Calibrating Healthy Relationships After Emotional Abuse

I had to learn how to be treated with kindness. I am lucky enough to work with gentlemen. Their natural behavior is kindness, compassion, and empathy. When they extended politeness toward me, I had to learn to accept it. I had to learn how to accept an offer for a drink. I had to learn how it feels to be listened to and valued. My opinions matter at work in a way that I had never experienced at home.

And now I have to learn normal dating patterns in a healthy relationship because what I know has always become emotionally abusive.

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What Financial Abuse Looks Like

When I was married, financial control didn't look like abuse.  It looked like fairness.  It was only fair that all the money went into a joint account.  It was fair that we went over the bills together, even if he made all the decisions and set all the budgets. I had to discuss major purchases and it was only fair because he was the primary breadwinner.  The majority of our money came from his paycheck, not my financial aid and scholarships, surrogacies, or benefits our kids with autism were entitled to.  He was the head of the household, so he made the decisions.

Avid readers can tell by now that I'm a bit rebellious.  Secret checking accounts and student loans happened.  I was still mom, so much of that went to groceries because the budget he gave me, but never shopped for himself was hard to stick to. It resulted in arguments with my shoulders rounded and my gaze at my feet.  It was a time for me to resort to being a sulking teenager, not a wife or equal.

I applied for credit cards with terrible credit and no job and when I got them, he would help me max them out.  When the bill came, we could never afford to pay the bill I created.  Credit was a bad idea because you have to pay it back with interest.  (At the same time, my individually improved credit has opened a few doors for me, starting with my car.)

It didn't look like abuse at the time.  It looked like equity based on his rubric.  It looked like power and our actions against each other became cyclical and damaging to us both.

Personally, I was frustrated.  I had a book addiction, and often bought Amazon gift cards for my habit while grocery shopping because hiding the purchase amongst groceries sometimes worked.  I hated feeling like I needed permission to spend my allowance.  I would scour clearance aisles and freak out about how to hide it later. I wasn't big on purses, shoes, or jewelry.  I bought things for the house and worried nervously about the fight I would cause by the new dishes, or trash can I brought home.

As I found other ways to hide my acts of rebellion, he found ways to investigate my actions and uncover my lies.  There was no trust and it looked like a power struggle where dominance wore the farce of fairness.

In 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms.  At the time I had a car that was a danger on the roads.  I could only drive it in a lower gear, the brakes were faulty and the seat belt didn't always work.  I would drive it half a mile to the train station, but take the train to work at my part time job, and walk.  I was newly discovering a gluten free diet and avoiding sugar because my doctor scared me with pre-diabetes.  Walking seemed healthy.  I walked 5 miles and that night woke up with leg cramps only to find out the next day that my birth control pills tried to kill me and walking so much didn't help. The greater question that I didn't dare ask at the time was, why couldn't I drive the safer car to work? Where was the equity when I was taking the train late at night alone, worried about my safety the whole way?

Having that relationship end, different articles and stories found their way to me.  It was through friends and online.  The concerns my sisters voiced for years finally landed in ways that I couldn't deny.  Mine isn't even an extreme case.

Some people are battered in their relationships but the abuse is more than physical.  If there is physical violence, there was certainly verbal, emotional and financial abuse before during and most definitely after it. The most invisible form of abuse is financial.  It's about an abuser having control over their victim.  In that way I suppose you could say my rebellion was abusing my ex and calling it control. Money is used to isolate and control victims.  A victim can't always move out or leave if they don't have the means to.  It's about not being able to do anything because you completely depend on someone else.

I was allowed and even encouraged to work, but I found a balance in staying home for my kids, and going to school for myself.  He often told me what kind of work I should do as a suggestion, but it felt like control. It felt like I had his permission to be a teacher, even if I hated being in the classroom.  Even if I did work, I knew I wouldn't have control of my paycheck.  Now I enjoy work.  I'm much better at making money than keeping a clean house. (I'm okay with this.  You should make peace with it too.)

