Moving on from emotional abuse (TW)

Trigger warning: emotional abuse, link to/veiled references to sexual abuse

One of the hardest parts about moving on from an emotionally abusive relationship has been recognising the impact that it has had on aspects of my personality and my own behaviour. I am regularly taken by surprise by my reactions to seemingly inconsequential events because of expectations based on previous experience. I will often detach, feeling like I am watching both the situation unfold and my own emotions that follow, knowing that often my reaction is disproportionate to what has happened, but feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. As someone who considers themselves strong and independent and able to deal with an incredible amount of trials and tribulations (TW), this is physically painful to me and does nothing to ease the trauma.

Take for example this every day sort of incident: not long after Gaz and I started seeing each other, he was walking through the kitchen of his flat when stubbed his toe on a portable radiator he had against the back wall. He yelped in pain/surprise and I physically winced. Not in sympathy or acknowledgement of his pain, but because of a sudden overwhelming fear that enveloped my body. My eyes started to water, I felt adrenaline surging through my body as the fight or flight reaction took hold. My body, my reaction, completely out of tune with what should have been an “oooh, are you ok love?” response. It took hours for me to ‘come down’ from that, and it was only months later that I was able to fully explain to Gaz what I had experienced in that moment. He, of course, didn’t even remember stubbing his toe (why should he?)

I know now that this response is caused by conditioning: that over time I have experienced so much negativity following incidents like that, that even though logically I knew I was safe and Gaz would react like a normal / rational person, my brain thought I was ‘in for it’. That I should expect verbal abuse because it would be all my fault.

I’m getting better at dealing with those sorts of incidents. Gaz tripped up the stairs recently (I’m making him sound incredibly clumsy) and although I had a wibble, my immediate emotional response was concern rather than fear.

However, one thing I still struggle with particularly during periods of high anxiety (generally in the week or so when I’m off the pill, and when I’m overly stressed or very tired) and can’t seem to shake is a different sort of fear: fear of abandonment. If I feel that I’ve done anything ‘wrong’ or that I’m causing upset I start to panic. Trigger for this can vary from something as harmless as a sarcastic comment meant in humour to Gaz physically turning around/away from me (with completely innocent intent). When this happens I am again gripped by feelings I have no control over, and this usually results in one of two reactions: I cry, and act like a needy child wanting reassurance, or I start to use passive aggressive behaviour in a push away/pull you close cycle, making sarcastic comments or resurfacing tiny irrelevant incidents in my head from months past to use as ‘ammo’ in case I need to argue, to fight. This in itself is a form of emotional abuse and it kills me that I recognise the things in my behaviour that have been done to me.

I have yet to wrap my head around why, when I was in that harmful relationship, I completely failed to spot or identify with any of the feelings that I experience now. I had no idea that I felt actual physical fear when I knew I was likely to be used as the excuse or blame for an incident not of my causing. It was just normal. It was how it was. To know that I was so completely out of touch with my own mind that I could not recognise something as powerful as fear makes me really, really fucking angry. And ashamed that I could be so stupid.

As a result of spending a huge part of my life waiting for incidents and accidents I’ve developed a weird sort of hypervigilance. I have empathy up to the eyeballs which allows me to very quickly identify with other people’s range of moods and feel spectacular depths of happiness (which itself causes me so much fucking pain: try being that person in the playground who cries at the sight of their child at the end of the school day “just because”) and, conversely, sadness. Anyway, this hypervigilance was vital in dealing with someone who operated on a very small scale of ‘okay’ and meant that I could try and react appropriately to nip a problem in the bud before it developed into a full blown argument. Of course this meant using the one thing I felt like I had any control over to try and placate and please: my body. The irony of this isn’t lost on me… having to fuck your way out of an argument is not empowering and the person in control was clearly never me.

The hypervigilance remains, but not everyone operates on a such a small scale of black or white in their emotional range. “Normal” people experience a range of feelings, which confuse my little internal radar. When Gaz comes home from work after a shit day and I can see the tiredness in his eyes and the stress in his expression, the “deal with this” alarm kicks in. I backtrack in my head to what I could have done, what part of my day made his stress my fault. A tiny part of my brain reminds me again and again that this wasn’t me but the tiny voice is drowned out by the shouts of “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” and “FIX THIS SHIT”. Of course I can’t fix it, because it’s not my problem nor responsibility to fix anything, and so the despair and uselessness floods in and Miss Fear of Abandonment comes aknocking.

I am getting better. Sometimes, when I feel something affecting the stability of my mood, I can talk myself down or distract myself from it. Sometimes I can fix things with a long run. Sometimes I type out stupidly long blog entries (although I usually delete them). Sometimes I spend money unnecessarily (less ideal). Mostly I just lean on Gaz and remember that I am very lucky to have found someone who isn’t scared by the journey I have yet to take, and who hasn’t faltered when I’ve needed him so far.

