I have a confession: I occasionally watch entertainment news on ‘E!’ and have been known once or twice to keep up with the Kardashian clan. (Mental Xanax without need of a prescription; because there’s nothing more hypnotic than watching a bunch of vapid, shallow individuals run around stirring up unnecessary drama in their otherwise blissfully elitist lives.)
Normally there’s no need for commentary on what I see. It’s pure fluff. But one story about six months ago hit a little closer to home; yanking me out of the land of superficiality. Specifically I’m referring to the news of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp and the chaos that ensued when they first announced their divorce and the accusations of abuse began flying.
I suppose the standard disclaimer is required before I proceed: I have no idea what actually happened in their relationship. I wasn’t there. Nor was the media, or anyone else who commented on what they think ‘really happened’. She could be a manipulative you-know-what making a grab for a lifetime of spousal support. Or he could be everything she says, and has simply been fortunate enough to not have a partner go public with the truth before now.
That’s what I don’t know.
But here’s what I DO know, based off of my own experiences with an abusive relationship and the nightmare of extricating myself from it:
I know that my psychopathic/narcissistic ex Randall completely destroyed my reputation with his family and any friends of his or mutual friends of ours. And when I say destroyed, I mean with a capital ‘D’. He left no stone unturned painting me as a crazy pathological liar who had set out to systematically ruin his life. And those who loved him – or should I say those who were (and probably still are) thoroughly under his manipulative spell – believed him without question and set about drawing their lines in the sand. Harassing me with messages that were anything but polite; outraged on his behalf and calling me every horrific name in the book.
I know he took every mistake I legitimately made (and yes, I made them) and twisted it and magnified it into something ugly. Where I saw HIS failings as a chance for grace, mercy, and unconditional love…he saw MY failings as weaknesses to exploit, and he did it masterfully.
My family and friends – those who’ve known me since birth – were witness to what he did. Some of them even received calls from him or one of his cohorts, spouting off stories of my depravity; trying to convince everyone from my parents to my business associates that I was a sick, twisted individual who had ruined his life.
So I KNOW an abuser – be they psychopathic or not – is capable of doing this. Capable of looking you square in the face and lying about what they’ve done or said when confronted. Perhaps even drinking their own Kool-Aid enough to believe it themselves, which is how they can be so calm and composed about the whole thing.
I also know someone can be a saint to select family and friends, but a nightmare to their partners. I witnessed this first-hand too. I would come out of a nerve-wracking, bone-chilling conversation (if you can call it a conversation) with Randall and then watch him flip a switch, smile warmly at his friends and tell them how much he appreciated them. I’d watch him give them the shirt off his back (a shirt more often than not that was paid for with my money or the money of his ex Blanche…but that’s a story for another day), and the couch to sleep on if they needed it (ahem…my couch), and in return these people thought he walked on water. Admired him for his ‘frank honesty’ and his ‘genuine personality’. For the way he would ‘keep it real’.
So when Johnny Depp had people coming out of the woodwork praising him and expressing shock that anyone could ever think on any level he was capable of such treatment of a woman…that was cold comfort to me. My ex had a sister who would have stood up and defended him to her last breath had she been given the opportunity. His mother was rising up in his defense, sending me messages telling me she didn’t know where I got off hurting and messing with her children, but I’d better stop or else…
His ex-girlfriend was coming after me and probing into my life (that’s a long story in and of itself). In short, there were a lot of people who were believing I was the worst thing since the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and all of this in spite of the fact that I had been supporting this man for almost two years, and looking the other way/offering forgiveness for all of his transgressions, his infidelities, his drug use, the STDs he gave me, the times he’d broken or damaged things of mine in anger, and the way he was alienating/isolating me more and more from my family and friends because of his unnervingly aggressive/inappropriate behavior. I was even lying for him and keeping his secrets; and let’s just say there are things I know to this day that would land him in prison for a long time if it came to light. But I kept those secrets. Loyally. Faithfully. And continued to love him and forgive him for everything he did; over and over and over again.
Didn’t matter. These people – his people – now believed I was the villain. They weren’t interested in hearing my side of the story. And he was good enough at manipulating that he was able to take grains of truth (I DID tell some lies by the end and I DID do some things I’m not proud of in the name of ‘keeping the peace’) and twist them until I was the psychotic liar, not him. Point being: I know full well just because you have an army of people at your back vouching for your character doesn’t mean they’re right. And I also know that even if you have NO ONE vouching for you and you’re being portrayed – as in Amber’s case – as a manipulative, greedy bitch…that doesn’t mean any of it’s true.
