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Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

So here I am, not yet 35, and wading into the nastiness of my second marriage falling apart.

I guess I could say that I got married the second time because it seemed worth betting that the first time was due to *him…” so a different guy could fix that, right?

But the problem – if you want to call it a problem – is almost certainly me.

My mom said it brilliantly in her recent email to me:

I guess it’s truth out time, and I’m about to be a bad mom.

Truth – Dad wanted to hogtie you and send you to Tijuana before you married Steve*, but I talked him out of it. He was really upset, but I thought he had Steve pegged wrong.

Truth – after living with Steve for two months, I agreed with your father. I wanted to bitch-slap Steve so hard his head would fall off.

Or worse.

Truth – he lied to you about stuff (mostly little things), but I never said a word because I felt it wasn’t my place. But one of those lies cost you 5,000 dollars. You have no idea how furious I was or how much I kicked myself.

I’m sorry.

This really isn’t the time to be landing this stuff on you, but Dad and I both are feeling very responsible for our little girl getting hurt (again) when maybe if we had just opened our mouths, we could have prevented all this. Of course, to be realistic, it may not have made any difference, but these thoughts cross your mind when you’re a parent.

We both agreed when you were little that whoever married you would have to be one hell of a special kind of guy. (In Dad’s words, “God help him”). But I always pictured you either a) single, and blazing through the world in a cloud of glory or, b) married to a guy who was your equal – smart, confident, strong-willed, motivated and out to make his mark on the universe, but at home would have to know just when to push and when not. NOT easy to find!

However this turns out, we’ll always be here – doors and arms open. Remember that. And don’t worry, next time, we’ll speak our piece – welcome or not – and hogtie if necessary!

By the way, your brother wants to kick Steve’s butt for hurting his sister. That’s his way of saying he’s there for you, too. And if you want me there, just call. I can grab a flight and work be hanged! I love you very much – we all do.

Mom

The beautiful part is that they said almost the same thing after my first divorce, although she left out the part about how she always pictured me single.

fool me twice

That would have given me a lot of strength, I think.

I spent my whole life thinking that I was a failure if I wasn’t married – or conversely, that being able to “get guys” to want to commit to me was some kind of major success. I think having a best friend for most of my life who was openly jealous of my relationships probably didn’t help.

But, hey Mom – THIS time I was obviously very hesitant about getting married, and I ASKED you all to tell me if you had any hesitations!

And good grief, Dad, why couldn’t you grow a pair? You knew Steve best, and if you’d said it was a bad idea, wild horses couldn’t have gotten me down that aisle.

Something tells me, though, that I’m not the only person here who bought into this assumption that women simply “should” get married; that getting married is always a victory, even if your (first) husband is half-jokingly gloating that “someone needs to get [you] under control”.

(He did, and so I compensated for that the next time by marrying someone who wanted ME to be responsible for everything. And I was, but it cost me everything I wanted to do for myself!)

I feel like I’m waking up.

Men attacked me when I was a child, so I spent all of my teens obsessed with them, but avoiding any actual contact with them; then I got married as soon as I could; then, divorced and terrified of single motherhood, I got married again as soon as I could; and now here I am fighting my way free again.

It’s been a day and a half since he moved out (temporarily, because things turned violent, though that wasn’t the pattern or anything – but can I add that having the ability to leave immediately if someone breaks that rule with me is something it turns out I REALLY value?), and I’m not in any way looking forward to the next steps, but I do feel like I can see a clear path for the first time in a long while.

Thanks, Mom.

You may have been a little (lot) late, but that helped a lot!

(And you can bet your hiney that when MY little girl wants to get married, I’m making her a laundry list of every reason in the world I can think of not to – if she still does, great, I’ll support her; but she deserves to know what I really think. I guess sometimes the hardest lessons you teach your kids are the ones where you show them how not to do things!)

Jack

Jack

Birth: 16 Apr 2004

Jack The Dog

Death: 23 Jan 2019

“My dog does this amazing thing where he just exists and makes my whole life better because of it.”

