• Emma Corlett

Abusive relationships aren't just black eyes and public rows; they're nuanced and complicated

Updated: Jul 6, 2018

It's a horrible fact to admit but almost every woman (and man) will experience an abusive relationship in their life in one way or another. Everyone I talk to about this says they would never let that happen to them, that if their partner got violent they would just leave immediately. But there's a whole world of signs and bad events that have to occur before the violence starts. No one knowingly enters an abusive relationship; they enter a loving one that becomes abusive. The damage a person can do to your mind is much greater and longer lasting than the damage they can do to you physically. Here is my account of when it happened to me. At the time it was happening I didn't recognise the damage it was doing to me or the extent of how toxic it really was. Once while it was going on, I read a blog of one person's account of how it happened to them and it resonated with me. It's what made me recognise that my situation was unhealthy and ultimately led me to let go of it. I'm writing this today in the hope that if someone somewhere who is going through a similar thing, might come across this as I did, and find the courage to change the situation they are in.

What you're about to read is in parts quite graphic and upsetting.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the events of this story and the effect that they had on me, and it's only now; two years later that I feel like I'm truly ready to talk openly about it without tearing open the wound again. I felt so much shame for allowing myself to be treated this way, and it took a lot of self actualisation to accept this experience and turn it into something positive. If you feel like this might be happening to you, please do not hesitate to ask someone you trust for help.

I also do not advise that young children read this.

I met A at a party when I was 25 and he was 22. I thought at first the age difference would be an issue, but after seeing him a couple of times I decided that he was mature for his age, and it wouldn't be problematic. He was charming, poetic, romantic, respectful and affectionate. He noticed things about me no one else had; like the way I hide behind my hands when I eat, or the way I look when I'm pretending to know what's going on, or the look in my eye when I talk about my photography. He complimented me like crazy, and made me feel like the most amazing girl he had ever met. He spoke wistfully of a deep, spiritual connection we possessed, and would spend hours staring into my eyes, speaking without words. He wrote poetry about our connection, about the way my hair moved, the way we curled around each other so tight when we lay down, the way our breaths used to cascade into one. We were convinced we were so synergised we thought we were connected telepathically. We could talk about life and the planets, the stars, our dreams and our fears for hours and not get tired of each other. I think we watched TV together twice in the time I knew him. After a couple of months, I realised I had totally fallen for him. He used to talk about our love as if it was the greatest and most enigmatic love that ever existed; I believed him. We were obsessed with each other, in the most beautiful way.

It was shortly after we said "I love you" that things started to go awry. I took him to see our favourite band for his birthday, and before we even got on the train to get to the venue we started arguing about something trivial. The argument got nasty really quickly; he easily pushed me to the point where I was disgusted with how he spoke to me, and I was appalled that someone who loved me could say such awful things. I remember when I finally got into bed that night, being emotionally exhausted from the rollercoaster he had just put me through. I assumed the next day he would be nothing but apologies for his vile drunk behaviour and so I tried to forget it. The apologies did not come the next day, rather the blame was left with me for overreacting and aggravating the situation. I had no choice but to accept that I was drunk and probably just didn't handle the situation correctly.

We decided to move past this and write it off. I didn't realise at the time though, I was just setting a standard for how badly I was willing to be treated.

Things were fine for a while, we were making each other happy and enjoying getting to know each other most nights. I was entranced by him and his flamboyancy again.

