But wait, so maybe I'm NOT a garbage human being?
October 18, 2016 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Need help/advice for resources for recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship with a whole mess of complications. I am the special-est of snowflakes.

I live abroad in a country where I do not have a particularly strong social safety net. It's something I'm working on but due to the transient nature of the ex-pat lifestyle it's never going to be great. Two years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a fellow expat and the following spiral of depression and self-imposed social isolation completely wrecked what little support I had. My assailant is gone and I am slowly trying to build local support. This is not precisely the topic of the question but I believe it is relevant. Because during my isolation and recovery I started rock climbing and became romantically involved with the owner of my climbing gym. I believe he tried to be a good person but it became increasingly clear over the last two years that he was rather emotionally abusive towards me. He blamed me for his poor behavior (at 5'3" and 50kgs, I was too big and my lack of climbing skills were why he cheated on me with another woman). All of his anger was my fault. What I perceived as minor offenses (spending 10 minutes getting things from my apartment when leaving for a 3 day climbing trip or driving too slowly on the highway at night because my night vision is poor after having LASEK, just for example) would be reason enough to shout at me for hours at a time. (No lie, the 10 minutes in the apartment thing was 4 hours of constant shouting. I was trapped in a car, I timed it.) These tirades would cover everything. No subject was safe. My body, my personality, my intelligence, even things like my cooking or performance in bed were insulted and degraded. And all of these comments would be forgotten the minute his anger had cooled. It became frustrating to try and defend my actions in the light of the criticism I had received only be told "I don't remember saying that." or "I thought you had a brain to know I didn't really mean that." Obviously, I know this behavior was unacceptable but I stayed because I had hoped he would change but mostly because my lack of other social opportunities made me feel like staying with this man was better than isolation and the return of depression. We've broken up several times and I've always returned to him because so much of my recovery from the sexual assault was tied up in the community I had at the climbing gym and I didn't want to lose that and he came with it. But we've broken up, so I have. And this time I think it needs to be for good. But that's hard for me because he's messed me up so much. He created this bizarre reward schedule that has made me like addicted to his approval. Even when I know his behavior is unhealthy, I want him to like me. Even during the last few weeks as our relationship slowly broke down and I didn't even really like him, I wanted to make him happy. And that's fucked. I still kind of wish to be in a relationship with him and that's like so wrong it makes my thinking brain's head spin. It's like he tapped into this perfect storm of my assault recovery and co-dependency issues and I don't even know. Anyway, sorry, this is still a little recent.
The question is this: What resources (ideally online or in book form) that I can access to help me sort myself out. Ideally these would be websites or workbooks. Coordinating skype therapy is a headache with the time difference. I tried asynchronous text based therapy and it was a shit show. In real life options are essentially non-existent. (I live in a small town and while I can get around I do not have the level of proficiency I would need in the dominant language). What can help me get a grasp on what happened, how it worked and how I can prevent it in the future? Also, what resources can help me work through my fear of loneliness and depression that leaves me vulnerable to people like this?
TL;DR: I'm a sexual assault survivor living abroad with a small social safety net. I just got out of a two year long emotionally abusive relationship. Help me sort my fucking life out, mate.
posted by FakePalindrome to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, major internet hugs to you. I don't know of any super relevant resources but I am sorry you are going through this and it will get better!
posted by pintapicasso at 7:51 PM on October 18, 2016

RAINN has an online hotline for survivors of sexual abuse. You might want to start there.
posted by praemunire at 7:52 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Forum for other people in your situation or similar situations.

This book is often recommended and so useful:

Exceptionally useful for preventing this from happening in the future with another person like him. Really shows patterns of behavior and communication to look for early on.
On preview I'm repeating AFABulous - sorry

I also recommend reading The Gift of Fear. Probably other people will also recommend it. Skip the chapter where the author talks about exhorting women to leave their abusers, as this may not be useful for you and may cause you some distress. However, the other parts of the book are great tools and skills that you can learn and practice to protect yourself.

For co-dependency and boundary setting skills:
We're all rooting for you and for your healing. You can get through this. I'm impressed and proud of you for recognizing what happened, and having the courage to reach out for advice and help from other people. That's not easy to do.

One trick I like that I read somewhere on here is when you meet someone new and you're first getting to know them, whether to be just friends or for dating purposes, set a small arbitrary boundary and see how they respond to it. See if they instinctively want to cross it or if they recognize it and respect it. Really something small. Not giving someone the last of your fries. Not walking or driving the route that they prefer. Not letting them borrow something from you, even if it's minor. Not being available to them at the time they want you to be, but without giving an explanation. Find a small, and somewhat simple opportunity to cheerfully say, "No, I'd rather not, thanks," and watch if that person says, ok no problem and backs down - or if they start cajoling and whining and trying to change your mind or joking about just crossing the boundary or worse yet they just reach over and eat your fries anyway without giving a shit what you said.

You'll find this helps sort out people you don't want in your life anyway.
posted by zdravo at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

Look at it this way: you did exactly the right thing for yourself when you were depressed before this "person," originally seeking a long-term physical activity that supports a devoted community. Books and internet support are essential, but keep trying to find a community. Is there a yoga community near you? Yoga is challenging/distracting, and has devotees the same way rock climbing does. And new people! If you can travel, go just once a week and sing in the car. It's better if you do more than one type of physical activity, so think of it as winning/exploring your skills.

More than one person has been awful to you. Not everyone will be awful to you.
posted by aralymn at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Change sports! Can you get something like a gym pass that lets you sample lots of different activities for month? Or sign up for riding lessons (horses are very therapeutic) or a women's hiking club. Get away from climbing entirely for a while, pack up the gear for a bit and give yourself a break from that sport and stretch your body with new sports and communities.

Long walks in nature while listening to audiobooks was really good for me in similar circumstances. If you have a neighbour able to loan you their dog for those long walks, that's really great because you're physically able to relax as a woman outdoor with a big dog running alongside you in a way that you can't quite alone.

The Dance of Anger (Harriet Lerner), The Verbally Abusive Relationship (Patricia Evans), Why Does He Do That (Lundy Bancroft), I found useful and I have The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, and How to Be an Adult in Relationships on my to-read list from highly-recommended lists for the same reasons.

Also, I would recommend highly taking a Saturday to rearrange furniture in your flat or repaint a wall or something in your place to make it feel different and fresher. Put up a big glorious print where you can see it, buy a cuddly duvet cover you can snuggle so your bed is a cozy refuge and make a reading corner for yourself with a lovely bright coloured kettle and cute mug and favourite books - basically make part of your home something a gift to you to restore your spirits when you're feeling low.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:36 PM on October 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

One piece of good news: this guy is probably more attached to his current milieu (the gym, the people he already hangs out with) than he is to you. You should definitely feel free to find basically any other hobby at all without worrying about running into him or even people who he spends time with. I recommend finding something physical to do with other people - kayaking, or hiking, or interpretive dance - because interaction with others is good for depression/anxiety, and physical activity is even better.

I also recommend trying to make friends who can't be converted into romantic partners, because it's much easier to form and maintain boundaries when the stakes are lower.
posted by SMPA at 8:17 AM on October 19, 2016

Best answer: I feel like part of the issue of co-dependency and addiction also stems from (or is exacerbated) by poor self esteem-- you want it because you think you deserve it, he convinces you you DO deserve it and you lack the strength to pull yourself out because you think you deserve it... it becomes this massive catch 22 where you get more and more entrenched and your self-worth and self-image become more and more distorted and dependent on external (his) validation.