– Unknown

Chihuahua. So not a breed of dog that I would ever have thought I would ever own. I’ve always been more into the working breeds, (ie: GSD, Dobermans, Boxers, Rotties, etc.) But way back in 2004, my ex (who wasn’t an ex at the time) and I stopped at a pet store. (Ok, please don’t yell at me about buying a pet store dog. I now know all about puppy mills and stuff. I know, I know. But back then I didn’t really know, or didn’t think about it, or whatever. If I ever get another dog it will be a rescue. Please don’t yell at me.)

Honestly we were just out enjoying the day when we decided to go in and look around. It was something to do.

I said “No dogs”, but somehow we walked out with a dog, who we ended up naming Jack. This dog went across country with us a few times; he was a great traveling companion. But I always told people he wasn’t MY dog. I mean my ex was the one that talked me into getting him. And they seemed pretty attached to each other.

Fast forward to 2013.

We had moved from Florida to Minnesota in 2010 to be closer to her family after I got laid off work. Then in March of 2013, My ex and I split. I was devastated. Don’t get me wrong, there were things wrong on both sides. I take my fair share of the blame there. But when she was preparing to move out, I was informed that I got to take the dog, she was taking the cat. (Um, what? He’s not my dog, but ok.)

I was now keeping the dog.

It’s probably a good thing I got him. You see I have PTSD, it’s probably actually CPTSD but that’s just now becoming a thing. And along with PTSD, I get a side of anxiety (with panic attacks) and depression.

Woohoo….I have a trifecta of mental crap! Yay! Go team me! /end sarcasm.

But the one living being who helped me through all of the break up and mental stuff was Jack, my little chi.

He was there when no one else was.

He laid next to me when I cried.

Back when I was in therapy, I’d come home and talk to him about it. Jack was the one I celebrated with when I got my first degree black belt. He celebrated birthdays with me, and helped me when I was down.

Because no matter how much I wanted to just hide from everyone and not get out of bed, I had to get up.

Jack needed me, to go out, or to be fed, or whatever. I could not neglect him just because I was a mess.

I had to keep going because this little sweet soul needed me. Even when I felt like no one really needed me for anything, Jack did. He depended on me for food, shelter and companionship.

As much as he needed me, I ended up needing him as well. I needed someone to get excited to see me. I’d come home from work and he was so glad I was home. Jack was the one thing in my life who wanted me there.

It was he and I against the world.

I took him to parks, we went on drives together. He heard me rant about stuff and listened to all my stories. If I was anxious he came and sat in my lap so I would pet him. We were best buds.

Late last year I was beginning to suspect that something was going on with him. There was nothing I could pinpoint and say, that’s it.

So I just kept an eye on him.

He was still the same loving dog he was just slowing down a bit; he WAS 14 years old, not a young kid anymore.

So I just kept an eye on him.

Then in January of this year, he took a turn.

I’m not going into it all but I did get him to the vet. They did blood work to start because we didn’t know what was going on. This was a place to start trying to figure it out. His blood work came back all normal. She said according to his blood work he was healthy.

The vet said the next step was getting some imagining done to see if there was tumors or something else.

But we didn’t get that far. His blood work came back on a Tuesday afternoon and Jack died in my arms the next day.

It was Wednesday the 23rd of January at about 8pm.

I don’t know what happened to him.

But I do know a part of me died that day.

He might not have been a trained emotional support dog, but that’s the job he fell into, he was there for me through some dark times. I’ve cried more over the death of this dog then I have over anyone else, human or animal.

I’m crying right now typing this.

I don’t even feel like I’m putting into the proper words what this dog meant to me.

I’m still not over his death and I’m not sure I ever will be. I’m still grieving seven months later.

I still talk to his ashes and tell him mamma loves him.

When I make popcorn I still put a piece or two by his ashes. He loved popcorn.

I have a couple of wonderful friends who had a book made for me, one of those Shutterfly ones.

