How I Escaped a Toxic Relationship Despite Wanting to Stay

Shannon Ashley
Oct 5, 2018 · 9 min read
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Addiction is the biggest bitch.

Now that my daughter is about four-and-a-half years old, I forget sometimes how simply terrible things were when she was born. My relationship with her dad was incredibly toxic.

It started out as an affair, and quickly became codependent in different ways on both sides. On my side, I would have gone anywhere and done anything for him. On his side, he demanded it, yet nothing I did could ever fill his need for unconditional love.

Nothing was ever enough.

When he left me pregnant in November of 2013, you’d think that would have been that. Over. Done.

But it wasn't. We started fighting every single day. By email, by phone, by text, in person. Everyday.

At the crux of it all, neither one of us seemed able to let the other go. On my side, I continued to love him and hope for reconciliation. On his side, he continued to lead me on.

We were living together in Chattanooga when he called it quits and promptly spent his subsequent nights on MeetMe or Adult Friend Finder. He sent me away to a mutual Facebook friend's place in Iowa at the beginning of December, the whole time telling me "our story wasn't over." As Christmas rolled around, he sent me a few gifts from Amazon--including a vibrator. He began talking about driving me back to Tennessee, as long as we could have a "labeless" relationship.

The things we do for love

Under this arrangement, I would find a room to rent in his region, which he would pay for and count as child support. He began drafting a set of rules: that we would have sex at least twice a week, that it should be as kinky as possible, and we should arrange threesomes.

I was still operating in a crisis mode. At the time, I couldn't understand how far gone I was. Or how I saw myself as nothing away from him. This was a man who already had three sons between 5 and 10 years old. I had hardly ever been around children.

I mistakenly believed I needed him to survive the pregnancy and parenthood.

As a result, I found it impossible to tell him no. About anything. Even when it came to his idea of being "labeless." In my head I knew the relationship was no good because I was hanging onto whatever scraps he gave me while he moved on in his other relationships. Yet I clung to those scraps.

It's a little bit horrifying to realize you're that girl. The one who can't let go because she's in love with a guy who treats her like crap.

Okay, so it's really horrifying.

Before our relationship, I had an inkling that I was susceptible to abuse in a relationship. But I wasn't positive, and I had no idea things could be so bad. He and I both had a certain kind of addiction to each other where we struggled to even enforce communication "breaks."

Push Pull Relationships

I wasn't just a love addict. I wasn't simply addicted to him. I was caught up in the toxic cycles of a push pull relationship. This is a very common cycle when you're involved with a narcissist. They love bomb you and pull you close, then hurt and push you away, only to draw you in closer once again.

Psychologically, it's a really difficult cycle to break because it lights up your reward center every time they pull you back in. You're miserable and clawing your way back in and they push you out again every time. It gives the narcissistic partner a satisfying sense of control.

Saying no when you want to say yes

Addiction is among the worst feelings in the world. You know you're killing yourself, so to speak, but you don't want to say no. You don't want to close the door on this person who occupies so much of your beliefs about yourself.

In my case, I thought I was nothing without him.

While he was making plans for me to come back and be his baby mama/fuck buddy, he was also trying to control his public image and the narrative of our breakup.

Part of that meant he publicly lied on Facebook about our birth control failure. He claimed my having PCOS made birth control ineffective when he knew I wasn't on birth control. And PCOS doesn't work like that.

Another aspect of this was how he would ask me who was talking badly about him. If anyone made a negative comment about his behavior or lifestyle choices, he'd unfriend or block them on social media.

Realizing I was so far gone that I was acting as his "informant," I knew I couldn't tell him no without help. So I told the mutual friend I was staying with about his whole "labeless" relationship suggestion along with his rules.

This friend was a pastoral counselor and talked me through my refusal of his proposition. He was angry and called me ungrateful. Our friend recommended time apart from any communication and I moved to her dad's home in Missouri for the duration of the pregnancy.

Relapsing again and again

Of course, that instance wasn't enough to break the toxic cycle we were stuck in. It was a small start, but my heart was still devoted to this guy who treated me like trash.

As the pregnancy progressed, we resumed contact. He began to initiate sexting, and once it felt like we were possibly getting back together he told me he was seeing someone and it was serious.

Even so, he would call me at 2, 3 AM and tell me he was so anxious or stressed out he was sure he was dying from a heart attack.

And he'd text me complaining he missed my blow jobs, that he was "frustrated from not fucking me," and even suffering from ED. He told me he needed my blow jobs for "therapy."

There were more instructions. More talk of what he thought a labeless relationship would look like. When I was hospitalized two weeks for severe preeclampsia, he'd tell me how he wanted me to never argue with him and never upset him again.

"When I come over to visit Sophie, I want you to be sweet and agreeable again," he texted. "Make me want to unbutton your shirt and unbuckle my pants."

I wish I could say I ran far away from him then, but I didn't. He came to visit me in Missouri and the couple I lived with wouldn't let him in the house. He stayed overnight at a church... where we had sex twice. Even though it turned out he was living with his new girlfriend.

