This is a hard one.
I’ve wanted to write this so many times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Throughout the last year of blogging I’ve shared many secrets, but I think that this one is the one that I still feel deep rooted shame about, for a variety of reasons.
I was so young and foolish, and looking at my children now, I realize how important it is to talk about, because I don’t want them to someday end up in the same situation.
I guess the time to begin is now, right?
As I mentioned, I was young.
And extremely naive.
I was fifteen, and one day the most magical of things happened:
A guy actually liked me.
I wasn’t exactly cool in high school. I was weird, I liked books better than most people (still do, old habits die hard), and my past and mental health issues made it really difficult for me to relate to my peers.
So for me, this was a big deal.
If only I had known what I was in for.
It all began innocently enough, but before I knew it it all spiraled wildly out of control.
That is actually the key word here.
It didn’t take long for him to cut me off from my group of friends.
He even cut himself off from his group of friends, which at first I found odd.
But I quickly found out that it was because he didn’t want me speaking to other males.
Fast forward a year, and this became an even greater issue when I got a job at a local drive-in.
Obviously, to do my job properly, I had to speak to other males. My boss, my coworkers, etc.
My boyfriend didn’t like that, and there are two specific times that it exploded in my face.
On a fateful night in June, over ten years ago, we were forced to give out free root beer floats as part of a promotion.
You probably know how people get with free stuff.
Even in that small town, the place turned into a madhouse. My boss had anticipated this, and warned us ahead of time that we would probably work late.
I relayed this information to my boyfriend, who was the person who usually picked me up from work.
However, on said evening, he didn’t listen to me. He showed up early, and it made me nervous when he did that.
He showed up early at times, and I knew it was so he could watch me.
I went out to his car and told him (yet again) that I would have to work late, the floors were literally covered in root beer because we had all been working so quickly.
He didn’t like that, and grabbed me by the arm while yelling at me to get in the car.
And at that moment one of my coworkers happened to be taking out trash, and saw what was happening.
He called out to me, asking if I was okay.
I brushed him off and went back inside.
I knew my coworker was concerned, and it felt odd to actually receive that from someone.
You see, I worked in a different town than the one I went to school in. At my school, people knew my boyfriend and I fought constantly. I was always crying, usually because I had looked the wrong way or said the wrong thing, or whatever other tiny thing that set off his explosive temper.
But my disadvantage was that he was known as being a nice guy, and I was known as being cold and strange, and because of that I felt trapped.
I knew that even if I had the guts to say something, odds were nobody would ever believe me.
So it was strange to have someone express concern, and it actually felt nice to have someone care for a change.
You probably think that this is the part of the story where I say I dumped this guy and went on my merry way, but that didn’t happen.
I forgave him, like I always did.
The next work related incident occurred in my driveway.
As we were leaving school that day, one of my female coworkers made a leud joke about my boss and I.
It was inappropriate, but clearly a JOKE.
My boss was happily married, and this coworker was just trying to be humorous.
Obviously, my boyfriend did not find it humorous, and he screamed at me all the way to my house.
At this point I was sixteen, I was stubborn, and I was angry that despite giving up all my friends, all my freedom, everything really, that he still didn’t trust me.
So I told him that I wouldn’t leave his car until he admitted that he was being ridiculous.
Somehow I thought this was a good idea.
In a flash he opened the passenger door, shoved me out of the car, and tore out of my driveway, narrowly avoiding running over my legs.
I landed on my face in the gravel, and ended up with a bruise on my forehead and some other soreness.
This is probably the point yet again where you will think that I am finally going to tell you I dumped this guy, but I didn’t.
I forgave him, and the next day I carefully concealed the bruise on my face with drugstore makeup, just as I regularly concealed the rashes I got from crying so often.
Analyzing why I continually stayed in this relationship is lengthy, and honestly a post for another time, but I can give a few reasons.
I was so used to being abused by my stepmom, that the emotional abuse and criticism wasn’t that unusual to me.
When you experience abuse for a length of time, you almost become conditioned to it, and it was my normal.
So when I began eating emotionally, and he told me he preferred me bigger, because it meant, “Less men would look at me,” it just sounded like something my stepmom would say.
She was physical with me on occasion too, and in that way they were similar.
They also had another major similarity:
That they were well liked by others.
I didn’t leave the relationship until it almost reached its two year point.
I was on a trip with my grandma, sister, and best friend of ten years. She was like a little sister to me, younger than me, and the best friend I could have.
During the trip she expressed concern about my relationship, and said the words that changed my life:
“As angry as he gets, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he hit you.”
She didn’t know the truth, because nobody did. She especially didn’t know about the time I had landed on my face in my driveway.
But in that moment I imagined someone treating her that way, and I was filled with protective rage.
And then I was filled with confusion, as I realized that the standards I set for my best friend should also apply to me.
When I got home from that trip I gathered everything he had ever given me into two trash bags.
I called him, had him come over, and told him I never wanted to see him again.
He cried and protested, he tried using the tricks that had worked in the past, but I didn’t care.
I left him crying in the hallway, went into my kitchen, and made myself a burger.
There is far more than can be written about this, and this was really a condensened version, but for now I will save that for another time.
This is a secret I’ve carried for many years, and there is part of me that is still terrified at anyone knowing.
But I know that it’s time to let it go.
And I also know that there are countless other people who have faced the same dilemma, mistaking dangerous protectiveness and emotional abuse for love.
It is important to know the signs of emotional abuse as well as physical. Back then I wasn’t aware of them, but I am now.
Alienating someone from their friends, jealousy, explosive anger, setting unreasonable boundaries, etc.
These are dangerous warning signs.
Not normal, not “cute,” not “protective.”
And especially, NOT love.
(Written for October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For more information, visit: