I left my ex-husband seven times before it stuck.
The first time, I moved out right in front of him. The other times I left him while he was at work. It may sound like I was being cruel, but it got to the point where it was too dangerous to stay. My ex suffered from mental illness, anger issues, and drug addiction. He was also a narcissist who love-bombed me for the first few weeks of knowing each other. In reality, he constantly threatened me, called me names, stole from me, pushed and shook me, and basically made my life a living hell. During the times I went back to him, things would be okay for a while, but our relationship would soon disintegrate into a toxic mess the same way it always did.
My friends and family tried to warn me. They called him a loser when they met him and a monster after I told them the extent of his abuse. I stayed at friends’ houses and apartments each time I left him, and I’d swear every time it was for good. Then, my ex would find me and mess with my mind until I thought I wanted to go back to him. It happened over and over, and my friends became less willing to help. They grew tired of believing in me and getting burned in the process. I could hardly blame them. They couldn’t have known I was communicating with him all along, listening to his pleas for me to return. He made promises, too, and I was vulnerable enough to put my faith in him over and over.
Looking back, all the times I went back to him happened for one reason: I didn’t go “no contact.”
My plan was always the same. I’d wait until he went to work at his landscaping job, then I’d gather as much as could fit in my mid-size Toyota. The last few times, I was down to only clothes and makeup. I learned to travel light, never sure if I’d have room for my stuff wherever I landed. If he called me during that time, I ignored it and continued packing. After a while, the phone silence tipped him off that I’d left again, but he never caught me in the act.
The next thing I would do is block him on social media. I’d start with Facebook and then change my phone number so he couldn’t harass me. This was a man who once went to jail for stalking his ex-wife, so I knew he’d call fifty times a day (no exaggeration) until I picked up out of sheer frustration. I’d also stay away from the places we usually went in case he showed up. People said they were proud of me for finally cutting him off and moving on with my life. They didn’t know that I had a secret, one that would surely disappoint all of them.
I never blocked him on regular email.
It sounds crazy. I realize that. Why would I go to all the trouble of leaving just to continue to give him access to me? I knew he was a manipulator and a self-proclaimed martyr who would say anything to make me feel guilty and then get me to return. There was no good reason I should have read his messages, but not only did I read them, I actually waited for them to come.
It was the biggest mistake I made and only prolonged my suffering at his hands, but I couldn’t completely block him. I was bonded to him through trauma and as invested in our toxic relationship as he was. My brain knew leaving was the right thing to do, but my heart didn’t agree. By then, I was addicted to our marriage and didn’t know how to live any other way. I let him make me feel guilty for leaving him in a bind. I read the messages that begged me to come home or he’d commit suicide. Every time, he promised it would be different, but it was never true. In fact, things kept getting worse with each reconciliation.
Now, I wonder how much better my life could have been if I blocked him on email the first time and gone totally “no contact” without cheating. I remember worrying that if he didn’t have a way to contact me, he might do something drastic. I didn’t want him harassing my friends. Sometimes I worried that he would go crazy and hurt me if I didn’t let him vent in his messages. I can handle it, I lied to myself, already knowing things were way out of control.
Breakups are hard and miserable, but consider the breakup from somebody who is abusing you. Maybe he or she is sweet sometimes and doles out slivers of kindness mixed in with their furious anger. Maybe you love that person or once loved them and can’t let go as a result. You feel guilty for leaving them and worry about their well-being without you.
None of these are good reasons to stay with someone who hurts you.
The last time I left my ex-husband, it was purely about survival. I chose my life over his, knowing both of us weren’t going to make it. As usual, I blocked him on social media and changed my number, but this time I included blocking my email. After he harassed me with phone calls at work, I threatened to call the police. I knew it was crucial to make a clean and final break or I’d just go back again. Giving myself a chance to heal from the marriage was invaluable. If he couldn’t get in my head, he couldn’t manipulate and threaten me into reconciling.
Once my ex figured out he could no longer manipulate me, he moved away to live with an old friend about 500 miles away. At the same time, I’m sure he was looking for his next victim to take my place. We finally divorced a year later. It was hard to get over him until it wasn’t, and I’m glad to say he is only a far-distant memory today. When I broke up with him the very first time, I had no road map showing me how to get away forever. Now I know “no contact” was the right decision all along.
Going “no contact” with an abuser can save your life. Once I learned to put my needs first, despite my ex telling me only his needs mattered, I began to heal slowly from the relationship. Stopping all contact was the only way I could remember who I used to be before I met him. I gave myself the time I needed, and my self-esteem began to blossom again.
I realize it’s incredibly hard to cut somebody off completely, especially if you still have feelings for them, but it’s vital to save yourself if you are the victim of abuse. Our friends can warn us all day long, but until you become objective about the situation we may never see it. At least give yourself some time to think about it. Narcissists are masters of confusion, so it may take time for your head to clear. Don’t blame yourself for the time you spent in the relationship, but give yourself the freedom to remember who you really were before another person took over your life.
Breaking away is never easy, but it’s always brave.