“Have you ever noticed that people sometimes quit a job soon after returning from a vacation? We all have a higher tolerance for frustrating or unhealthy situations in our lives when they are constant, but when we get a little time away and then come back, that taste of freedom changes our perspective. What had been a dull ache turns into a sharp pain and becomes unbearable.”
- Lundy Bancroft (Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men) -
Time passed and life went on, as it always does. I was working full time and raising two children that I had full custody of as a single mom. And as difficult as it was some days, I was enjoying that period tremendously. I made new friends, cherished my independence, began a journey of spiritual exploration, and the intricate mess inside my brain from being in such a toxic relationship for so long began to clear. And that’s when the trouble started.
Eighteen months after the police incident with my ex, I began to feel like a ton of bricks was sitting on my chest, pressing against my heart. I had trouble breathing and concentrating, lost my appetite and barely got any sleep. Years and years worth of terrible experiences with my ex played over and over again in my head and I found myself asking many questions and trying to understand it all. Why did he do that? Why did I let it happen? Why didn’t I see the signs?
This went on for several weeks and it began to take a toll on me physically, emotionally and mentally, so I called the health clinic located near my home and asked if I could please make an appointment to see a counselor. When asked for what reason, I explained how I felt and was told that it sounded like grief. Grief? But we were in the second year of separation. Shouldn't I be over all that by now? Not necessarily, I was told. Sometimes people feel worse in year two because the initial numbness, which typically serves as a protective barrier, has worn off and the full intensity of emotions is finally experienced.
A week or two later, I found myself sitting across from a female counselor around my age at the time (let’s call her ‘D’) with the nicest smile and most sensitive eyes. She asked me a few preliminary questions and then encouraged me to simply tell her what’s on my mind. Initially, I intended to just share what I’d been feeling for the past little while, but there was something so comforting about being with her that I started from way, way back; all the way to the beginning when I first met my ex.
I told her things I’d never told anyone, shared with her the most difficult times and walked her through my story. All the way to the last few months when my ex wanted to divorce but wouldn't leave, and to the last day of the cruelest and most vicious treatment I’d ever been subjected to. And I recited everything quite calmly, clinically. No emotion. No tears. Not even a sigh. Until I reached the question that had been plaguing me for what seemed like forever. I looked ‘D’ in the eyes and started to ask “How can anyone treat another human being like that...” but didn't finish. Because I fell apart. Days and weeks and months and years of pain had finally caught up with me; emotions that I had bottled up and never dealt with surfaced. The tears that I had pushed away for years exploded from me and I couldn't say a word as I struggled to breathe.
My sudden emotional collapse caught ‘D’ by surprise and she frantically searched her office for tissues. When she discovered she had none, she jumped to her feet and ran out the door and down the corridor to the bathroom to bring me some toilet paper, all the while calling out “I'll be right back! It’s okay. It’s okay. Just hold on.” When she returned, she handed me the paper and waited patiently as I struggled to regain my composure. When I finally began to calm down, she smiled at me. I laughed nervously and apologized for my breakdown. “Don’t be silly.” She said. “Sometimes we need a good cry”. Then she asked if I’d like to finish my question. I did.
“How can anyone treat another human being like that and feel absolutely no remorse?” I asked.
She sighed, leaned forward and said to me “My dear girl, you haven’t even begun to understand just how much mental abuse you've had to endure.” This time, I believed it. And with that acceptance, the healing began. Every two weeks I met with ‘D’ and she literally changed my life. Till this day I say that I owe my emotional and psychological healing to this amazing woman. As time went on, the mind games, emotional blackmail, psychological torment and abusive cycle I’d lived for years were completely transparent. By meeting with her and reading the books she recommended, I began to understand everything. And with that understanding came emotional and mental liberation.
During that period, I came face to face with yet another manipulative incident with my ex (which is much too long to explain, and really, why bother), and I discovered that for the first time since I’d met him, I saw his mind games for what they are and I could detect his bullshit a mile away. The mental fog was gone.
As I sat and watched my children playing in the park I took them to immediately after that, my entire relationship with him flashed through my mind like a movie and I saw every toxic moment clearly. How he’d played his game. How I’d fallen victim. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh...I see. I see it. I see it. I. See. It. All. Now. And I found myself thinking “No one should ever treat someone like this. And no one should allow themselves to be treated this way.” I headed home that day with a newfound strength and perspective, and later that week I contacted a lawyer, drew up divorce papers that were long overdue and had my ex served. I was finally free and a new path opened up that would eventually lead me to cross paths with the most amazing man in the world.
To be continued...
(For those of you who are wondering from the last post if I dropped the charges, I did. I had a few months to think about it and decided it was the right thing to do. Had I gone through with the court case and he’d gotten a record, his employment and maybe his entire career would have been jeopardized. And as much as I felt he deserved it, it just didn't seem right. In any case, he never crossed that boundary again. Perhaps he realized that I would take action if necessary.)