In my last relationship, I had a hard time asking for his financial advice or support.  I didn't want to give him control or cooperate with what he felt was best.  He didn't want to blindly throw money my way to help out because he didn't trust me, even if we were living together. We didn't trust each other. Money and control became a problem and rather than do what he asked, I stood my ground.  Other relational situations shifted the balance in what made a relationship worthy of growth and our relationship didn't continue. He was intelligent, with a background in finance, and an ability to get and keep my attention.  He was and is special.  At the same time, I couldn't in any way relax into a situation where I couldn't control my finances.  Strength or weakness, it's who I have become.

I have a purple purse charm I have kept on each of my purses for almost two years now. Allstate has ways to support women that are financially abused. I didn't buy it for them, although my purchase supports them. It has become a symbol of hope and strength for me. It has become a reminder that I don't need permission to buy my kids clothes. I get to make choices and create the life I want to live. I'm not a tree with deep roots. I'm free. My tassel sways with the freedom I feel in every step I take. Even if I'm not financially stable as a funempolyed single mom, I am free.  And I am in a much better financial situation than I was under someone else's financial control.

I am not affiliated with Allstate or the Purple Purse Charm and I have no monetary investment in this (or any of my posts to date), but if you would like to support their work, or at least learn more about financial abuse as domestic violence, please click here.

Can You Spot Domestic Abuse Early On?

The thing with standing in the empowerment of who you are is once you do it, you feel it when you aren't anymore.  It would be awesome to be able to say that my break in writing was about profound revelations and delving deeper into who I want to be, but I spent the last couple of months trying to dig myself back into a life that doesn't serve me. I was in a relationship.  I was being a girlfriend and seeing where I needed to grow.  I enjoyed parts of being a couple.  I kept looking at the cost of the relationship, and feeling that the benefits outweighed any sacrifice.  I had a few moments of frustration that I wasn't taking the time to watch the ocean, or go hiking, but I couldn't blame him.  It was the layers of my history telling me that being in relationship means being in service.

I visited my Dad on Sunday.  Part of our conversation was about the God I was raised to love and serve, and he admonished me that I can't say I love God if I don't obey his laws.  (I broke a few major ones in this relationship.) I left saying I loved him, and he said love is obedience.  Just the day before I had seen my nieces.  I told them I knew my boyfriend wasn't the one, but he was the one for now.  I knew it was about being in the moment, but I didn't see when that moment ended, but they did.  As I was telling them I wanted them to be authentic . . . I wanted them to stand up to their parents and aunts . . . stand up to me because "no" is an answer and never needs an explanation . . .

I got a call from my sister the next day.  My nieces heard what I said, but I was showing up to them as a lonely and sad woman.  The woman my family had started to get to know was disappearing under the weight of my relationship.  I had grown into someone I was proud of, but I couldn't see how love and service, and sacrifice meant that I was putting him before myself and taking leaps and bounds backwards.

It was a weekend where I got feedback from my loved ones that shook me.  I didn't wake up and snap out of it until a conversation with him that showed me how different we really are.  It was a moment where I looked at the ways he wanted to control my finances and other ways I choose to live and it was a moment where I wanted to run.  Having been in the situation before, I was lost again.  Was I overreacting? Am I seeing things that aren't there? It was both familiar and terrifying.  And it was time to walk away, but I wasn't sure.  The next day we argued by text and rather than tell me how he felt, he started putting me down.

I watched a video on Facebook today and as it got closer to the end, I started sobbing.  I may just be hormonal, but it resonated profoundly: [facebook url="" /] Once I ended the relationship, he begged me to take him back and as the second day wore on, he started a text stream of insults against me and my family, making threats and accusations. But I've been here before. It only took a moment to gaze in the mirror and remind myself of who I am. It only made me feel better about my decision to end things, no matter what my future without him looks like.

We were together about two and a half months, and I'm still trying to figure out how I missed the signs of abuse that are so clear today. He wanted to help around the house and made changes as improvements. He enrolled me in what he thought was best for my family. He wanted to lead my household but I couldn't give up complete control and he made that feel like a failure on my part. He made me feel like I was wrong to not relinquish the power I had over my home, even though I knew how ridiculous his request was to me, my children, my family and anyone else that knows me.

I wanted company when I started online dating. I found it. I was convinced that it was okay to spend time with "Mr. Right Now," but I know it's better to be alone than in a relationship that doesn't serve me and make me grow. I'm alone again and being single feels like freedom again.

Sometimes A Person's Best Offering Isn't Enough

In spring of 2006 I was still majoring in geology, so I was still struggling through college level algebra.  I was newly pregnant with Kid3 and exhausted with my full college course load.  I took out a student loan.  I opened a checking account without telling my ex or at the time my husband.  Without getting permission I did this secretly and he found a receipt.  Most of that loan went to groceries, but I knew what I had done was wrong by the laws of our marriage and I knew it was an act of rebellion from the way our finances were controlled and handled.  I knew my email accounts would be searched next and I was freaking out.  I just had a venting session by email with a really great friend, and realized my ex was in the process of uncovering one of my lies.  I had my friend go into my email account and change my password. I didn't at the time see this as financial abuse. Venting was about frustration, but it was also about my not trusting him to be able to handle or address my frustrations.  I didn't trust him to do what I wanted, and never gave him the opportunity to prove he could.  It's not something I would suggest.  I was a faithful wife, but not necessarily obedient.  And I'm still figuring out what normal and healthy look like.

In my frantic call and the fear I felt over the situation, this friend of mine was that voice of reason.  He pointed out the many ways my life was crazy and he did it in love.  I remember saying to him, "I know he's giving me his very best but I know that will never be good enough for me." That was a profound moment for me and it was followed by a choice.  Knowing I felt this way, I decided my marriage was a choice that I would keep choosing.  I decided I could find ways to be fulfilled and do what made me happy.  Without trying to upset him, I chose to find little victories for myself while still being his wife.

Today I was talking to a co-worker and friend.  I brought up that idea again.  You should hold it a minute.  There will be people in your life that offer you their very best, and you get to recognize that the best they can offer is still never going to be good enough for you. This has become an old concept for me that really strengthens my resolve to learn to love unconditionally.  I want to give from my heart without attaching a price to that love because some people could never afford it, but what happens when my perspective shifts a bit?

I find myself shattered and humbled because I really appreciate the concept that I will offer my best to someone and it won't be a shadow of what they have earned through the patience and love offered to me. I'm often trying to pay attention to what my physical reaction to a person is, and I carefully look at how they treat those around them, but to someone else,  I'm held under that same critical gaze and not measuring up.

As harsh as that may be, I'm at peace with it.  I had another friend ask if it would be okay to post a picture of me.  She wanted me to see it and get my approval. I don't really care.  For the most part, people will love or hate me (there's rarely anyone that falls in between) and it won't matter because I love me and I love how I look.

I was having this moment of doubt and fear as I'm standing in the idea of what it feels like to accept someone's attention.  I'm feeling the stretch and pull of what it means to consider a relationship that is meant to grow beyond company.  It's not love I'm afraid of.  It's the idea of feeling profound and deep love again and having it disappear.  It's the idea of falling in love and planning a future and having that fall through.  It's being vulnerable so I'm no longer in control and rejecting others.  It's being in a space of accepting that I might be rejected.

Do I run? Of course not.

I face my doubt and fear head on.  I live each moment in the moment, without latching on to the past or grasping for a future.  I exist for the sake of breathing and nothing in love exists beyond that. One day it may take me so far away from solid ground that I will be lost and I get to remember to stay afloat.  I will love fully, without expecting anything in return as a barter and I will embody unconditional love.  This is how I face that fear.  This is how I embrace what could be.

Irrational Fears After Emotional Abuse

New experiences over old ones mean you get to remember forgotten details, while learning new things. Hiking with my more athletic friend to Mt. Hollywood was awesome.  She slowed down when I needed to and she was very in tune with my pacing needs.  I had to remind myself it's okay to take a break.  It's important to stay hydrated.  Her wisdom kept me from trying to drink for thirst when I felt full because puking would have sucked.  I wanted to keep up with her, forgetting that she runs marathons for fun, and the trail from the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round that was challenging yesterday was one she did while holding a toddler.

