Susan and I were discussing a friend of ours who is in an abusive marriage, and I said: “Why do women stay in such toxic situations? I just don’t understand.”
It was in that moment that I realized that in the not so distant past, I was one of those women.
There was a time in my life about 15 years ago when I was lost, very lost. I had moved from San Diego and Susan, back to Pennsylvania. I was back in the land of my birth, back in the bosom of my family, back in beautiful green rolling hills and Amish buggies, back in the land of republicans and Christians and unforgiving relatives - back to what turned out to be the “Land of the Lost.”
I met this woman at a job I was working and I knew she was gay – She wasn’t out – well not to everyone – and neither was I – not to anyone – including myself. After some time we became involved and before I knew what was happening – my life had spun out of control.
I make no excuses except to say I was very vulnerable and I allowed this woman to take over my life. I allowed her to tell me what to wear, what to eat, what to drink, how to cook, when to shop, what to watch on the television, what music to listen to. She took control of my money, my phone, my email, my self-esteem, and honestly, I just didn’t care. I found myself lying to everyone, drinking too much, and going down a road that was surely going to lead me even further into the “Land of the lost.”
Abuse isn’t always physical – mental and verbal abuse are just as abhorrent on any level. It’s the constant battering of one’s soul that leads to death of one’s spirit. The constant demeaning and demanding that makes you know you will never be good enough, and never be deserving of anything more than you have right at that moment.
I believed her when she told me she was the only one who could ever love me and could ever take care of me. I believed her when she told me she knew best what was right for me, and I did whatever was necessary to keep her. Even when she told me she had her life planned out and I wasn’t included, I did whatever was necessary to make myself be in her life. I lowered myself to standards I didn’t even know existed and was happy to do it to stay in her life.
Somehow I found the strength to take a job that brought me more joy than I ever imagined. I loved this job – and she hated it. I worked in the evening and on weekends; she worked during the day and was off on the weekends. She wanted me home when she was there, and I was instructed to quit my job. I said no.
The yelling began, the arguing increased, and her drinking increased as I stopped drinking entirely. As my responsibilities at work increased, and I made new friends, my self-confidence began to show in ways that incensed her. I said no to her, I changed my passwords, I started wearing clothes I was comfortable in and the day I raised my hand to stop her hand from slapping my face, was the day I knew my life was about to change.
Looking back I realize how very lost I was. My life was a mess, I was running from everyone and everything - mostly – I was running from me. I chose to let her run my life and take away what little bit of dignity I had for what I thought was love and affection. The reality is it was never love or affection. It was power and money and control.
It’s rare that I think of her but when I do there is the realization of how very lucky I was to get away from her. She needed help with her drinking, with her anger, with her violence, with her ego…
Although there are always ways to get yourself out, not everyone has the strength it requires to say; “No more.” So, they stay in these abusive relationships for reasons that a strong, independent person will never understand.
Try not to judge. Everyone’s lives are filled with moments of weakness and times of trials and tribulations. Be kind as often as you can, be patient when you feel like screaming, and be that voice for those not strong enough or brave enough or those simply living in the “Land of the Lost.”