Ever noticed how our minds are almost maddeningly good at glossing over the bad things in life? If you haven’t, try being in an abusive relationship and then getting out of it and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
It’s a protective mechanism that is well documented in the medical community; it’s how abused children can have years of their lives repressed. And it’s why the adage ‘time heals all wounds’ is only kind of true. What it should really say is: ‘with enough time, your mind will dull the memories to make them less painful’.
Holidays are often bittersweet for those who’ve recently gone through a breakup; the “first Christmas” or the “first New Years” the hardest as you’re overriding the most recent memories involving your ex. And to make matters worse, holidays being what they are usually those memories are overall pleasant ones too…because of course people tend to be on their best, I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-back behavior at this time of year.
It’s no different for someone coming out of an abusive relationship. I’ve discussed that before in another post; how the usual pain and suffering of a breakup is still there…it’s just buried under a ton of other layers of trauma and so doesn’t tend to take center stage in the healing process. (And it’s also not often talked about…which is why I try and talk about it here, so that others going through the thrash this season can know they aren’t alone, and shouldn’t feel ashamed if they’re getting a case of “the wistfuls” due to the smell of pine and mistletoe.)
It sucks, doesn’t it? Missing someone you know logically you should hate. Yearning and pining for someone who treated you like dogshit and left you humiliated and miserable when they finally exited your life.
Well, own it…because it’s a real feeling. And trying to hide from it honestly only makes it worse.
Own it, and then do what I do…don’t let your mind gloss over the bad memories. Because that’s what’s happening when you have wistful moments: your brain is dulling the ‘dogshit’ moments in favor of the warm-and-fuzzies, because that’s easier to think about. And while your dearly beloved brain thinks it’s doing you a favor, you have to learn how to say “thanks, but no thanks!” and get back on track.
I’ll show you what I mean: Just yesterday my brain was starting to skip and trot down wistful-memory-lane, filling my mind with images of a smiling, happy, loving Randall. You know, the one who isn’t real? The one who was just an illusion?
Well, it hurt like hell. My heart was hurting. Yearning for the guy I loved so much. Mr. Wonderful. Actually having the thought “This time last year, you were so happy together…”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my cue phrase. I hear that thought in my mind, and I know my mind is officially giving me the glossed over, trimmed up, photoshopped, Hollywood-ending version of my relationship. The one that brings out the “oohs” and “aahs” and warm and fuzzy feelings……the version that absolutely has no resemblance to reality whatsoever.
See, when you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re basically living in a fog. You get really, really good at not seeing the truth for what it is; and your abuser plays a big part in that. They make sure you understand that they aren’t acting badly, you’re just being too sensitive; they don’t get along with your family because your mother is crazy and your father is passive aggressive, not because they are being abusive and your parents see it for what it is; they aren’t abusive, they just have some anger issues that they’d sure change if they could, but since they can’t you need to just accept them for who they are and deal with it……and so it goes.
But it isn’t real. And that’s where having the right support network – and the right therapist – is so crucial when you first come out of your relationship. They are the people who dig out that unedited, raw, real version of your relationship, dust it off, and put it in the projector for you to watch for the first time. And yes, it’s horrifying when you first see it. Horrifying, and embarrassing…but so important.
I don’t need a therapist to change out the versions anymore; now I can do it myself. And that’s precisely what I did last night when it was looking like sleep was going to elude me because all my brain wanted to do was play happy-go-lucky versions of what I was doing this time last year with love-of-my-life Randall.
Here’s the Hollywood Version: Randall took a road trip to his home state 1,700 miles away to visit family and friends for Christmas, and while he was gone I had the opportunity to clean up, make some improvements to the house, relax, see family and friends, and miss him just enough to feel that sweet ache for the one we love while looking forward to a blissful reunion. I got an unexpected draw before the holidays that meant I actually had a bit of a cushion in my checking account for the first time in a long time, and life overall felt good. I was able to buy him the Christmas gift he’d been wanting for months, having saved $20 here and there under the mattress until I had enough, and I remember proudly going to buy it at last; taking it home and wrapping it up and leaving it for him to find on the counter. He actually came home early, and I got to see him in the wee hours of Christmas morning; I remember him bursting into the bedroom, flipping all the lights on, a beaming smile on his face as he took me in his arms, kissed me, and spun me around before excitedly showing off the present he’d unwrapped for all the world to see. And they all lived happily ever after.
Nice, isn’t it?
Now…excuse me while I put the real version in the projector…
Here’s what Actually Happened: Randall took a road trip to his home state 1,700 miles away, but right before leaving (literally the day before) he announced he was taking three of his little ‘minions’ (the teenagers and twenty-somethings he had following him around) with him. He didn’t ask me, he announced. And two of the three were young women. He swore to me it was all harmless; the plan was to drop the twenty year old guy off in Arizona on his way, as the guy was going to stay with his father for a few months; and then one of the girls lo and behold had an aunt who lived close to his final destination, and so she and the other girl were going to spend Christmas there. It was all arranged. All perfectly innocent. He was just being helpful and charitable, the way he always was. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
Anyway…I feel like something is off. Feel like I’m being lied to. And I should throw in a bit more context for you: I’d only just discovered approximately four weeks earlier that I had been given FOUR different STDs courtesy of a bunch of young women he’d had sex with behind my back and lied about…and one of the girls traveling with him now mysteriously had the same STDs I’d tested positive for. He insisted it was all coincidence, but the GYN’s daughter in me was highly suspicious. Still, it happened fast enough I didn’t have much say.
Regardless, they headed off…and before Randall even reached his final destination, he’d burned through ALL THE MONEY I’d budgeted out to last for both his trip down and his trip back home. I was shocked. And pissed. He told me I should have known better; that I should have doled it out daily because he’s “not good with money”. I fired back maybe I didn’t want to be stuck going to the bank every day with his allowance; that he should be able to be a grownup. Regardless, he had no money and was stuck. So I was forced to tap into that bonus draw and give him more.
