to also (hopefully) let those who’ve experienced abuse see they’re not alone if they too feel heartbroken underneath it all.
I didn’t fall in love with Randall the abuser. I fell in love with Randall the man (or at least the man he permitted me to see in the beginning). I fell in love with a man who had a really silly, playful side; a man who could make me smile, giggle, and outright laugh even on bad days. I fell in love with a man who was highly intelligent and capable of discussing all manner of complex concepts and philosophical thoughts; a man who seemed to appreciate my own intelligence, ambition, and capabilities rather than being threatened by it as other men in my past had been. I fell in love with how easily he seemed to speak about his feelings; he was saying ‘I love you’ even before I was, and in the beginning could talk about little else besides how much he loved me and how lucky he felt to have me in his life.
He seemed totally at ease with expressing affection physically; reaching out to take my hand or give me a hug or a kiss no matter where we were or who was watching, and compared to the reserved, understated affections I grew up watching my father show my mother, that seemed like a dream come true. He was confident and sure of himself, and that had a way of rubbing off on me too; there were times where I almost felt like I could touch the stars so long as he was with me. Where life felt downright magical.
I loved the butterflies in my stomach when I’d see him across a crowded room, and I can remember a time when just being near to him brought me a sense of peace and contentment like nothing I’d ever known before. He made me feel safe, once upon a time; his tall frame, broad shoulders, and big hands easily enveloping me in an embrace, and that appealed to the more feminine, primitive side of me that craved a protector and guardian in my life. I liked his street smarts, and therefore accepted the school of hard knocks he’d had to attend in order to get them. Those street smarts gave him an extra aura of knowledge and understanding about the world around him, and it only added to that sense of safety I felt when near him.
I didn’t know he was abusive in the beginning. I didn’t even know he was abusive towards the end; not even when a therapist first started telling me he was. All I knew was that he lost his temper sometimes, because that’s what he told me. He’d openly admit he just lost his way on occasion; that it was part of what loving him meant, but that in exchange for those “few moments” I got an incredibly loyal, loving, wonderful man for a partner.
And that’s truly what I believed for a long, long time.
I didn’t see how over time those “few moments” of anger and inappropriate behavior were becoming more and more common. I didn’t realize how much I was changing my behavior in order to prevent him from losing his temper or being cruel; walking on eggshells and filtering/suppressing my own emotions and needs in favor of keeping him happy. I wasn’t seeing how much I was putting his needs above my own, even when it came to how I budgeted money; ensuring there were funds for what he wanted – whether it was weed to smoke, or alcohol to drink, or money to put gas in the car so he could drive around the way he liked to do, or money for his sister so she’d be happy which made him happy, or money for the car payment made to his ex girlfriend Blanche (long story), which again kept him happy – so that he would be calm and loving and content.
I operated with the certainty that Randall loved me. That no matter how cruel he was, or inappropriate, or angry, ultimately he loved me, and just didn’t know how to properly express himself sometimes. I excused his behavior based on what he described as an abusive childhood, feeling pity for what he’d gone through and wanting nothing more than to love him enough to make up for that abuse. Convinced all he needed to stop acting so inappropriately was unconditional love and acceptance from me.
And so that’s what I did; with all my heart, warts and all, I loved him. Right to the very end. And ultimately when I couldn’t deny what was happening any longer, ending the relationship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It felt like I was ripping out my own heart and crushing it on the floor. Because I loved him still, even then.
I ended the relationship, and ceased all communication or contact with him per my therapist’s instructions. Even as he accused me of being heartless. Even as he told me how much his heart was broken. Even as his supporters, believers, and friends harassed me; telling me how he was crying and devastated, accusing me of ruining his life, calling me crazy and manipulative and every other cruel name in the book (my favorite was a text from one of his friends saying I was “a psychotic b*tch who deserves to rot in the ground”).
Through all of it, I managed to maintain no contact. It’s an important part of breaking free, particularly when dealing with a psychopath or a sociopath or a narcissist; because communication and contact is how they manipulate. Without that contact they lose their power and their control.
But it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. And it gutted me to do it. Even as on some levels I felt relief from the daily – almost hourly – fears and anxieties I’d been experiencing, my heart was absolutely breaking. He accused me of being heartless, but nothing could have been further from the truth. I would spend many hours crying for the loss of him. Of the relationship I thought I’d had. Mourning the loss of the man I thought he was; the man I’d originally fallen in love with. Missing his company; his smiles and his laughter and his hugs and his kisses and the warmth of his hand holding mine.
I was heartbroken, and there’s a part of me that remains heartbroken to this day. Because while perhaps for him it was all an illusion, for me the love was very, very real. And very, very powerful. Powerful enough to override death threats and verbally abusive language and sexually promiscuous (and inexcusable) behavior and physically aggressive behavior and emotionally abusive language and behavior and………all the above. Yes, I loved him in spite of all of that; and that’s where the shame comes from. Because most people simply cannot wrap their heads around it.
But I’m learning to accept that and release the shame. Posting this now is part of the acceptance. And it’s also my attempt to tell any other men or women recovering from a similar experience: you’re okay, and you’re not alone. This is all just part of the process. Don’t feel ashamed…instead feel blessed to know you can love someone that much.
**Disclaimer: Names and other identifying information about certain individuals have been changed to protect their identities.