Reflecting; One year after leaving an abusive relationship and losing it all

Updated: Jun 9

Trigger warning, we got a heavy one.


In the past, I've told you about my journey with childhood trauma culminating in an abusive romantic relationship which eventually turned into this project. I know it was a necessary transition - bringing me to the height of my trauma responses and anxiety until I was forced into action... but the self-blaming scars are still there.


These are the ways I'm still coping one year after leaving my abusive home.



This date has been crawling up on me. I’ve had it in my sights for several months already, and the emotional toll has been significant. I’ve dug through old journals, sitting with my panicked entries and feeling the feels. I’ve meditated on the differences in my physical and mental worlds between now and then with grounded certainty. I’ve felt uneasy and edgy being back in that mental space, both before and after the final straw.


But, putting my mind and body back into today’s quarantine sweatpants, I feel light, independent and proud.


Today marks one year since I left my abusive ex and started building a life I wanted.


Now, as much as I want to fully celebrate the good news… it seems that I’m nursing an immense emotional hangover.


The environmental triggers of springtime have made it impossible to forget where I was and what was happening back then for the past several months already. The birds singing outside my window, that half-muggy feeling the air gets at night, and even the plant growth in my yard, have been daily reminders of what a shit situation I was in, and for how many seasons. How controlled, trapped, and manipulated every moment felt. It’s easy to feel panicky, out of control, and dreadful in real time when I empathize with my past self.


But hey, it's NOT like that this year. I'm free, I'm happy, and my mental health is better than ever. I just need to process some difficult emotions from that chaotic and panicky time when I lost my home, my dog, my car, my belongings, my money, and (who I thought were) my friends.


Drama aside, I'm doing much, much, much better. without all these things Luckily, in the void, new possibilities quickly emerge. You realize where your unnecessary attachments are. My life has improved exponentially; even though it hasn't been easy, it has been glorious, because I've done it for myself.


There is a lot to be grateful for these days. And there are plenty of important lessons to learn from this difficult experience.




I can't blame myself. "If I had been paying attention..."


It’s difficult not to feel pathetic and angry with myself for letting my life deteriorate to a dumpster fire under the influence of a charming, but subtly transparent, sociopath. I always thought I was uniquely excellent at judging people's characters. I thought I was carefully programmed to spot bad apples, especially after growing up with a few of them rotting the family tree... but you know, abuse is cyclical and I'm not as special as I thought.


I always thought I was uniquely excellent at judging people's characters. I thought I was carefully programmed to spot bad apples, especially after growing up with a few of them rotting the family tree... but you know, abuse is cyclical and I'm not as special as I thought.

The fact is, there were signs all along. Things I should have picked up on or paid more attention to. Good indicators of exactly who I was with, which were in direct opposition to the face he presented the world. I felt them, but I was convinced by other people's confidence that my instincts were wrong.


I can't blame them either, he was (is) very good at his craft.


He is a Leo and a performer, after all. Everything is a performance. There was a reason why he was always the only person talking, even in a room full of people. Everything was a show. A self-made celebration of my ex for all his greatness. And I was part of it. The younger, smarter, more attractive partner that he always felt he “deserved.” I know because he told me. Just like he told his last partner.


I think I'm a smart human. I think I'm rather astute at picking up subtle signals that someone ain't right. I'm very sensitive to energies, body language, and choice of words... but he got me. I guess I couldn't compete with 30 years of honing his borderline skills.


It's hard not to say I "should have."

Should haves


It’s easy now to say that I should have listened to my gut. That the years I felt like something was wrong... something absolutely was wrong. I sold myself up the river by asking for outside opinions and taking them as fact while my inner voice screamed.


I always suspected his interest in me was shallow and driven by appearance. Not just physical appearance, but situational, as well. He wanted to use my fucked up life as part of his hero storyline, he wanted to prove his intelligence by dating a scientist, and he wanted to give meaning to his last abusive relationship/divorce by finding “something better.” He wanted to date a self-made, soft-hearted punk with a tough background and undeniable work effort to demonstrate that he was the same (he was none of those things).


It’s easy now to say that I should have listened to my gut. That the years I felt like something was wrong... something absolutely was wrong. I sold myself up the river by asking for outside opinions and taking them as fact while my inner voice screamed.

Now I get it; it was all a story in his head, expertly crafted and carefully scripted for viewers from the outside. His gushing compliments and proclamations of undying love made it seem genuine, at least until his behaviors revealed the truth.


His motivations appeared sincere and driven by enormous love. It felt like he saw me and appreciated me – but if he appreciated anything, it was the ways I benefited his self-centered pursuit of notability. The cherry on top of his performance-driven life.



Fighting off the "I should have knowns" is really difficult.


When he isolated me from my friends and family because he “couldn’t live without me,” I should have trusted my gut and stayed in Chicago.

When he dropped his kid in my lap and called me a “stepmom” within a few months, I should have known I was being used for daycare and proof of his good decision making.

When his career, finances, and family became our mutual obligations to worry about, I should have known I was being taken advantage of.

When I realized that he had no real friends and kept “his best pals” at a football field distance – only hitting them up when he needed something for a drink or a BBQ – I should have known he was hiding something.

When he “borrowed” huge amounts of money from me and never made a single effort to repay me, I should have known what kind of person I was really with.