So I think really trying to boost your self esteem and self-worth and break damaging thought patterns is also a good place to start, so I would definitely recommend Feeling Good by David Burns. I know he also has a Self Esteem workbook but I've never read that one, but it may be worth a look. Also, read Baggage Reclaim-- it's a blog, but when I went through a tough time with a guy that wrecked my sense of self-worth, this blog was invaluable in helping me understand, process and empower me.
posted by Dimes at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2016

You are a good enough person. You deserve self love and inner peace.
posted by puddledork at 9:57 AM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's okay, just wallow for a while. You're not broken/destroyed/unusually susceptible to this pernicious brand of mancrap, you're just going through the natural badrelationship endspiral that most people have to plod through eventually. You didn't attract the sexual assault or the bad relationship: these things didn't happen to you because some flaw in you makes you vulnerable to abuse. Abusive crap was visited upon you as it is to some degree upon every person. Most people who have avoided sexual assault or emotionally abusive relationships have been luckier than you, not healthier, smarter, or stronger than you. So you're not flawed because you fell for the rockclimber, and you're not stupid because you stayed with him as long as you did, and you're not crazy because you're currently having difficulty stopping believing things you know aren't true. You are in the badrelationship spiral. You just have to wait it out.

You'll want his esteem until you don't. You'll cry and you'll ruminate and you'll "journal" endlessly and all the while your thinking brain will be mystified and be saying "what the hell, shut up with the recitative about that worthless ass so that we can watch Masterpiece Theater properly!" but you will not be able to. And then one day you'll suddenly think, "whoa, whutup, I haven't thought about the worthless ass in weeks!" Trust that the thinking brain will prevail eventually over the feeling brain. It will. The feeling brain is louder, but the thinking brain is stronger.

Nobody can tell you how long this state of being will last because it's different for every terrible relationship, but I and everyone else who's been through one or more of them can tell you this: it feels like you're stuck and not moving, but you actually are. Eventually this stage ends and you emerge with your self intact.

Meanwhile, he may have been a worthless ass, but your sadness over the loss of him is not silly, it's real and profound, and it's proof that you're a functioning human who can love. This is the important "take-away" from this experience: you were hurt but not broken as a person. You can love and care, and therefore when you find some worthy somebody who's not an abusive ass, you'll be able to create a warm, loving, nurturing relationship for yourselves. While you wait to be free of the inevitable obsession and the pain, please be kind to yourself. Please do all those very awesome fun, kind, snuggly things dorothyisunderwood suggests.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:37 AM on October 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here are some things that helped me leave an 8 year long abusive friendship (during which I was repeatedly put down in every way you mentioned, and very much was addicted to her approval, which was nearly impossible to get.)

The poetry of Mary Oliver, especially "The Journey"

The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner

Tallahassee, album by the Mountain Goats

Concepts from The Gift of Fear

Learning about setting boundaries with folks who have behaviors similar to what you might see in a person with untreated Borderline Personality Disorder

Journaling for a long time about what happened to get me to the place where I felt like I couldn't leave the relationship

Reading specifically about tactics of emotionally abusive people so I can name them and recognize them

Reading and writing a lot about putting my emotional health first and the steps I could take to do that

Hope this helps. Feel free to memail me if you want to talk more -- many parts of your story resonate with my experience. Be well.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 10:58 PM on October 19, 2016

What Don Pepino said, one thousand times.

I lived (for far too long) with a man who screamed that it took me too long to comb my tangly hair when it was wet, that I broke a pint glass of the style that was given away (every week!) for free at the pub, that I was a worthless human being whom no one had loved or would ever love. It took a while to rebound from that.

But I HAVE. He rarely crosses my mind, except when a post like this happens or when our one remaining joint contact passes along information that confirms he is still the same miserable sonofabitch that he always was.

Hugs to you.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 1:05 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have a specific resource for you but I'd also look into stuff about PTSD to see if that applies. For months after I left my ex, I would panic if I made a mistake (like dropping a glass or making a wrong turn), because I was anticipating getting screamed at. I got past that, but I still had nightmares for a good long while afterwards. Being abused really changes your response to stimuli at a deep neural level. But it doesn't mean you can't retrain your brain and overcome it.
posted by AFABulous at 1:40 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry to answer again but Tallahassee by the Mountain Goats, mentioned above, is a treasure of humanity. It's not possible to describe my long history with it but it rules, and from my experience, any music by the Mountain Goats is well written and designed to bring you home from dark places. I've been a fan for over ten years and I still cried last week at "when you punish someone for dreaming their dreams, don't expect them to thank or forgive you."
posted by aralymn at 11:51 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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