One of my friends works in marketing (she’s a graphic designer) so she swiped the photos from my Facebook. My other friend, who is my TKD instructor, found the quotes.

So they made me a book of my Jack.

It’s probably the greatest gift I’ve been given. I have a shelf with a couple of photos of him and one of our other dog Abbie. The book is there too.

Jack’s ashes are there along with a clay heart with Jack’s paw prints. I call it my shrine.

I miss him…

every

single

day.

I fell back into my depression and my anxiety has been worse. It’s been a rough year.

But I’m slowly trying to pull myself out of it. I’ve been trying to make myself get out of the apartment more. I’ve been trying to take walks in the park near here.

It’s the one Jack and I went to the most in his last 6 months before he passed. It took me several months to even drive back into that park. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to clean the inside of the windows in my van, his nose prints are still on them.

But I’m trying to do more, to get out.

But it’s hard. So very hard.

Jack’s ashes are in a small box inside of a velvet bag with embroidery. It says, “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.”

This Is Why We’re Not

This, tonight, is why were not married yet, Love.

I tell people it’s because we both want to finish school first and don’t want to risk a long-distance marriage, but that’s not the whole truth.

It’s your temper.

I rarely see it, but when I do, it’s explosive. I can’t handle that after living with my mother.

Every few months or so we get into a disagreement about something and you explode in anger, yelling at me. Usually after your outburst I just sit there in silence, scared that it’s going to escalate like it always did with her. It never does, it’s just an awkward silent time.

After every fight, I apologize first, because I know I’m very opinionated and sometimes I talk over you, which means you feel like I don’t respect your opinion. I’m trying to fix that, prefacing my statements with “in my opinion” or, after you’ve told me your opinion, I’ll say “I see where you’re coming from” to let you know that I do hear and respect your thoughts, even as I keep my own.

Tonight, you hit my cat for scratching you. I warned you that if you started playing with him you’d probably get scratched because he’s still a baby; apparently you ignored me. When he did scratch you, you hit him, and I grabbed him away from you and got onto you. I had warned you about him several times and then you exploded, yelling at me about how the cat should know better. A few moments of silence ensued, we started talking about other things, and as you left, I apologized.

I always apologize.

You. Never. Do.

This is why we’re not married yet: you’ve never learned to swallow your pride and apologize, even when you know you’re wrong.

I hope in the next couple of years you get better at expressing yourself so you don’t get frustrated and yell at me out of nowhere. So you can let me know when you feel slighted before it ends up exploding out. I know you have issues communicating your thoughts and that’s why I still happily wear this ring on my finger. I hope you learn to apologize, not necessarily for your actions, but for what your actions caused.

We’re young; we’ve got some growing up left to do. I know I’m to blame in this, too. But I’m not going to marry you when your temper explodes like that. I lived 19 years with that, and I’m not doing it again. You may think it was just a little hit to teach the cat that was wrong, but you did it in anger; if you hit a cat in anger, who’s to say you won’t hit a child in anger?

This is why we’re not.

I love you.

I can’t wait to walk down the aisle and finally take your name as my own. But I will wait. I can wait as long as it takes for you to realize that this is a problem that we’ve discussed before, and maybe now is the time to figure out some strategies to deal with this.

Because, let me tell you, I will NEVER live in a house where I am afraid of outbursts again. I’ve lived through the bruises from my mother when she exploded in anger. I’ve lived through locking myself in the bathroom as my brother exploded, punching through the wall, and breaking the windows out of his car, and I will NOT do it again.
You’ve never hit me, and you probably never will. But every time your anger explodes out of nowhere like that, I’m taken right back to those days living in fear that the yelling is just the first step. I’m not going back.

I love you. Ninety-nine percent of the time you are the greatest guy I could ever ask for, but this has to stop.

Freedom And My Dragon

Every night I dream of escaping… getting out of this self-made prison.

It isn’t always the same, but I always make it out. It’s… so sweet… freedom. I seem to have traded it away so easily while awake and I yearn for it in my sleep.

My own double life.

