We all have ghosts, you know, those memories of people of the past that can come out of nowhere and haunt you. I work really hard to keep my ghosts at bay, to not let them get to me, There is nothing I can do about the past except make sure I don't make similar mistakes.
With all the talk about domestic violence in the news lately, one of my ghosts has managed to get to me. I've tried not to dwell on the 3 years this ghost represents but the thoughts and memories are there. I've decided to write about my experience in the hopes that getting it all out will let me bury this ghost once and for all.
I spent 3 years in a physically, emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. "J" (it's better I keep his real name out of this) was that clean cut attractive farm boy all the girls had a crush on. Although young and wild, I knew I was not looking for love, just a good time when I met him. He swept me off my feet of course. He was full of charm and swagger, with a boyish smile and fire in his eyes.
Our relationship was complicated at best in the beginning, we both brought a lot of baggage with us. I had been around long enough to have been in a few dysfunctional relationships already, chaos and tension were kind of the norm for me in those days.
The abuse started almost right away, at first it was subtle things, a grab of the arm just a little too hard, discrediting friends who seemed to dislike him, intense verbal attacks, exaggerated jealousy. I mistook his behavior for passion, for desire, for love, instead of what it really was.
I never thought I would end up in an abusive relationship. I thought I was stronger than that, smarter than that. J just had this power over me from the very start. I let him control me, abuse me, manipulate me and violate me. I had never let anyone treat me the way he treated me. He was my kryptonite - I felt powerless against him.
I use to think the reasons I used to stay made sense. We had only been together a few months when I got pregnant. I had been raised without a father, I did not want the same fate for my child. Even when I would be laying on the bathroom floor curled in a ball to protect my womb from his forceful kicks, I rationalized my reasons for staying. J did not like for me to work. He thought my place was in the home. I did everything I could to make him happy. I had never really saw myself as domesticated, but I learned fast. I made sure I took care of his every need. I was completely dependent on him for everything but I created a home environment that made it feel as though he needed me, how could I leave, he needed me.
By the time our child was born, I knew he would never willingly let me go. I had tried once to leave, early on in our relationship after he beat me for the first time. When he found me, hiding at a friends house he did not care for, he told me that I belonged to him, that our unborn child belong to him and that he would rather kill me before letting me just walk away from him. That is when I lost hope of ever being free. Staying felt like the only option I had. That's what he wanted.
The worst part of it all was that NO ONE really knew how bad the abuse was. Living with J was like living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. To the outside world J was a hardworking young man who doted on his Wife (we were common-law) and child. He went to work, he paid his bills, was nice to the people around him. He smiled in public, held my hand in public, whispered sweet nothings in my ear in public. He was helpful and friendly and people loved him, they praised him and they lifted him up. Of course, at home, behind closed doors he was dark and cruel. He loved to joke that he ruled with an iron fist... sadly though it was not really a joke. I had rules that must be followed. He had no tolerance for anything not done his way. There were punishments for what he deemed misbehavior. I woke up everyday knowing that I would be called worthless, lazy, and ugly. I woke up everyday knowing I would be hit at least once in the course of the day, because it reminded me of his power. He was brutal and mean behind closed doors. He was manipulating and dominate behind closed doors, and he always demonstrated his power and control.
It was 3 long years of fear, of pain, of soul crushing weakness. I would dream of running away, of being strong enough to stay away. I dreamed of finding control, finding strength. I dreamed of loving him enough to change him, to heal him of his anger. I dreamed that maybe one day the abuse would stop and we could be a real family, with no pain, no hurt and no anger.
It's been almost 16 years since I finally found the courage to leave J. He did not make it easy, but once I found my courage, he did not seem so scary. I still don't know why it took me so long to find that courage, but once I did there was no going back.
I use to think about what made me so helpless under J's control, what made me powerless in his presents, why I didn't lover myself enough to leave him the first time he hit me. I blamed myself for the abuse, sure it was something I did, or didn't do that caused him such anger. 3 years of abuse striped away my self confidence, my self worth and my voice.
Healing from the abuse was a long, rough road. J was no longer physically able to abuse me, but he was very much in my head and had a grip on my emotions for years. Even after I found away to forgive him, I struggled with finding forgiveness for myself. I might not have done anything wrong to create the abuse, it might not have been my fault J was broken inside. My guilt had to do with staying, with what I saw as allowing the abuse to continue when I could have left. I understand now of course that the guilt was a product of the abuse, I did not deserve to be beaten, to be dehumanized and violated. I may not have been perfect, but even with faults, nothing I did warranted being treated like a punching bad, being torn and beaten down.
J may have meant to ruin me, to take away my spirit and my willingness to love again, but he did not succeed. I survived his abuse, I over came his abuse. I discovered real love, respectful love, true love. J's ghost haunts me still from time to time but he is long gone from my heart and my soul and even though it felt like I spent 3 years in hell, I am better and stronger then he ever thought I would be, then he ever said I would be - I guess I could say, I won in the end.
I am ready to let go of his ghost, of the ghost that was our relationship, that was my prison. I've long ago forgiven him and forgotten him and as my beautiful oldest child inches ever closer to adulthood, it is time to let go finally of these ghost and live free from the sorrow and pain that was those 3 years.
Ghosts can be hard to live with, they can be hard to ignore or dismiss - but when you find the strength to let the ghost go, it can be the most enlightening and uplifting experience... One I am grateful to have.