Growing up, both of my parents suffered from addiction. I never felt able to communicate effectively in this environment. It was erratic and extreme. I never knew what I would be walking home to, and most nights my father was blackout drunk while my mother was unresponsive or at work. This made other relationships really difficult for me, especially how I related to myself. The only time I felt safe and free was when I was creating art. As a teen and young adult, I was attracted to partners that were emotionally unavailable and abusive. I couldn't understand why this was happening to me. I knew something wasn’t right, but I continued to repeat the pattern that was most familiar to me. When I was 25, I entered a serious romantic relationship with a man who I would later find out was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
These types of comments were soul crushing, and became more frequent: “Look at these successful people,” he said while pointing out a story on Inc.com. “They’re all in their 20s, making millions of dollars on a business. And if you’re not doing that, you’re losing at the game of life. You need to snap out of it, Monica.”
He was very controlling, manipulative, and would consistently sabotage my career and artistic practice. Our small apartment became off-limits for my painting. Any attempt I made to be creative was discouraged or blocked. I tried other avenues, since my creative spirit simply cannot be exhausted. I started my blog as my creative outlet. This time was generally uninterrupted, since I didn’t have to defend my time spent in front of a computer screen.
As the relationship progressed, Derek attacked all of my friendships. I never had time to talk to my friends or family in private. New friends had to spend time with both of us, and those encounters were completely hijacked by his need for admiration. He would completely take over conversations in social settings. No one enjoyed being around him, so the isolation became even more acute. My only alone time was when I was at work. And then Derek started to sabotage my job as well. I became a shell of myself. Everything that I enjoyed was insulted or undermined. I felt little meaning was left in my life. I wanted to leave Derek, but I was scared. While he was never physically abusive, my attempts to break up with him were futile. He would talk himself in circles for four hours, singing me praises and making our relationship sound like a fairytale. Yet he was incapable of empathy. He would never compromise on anything, and couldn’t understand why I was unhappy. I gave up on trying to break up with him, since the conversations would leave me exhausted and upset.
There was a moment when I had complete clarity that I had to leave Derek, at all costs. He had been discussing our future, and talked about us getting married. He never proposed to me. We just talked about the future, and what sort of future we envisioned. A few days later, he had some appointments and asked me to join him. We drove around, and he asked me to come into an office with him. I joined him into an elevator. As we reached the destination, it was a law office. I sat in the lobby. He looked at me and said “Please come in with me.” I asked him why, and he mumbled something inaudible. I walked in, and was in a law consultation. Derek started asking this lawyer about prenuptial agreements. He then blurted out “One of my conditions of marriage is that if Monica and I have children and then get divorced, is that I will have full custody of our children.” The lawyer and I locked eyes in shock. Not only had I been lured into a consultation for a prenuptial agreement before an actual marriage proposal, but now my future children were being traded as emotional currency. I said I would never marry him if that was his condition. The lawyer, seeing the absolute insanity of the issue, spoke up. “Even if Monica would sign such a document, no judge would uphold this type of agreement. A judge has to do what is in the best interest of the children. That cannot be predetermined before they exist.”
I finally left Derek after three years in 2011. If I stayed with him, I would have given away all of my power. I did not feel the joy, enthusiasm, and inspiration that are part of my very essence. How could I subject my future children to such a fate, too?
It has taken a long time to heal, but I am feeling stronger and more empowered than ever. I've been painting and writing, pursuing my career, and have my own apartment. I’ve done a lot of work to correct my thinking. I’ve learned to set boundaries. I no longer allow myself to be in relationships that rob me of confidence and joy. I can only be responsible for myself and to love myself fully.
There is more support and understanding in the world that you can realize, if you are open to it. I hope that my story will inspire other people in abusive relationships to leave and reclaim their own strength. I also hope my story reaches other people that have already survived the abuse and left, to know that they have made the right decision.