When he endlessly talked trash about his ex - the mother of his child - and shut down when I asked him to say one nice thing about her, I should have known he was a skilled victim who can’t care about anyone but himself.


I should have noticed the nasty way he spoke of his parents, who floated his bills his entire life, bought him a house outright in cash, and took care of his son. Same for the “friends” and musical colleagues he kept, who he showed great hospitality/appreciation and then shat on as soon as they were out the door. Same for his younger half-sisters, who he privately tore apart out of resentment for their being smart and academic in ways he never could. Same for his rich kid students and their parents, who he mocked and stole things from. Same for his toddler son and old dog who were neglected for years as sacrifices for his career… until he was making a social media post or dating someone who asked questions about their care.


And, near the end, when I looked in his eyes and realized with legitimate panic that there was absolutely nothing behind them, I should have run right then.



The signs were always there. But I need forgive myself for trying to see his best side.


It's hard to look back on all the uneasy feelings and contemplative conversations I had, but didn't act on. I'm often disappointed in myself. But I should really use this as a launching point to question why I doubted myself so much, and appealed my own insights based on others' opinions. I allowed equally-unhealthy outsiders to direct my life instead of trusting myself.


I'm often disappointed in myself. But I should really use this as a launching point to question why I doubted myself so much, and appealed my own insights based on others' opinions. I allowed equally-unhealthy outsiders to direct my life instead of trusting myself.

The signs just stacked up so sneakily over time that I didn't have a loud enough alarm bell ring. I found sympathy for his own mental illnesses and made excuses for the dings I did hear.


Little by little, I saw the truth and began to believe myself over my ex’s flowery, hours-long, rants and the skewed perspectives of our mutual friends. He really knew how to talk, and he knew how to present himself to the world as a Good Guy. He still is.


Beware the "Good Guy"


If I have another fucking person tell me what a “good guy” he seemed to be, I’m going to lose everything all over again. After we broke up that’s all I heard. It made me feel like people didn’t believe me or I was the root of the problem. Apparently, their surprise was unconcealable, but I really didn’t need any thoughtless comments like these to make me feel ostracized and ashamed. I had plenty of that already.


But the truth is, he was just SO DAMN GOOD at embodying the image he had created. He had carefully cultivated a collection of stories that he recited on repeat for anyone he was getting to know. He knew exactly how to paint a picture of his past and his personality using a handful of largely-falsified tales. To be fair, I think he believed a lot of these things about himself.


People just don’t know what the situation is like in the “safety” of your shared home. Public faces don’t reflect a single truth about what’s going on underneath. Please, keep your “nice guys” to yourself until you’ve cohabitated for a few years.

Behind closed doors, he was nothing like the patient, gentle-natured, humble, big-hearted, composed and disciplined, down to earth person he pretended to be. (Unless it was after a fight and he was making big promises to change) In private, he was a tornado of irresponsible dysfunction and a bully.


People just don’t know what the situation is like in the “safety” of your shared home. Public faces don’t reflect a single truth about what’s going on underneath. Please, keep your “nice guys” to yourself until you’ve cohabitated for a few years.


It’s hard for me to admit because I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for phonies and have a big ego about being able to spot people’s bullshit... But he fooled me for a long time. He really seemed like a Good Guy.


Forgiveness and celebration


It is difficult to be kind to myself when the clarity of hindsight comes calling, and I “should have known all along.” I still feel some shame for missing the signals and listening to my secretly fucked-up friends instead of pulling the trigger when I had definitive proof of who this dude really was.


But, I should be serious about my exclamations of joy for this important anniversary; leaving is hard. It takes, on average, 7 attempts before abused domestic partners truly cut the cord. This was “only” my second or third blatant attempt, although I dreamt and spoke of my desire hundreds of times before.


I wish I had pulled the trigger sooner, but that’s unfair to myself. After years of emotional wreckage, I wasn’t in the right mental space to leave and I wasn't ready for the massive battle ahead of me... until the day that I was.


And that deserves a fucking banger.


I wish I had pulled the trigger sooner, but that’s unfair to myself. After years of emotional wreckage, I wasn’t in the right mental space to leave and I wasn't ready for the massive battle ahead of me... until the day that I was. And that deserves a fucking banger.

In the gaping void where this relationship once consumed my life, I started building one I actually wanted.


I don't live in a constant trauma state anymore. My mental health is unfathomably improved and well-managed. I moved to a better neighborhood. I bought a better car. I improved my physical health exponentially without the control that kept me sitting at home and stress relieving crutches I relied on. I made new social connections in Atlanta. I applied to grad school. I started making art for myself again. I re-established and deepened connections with old friends and family. I found out who my real friends are. And I learned when to let people go.


Best of all, just before I left my ex, I started this project. A few months later, a social anxiety hiking club. Without the chaos and self-hate, I have attention and love to give other humans. And I trust my instincts enough to take action.



Forgive me for the self-indulgent rant. It’s kind of an important date.

My one-year BIRTHDAY.


Happy Friday, I'm gonna go party.


If you want to keep reading on toxic relationships and abuse (sorry), find more here:

My intro to C-PTSD pt4: A day in the old life

"Why are you doing this?"

Domestic abuse, trauma responses, and shame



If you want to listen to this as a podcast... good news! You can!


Find this episode here! Follow the podcast here! Or, get it on Spotify, Google Podcast, and beyond! Just search for Complex Trauma Recovery or Traumatized Motherfuckers.


Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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