By Kelly Blundell
You know that person who everyone seems to love because they seem so sweet, caring, and genuine?
We’ve all seen it in movies — where that same person, behind closed doors, turns out to be manipulative, emotionally abusive, and an expert in gaslighting. It’s always the ones we least expect.
Some people might believe me if I told them I was in a relationship with a person like this, but many would likely squint their eyes and quietly question every word I said because the abuser is just as I described. And then some who were there to witness it will move on. That’s the problem with trauma. Everyone but the victim moves on. When you enter into an abusive relationship, life becomes very lonely for multiple reasons. You lose friends who were closest to you. Sometimes you lose family. But mostly, you lose yourself.
I lost myself, and I couldn’t regain my identity because she wouldn’t let me. Even after the relationship ended, as I was trying to put the pieces of my identity back together, my ex resorted to stalking. I thought I was free, but the trauma was just beginning. Stalking is a very powerful method abusers use. We can take steps toward getting it to stop. You can set up cameras, an alarm system, call the police (but let’s face it … they don’t help much with domestic issues), make your workplace aware of your situation, whatever you can think of. But when the stalking doesn’t stop for years on end, it just becomes part of your life.
Early in the relationship, just a few months in, is when I began leaving my life behind. I stopped going to events with my friends. Soon, I lost two of my best friends, and I lost the people I considered to be my second parents. None of these relationships were repairable. At first, I stopped socializing because my girlfriend’s jealous fits were unbearable. I couldn’t hang out with my best friend. I couldn’t even be alone with my own mother without her trying to weasel her way in. My life became her life.
It all started as a fun fling with a friend from work. I had just gone through a divorce and I was still really rough around the edges. Having a broken heart can make us do things that we wouldn’t normally do. For me, I ignored red flags that I’d usually throw a lit match at and run for my life. Well, let’s just say these red flags turned into banners and then billboards within a few short months. But by then, it was too late. I tried breaking up with her many, many times. My best friend cried to me and practically begged me to leave her because she couldn’t handle her coming between us anymore. But my girlfriend’s guilt trips were far more powerful than my best friend’s pleas. My mother, who lived out of state at the time, could only give me advice. During one of our conversations (me pretending that everything was okay), my mom said to me, “One day you’re going to wake up and realize how much she is controlling you. Because right now, I don’t think you have a clue.”
Eventually, my girlfriend convinced me that she was my one and only. And that’s when alcohol, which was a pretty good friend of mine before, became my best friend. She couldn’t guilt me away from that one. My alcohol-induced nights would medicate me for the days to come when I’d tell myself that everything was fine and I loved her. Gaslighting yourself while being gaslit by another is a rough gig.
I shared with my girlfriend how depressed I was, but instead of her taking any responsibility for the pain she’d caused me, she would push a narrative of me being a naturally sad and unhappy person. So I would lock myself in the bathroom, turn on the shower with some Pandora, and cry as hard and as quietly as I could. These private cry fests turned into panic attacks which then lead to thoughts of suicide. I became quite serious about these thoughts, with notes and plans all ready to go. One night, she invaded the bathroom (and would later go on to tell people about it in attempt to make me appear to be the unstable one). She picked me up off the floor and hugged me, stroked my hair as if I were a child, whispered in my ear telling me everything would be okay. Whatever else she said is unknown to my memory because I wanted her to go away. I wanted her to die. I wanted to die.
I tried breaking it off with her several times and every time she would dance circles around what I had to say. She would confuse my thoughts for hours (literally hours) until I would just start to cry out of frustration, at which point she’d immediately hug me, stroke my hair, and tell me everything would be okay. I felt more and more hopeless with each attempt. I can’t remember what clicked in my head, but one day I was like “Fuck it. I don’t care what happens any more, I just want her out of my life.”
I got home from work and I told her that I didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore.
“I am done.”
She kept asking me if I was sure, which turned into:
“I don’t believe you.”
“I think that you are troubled and depressed and you don’t know what you want.”
“This is love. You can’t deny our love.”
I locked myself in my bedroom and she camped out on the couch. This went on, more or less, for five days. She said she’d wait as long as she had to. She’d find me at work (we worked at the same company) and corner me, knowing I wouldn’t make a scene in front of customers or co-workers. I told her I wanted her to move out. One day I came home from work and she had taken my dogs. One night she had “gone fishing” and I texted her to pack a bag and go stay with someone until she could get a place. I started loading my dogs into my car so I could be gone while she packed. I was backing out of my driveway and she pulled in with her lights off so I wouldn’t see her, and I backed right into her car! She flung open my car door and flew onto my lap, begging me not to do it and crying: “How could you do this to me?! I need you! You’re abandoning me!” I finally got her to move her car, and as soon as I started to back out she jumped onto my trunk. I sped up and slammed on my breaks three times. Didn’t work. She finally got down when I threatened to call the police.
One night shortly after that incident a friend met me down the street from my house to hold my hand as I called the police for help. The police informed me that I’d have to give her a 30 day eviction notice and there wasn’t anything they can do. I cried like a fucking baby. My friend went with me to my house so I could pack my bag and get my dogs and go sleep at her place. After I left, my girlfriend messaged some mutual friends stating that she wasn’t leaving and it was her home.
She was finally out two days later.
But my relief was short lived. She continued to follow me around work, show up on my lunch breaks, tag herself on Facebook at my favorite park where I took my dogs every day after work, show up at the same cash register while I was shopping, drive past my house. A mutual acquaintance informed me that she was attempting to move into some apartments located a block from my home that had a view of the river that I liked to frequent with my dogs. My mother sent her a threatening message. It must’ve worked. However, she moved a mile away from me instead. My mother came from out-of-state to stay with me for a while so I wouldn’t be alone.
Odd things began happening. Two of my healthy trees suddenly died, my garage door would open, my mailbox would get knocked over, the backyard gate would be open. I decided to buy cameras and all the strange things stopped. But she was relentless at work. She attempted to get as many coworkers and friends against me as she could. Luckily, several of them had begun to see what was happening and wrote incident reports stating what they had witnessed. Management in her department began writing her up. The general manager of the company and HR had to get involved. It definitely put a halt to her stalking, but it was only temporary. As soon as the dust settled, she slowly started at it again but she would do it in such a way that only I would notice. And by then, everyone was tired of hearing about it and wanted to move on. Anytime I would bring it to a supervisor’s attention they would seem put out by it. I knew I was on my own. I was tired and angry and frustrated.
This is also the part where social media sucks. You can block the abuser, yet they still show up in your newsfeed. So you start unfollowing friends. But yet again… there’s that face that gives you the deepest anxiety. Do you delete social media? Do you tell your friends that you can’t hang with people who adore your abuser? I ran into this a lot. As I mentioned before, my ex has a very sweet personality and is loved by many. The obvious answer is to just let it go, right? But, as we all know that’s easier said than done. And how do you let the abuse go that would continuously linger in your life for two years after the break up? The only thing that would end it was to move hundreds of miles away.
How can we say that we take mental health seriously when we are so quick to turn our backs on abuse because we don’t want to take sides or because we don’t want to get involved?
Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I push harder for help? Why did I sugar coat everything?
For one, people wouldn’t fully believe me. Second, I didn’t want to be “that girl.” I was still “that girl getting over a divorce.” I felt like I was adding insult to injury. Third, it’s my word against hers and she is way more persuasive than I could ever be. Fourth, I felt like there was some cosmic power giving me what I deserved for being a little unstable in my early 20s. And lastly, I thought maybe if I just ignored her she’d go away.
I recently moved out of state to have a new beginning. A fresh start. Now, I am several hours and hundreds of miles away from her. I haven’t felt this light in years.