The sweat and my awareness of how badly I smelled was new to me.  I mean seriously, I was walking and then the sweat happened. Everywhere.  I could smell myself and it was pretty gross. Hiking as a teenager meant I got sweaty, but that was uncomfortable.  Something about that first childbirth changes a woman's body.  Sweat is no longer cute.  It reeks and the changes in my sense of smell paired with body smells make exercise so not attractive to me. When you start to smell like you're more in tune with nature than with beauty products, the rest of nature begins to accept you as part of their landscape. (Hunters know this trick.) That moment taught me to either get comfortable with bug spray or get comfortable with bug carcasses all over your skin.

My friend taught me how to step like a duck when we were going down the hard way.  I'm used to squatting and staying low to get down somewhere steep, but she taught me to turn around and climb down.  One of those falls that has me in pain right now taught me that you still need to look for places to stick your feet when you're climbing down backward, even if you're probably only going to slide down.

I've hiked before.  I told Kid1 that I planned to take them to Chantry Flats to hike to Sturtevant Falls but it would be in the spring when there would hopefully be snow melt making it to the waterfall.  He was surprised that I would consider the time of year, but I've done that hike before and overthink everything.  There may have also been an impromptu trip to Big Bear for the snow in July one year after high school.  Being young and fairly drunk all the time, we wanted to escape the heat in L.A.  We did, but clearly, snow wasn't happening.  It was cooler.  We caught a summer storm.  But no snow. Sometime after that, I started overthinking things.  It might have been my friends that made senseless adventure exciting.  This was the same group that decided we could go clubbing in Mexico after partying until 2 in Sherman Oaks.  We got there in time for the sunrise, but the clubs were closed.  Common sense wasn't so common, but we had a great laugh over the adventure.

In my teens, a hard workout would have started with hydration, protein and stretching.  Post workout meant a hot soak in the tub, serious hydration afterward, sleeping with both Ben Gay and Motrin, and forcing a day of rest that included light stretching in between . . . Not two fierce hikes in a row.  As an adult this weekend, there was hydration during the hikes.  That was it. My teenage self has been yelling at me all night.

Hiking and my aching body are probably not what has me up before the sun, typing without my glasses in the dark.   Hiking two days in a row took it's toll and exhaustion looked like adopting  a toddler's bedtime, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about boundaries.

I'm finding myself in a familiar, yet new place.  I had gotten so comfortable in being single that being who I was years ago is coming back to me.  I'm friendly.  I have always been comfortable with guy friends.  I didn't worry about boundaries because I was comfortable with them.  But then my marriage happened and things changed. I'm in a place where I'm thinking about how my actions might affect a man I care about.

Friday at lunch I ran into a male co-worker at Subway and we ate lunch together, but I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  It was lunch and nothing else.  Clearly, it was fine, but I doubted myself.  I was with friends on Saturday and felt like I needed to let this new man know where I was so he wouldn't have to worry.  I told him because even though I was visiting with friends, and being a responsible adult that acts like a Mom in all situations, I felt guilt.  I felt like the old lady in a group of younger people and didn't even flirt with anyone, but I felt like being out was enough to have to explain myself.  I gave my Dad a hug last night and smelled his cologne when I left, lingering on my skin, and wondered if there would be a problem with that if I were going home to this man.

I know this is all in my head.  This new man has done nothing to encourage these fears but matter to me. It's my past experience shadowing my present.  It's the first time since my ex that someone really matters and the first time I've had to face the scars of his jealousy.

I saw a friend at my high school reunion with his new girlfriend.  Before her, his social media was full of his topless exercise routines.  He fully understood the public service he was offering, but with the new woman in his life, these moments stopped.  It looks normal.  It looks appropriate.  I don't know if it is, because my reference points are skewed.

I get to learn what normal is.  Like all new things there's excitement and fear but I'm adaptable.  I can learn to walk like a duck.  I can learn that someone else's sense of security isn't my full responsibility and as I was told on a call yesterday, I am so worthy of so much.  I just have to step into understanding that in my skin, and no longer just as a sometime reminder in my head.

There should be simpler moments to concern myself with . . . Like do I aim for more sleep, or do I get moving so I can chase the sun?