At the end of the weekend he told me I couldn't tell anyone about us because it would "ruin everything."

Once I gave birth to our daughter, he refused to help in many ways, saying once again that he didn't want to "ruin" his relationship.

Yet he continued to come over to "visit" our newborn (she was always sleeping when he came over, of course) and fool around with me. I felt myself sinking under the stress and isolation of my new life as a mother.

I burnt the bridge down

Our daughter was born in April. After her birth and discharge from the NICU in Missouri, her dad drove us back to Chattanooga. Back to the apartment we once shared.

That's how I found out he didn't live there anymore and was subletting the place to an ex-girlfriend/fling from his high school days. An older woman whom he claimed nearly forced herself on him. She was the reason he got married at 18. Because he cheated with this person. So he married his high school sweetheart out of guilt, never revealing the truth of his infidelity.

In fact, he says he had at least a dozen affairs in his 10+ year long marriage.

A few months into living there, I was a wreck and wound up in a crisis center the last weekend in June. An acquaintance from my old messianic synagogue coincidentally offered me a plane ticket back to the Twin Cities. She thought she and her friends could help me get some dental work done and find a better place for my me and my daughter.

I told my daughter's dad who admitted it was probably not an offer I could turn down. So I agreed, but I knew the toxic cycle would only continue.

At that point, I realized I had to burn my bridges with him until I was strong enough to say no on my own. I needed my ex to quit pulling me back into a sordid relationship.

Screenshots saved me

This whole time, my daughter's dad was telling everyone that I was a sexual manipulator. Like I was threatening to withhold our daughter from him if he didn't have sexual relations with me.

For all his friends and family knew, I was his crazy baby mama. He went so far as to claim I raped him and that I was his abuser.

I decided to cut the cord and clear my name at once: I sent screenshots of our conversations to his mother and girlfriend. At the time, I felt humiliated and stupid to reveal such intimate information, but they were the only way I could prove he was lying about me and in fact manipulating me sexually.

I'm sure I initially came off as crazy. His mother never directly acknowledged the emails, but she and I now have a good relationship and are even Facebook friends. Something that can't be said for her son and his current wife.

But time passed and as other women dumped him for cheating or even came out about his behavior, most people realized I wasn't so crazy after all.

It took a couple months for his girlfriend to see my messages with screenshots, but when she did, she kicked him out and he swore he'd never touch me again.

Coming out of the fog

There was of course, much more drama to be had. His girlfriend took him back only to dump him again when she discovered he was having an affair with a married women from his sex addiction group.

That woman also messaged me. She confirmed that my ex was telling people I was crazy and raped him. And she apologized to me for believing him. This woman told me how he'd drawn her in under the idea that they could be each other's "outlets" to keep their cheating under control. How he lied about them having a future.

When I asked my daughter's dad about her, he claimed she was crazy and had gone after him until he couldn't say no. That she "flipped out" and told her husband and his girlfriend.

When the girlfriend kicked him out the second time he came out as polyamorous and complained no one would accept that side of him. I didn't bother pointing out that poly suggested he could love more than one person at once but only seemed to care about himself.

I had burnt the bridge down to end the viscous cycle between us, and it worked. Sure, my heart still struggled with feelings for him despite everything. But by revealing his behavior to others, I did the one thing he feared the most.

No more crumbs

The whole screenshot fiasco made my ex hate me. The addicted side of me felt much distress about that, but on a rational level I knew it was for the best. From that point on, he referred to me as the meanest person in the world.

Hey, fine. If that's what it takes to escape.

His hatred gave me the emotional space I needed to think about our daughter more than him. I didn't want her to think love should hurt or taste like poison. And I didn't want to keep accepting "love crumbs" for myself.

The truth is that it took until my daughter was nearly two-and-a-half years old before I could finally say I was over my ex and no longer under his control at all. Telling the truth about what was going on and making him hate me was the only way I figured I could begin to walk away.

With that distance, I started to see his inability to connect with his kids. When our daughter went through tongue tie surgery with subsequent physical and speech therapy, he didn't seem to care about what she needed. He was disinterested in her progress.

Around that time he suggested that our daughter and I move in with him, his girlfriend and perhaps another friend in a "poly house." When I told him I didn't think it was a bright idea, he called me ungrateful again.

And do you know what?

I finally didn't care what he thought about me.

I finally saw how blind I'd been, in a million different ways, and I never wanted to get caught up in that circus again.

That's how I knew I was free.

Now I know

Like a lot of you, I used to wonder "why they stay." Why people stay with partners who clearly do not love them. I didn't understand the allure of a toxic relationship until I felt the pull for myself. It seriously is like a drug.

Now I know better than to think I could never fall for something so destructive. But I also know better about paying attention to red flags.

I'm grateful to know I can love unconditionally and with devotion. But I'm a helluva lot more careful about avoiding the kind of partners who would even unconsciously prey upon my weaknesses.

Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, fulltime writer, exvangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer.

Awkwardly Honest

A home for some of my most cringe-worthy tales that have been well-received on Medium.

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