It got worse. The guy was dropped off in Arizona successfully, but when he reached his destination he informed me the girl’s aunt was refusing to speak to them. Refusing to give her address. Refusing to let them come to her house for at least three more days. I was skeptical; saying that made no sense. No aunt would tell a niece to travel 1,700 miles and then refuse to let her show up. I was floored that they hadn’t gotten an address for the woman’s house before leaving. It seemed so unlike Randall to be that sloppy. And that’s when I started getting suspicious, my mind whispering it had all been a story. He’d just wanted the excuse to take her along.
Before I knew it, I was getting barraged with messages from his family and friends; all of them demanding to know what the hell he was doing with these teenage girls, how could I be okay with this, they wanted him gone, I needed to do something……it never ended (funny how somehow this was MY fault…his family had some interesting ideas about responsibility, and I guess it’s easy to see why his first instinct was always to blame other people). Ultimately his sister messaged me (the same sister I was sending $1,500 a month to for her apartment and utilities), begging me to send more money so he’d have the finances to leave early, because she was uncomfortable and wanted him gone but didn’t have the heart to say that to his face.
I caved and sent the money (again tapping into the reserve instead of waiting for the draw I was scheduled to get in five days as had been originally planned), and they left immediately, back on the road. (Oh, and I should add that while he was there, he was also often meeting up with Blanche and her children, usually missing his ‘check in’ call with me by several hours, one time his phone turned completely OFF – though he claimed the battery just died – while he was supposed to be with her. Which was an added feeling of unease that his later apologies didn’t help one bit.)
They raced home as quickly as possible in the increasingly wintery, icy, dangerous weather. One day they had to stop off at a cheap roadside hotel simply because not even snowmobiles were able to drive; the roads had turned into sheets of pure ice. It was nerve wracking…and so unnecessary, since the original plans had not had him coming home for another week when the weather was supposed to be better.
While this was happening, I started receiving text messages from an anonymous number (a texting app that was untraceable) telling me I was being played for a fool; that he was having sex with that girl all the time (the one whose aunt never allowed to come over), that they were basically carrying on a relationship and declaring themselves to be in love when I wasn’t around, and that I needed to open my eyes and see it.
Not good for my already suspicious intuition.
I sent him the screenshots and said I didn’t know what to think; he declared in a rage someone was just trying to get back at him, and that I needed to not give in to the drama of a bunch of teenagers. That he thought I was more mature than that. I sort of took his word……but the seeds of unease and doubt continued to grow.
By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, and I went home from dinner with my family, I didn’t feel excited to see him…I just felt empty. Completely numb. Not the kind of feeling you’re supposed to have when your soulmate is on his way home to see you for the holidays. But I KNEW something was wrong…I just couldn’t quite prove anything.
Wrapping up his present, I also wrapped up the little gifts I’d bought for the two girls since I knew they’d probably stay at the house until the morning when they went home (and I was raised with manners). Then I went to bed. I didn’t even try to stay awake, because that’s how empty and numb I felt. He turned on all the lights when he got home at 2am, beamed at me, smiled, took me in his arms, and kissed me…and for a few brief seconds I saw that man I originally fell in love with. Felt the fluttering in my heart. But it passed, because there were those girls, a reminder of what was happening, and the ill-feeling in my gut returned.
The next day, he took them home, and I thought at last we’d have our first full day alone together in our home in months. But two hours later (barely) he received a text message from the girl who’d supposedly had the aunt she was going to visit, begging him to come pick her up. “Oh, no, Randall…” I protested, and he initially acted just as irritated, like he was going to say no. Seeming to tell her to suck it up. But in the end she got her way, and even as I was furious, he went back and got her; and then he chided me publicly for not welcoming her warmly back into the house after I’d “promised” she’d always be welcome. (What I’d said was she’d always be welcome if she needed to get away here and there…….I had not promised she could bloody well move in, which is essentially what she’d done. And again, this is the girl everyone is saying my boyfriend is SLEEPING WITH when I’m not around…let’s not forget that. He apparently forgot that detail constantly, but I sure as hell didn’t.)
So that was last Christmas. Roll credits.
See what I mean? That’s quite a different version, isn’t it? Quite a disgusting, twisted, abusive, ugly version. One that’s preferably disregarded.
Today I am so, so grateful to be free and safe from all that. He never confirmed he had been sleeping with that girl; denied it right to the end. But I know he did. At this point, if my intuition says ‘yes’, then I’m trusting it; because it was right about everything else. It was my heart that had shushed it, wanting desperately to believe him instead.
Now I’m free of that doubt. Free of that crippling pain and low self esteem that came from his constant triangulating with other women. Free of the shame that came from his constantly demeaning me in front of others. Free of the anxiety of having strangers in my home every minute of the day. Free of the stress of trying to provide not just for myself and for him, but for his sister, and for the others living in the house, and for Blanche who still held the car loan in her name…so on and so on.
I’m free of all that. And it is a blessing. I would rather be single for the rest of my life, and loved by my family and friends for precisely who I am, than ever return to such a nightmare. He belittled me. He used me. He abused me. He deceived me. He gave me STDs and then got angry with me when I got angry with him about it (“Well how the fuck do you think I feel, man?”).
That was my reality last Christmas. But that’s the thing about life: we are the masters of our own fate. I don’t care what some try to tell you that is different. We have the power to change our circumstances. And I did. He never thought I’d leave him…but I fucking did. And unlike last Christmas, this year when I smile it’s genuine, and happy, and warm, because I am at peace. It’s the greatest gift in the world.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And to all…a good night.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities