You take my hand
And you say you’ve changed
But boy you know your begging don’t fool me
Because to you it’s just a game
(You know it’s just too little too late)
I was young
And in love
I gave you everything
But it wasn’t enough
And now you wanna communicate
(You know it’s just too little too late)
Go find someone else
I’m letting you go
I’m loving myself
You got a problem
But don’t come asking me for help
I can love with all of my heart, baby
I know I have so much to give
With a player like you I don’t have a prayer
Many people have sensed for a long time that something was very wrong with my life. I was convinced that I was taking care of a very ill person, and that was true in a sense, but the past week has been highly informative. I broke up with my partner of five years after months of fighting in which I shut down while they unleashed verbal abuse. I thought I was in a trusting, caring relationship. It turns out that only one of us cared for the needs of the other person.
After our breakup, I tried to say that maybe my ex-partner who has been dealing with a whole list of changing symptoms should seek out a care team. This opened the floodgates to a whole barrage of abusive rage, so frightening to me that I stopped responding.
Up until this point, I’ve been keeping my second relationship quiet by referring to Ryann as my roommate. The truth is that Ryann has revealed to me how someone can be both disabled and independent. I am also disabled, and I am learning what it means to be codependent so I can free myself, too. We are moving forward with the help of a professional team to lighten my load and communicating with the help of a therapist.
On the other hand, the partner I was with for years longer was someone who entered my life shortly after I escaped the Quiverfull cult. I trusted too quickly, and fell fast, not seeing that my homelessness was not something this person was helping me cope with, but something they continually caused by alienating everyone around me. When, thanks to my generous supporters, we finally had some stability in housing, my life got mysteriously harder.
I had so much to do and I couldn’t keep up. I had to make their phone calls, keep the apartment clean to their standards, plus handle preserving all the many pieces of art they created. The art medium was Perler beads, a more expensive and detailed medium than paint, and it was so much work for me to keep up with taping, ironing, and carefully preserving each piece. When I managed to keep up somewhat, their depression symptoms seemed to worsen, and it became my responsibility to entertain them in their boredom and keep them from the edge with my emotional work.
Things weren’t adding up. They needed me to fetch their phone charger from across the apartment because it was too painful to move from room to room yet could spend hours playing and creating. They were constantly worried about their blood pressure irregularity. Yet had no problem yelling at me for hours after I suggested maybe someone else should help take care of them.
Ryann and I left in the early morning while they were asleep because we felt unsafe. After this, we spent an entire week waiting for them to get out of the apartment we’d always paid for. I had been convinced that my ex was incapable of contributing financially due to their many symptoms. I bought them whatever they wanted because it wasn’t worth it to fight about it. I was always wrong in the end when we fought anyway.
Like I said, something was very wrong. Nothing confirmed this for me more than the apologize-and-butter-up phase, a common pattern for abusers. You see, they did the dishes. To try and win me back, they did all the dishes. I didn’t know this was possible for them to do at all, which is why I had been doing it all myself. I was devastated to learn I had given this person everything when they were taking advantage of my trusting, giving nature.
I feel ashamed to admit that I didn’t recognize the patterns. I am ashamed to write here that I fell for it. Some people will read this and think I’m just on to the next self-victimizing drama. The truth is, I spent my twenties learning what most kids learn in their teens about relationships. The song I opened with was written by a teenager. Many friends and even my sisters tried to warn me that I was making poor choices, but I couldn’t see it. My relationship mirrored the total obedience I was expected to show toward my parents growing up.
Like many abused partners, I thought I was seeing what nobody else could. They needed the help only I could offer. I wanted so badly to believe that there was lighthearted joking behind the cruelty, I couldn’t see it as constant abuse. When I realized what was happening, I was able to look back on every conversation we’d had and see the way they would shrug off insults and urges to move faster as merely jokes I didn’t get.
In five years of us being together, they had never done a single dish. It was too hard, too triggering for them, they established years ago. Suddenly, to win me back after I left, they were willing to demonstrate change…by demonstrating the capacity to do the things they always claimed were impossible. “I’m killing myself to do this,” they said, but what was I to believe after that? Their actions simply didn’t match their words.
Escaping gaslighting is a feeling I don’t want to experience ever again. I was groomed for this. I was taught that if I just did all the work, cooking well and doing all that was asked of me, I would be rewarded with a good, lasting relationship. This is what patriarchy teaches people who are assigned female. It is heavily reinforced within extreme Christian groups, like the one I grew up in.
All this time, I was thinking that at least my load was lighter than it was for me as a child. It was better than trying to live up to every expectation my parents had. It was easier than trying to keep track of and care for thirteen younger siblings. This is what my abuser counted on. I had been pushed around so much that I couldn’t recognize a different flavor of the same thing. In all honesty, I didn’t want to – I thought I’d found someone who understood me better than anyone. I had hoped to avoid this kind of problem by never getting married, but I lost five years to a committed relationship nevertheless. I just didn’t have the skills to recognize the bullies around me, convincing me that their vague affection combined with demeaning actions was all I could ask for.
This song, Question Existing by Rihanna, brought back a lesson I thought I had already learned:
I put in work
Did more than called upon, more than deserved
When it was over, did I wind up hurt? (Yes)
But it taught me, before a decision, ask this question first:
Who am I livin’ for?
Is this my limit?
Can I endure some more?
Chances are given, question existing
Dear diary, it’s Robyn
Entertain is something I do for a living
It’s not who I am, I’d like to think that I’m pretty normal
I laugh, I get mad, I hurt, I think I suck sometimes
But when you’re in the spotlight, everything seems good
Sometimes I feel like I have it worst
‘Cause I have to always keep my guard up
I don’t know who to trust
I don’t know who wants to date me for who I am
Or who wants to be my friend for who I really am
Rihanna’s words ring so clear to me now. Who can I trust in this world, when I’ve been watched so intently with morbid curiosity about what I went through? How much can I write about this experience, without coming across like I just victimize myself in every situation I encounter? Why did I laugh at all the non-jokes, only to look back in horror at the threats of violence I didn’t recognize? Why didn’t I establish better boundaries?
I was trapped in what I thought was love, but it was someone trying to drag me down to their drowning depths. They constantly said they hated me for how much people loved and supported me, unlike them. They constantly gave me shit, and I took it, laughing, because I thought we were sharing a joke. I thought we were playing consensually, but they had a habit of testing my limits to see when I’d draw a line instead of asking for my consent beforehand. It was abuse and it was not okay, and I see that now, and I’m looking back at the last five years with incredible regret.
I always knew I wasn’t old enough to write a memoir leading up to this. I didn’t have the life experience. I turn 30 next year and I have a lot more free time now to focus on writing. There will no longer be a violent, demanding, demeaning presence in the apartment to thwart my every attempt to take time for myself and prioritize my own work. I have learned a great deal about what not to do anymore, and I’ve gained a long list of red flags not to ignore in the future. That is all I can do: learn and move on.
The last song I want to reference in this post is I Went Too Far by Aurora. According to this live version, “it’s about not forgetting that you deserve to be loved as much as you love someone else.”
I went too far when I was begging on my knees
Begging for your arms, for you to hold them around me
I went too far and kissed the ground beneath your feet
Waiting for your love, waiting for our eyes to meet
Crying, give me some love, give me some love and hold me
Give me some love and hold me tight
Why can’t I turn around and walk away?
Go back in time?
I had to turn around and walk away
I couldn’t stay, I had to walk away
I’m left behind with an empty hole
And everything I am is gone
I tried to reach for another soul
So I can feel whole
The truth is that we cannot find happiness in other people, and it is ridiculous and wrong to expect someone to do that for you. I was a human antidepressant for someone who refused to go to therapy. We must do the hard work of finding something deeper within ourselves than codependency. I have been seeing a therapist to make sure I’m not carrying unhealthy habits into my other relationships.
In the end, my ex demonstrated that they would take everything from me and more. They wanted me to set myself on fire to keep them warm, and I tried, and it was futile. They isolated me and I didn’t see it, because I was wrapped up in trying to resolve the instability singlehandedly. The pandemic made everything worse. We were stuck inside for almost two years, and I was sacrificing my sleep schedule to bring them their meds three times a day. I was working from home, which meant my work was optional to them, except when they wanted me to make more money.
I want to apologize to everyone who has been standing by, offering support and kindness while seeing signs of trouble, and backing off when I defended my relationship. Thank you for being there when I escaped, offering help and safety in navigating this situation. I couldn’t have done it alone. There remains so much to learn. Things are changing for the better, and I want to establish firm, clear boundaries in my relationships going forward.