It makes it easier to deal with the reality I’ve chosen.

Sometimes I fashion my own escape. I win the lottery or I write a great screenplay or book. Then I wait, I say nothing, patiently, quietly, until he is out. I take every trace of me from this house.

EVERYTHING of ME and I DISAPPEAR!

GOD, I love that dream most! I fantasize about where I will go, where I’ll live, how I’ll take care of the people I love and how they will love me back.

I play the lottery sometimes, but I’ve never won more than $50.00. That isn’t going to get me very far. I always tell myself that whomever won needed it more. I try not to think about it too much. Or I’ll cry.

Do you think you can run out of tears? You can’t. I read somewhere that tears are toxins leaving your body, so it’s good to cry. I must have a lot of toxins.

I’m making up for lost time.

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to cry. Someone should’ve told my Father that factoid about tears, although he’d probably have smacked you. So yeah, you would’ve had to duck or send him a note or something.

Really, I don’t think he would have given a damn about toxins. He had a very rigid, narrow view of children and their place in life. It’s painful to admit that I married someone who is a lot like my Father.

It’s tragically predictable.
———————
That’s difficult for me to read, and it was excruciating to live, but I found my freedom.  I had my freedom the whole time. I simply didn’t realize that I had the power to change my life – I thought I had to be rescued. In the end, I guess, I was. It was the best gift I’ve ever given myself.

How I got into that mess is no mystery. I read a long time ago that an abused person will find a way to abuse themselves long after their abuser is gone.

I never saw the cues. The little red flags. I was oblivious to the ones that whispered, “This man doesn’t really love you.”

Honestly, I never thought I could be loved. I had no tools to discern between a good or bad relationship. I grew up with no relationships to speak of – alone is all I knew. Saying “I do” was a way to not longer be lonely. I didn’t realize how much more there was to it.

Life has a way of teaching us the things we need to know. It’s made me much wiser in many ways, yet there’s so much I still don’t know.

How to trust, how to let people in. But, I will show up EVERYDAY. I will be friendly and OPEN. I will be open, I will be friendly… I will not push people away… I will I will I will!

That is my new mantra, which sure beats the hell out of the ones I was raised on.

As a child, I was raised in isolation. My family’s slogan was “nobody in, nobody out” and “you’re not a person, you’re property.” My parents wanted no one to know what went on in our home. They created an insular existence for us.

As a result of the emotional damage of their actions, there were other bits of damage: mistrust, an inability to let others in. This is the dragon I am battling now, TODAY…

I must be brave and try.

Those who grow up in an abusive family know the counting game. You count the days until you can get out, not unlike a jailbird doing a stint upstate. You mark on your inner calendar: three years, forty-two days and I’m outta here! Those sad, painful days marked the beginning of my dream for freedom. What I didn’t know; what I might not have been able to cope with, was that I would never really escape.

I carry my past with me like an ugly scar. Every time I think I have finally healed it, it gets torn wide open. And I see how far I have yet to go.

Every time I push people away, I’m reminded. I have done – and continue to do – more years in counseling then I care to recall. I believe in therapy – I’ve done the work, put the time in. I’ve come to realize how much my childhood defines me. It is a battle that I fight everyday.

Sometimes I win, sometimes not.

Usually the day ends in a draw.

As long as my mother doesn’t call, or some well-meaning stranger doesn’t ask the nosy questions they don’t want the answers to, I’m fine. I try to remember that they’re making small talk, trying to find common ground. They have no idea the pain the well-meaning questions cause. The way it makes my scar itch and burn. I try to skirt the truth to save them the uncomfortable reality, because I will NOT lie.

I’m trying to make peace – peace with memories, peace with a mother who facilitated abuse, with a family that turned a blind eye. Mostly, though I am trying to make peace with myself.

I’m the reminder and I need to learn to let go.

To accept that I am damaged; that we all are a little damaged.

To live in this moment, this life.

To enjoy my existence, rather than mourning what was and what was not.

That is my goal.

I will show up, I will be open, I WILL TRY.

