An Open Letter to my Abusive Ex Boyfriend
It’s been a long time: several years kind of long time, but also an I’ve-become-a-fundamentally-different-person kind of long time. I’d say you have too, but I know you haven’t. Abusers don’t just change like that, and so I’ll bet you’ve mostly stayed the same — despite the cute pictures of your baby, and your wife and your beautiful home, I know you’re still the man that held me down and forced himself on me.
You will always be that man to me, no matter what other people see in you.
I’d start by telling you that I’ve become everything I always talked about wanting to become, back when you longed for me to become everything I talked about wanting. But, I think you already know that. You saw me, even back then, which is part of why I let you treat me the way you did.
I’ve since learned that a lot of people see me.
Back then, I think I would have handed out awards to anyone who dared to fully see me and love me. What I didn’t know, until much later, is that I actually am easy to love. You were the first in a long line if I-see-you people: men and friends and relatives and colleagues and, even, sometimes, strangers I’ve met in passing in the years since.
Somehow, even though you saw me, you failed to see that.
So, why am I reaching out, after all this time?
I never thought you’d ask.
First, I’d like to put your mind at ease.
I know you. Somewhere deep below your fear and regret and inability to form the right words, you care. This is what got me, back when we were together: the feeling that I was the only one who understood you — the only one that saw the love, buried under so many other things. But I want you to know that, at night, when you consider making it right with me, and you tell yourself, “It won’t make any difference, I went too far,” you are right.
I’ve come to the terms that I’ll never forgive you. My rage at the things you did to me will always be buried somewhere deep inside me. It drives my hardest workouts, and it fuels some of my best work. It makes me careful. It makes me more level headed. It makes me stronger.
My hope is that this little role you play in my success gives your sad, miserable little life a little more purpose: that it helps you become a little more of the man I hoped you’d become back when I believed in you. At least you’re driving one beautiful thing.
Their approval doesn’t make it right.
In the years since we were together, I’ve thought a lot about the things people said to me: that you were in the military, that you were mentally tortured, that you didn’t know better — that I had to forgive you, because of the things you saw in the Middle East.
I’ve since learned that abusive men surround themselves with the people that allow them to remain small.
When your son gets older, he’ll look for your approval for abusive things, too. It’s in his blood, because he comes from you. And, I hope you’ll remember my words, and remember my face, the night you hit me, and you’ll turn into the kind of man who reminds him that, despite what everyone else might say, its never okay to abuse someone who is weaker than you.
There’s also something I’d like to thank you for.
You were smarter than 21 year old me: you knew that if you didn’t make me leave, I’d stay. And, you knew that in staying, I’d lose myself. You were right, and every time I close my eyes and imagine my life outside Portland with you working in your father’s steel factory and continuing to physically and emotionally abuse me, I die a little inside. You said, “you don’t deserve someone like me.”
And, you were right.
You also deserve some credit.
They say 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused, and I have to wonder, if you hadn’t abused me, would I have sought out other survivors so purposefully? The women in my life who endured the abusive, fear driven men in their lives are the strongest, kindest, biggest women I know. You put me in a ring of champions. And for that, I almost want to tip my hat to you.
You should know that it’s possible to get better.
For a long time, you had me convinced that I’d never get passed what you did to me: that I would have panic attacks after every date: that I’d have flashbacks of you pinning me down, or screaming at me, drunk, and locking myself in your room for safety, every time I tried to meet someone new.
It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve finally moved past the PTSD that you so graciously gifted to me through two years of abuse. I still have it, deep inside of me, ready to take over my life at any moment: but I’ve accepted that the fact that it sits there, waiting to take me down, doesn’t give it power. But, it does give me power.
It makes me a warrior: just like you used to be — except, I’ve let my scars make me stronger, and yours only ever made you weak.