One night I got a call from him around 4am. He was really drunk and almost incoherent. He started off pleasantly, asking how my night was going and being cheerful. He then asked me what I got up to when I was out the night before, to which I replied "Which night?" His voice started turning poisonous with every word, until he was spitting them down the phone "What the fuck did you get up to the other night? Have you been fucking cheating on me? You lying little slag." I was so shocked by the venom in his voice I was lost for words. I asked him what he was talking about and he shouted that a few of his friends had reported seeing me kissing other guys and going home with one. None of these things happened. I asked him who had said this and he exclaimed "Why the fuck should I tell you that you fucking lying slag." I couldn't get much sense out of what he was saying, so I offered to pick him up so we could talk about it. I figured it was reasonable to be angry at the prospect of your love cheating on you, and he just needed to be reassured it wasn't the case. I picked him up and we went over the events of the other night. He scrutinised every detail of my story, analysing every word as if it would hold the answer to his question. He claimed several of his friends (who were never named) had seen me doing shots with boys, grinding and kissing someone on the dance floor, getting someones number and leaving with another. I kept reassuring him over and over and over again that I loved him and would never dream of doing anything like that to him, offering the additional reassurance of the friends that had been present that night. Eventually, after what felt like days later, he dropped it and we tried to move on. This night, and this story turned out to be the leverage he used to justify emotionally and physically torturing me for the next 8 months.

Every encounter would start well. We would start cooking or having a deep conversation whilst cuddling, getting to know each other more. He continued with the lovely compliments and sweet observations, but something was different. He started trickling in hurtful ones too; drip feeding into my self doubt. They slowly ate away at me. It started with what I thought at first was sweet; protesting the amount of makeup I wore and how much better I looked without it. I wasn't confident enough at that point not to wear makeup, and so the comment was welcomed. Then they moved onto what I wore, and how it made me come across to others. Then it moved onto my hair, the way I spoke, the things I shared on social media, my tattoos, my list of failed relationships, the number of people I'd slept with, my photography, the amount of food I ate, my vocabulary, the things I had done in my past, the horrible things people say about me... the list was constantly growing. He brought every insecurity I ever had back to the surface and made it come alive again. At the time it never occurred to me that he was just intimidated by me and this wasn't something he was used to; he was always the intimidating one. My age and experience meant that he couldn't possibly compete and this tortured him. I stuck around by convincing myself that he was helping me become a better person by forcing me to address my flaws.

Going out without him; even if it was just with my girlfriends to their houses, became a whole drama I grew completely tired of. Every single time he'd be texting me constantly, asking me who I was with, asking for selfies to prove where I was... and then there was the interrogation afterwards. Picking every aspect of my story apart, searching for inconsistencies, accusing me of everything he could possibly think of until I could prove otherwise. He constantly brought up that night right from the start where his friends insisted I had been unfaithful and used it to justify his distrust. I decided after a while it just wasn't worth the hassle of the argument, and started blowing my friends off completely.

I tried to bring him out with my friends a few times, hoping that would settle his nerves about what I got up to without him. This usually always ended the same way: with him saying something nasty to me in secret, and then treating me like a drama queen for being upset; ruining the night completely and making it seem to everyone that it was all my fault. I remember one night when one of my best friends took us both out to bond with him, he convinced himself that there was something going on between us and we were flaunting it right under his nose. He accused her right before we left and she went berserk at him, which made things so much worse. When we got home, we had a blazing row about it and he threw me at full force against a wall and stormed out, leaving me a crumpled, soggy mess on the floor of my living room. I remember curling up into a ball and sobbing with my whole body, aching at the disbelief of how awful the man that loved me could be to me.

Another time I had a few friends over- one of them being male- so I invited A to join us to ease his mind. He declined, saying he had other plans (he rarely told me what his plans actually were. I was too scared of an argument to question it.) I didn't hear from him all night, Then he turned up drunk around 3am after everyone had left. I opened the door and he had this menacing look that he used to get when accusing me of cheating on him. He leaned over to kiss me, and as he did he shoved his hands in my pants and rammed his fingers inside me. Then as fast as it happened, he withdrew his hand and smirked triumphantly as if he'd caught me out, and said "Well it looks like someone already got here before me." He shoved me backwards, turned around and left. I didn't hear from him for a day and a half. When I did, he acted as if nothing had happened.

Being around him became tiring and tumultuous. One minute he was excessively loving and affectionate, the next he was pointing out more flaws and laughing at them, the next he was digging into one of my stories, trying to trip me up and look for clues as to whether I was lying or cheating on him. Everytime I saw him, I'd go from complete adoration to fear, to hatred in the same breath. I cried almost every time. I remember after a while every time I saw him, I'd start to uncontrollably shake, and struggle to breathe. I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack. He used to laugh at me and say I was putting it on and stop trying to make him feel sorry for me. I thought maybe I was putting it on. He was right about most of the other things, why wouldn't he be right about this?

His paranoia meant he was constantly asking questions and looking through my things. I guess I put up with all of it because I was determined to prove him wrong and finally get the realisation and apology for all the mistreatment, so that maybe eventually it wouldn't all be for nothing. I gave him all my passwords, and he checked my messages obsessively. He started dragging up old conversations with people I had dated years ago, using them as examples for what a horrible person I am and justifying his paranoia further. The truth is I had been unfaithful a couple of times in the past, but I had grown and learned the error of my ways since. Something he never could grasp. "Once a cheat, always a cheat" was his favourite statement.

The daily anxiety he caused me meant I struggled to eat and I started to shed weight at an alarming rate. He noticed, as did his friends and mine. He accused me of throwing up my food and claimed I was doing it to get attention. I remember going to a BBQ with him that my best friend was at, and it was the first time I'd seen her in months. She dragged me into the bathroom and made me strip to show her the extent of my weight-loss. When she saw how thin I had become she burst into tears and just kept asking me what had happened to me. I didn't have an answer for her. I didn't even recognise myself anymore.

His paranoia started to take over his life. He spent hours of every day digging through my life and my things, looking for answers to questions he didn't know. He made me feel utterly exposed and ashamed all of the time. He blamed me for wasting his life. He blamed me for everything. I remember once he tried to blame me for him forgetting to go to a job interview because he thought I'd lied to him about what day it was. often he would say something cryptic, then ignore me for hours, watching me work myself up into a frenzy. He thought that acting like he knew everything about me and what I was supposedly doing behind his back would make me confess. I contemplated just lying and giving him a fake confession so he could finally drop it. Not once did I consider just cheating on him. I loved him so much, and I refused to let him be right about me.

He was convinced I was giving sexual favours to my boss in exchange for extra perks, and often used to turn up to my office unannounced and ring the buzzer until I came downstairs. If he wasn't showing up to my work, he would start an argument about something, which would eat up most of my working day. It usually left me feeling so broken and helpless that I couldn't focus back into my work. I ended up messing up, a lot, continuously. My boss was understanding to a point, but eventually grew tired of my excuses and let me go. I blamed myself and felt like a huge failure. He reinforced this when I got home by telling me I should have tried harder, this was what I got for making him fail university; I wasn't good enough for that job anyway.

It was when the serious accusations started that I started to question his sanity and really truly fear him. The first one was that I was a prostitute, working for a secret team run under the table at the bar I worked at. He used to message me constantly while I was at work, asking for selfies holding a certain number of fingers up or doing a specific facial expression in a specific location. I naively thought he just wanted a nice picture of his girlfriend. He was in fact just trying to get me to prove that I was where I said I was. I remember vividly the find my iPhone logo used to flash up on my phone every time I was working, but because I had never used it before I assumed I had just accidentally activated it. Actually he was tracking me, and a few times (probably due to my iPhone being so messed up after throwing it at the wall in anger so many times) apparently it told him I was at the holiday Inn across the road from my work. He concluded this was where I was taking my "clients".

