One night shortly after I left Jerkface for good, I was sitting alone in my dark little apartment in the fog belt of San Francisco, and I actually missed him. Why? Who the heck knows, although I suppose it was a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. I was appalled and bewildered because I had fought so hard to free myself from the hell of our marriage and had been thoroughly enjoying coming home after work and oh, just listening to music (shocking) or eating whatever I damn well wanted (gasp!) instead of hearing his voice, smooth with faux concern, slowly and systematically destroy me and what I knew to be real.
There was no way I was going to allow myself to go back to him in a dangerous moment of weakness.
So I made a Jerkface candy jar. What’s that, you ask? The idea was that any time I dared think of going back to him, I would make myself grab a strip of paper from that jar, remember an abusive episode, and deal with the reality of how this man treated me while we were together. And so I sat there cutting little strips of paper and writing every single horrible thing he’d ever said to me.
The only good thing about that candy jar was the sweetness of getting my life back and keeping it that way. To enjoy that sweetness, I had to create a painful, bitter record of the hate and destruction Jerkface brought to my life through his most dangerous weapon: his words.
Every time I thought I was done, more memories would surface, and I’d keep writing and folding and writing and folding.
I wrote for hours. I cut more strips. And finally, I had a horrifying archive of emotional abuse that was my marriage. For the next few months, whenever that illogical feeling of missing him would well up, I’d grab a strip (sometimes two or three), read something shocking, cry or shake my head or both, and realize I had saved my own life by leaving him.
Let me share three of my favorites:
- “If you look pretty, I’ll tell you. You don’t want me to lie and say you look pretty every time you think I look nice, do you? Honesty is important in a marriage.”
- “Oh that’s weird, look what happens when I squeeze your thigh. Do all women get these dimples, or is that just you?”
- “Just because you’re sick with the flu doesn’t mean I need to be up all night. Go sleep in the bathroom.”
Reading his words out of context, in my own writing, made me see them as the abuse they were.
It was easier to confront the abuse in the form of pen on paper because I wasn’t being confused by the masterful Jerkface spin, but honestly it was still traumatic. With even just four days since having seen him I’d reset my tolerance level enough that his words sounded really crazy and unhinged.
Summary: Getting to that realization – that Jerkface is the crazy one, not you – is critical. Do it however you need to. Leaving an abuser doesn’t need to be perfect. No one else needs to like it or understand it (read this post for more on that subject). You don’t need to love your new room or apartment (though I’m guessing you will love not being treated like garbage). You just need to believe no one gets to talk to you like that anymore – no matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.