20 signs your relationship is probably over

It’s really quite easy to live day to day in a bad relationship because good people don’t like to think that other people — the people they love and are committed to — are anything but good too. But…

  1. If you need to ask permission to see your friends
  2. If you have to justify extending the length of your outings beyond a set curfew
  3. And endure repeated abusive phone calls if you’re just a tiny bit late
  4. If you need to explain why you bought yourself new underwear
  5. If you need to defend shaving your legs or cutting your hair
  6. If you have to put a PIN on your phone to get some privacy
  7. If the only ideas or plans that are acceptable are your partner’s
  8. If you work all day, parent all night, and still have to do ALL the housework, cook all the meals, wash all the clothes
  9. If you need to catch someone out in a lie to get the truth
  10. If you daren’t mention male friends or colleagues for fear of an argument
  11. If your idea of happiness is defined as not having an argument that day
  12. If your friends are rendered speechless at your partner’s behaviour (even if they’re too polite to say it’s dickish)
  13. If you feel like you’re losing your mind because you can’t keep track of the stories and spin
  14. If you are feel physically scared of a reaction to something, even if you’ve never been hit
  15. If everything is always “your fault” or “in your head”
  16. If you find yourself constantly making excuses for behaviour: your partner is tired, stressed, or they’ve had a hard day at work
  17. If you feel you need to make excuses to get out of sexual contact you don’t want
  18. Or feel the need to engage in sexual contact because it’s easier than saying no
  19. If you spend hours every week fantasising about leaving and trying to figure out if you can handle the finances on your own
  20. If you know in your gut that it is over, but are holding on for the sake of your family or children

…you probably need to leave.

It’s easy to normalise and justify each of the items in the list above as “just one-offs” and separate problems, each with their own little causes and ultimately, each with their own solutions. But they are not one-offs, they are pieces of a bigger puzzle. And you probably need to leave.

(Please don’t wait 12 years to do it.)

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Project £20k: Completed!

Despite my best intentions, it was inevitable that raising £20,000 to buy my ex out of our joint mortgage was an optimistic endeavour at best. Right from the beginning I had to factor in a more realistic plan: remortgaging the house for the value of the outstanding mortgage with our joint provider plus the £20k for Karl.

However, because of my circumstances (“single” parent with two kids and all of the associated outgoings) not all mortgage companies were willing to give me a chance, and those that did had caps on what they were willing to lend. Working with an IFA, I finally settled on a 3 year fixed interest mortgage with Natwest… but at a price. The mortgage had a setup fee of £995 which I had to pay up front, as adding it to the balance of the mortgage would have pushed me into another lending bracket which Natwest weren’t willing to go up to.

I don’t tend to have £995 just sitting around in my back pocket to cough up on a whim, but thankfully my enthusiasm for raising the £20,000 on my own meant that I had some savings (through a combination of savvy saving and donations from a handful of fabulous folk reading here) and I was able to draw on the money raised to cover that fee and the subsequent fees charged by the solicitor to complete the transfer of equity on the house from Karl to myself.

As of this week the transfer of equity was completed, and this morning the fees were transferred to the relevant recipients (old mortgage company / Karl). My remortgage is complete: my house is now mine (and Natwest’s)

So what’s next? Time to dust off my plan to be mortgage free in 5 years of course…

I have no idea what I’m doing

I have felt pretty good for the past week or so. I ended my 12 year relationship – it was the right thing to do. I started to take control of my finances and things – an annoying necessity. I started to plan how I would move forward – so everything is set in concrete detail in my head. I have been reaching out to old friends and making new ones – I need some people in my life.

And now all of a sudden I’ve hit a wall. A really tall brick wall which I have no choice but to climb over, because it doesn’t matter how far I walk alongside this wall, it does not end. And it’s hard to feel pretty good when you have a wall to climb.

I can feel my grip slipping. I can feel the control I’ve established this week or so weakening. I have no idea what I’m doing, and the uncertainty is killing me.

I’m not allowed to feel

It’s only been 3 days and apparently the role of a single person — single parent — is to have one’s feelings dictated: I’m not allowed to feel what I want to feel.

Oh you must be so sad

I know you’re just hanging on for the kids

Don’t worry, you’ll get back together when you’ve had a little break

& so on…

And I’m not sad, and I’m not ‘just’ hanging on for the kids, and I’m not planning on getting back together with Karl, and yet this gets the look. The raised eyebrow. The “there there dear” pat on the shoulder.

I am angry. I am lost in a world where the ‘me’ that everyone knows is defined by my relationship and my past. I am feeling exposed and vulnerable because everything that gives me comfort and keeps me secure is flailing in the wind.