His accusations got more wild and terrifying, and I started to fear what he might do to me if he really believed them. He started calling me a witch and a vampire, claiming I had put a spell on him to make him fall in love and ruin his life. I laughed at this ridiculous accusation and felt the only way to respond to something so absurd was to go along with it. This, obviously only made it worse. Once he made me sleep in another room from him because he was convinced I was going to bite him and drain his blood or drive a stake through his heart while he slept. He continued to tell people for months after we broke up that I was a witch, and that I was evil. People I had just met would tell me they'd met him in a bar and he had been asking them all sorts of questions about me, claiming I was a witch and would put a spell on all of them too. Some of them believed him. This is when I reclaimed the title 'Witch'- to force myself to laugh at this ridiculous situation. Another time he thought I had smashed something in his house all the way from my house using my "Witch magic". He used this theory to blame everything that went wrong in his life on me, including the fact that he didn't get the grade he wanted at University. His accusations got so vile that I can't even bring myself to repeat them.

He loved playing mind games with me, convinced that I was doing the same to him. I remember once he was being all sweet over texts while I was at work, and asked me to come and see him when I finished. I ended up finishing work early so I turned up at his house with a takeaway thinking he'd have a nice surprise. There was no answer, and when I called him he didn't pick up. He eventually replied to my messages seeming flustered and confused, saying he had popped out to get some weed and would be back in a minute. I waited for half an hour until he turned up out of breath and sheepish. I asked him where he had been picking up weed from and he avoided answering. I asked him if something had happened and if he was okay and he still didn't answer. I started to get concerned and asked him again, when he turned around and shouted at me that he had just tried to kill himself. I broke down and cried on him- maybe all of his erratic behaviour was because he was depressed and suicidal? I consoled him relentlessly, telling him how much I and everyone else loved him and that he never has to feel alone. As I cradled him I'm sure I saw him roll his eyes and smirk. This I guess is when he learned that he could use the fear of his suicide to control me. After speaking at length about this to his best friend since childhood, who worked in a psychiatric unit, he assured me that A had never spoken to him about suicide, and had far too much of a god complex to actually go through with it. I later learned that this night in question, he had actually been at a girls house, cheating on me.

It only occurred to me a couple of times to ask to see his phone; I should have been well within my rights to since he was looking through everything of mine constantly. One time he let me briefly glance his texts, but when I scrolled too far he tried grabbing it back off me. Sensing his panic I snatched it away and carried on scrolling, to which he responded by shoving me over and wrestling the phone off me. I ended up finding texts he had sent to one of my friends (whom he had a huge crush on) telling her what a horrible nasty person I am, and flirting with her. If only I'd done this more often I might have realised that the reason for his paranoia was actually entirely down to his own misdemeanours.

Most of the relationship by this point was turbulent and abusive, and I often tried to drift off and remove myself emotionally. Every time he felt this happening though, he sensed he was losing control and did something nice or thoughtful to draw me back in. My friends continuously told me to leave him, some of them drifted because I had become so flaky or they just couldn't watch me getting hurt anymore. I don't blame them. I would have done the same.

Strangely it took him causing a physical mark on me to recognise that what we were doing was toxic. He had just had a hair cut and we were walking down the street as I was playfully trying to touch his new hair as he swatted my hand away. As I went in to cop a feel of his soft locks I tripped and accidentally hit him on the head. It wasn't hard, certainly not hard enough to leave a mark or a bruise, but I could feel that it had angered him. He paused without words for a second, then unexpectedly he swung around and backhanded me across the face so hard it made my eyes water and, knocked my sunglasses off. Two guys across the street saw the whole thing and I could feel them watching in disbelief. I was so embarrassed by what he had done to me that I power walked back to the car in silence, crying to myself. He laughed at me for being a drama queen. The next day my face came up in a black eye and and a huge bruise across my nose. When I pointed it out to him he refused responsibility, claiming I had done it to myself.

He eventually broke up with me during a BBQ he was hosting with all his friends. The next day he refused to answer any calls from me, and only responded when I said I just wanted to get my stuff back from his house. When I turned up, all of my stuff, including all of the love letters, gifts, and cute things I had made him was left in a cardboard box out on the street. As I picked up the box I peeked through his window to see a girls skirt had been discarded on his living room floor. I later discovered that he had dumped me to invite his other girlfriend over. She was still there when I picked up my stuff.

I didn't hear from him for a while after that.I found it incredibly difficult at first, I had trouble sleeping and focusing on anything but what had happened, but I was lucky that upon learning of our break-up, most of my friends had come flooding back. Eventually I started to rebuild my life and work towards being happy again. But as is with a controlling narcissist, they never let you forget them for long. Around two months later, I got a knock at my door around 7am. I opened it and I didn't recognise the person in front of me at first. He had cut his once long curly wild hair short, and he had lost a lot of weight and looked like he hadn't washed in a while. He asked me if he could come in, and out of utter shock I obliged. Once seated he told me that since moving back home after Uni, his parents had thrown him out and he'd been sofa surfing for a couple of months. (I later learned from his parents that he had actually left of his own accord after an argument and refused to talk to them, despite their many attempts to contact him.) He said he felt like he'd outstayed his welcome on his current sofa, and needed somewhere to stay for a couple of days until he had a house sorted. Maybe I felt sorry for him, maybe it was because he looked so thin, maybe it was because he seemed so sincere and apologetic, or maybe it was because I was determined not to let what he did to me leave me a bitter resentful person; but I let him stay on my sofa. I told him it would be for a couple of days and no more and he'd be buying his own food. I realised very quickly this was never going to happen.

For a couple of days he stuck to my rules and I was able to handle him without arguing or getting angry. But pretty quickly he overstayed his welcome and overstepped a whole load of boundaries. I realised at some point he was eating all my food, which I told him over and over he wasn't allowed to do. I told him he wasn't allowed here during the day because he was using my couch to sleep and nothing else. Although he started spending his days on my playstation. I told him he wasn't to leave any of his stuff here, but I soon realised he had been leaving everything in my back garden and had been coming and going when he pleased. I told him he wasn't allowed to let himself in, and could only come after asking and I had confirmed it was okay. It all came to a head when I came home one day with someone new I was seeing, and A was in my house. This is when I realised he had stolen my back door key. He came downstairs when me and my date were in the living room and walked straight past us into the kitchen. His audacity left me totally speechless, and I followed him into the kitchen to confront him. He totally ignored me and continued to make himself a cup of tea. I started shouting at him, telling him he needed to leave right now or I was calling the police, and when he continued to ignore me my date got involved. He calmly said he thought it was time for A to leave and tried to escort him out, but A wouldn't budge or say a word. He pushed past both of us and went into the garden where he lit up a spliff and drank his tea. I followed him, shouting at him to leave and threatening to call the police. He totally ignored me, as if he had completely disassociated from the situation. I went back inside and called the police. By the time they had turned up, he had gone.

Another time my new date was staying over, A turned up at around 6am drunk out of his mind and started throwing stones at my window. I went to the window and he asked me to come down, declaring that he loved me and was sorry. I told him to go home and that I was not coming down and closed the window. This didn't deter him, and he started shouting his undying love and how sorry he was, getting louder and louder, whilst blasting love songs from his speaker. My date was understandably pretty angry, so I called the police. They didn't turn up for six hours, and it was lucky that he was still there so they could question him. They didn't arrest him, rather just gave him a lift back to his parents house.

This happened a few more times, one of them ending quite violently, which I have to say I'm not in the slightest bit proud of.

I came home one day to find him on my sofa again, playing my playstation, as if the other day had never even happened. I told him he had to leave and he said he would once he had finished doing something on his laptop. I told him that no in fact he needed to leave right now because he wasn't staying in my house a second longer, to which he only responded more aggressively that he was staying until he had finished doing something on his laptop. I opened the front door and started picking up his things and throwing them outside. He started getting irate and shouted at me to stop, to which I responded by shouting at him repeatedly "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT". He stood up and pinned me against the wall, so I threw him off me and tried to drag him outside. He went totally limp and I had to drag him by his T-shirt, his back getting all scratched up as I dragged him out of my front door and down the steps. I physically threw him out and locked the front door, then ran to the back door to lock that aswell. I hoped that would be the end of it.