A Letter To My Exes That I Can’t Send

We all have letters we’d like to send, but know that we can’t. A letter to someone we no longer have a relationship with, a letter to a family member or friend who has died, a letter to reclaim our power or our voice from an abuser. Letters where actual contact is just not possible for whatever reason.

Hello Ex #1. You were wonderful. You were kind, thoughtful, loving, attentive. You were there for me through a very rough time when my parents were divorcing. You were loved by all of my family. You were an amazing first boyfriend and I loved you with all my heart. Thank you for being such a wonderful first.

Hello Ex #2. You were revenge on my parents for splitting up and “ruining everything”. You were MANY years older than me. You were fun because you provided everything I needed to escape my shitty teenage reality. I drank and did drugs. You became a heroin addict. I became pregnant. I made an incredibly difficult decision to abort and then a really smart decision to leave you. Please stop trying to “friend” me on Facebook. I am never going to accept the request. You are in the past. Stay there.

Hello Ex #3. You were my self-punishment for the abortion. You were incredibly gorgeous and charming. Then you weren’t. You picked fights over everything. I could never give you enough of my time and energy. I let you isolate me from my friends and family. I hated myself. You hit me. I only ended it because my friend would have killed me (figuratively speaking) if I went back to you. After all, she got a black eye when she stepped in front of me to protect me from your swing. You suck. I was stupid.

Hello Ex #4. You were very charming, sweet and funny. We had so much in common. Eventually I moved in with you. Then you stopped working. I supported us (and your friend) for two years. I kept giving you chance after chance to make something of yourself. How could I leave you high and dry? You had no job. You’d be kicked out of the apartment. Where would you go? What the hell was I thinking? When I finally left, I did it all wrong, but you were just fine. You found someone else to take care of you. I pity her. I was proud of me for thinking more of myself and wanting more for myself than what you were giving.

Hello Husband. It took these exes and so many more for me to grow up and learn self-respect; to learn how to love someone else correctly. And to learn to be loved the right way. Yes, sometimes we argue, but you know what? Those arguments are healthy. It took me a lot of years to learn how to argue healthily. We communicate, we share our feelings and our points (sometimes loudly, but always respectfully), we compromise where it’s appropriate, and give in sometimes, too. We work together to make us work. You always think of me, my needs and how things will affect me before you make decisions. I’ve learned to do that, too. You love me so much. I love you equally. We have a beautiful life and three beautiful girls. We have had some REALLY hard times in the nine years we’ve been married. But we work through them together and we are stronger for it. My love for you grows and my respect for you grows. You have my trust.

Thank you for growing with me.

Three Years Later

Three years ago I started dating my now ex-boyfriend. He was my entire world. I thought that no one would ever be anything close to the level of amazing that I saw in him. He was perfect. I made him perfect in my mind.

He wasn’t.

When we started dating, it wasn’t under the best circumstances. We had been friends for fifteen years. I had just moved out of my parents’ house to get away from their physical, emotional, and mental abuse, as well as their out of control drinking habits. I was dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted and my parents refuting my rape claim – claiming I was just vying for attention. Heh, if only they had any idea that all the times I acted out as a teenager were linked to that one instance.

Of course, I didn’t know that back then.

We ended up moving in together after six months. It was out of necessity, really, since we didn’t have another option.

I loved everything about him. He was tall and strong and handsome and had beautiful blue eyes. He was the only man I’d ever fully given myself to, and he was the first person I ever had an intimate relationship with.

Everyone always teased me about staying a virgin for so long, but I wanted to wait until I felt I was ready. Looking back, maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t. More likely than not, I wasn’t. But in the turmoil of sexual assault, I wanted so desperately to be loved and wanted that I convinced both of us I was ready.

I took us having sex as us being “serious.” I didn’t know any better. Forget that I was 21 and not exactly naïve… I thought I knew it all. I forgave him for messing around with his ex-girlfriend behind my back. I ignored him trying to hook up with his friend’s sister at a party at my house (when he didn’t live there) right in front of me. I looked past how horribly cruel he was to me the moment he threatened to take his own life. He was perfect. More importantly, I was broken, and the only way I thought I could be put back together was the way he was telling me to.