I know it takes courage to come forward and announce that the life you’d been trying to live – and portray to the world – is false. I know if her accusations were true (again, I don’t know if they were…I’m just saying they might have been), he was also probably loading her up beforehand with promises that if she ever went public with anything he’d done, no one would believe her and he’d make sure he ruined HER life while he came out smelling like a rose. Because that’s what abusers do. It’s part of how they keep control.
People asked why did she seem so happy in photos just before filing for divorce? Why did she say nothing previously about physical abuse? Surely that’s proof she was lying, they said, because no one could smile if they were in that kind of a relationship…
…except that’s false. I’ve been there. I’ve been the one smiling and acting like nothing is wrong, all the while feeling exhausted because I got no sleep after my partner and I had another fight that left me reduced to tears as he ripped into my character and my failings. I’ve sat in a hospital, holding his hand, and appearing for all the world like a doting, loving girlfriend…while in my mind I’m recalling how cold the ice was in that drink he threw on me, and I’m picturing the faces of all the women he’d finally admitted to sleeping with, making me physically sick to my stomach.
But I still outwardly looked ‘okay’. Why? Because I was processing what was happening. Because I was embarrassed. Because I didn’t even know how to start talking about it. Because he was still able to manipulate me into thinking the behavior was justifiable and okay. An ‘isolated incident’. Because I was ashamed. Because I was still buying into his bullshit that I must have done something wrong to deserve that kind of treatment; I’d not made enough money yet, or our life wasn’t exciting enough yet, or I’d promised he could do certainly things before we got together…the list of justifications was endless. And I’d buy into it.
My point is, I’ve BEEN that woman. The one who is living in hell, but isn’t reaching out or telling anyone. There are a thousand different reasons a woman might not say anything. A thousand different reasons she might call the police in a moment of fear, but then decline to actually file a report. (I’ve been that woman too; contemplating calling police and starting to talk, but then ultimately backing off because I’m afraid of the ball I’ll set in motion. Rationalizing that surely I’m not ACTUALLY in danger, even if he’s made death threats…so I need to just let it go…it’s not worth ruining his life and mine if in fact it’s all just one big misunderstanding…)
So just because there was a photo of Amber Heard smiling with friends doesn’t mean she wasn’t still living in hell.
Long story short, the whole story that played out on television triggered me in surprising ways, partly because it was happening at the precise moment Randall had begun his own smear campaign against me. Perhaps that left me biased. All I know is as I watched it at the time, I was disgusted with the way so many pounced on her as a money-grubbing evil woman attacking a beloved celebrity. I understand of course that those accusations would be shocking if the man you knew as a friend/relative/ex-lover was a kind man who never before showed himself to be abusive…but that didn’t give people the right to automatically slander/discredit Amber Heard either.
I found myself wishing people would step back and let things play out in court, instead of diving in. I wished it didn’t feel like the feeding frenzy directed at Amber Heard was unfair; like David tackling Goliath with his slingshot. And as I said, I was probably biased at the time…but that doesn’t make my points any less valid.
The smearing did its job though, didn’t it? Even though she won her case and had her settlement paid to a charity for battered and abused women, the public to this day questions whether or not it was all just one big ruse by her to gain attention and relevance in the spotlight. Is it any wonder why abused women feel intimidated and hopeless about the notion of coming forward or speaking out?
I thought I would be embraced when I finally came forward and opened up about what I was going through…and I was, by my family and friends…but the people surrounding Randall threw me away with disgust. (The same people who’d witnessed some of his abuses toward me, and helped him keep his lies for so long.) It was disheartening to realize good doesn’t always triumph over evil, but at least in my case I was able to disconnect from them all and start the process of healing and moving on with my life.
If you’re at the point where you’re ready to leave your abuser, make sure you have a plan in place for support before you go. You’ll need it. Because mark my words, your abuser will try to slander and smear you and intimidate you, either to wrangle you back into the relationship in submission, or to save their own reputation for future relationships. So be prepared, have your safety net of loved ones and trusted friends in place, and take a deep breath before you take the plunge. It’s a wild ride…but the good news is, it does eventually end.
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