I didn't see or hear from him for a couple of weeks after that, but I lived in constant fear. I knew he still had my back door key and some of his stuff was still in my garden, so I knew he could turn up at any point. Everytime I heard a noise at night I'd be at my window, checking to see he wasn't back. every time I entered my front door my heart stopped for a few minutes while I checked over my house to see if he was there. I barely slept, and my paranoia started to affect my new relationship. He was understanding to a point, but as it would anyone, it stressed him out. As much as I hoped he wouldn't, predictably, A turned up again.

I opened my side door early one morning to take the bins out, and I saw him lying in my alleyway in a sleeping bag, shivering. It was December at this point so it was about -1 degrees outside. I assumed he had been there all night because his lips were blue and his face was white as a ghost. I hoisted him up and led him inside and made him a cup of tea to warm him up. We sat in the front room and I distracted him with conversation while I texted his best friend to tell him that he was in my house. His best friend called the police and within fifteen minutes they turned up. I'll never forget the look of utter betrayal he gave me when they took him away. It haunted me for months afterwards. That was the last time I ever saw him.

I kept in contact with his parents about it for a couple of months afterwards, mostly so I could be sure that he wouldn't come back again. I wasn't surprised to learn that he was sectioned shortly afterwards and spent quite a while in a psychiatric unit. Knowing this eased my mind I guess, finding out I wasn't the crazy one and there was an another reason for his horrific behaviour other than he thought I deserved it.

Although the whole ordeal was over, it caused lasting damage that to this day, two years on, I'm still trying to move past. For a long time I felt worthless and undeserving of love, I was paranoid that people were talking about me and that strangers knew my business and hated me. I couldn't go into town for a while for crippling fear that people would see me and spread more rumours about me, potentially affecting my new relationship. I went through a stage where every time someone asked my name I lied and told them it was Sarah. I hid my pain by drinking a lot, which ultimately made everything much worse. I lost more weight and lost interest in anything other than escaping the horrible words he had tattooed into my brain that haunted me every minute of every day. I hated myself, and nothing I ever did to try and better myself was good enough. All of this very much shaped the new relationship I had entered. He was supportive where he could be, but could never quite get his head around why I allowed myself to still be so affected by the things that A had said and done. It's impossible to explain to someone who has never been through it that you don't choose to feel this way, it happens because you allowed it at first, and then you can't escape it; it becomes part of you. Sometimes I still hear his voice echoing in my mind when I'm getting dressed in the morning saying "You know people wouldn't think so badly of you if you didn't dress like such a slag all the time".

Talking about it has helped me a lot; my friends were really shocked to hear about how awful things got, and have all been really supportive. The most important asset I possessed was a circle of caring people who looked out for me and always checked to see that I didn't take numbing my pain too far. I am truly blessed to have had them, and without them I'm not sure I would have made it through that difficult time.

Some of you might be reading this and thinking that you recognise aspects of this story in your relationship, so here are some parting words of advice for you;

Talk to someone who knows you well who isn't connected, they will shed more truth on the situation than you realise. Cut off your contact with the toxic person in question; there is no reasoning with someone like this, they are master manipulators and they will take advantage of any situation where you give them the opportunity to explain themselves. If they are making you miserable, regardless of whether or not you think it's your fault, you need to remove them from your life. Keep screenshots and evidence of their abuse. They will make you feel like you're overreacting and the one actually in the wrong, so for your own sanity you will need evidence to prove that you aren't. Surround yourself with supportive people, tell them what is happening to you and then leave the situation without a word to the significant other. It sounds harsh, but it's the only way you will be able to leave. And please remember; you are not alone in this, and there is a way out.

Thanks for reading my story, feel free to share yours in the comments.

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