The controlling started small. He would break things off, leave me devastated for a day or two, then come back and apologize, and swear never to leave me again. He felt insecure when he couldn’t perform when we were intimate, but he would blame it on me. Yep, the sexual assault survivor is to blame for everything that went wrong when we had sex. Even when I thought things went well, he had some problem with it. He never even turned off the TV. Christ, he never stopped WATCHING the TV when we were intimate. He would wake me up in the middle of the night to perform oral sex on him… then tell me to go to bed – I was slutty if I wanted something in return.

I learned to stop asking for sex. He would humiliate me and make me feel bad for asking, so we only had sex on his terms.

Eventually the controlling moved out of the bedroom. If I went out, he wanted to know every detail of where I was. It was casual; I barely noticed it at first. I went to a coworker’s birthday party and failed to mention until the next morning that I had stopped with friends to grab a bite to eat at a Denny’s on the way home. He was livid. Why was I hiding things from him? Was I being unfaithful?

Silly me: that was as much protective nature and affection as I got from him. So I chalked it up to him being romantic. Someone anonymously left me a flower at work one day and when he found out, he threatened to sit in the lobby of my workplace and beat the shit out of whomever it was. I laughed it off, but was never entirely sure he was kidding.

Eventually, I wasn’t supposed to dress-up or put makeup on. If I so much as brushed my hair out, he would make fun of me, ask who the hell I was getting all fancy for. We never went out anywhere. I wasn’t supposed to go out much any more, either, or I’d get lectures: “I was gone all the time” or “neglecting my responsibilities around the house.” Even though we lived with three other roommates, it was my job and my job alone to clean the house.

I was supposed to do his laundry. I was supposed to make sure everything was perfect. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything. If I checked my mail, I had to give him every detail.

When we went out to group gatherings, he’d purposely act like a jackass so we would leave early. He would go out of his way to embarrass me in public so he didn’t have to stay. Work functions, my family get-togethers (he was a golden child at his family’s functions), even hanging out with my friends. He had to talk down to everyone around him.

I was only allowed to go to the bar on the nights he was working security. He had to be introduced right away as my boyfriend to anyone who talked to me, otherwise he would punish me by refusing to touch me in bed. Any affection was off the table: he wouldn’t touch me. He never held my hand in public. He never kissed me in front of anyone. He never once introduced me as his girlfriend.

He’d tell me I wasn’t an equal part of our relationship – I caused all of our fights. And I did. Mostly because if we were arguing, at least he was paying attention to only me. I’d try to stand up for myself, but it always ended with me in tears. He would say anything to make me cry, then tell me I was always crying and he didn’t sign up for my emotions.

This went on for three years. I slipped into one of the worst depressions I’ve experienced. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I could barely even get myself dressed for work. He hated when I went to work. Forget that I was the only one with anything close to a full-time job (he got paid forty bucks a weekend to bounce at the bar and went to school full-time), and I had to pay all of our bills. He hated my coworkers. They were all scum – I shouldn’t hang out with them.

On the other hand, his parents paid for everything – his rent, his car, his insurance, his cell phone, and handed him gas money every week. They paid for his groceries. I worked my ass off and was expected to pay our rent, utilities, my own cell phone, my own insurance, and for our groceries. What did he do with his money? Bought knives and guns.

When I was raped, my attacker used a gun in places I won’t go into detail about. My boyfriend kept all the guns in our closet, with the door open, on my side of the bed, so I had to stare at them. He complained that I’d never go to the shooting range with him. I can’t be near guns without shaking uncontrollably and losing it, but I went anyway. I fired guns, broke into tears, tried to improve because he was angry that I was a bad shot. But every time I cried, he comforted me, told me how well I was doing. That made him an amazing and caring man.

