Why I Stayed in an Abusive Relationship

I haven’t written in a while. I keep wondering if that is because the last time I left off was teetering on some deep shit. Am I ready for that? Am I hiding from it? Or maybe I just needed a mental break because that was hard enough to talk about.

This is always a difficult topic for people to understand even for those who’ve gone through it. I want to try and help people understand why I stayed in an abusive relationship.

To help you understand how I ended up where I ended up I need you to understand my fear. This was not a kid jumping out from behind a bush and saying “rawr!” This was passive and aggressive, taunting, self blaming, confusing, applied at a variable interval schedule. For those of you who have not taken intro to psychology, perhaps your familiar with casinos.

The slot machines run on a variable-ratio interval schedule and thus are the most difficult to extinguish. It creates a form of addiction because you never know when it will hit. The good stuff that is, it’s just enough positive reinforcement to keep you coming back for more.

Battered women and slot machines are not that different. Just one hurts your pocket book and one hurts your soul. Then, when you least expect it, they give you something good, a prize or rather a feeling that you’ve won! You think you’ve changed them, you think it’s all going to be okay at this point. Until you keep pulling that lever and nothing happens…more blows to your soul. 

In my case, I tried to escape and tried to escape and yet kept coming back for more. I learned somewhere at some point that it takes !8! Times for a woman to actually leave an abusive situation. Meaning they try and go back and try and go back before it actually sticks. That’s how strong that reinforcement schedule is.

Please remember that as I tell you about what I remember. Now, years later and not in the moment of course, all of the negative things stick out. What seemed so important and meaningful at the time that was reinforcing to me was important because I was an adolescent, a teenager, who did not know what was important in life. Because everything seemed more important than it was. Because feeling like I was a part of something or important to someone was like crack. And crack heads do crazy shit for a fix.

Obviously after being hit physically I came back for more. For once there was something going on in my life. Now I don’t really remember everything in order but there are a few that stand out to me. 

  • Being chased with a golf club.
  • Being chased around a car with a gun.
  • Having a gun held to my head and the trigger pulled.
  • Being told that he was watching my mother. 
  • The constant harassment that strained my relationship with my parents. 

These are a few that standout among those I’m willing to discuss. These situations put me in a chronic state of fear throughout my adolescence. Every time the phone rang my heart raced. I feared he would tell my parents something awful. Whether true or not. It didn’t matter. I didn’t want the negative atmosphere or attention on me. Even if it wasn’t true, there was this sense that this was all my fault. When I tried to walk away, the calls were more frequent. To my parents, to my grandma, to other boys I would try to talk to. I couldn’t get away.


Update…. November 1, 2019

Back to some of the rough stuff…One of the topics I left off on was the chronic fear I was in because of the harassing my family and I received.

In my opinion…this chronic fear and trauma is worse than if one thing happened and ended. Even though it was not one intense means of assault or trauma…the ongoing nature left me in a state of constant fight or flight.

Complex trauma results from ongoing and repeated trauma/stress typically in relationships. Awareness of this type of trauma came about with the awareness of child abuse where the victims are, “psychologically and physically immature.” It can also be seen in domestic abuse, human trafficking, refugees and more (Courtois, 2004).

My baseline was always high, always worried, always sick to my stomach with worry and anxiety and fear of what might happen. Why? What control did this shit head have over my life? Well…as I told you he hit me, he put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger (clearly it wasn’t loaded), he chased me around a car with a gun, and chased me with a golf club so needless to say he was aggressive, he was violent, and I was terrified of him. But I also couldn’t escape him. He haunted me even when he wasn’t around.

Remember back in the day when there was caller ID? He called constantly, the middle of the night, you name it. It always said,

“anonymous call”

on the ID which is visually ingrained in my head on the grey scale screen of our tan rectangular high tech piece of equipment we had.

When my parents got the phone, I would get yelled at for talking to this boy I was told to stay away from. Most the time if they answered, the person calling would be silent on the phone. Whether my parents said anything to me or not, we all knew. There was so much tension in the home surrounding this harassment. I lied to my parents about it and they knew I was, they weren’t stupid. But I never asked for help. I don’t know why.

He’d also call other family members, usually my grandma. Remember the yellow pages? Yeah, he could call anyone he wanted. He told my grandma I was stripping. That was a fun conversation.

This was basically daily. In addition to the harassing phone calls there was the mail box. You need both of your hands to count the times my dad had to replace the mailbox. We never actually caught them but we knew who it was. I say they because again, the dirtbag didn’t drive and always had his friends around, who I usually had to see around school. He didn’t go to school at this point. I think he dropped out after 8th grade luckily.

These constant behaviors always made me feel like he was watching. I couldn’t get away. It seemed the more I pulled away the more these things happened too. I would try to keep the peace. Because peace meant less arguments with my family.

I don’t really remember my parents coming to me and yelling, “Brooke this is your fault we keep getting late night calls!” Or “that I keep having to replace this damn mail box!” But I knew it was my fault. Had I never met him or had I listened to my mother the first day she said to stay away…none of this would have happened. This awkward tension that no one could do anything about. The more I tried to cover it up, the more lies, the more of a rift between me and my parents. I used to be a daddy’s girl and now he would barely look at me.

I know this sounds probably menial to some…oh big deal a few prank calls and a few broken mail boxes. Why was I so scared of this dbag? Despite the golf club, despite even the gun to my head, what he told me that scared me the most what’s this…

He explained in detail to me one evening how he had hid on the front porch of my house watching in my front window as my mother watched television. He told me that he sat there for a good hour contemplating whether to shoot her or not. My heart sank. Whether he actually did this or not, I believed him. He had guns. He was capable, he was constantly making threats to me to kill my family or myself, but this felt more real.

Effects…

  • I’m jumpy
  • I’m high strung
  • I don’t like guns
  • I flinch easily
  • I am defensive
  • I’m constantly expecting to get in trouble
  • I feel like I’m always being blamed for everything that goes wrong

Is it a wonder why I feel this way or I have these core beliefs? It’s been so long but it still affects me. I have to remind myself why these thoughts and feelings are there and why I immediately think these things. It’s no ones fault but his.

Just recently Steven and I came up with a safe word while we are in public in case we come across him. I don’t know what I’d do. I’m scared of what I might do.

References

Courtois, C. C. (2004). Complex trauma, complex reactions:
Assessment and treatment, Psychotherapy: Theory, Practice.
Training, 41, 412425.