But I am not fucking sad.

I am a single mum

I am a single mum.

I am a single mum.

I am a single mum.

If I say it enough times, the reality might sink in.

Karl and I split on Monday. I have to admit it seems pretty radical to make my May ‘me’ thing the end of our 12+ year relationship (I was just thinking about learning to swim) but there we go.

I’m currently in the position of having to majorly overhaul our routine, finances, domestic crap so may not blog regularly for a while. Bear with me, folks!


I hate thinking up titles

If you’re a super duper smartypants you may remember that I recently alluded to some things happening here that would hopefully be the catalyst for a positive change in my daily routine. Yes indeedy, as of Monday (yesterday) Karl started working part time: that is, 8am-1pm in his existing job.

You can read the various “why”s over in Karl’s entry but in short the theory is that this gives me all morning to dedicate to the kiddos, and then from about 1:30pm-4:30pm of an afternoon to give to my work while Karl wrangles the monsters. This means I can get more done in the day, which means I should be able to actually have evenings to myself instead of eyes glued to the laptop.

We’re on day 2 of the new hours and already I think it’s working. I mean, I’m still working in the evening because I have so much to do and I’m desperately trying to get a couple of jobs knocked on the head (btw, never work with Drupal) but I’m not switching my laptop on until the afternoon which means my stress levels have plummeted. Instead of darting out of the room to try and cram a few minutes work in every 5 minutes (which inevitably leads to interruption from the kids which means I then get pissy) I can give them my full attention. AND, even though I’m “only” dedicating a small block of time to work instead of the whole day, I’m actually clocking up more time working overall. Case in point: yesterday I managed nearly 4.5 productive hours instead of my usual 2-if-I’m-lucky. (If you work 8 hour days in an office with hot coffee, sod you.)

Financially we will be worse off in the short term I imagine, but only while I get to grips with getting more work in and billed – at which point my hourly rate should more than make up the difference in working hours.

I just hope that this is a permanent change and not just fluke, because I have been so stressed lately I’ve come close to jacking the whole bloody lot in and going back out to work. Cross your fingers, eh?

“My help, Daddy”

“Fix its, Daddy!”

Isabel fixing computer with Daddy

Yesterday, Explained

Where to bloody begin?!

So it starts off completely unrelated to houses. I get a phone call at work, close to 4pm, from Karl. Sounds like he’s having a heart attack. Mumbles something about Isabel; my God the adrenaline shot through me. In that split second I thought of everything terrible that could happen in the world, happening all at once.

Thankfully it was “just” Karl, who’d managed to dislocate his knee. They had to get an ambulance out to him and everything. In his words:

I just turned round, loud crack and the leg went. Screaming and yelling as loud as possibly possible, kneecap now at right angles to my knee. Felt me passing went black/purply. Hearing went fuzzy etc.

Anyway. The lovely ambulance folk hooked him up to gas and air and popped his knee back in. Bish bash bosh, off to a house viewing (he’s hardcore, let me tell you) with a crutch and his jeans cut up to the knee.

Nice house. “Cosy” but it’s hard to adjust to the realistic size of a first-timer house when you’re used to renting a giant 1800s cottage. Not decorated to my taste either, but that aside it’s got tons of potential for extension, lovely well maintained gardens and plenty of built in storage. So, we put in an offer at nearly £10,000 under the asking price at around 8:30pm(!) It was rejected straight up because the owners need to get rid of the old mortgage. We made a new offer, £5,000 under, and it was accepted.

We nearly have our very own house. (And yes, I know, I wasn’t expecting it to happen this quickly either!)

A Post About Karl

I had no idea what to blog about but — not wanting to break my record and the run I’ve been having because of NaBloPoMoLoDoFo (or you know, whatever) — the girls at Snark (i.e. Rachael and Aisling) suggested I post about Karl. So, here are 5 things you may not have known about Karl until today:

  1. He has naked woman boobies on his desktop. He likes naked woman boobies.
  2. He’s adamant that he doesn’t like cats, and yet spends quite a lot of time playing with Hex, talking about Hex and so forth. The first thing he does when he gets home from work is pick up the cat and fuss him (note how I come second there).
  3. He has a little white rabbit teddy that I bought him about a year into our relationship called Mrs. Bunny, and she sits on his bedside table.
  4. He eats packet ‘instant pasta’ by the bucket-load. He stews it until the pasta swells to about 6 times its size and falls apart on the fork. It’s quite disgusting, actually.
  5. Due to a bit of a chesty cough/snot thing he’s got going on, he was literally mewing in his sleep last night. Yeah, it’s as odd as it sounds.

Aren’t you all astounded at these marvellous and interesting facts? I’m sure he won’t thank me for sharing them, mind…

Edit (19/Nov): Karl has responded with some facts about me