I was in and out of major depressive cycles. At the beginning of September, I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I didn’t know why I wanted to die, I just did. I tried to take a knife to my own throat. He stopped me. He talked me down. I checked into the hospital. I was transferred under a 5150 to another hospital. When he visited me, I tried to show him how well I was doing, because he was threatening to leave me.

I was discharged from the mental hospital, but he couldn’t come get me. If there was no other way, he’d get to it “when he had time.” So my best friend picked me up. That first night back at home, he was so glad to see me. He recreated our first dates, we were intimate on a regular basis, he was affectionate, and doing everything for me – just because. Our lives were finally on track now that I was finally medicated. Right?

A week later, he came home and told me he wanted to leave me – he didn’t love me and never had. He didn’t want to live with me anymore. We agreed I’d get my own place, and we’d work on us from there.

The next day, he told me he had been having an affair with some random girl from at the bar, so I had to move out of the house that day. I told him he couldn’t legally evict me, and I wasn’t going anywhere. He beat the ever loving shit out of me. I told him if he didn’t leave, I’d call the cops. Paranoid as he is, he finally left.

That night, I had been planning to tell him that I’d found out I was pregnant while I was in the hospital.
Where were my roommates? They’d taken his new plaything out to the casino while he dumped me, so, you know, she’d have a nice time and it wouldn’t be awkward for her. Excuse me?

I was angry, hurt, upset. I’d been sick to my stomach and couldn’t keep my medications down, which threw me into withdrawal. I thought I’d never feel again. I had no family, I’d been out of work, so I had no money, and nowhere to go.

I took every single piece of clothing he owned and threw it off the deck. I threw it up in the trees. I dumped it in the dirt. I emptied the entire contents of the fridge onto them and left them to rot in the sun. I packed up all of what had been ours – the bed, all the furniture, the dog, everything and moved into a girlfriend’s house.

I threw away everything that reminded me of him. It wasn’t much – in three years, he’d never bought me a birthday card or Christmas present. He always had the nicest I could afford, but I never even got flowers or a card.

Eventually, I told him that I was pregnant. He wanted proof; I gave it to him. Then I miscarried.

I called him, not sure what else to do. I figured it affected him, too. His response? “Deal with it by yourself, you’re not my problem anymore.”

I had bruises for weeks. The cops did nothing. When I went to collect the last of my belongings from the house, the new girlfriend was in his bed, and she bitched me out. We live in a small community; he runs his mouth every chance he gets: it’s my fault my roommate’s kids hate him; I tried to stab him to death (completely false); I stole the dog (I paid six hundred dollars for that dog and had him before we got together); I left him unexpectedly for someone else. There are a billion lies circulating that I have to deal with. He attacks anyone who knows me out of nowhere.

In that moment, I seriously thought my life was over.

Now it’s been almost three months. I don’t think about him much anymore, and I can appreciate the good memories we had. The more I look back on it, though, the more I realize how many signs I ignored.

So now I’m single. I am spending time with my friends and the people who matter in my life. I’m not dating yet – but it’s by choice. I want to spend some time letting myself heal and figuring out who I am and what I want not only from my life, but also from a life with a partner. I’m learning to define what values are important to me in a significant other. There are guys in my life, but I don’t feel the need to validate myself through them. I stick with my medications. I still go to counseling. I have started attending Al-Anon meetings in my area. I’m working on saving up to move to wherever I decide I want to be. I’m living. I’m surviving.

At the end of the day, I’m only 24 years old. The last three years do not define who I am. They will always be a part of me, and I am so thankful that I was able to learn these lessons before things got any worse. Are there still days when it’s hard? Of course. But sometimes shit just happens.

I can’t take the blame for his bad behavior. My responsibility is not to apologize for him. It’s not to make excuses for him. My responsibility is to better myself and learn from this so I don’t repeat these mistakes.

I ignored the signs for far too long and thought I could love us enough for the both of us. It still ended in heartbreak. I won’t do that again.

But LORD, did it feel good pouring all the disgusting stuff from the fridge all over his favorite outfits!