At 18 years old I was working full time in an industry I was passionate about and on the weekends I would race my motorbike at every event I could possible enter.
I was independent and had tons of friends.
I owned a van, a motorbike, and a wakeboard and in my mind my life was perfect I didn’t need anything else...
At race days, lugging all the gear myself, other people would all say to me "When are you going to find yourself a boyfriend who can come and help you out?" I would laugh at the thought of that. Why would I possibly need a "boyfriend" when I was perfectly happy doing it myself?
Then one day at work we were told that a new guy was joining the team.
The day he started I was captivated by him. He was tall, handsome, broody and mysterious. He wasn't like the guys I had hung out with before. He was a "private school" boy. He held himself differently and in my eyes was way out of my league.
Our work crew were very close. We worked 6 days a week together and then on the weekends we would all go to town or spend Saturday nights together. We were a family. I remember meeting his girlfriend for the first time and being shocked, she wasn't what I was expecting. She was quiet, introverted and intelligent. She wasn't friendly at all. No eye contact. “No wonder he wants to go to the pub every night” I thought to myself.
A few days later I had some terrible news. Someone I cared about deeply, a dear friend had passed away suddenly. I found out at work and went outside to try to breathe and take it all in.
The tall mysterious boy followed me out there and embraced me. As soon as I was in his arms I felt safe, I felt that everything was going to be ok. It was exactly what I needed and I never wanted him to let me go.
The day of her funeral came around and I was still a mess. How could life be so cruel to take away one of the nicest people I'd ever met? She didn’t deserve this - perhaps it should’ve been me?
At the funeral I sat in the same row as him, it was the first and only time I would ever see him tear up. He was hurting just like I was. I wanted to run to him and hug him, make all his pain go away - but that wasn’t my place. he had a girlfriend... who wasn’t there.
Later that night, after way too many drinks I found myself sitting with him discussing all the events over the past two weeks. Next thing he was kissing me.
He had a girlfriend, this was wrong, but something about it felt so right.
A few weeks later Pete* didn’t come to work and we later found out it was because he and his girlfriend had broken up.
The word was that he had found out that she was having "an affair". Everyone felt really sorry for him and instantly I wanted to somehow take all his pain away.
Over the next month we became extremely close and next thing we were inseparable. During the week we were always together but come the weekends he would disappear.
After a couple of months we were well and truly in a relationship and I was head over heals in love. We kept it a secret from work for a long time, which was fun. Towards the end of the year he suggested I look for a new job, a career job in an office. Next thing I knew I was working full time in a grey office job that was joyless.
I hated it. I missed working in an industry I loved, surrounded by all the things I was so passionate about and my work family. BUT he had insisted that I needed to get myself a career. I was no longer allowed to come out with my work friends because I was now a "girlfriend" and I didn’t work there anymore, so he didn’t feel I should go.
I remember crying myself to sleep - how could he possibly have this control over me? In my mind I was just one of the boys. I hated being labeled as a ‘girlfriend’ but I loved him so just did as he said.
I found myself living with him only a couple of months into our relationship. Prior to meeting him I never thought I would leave home - why would I? I loved my home and I had everything I needed.
Race weekends would come around and I would be so excited! I was excited about racing but more importantly that I would be able to rock up and show off my new boyfriend. I wanted him to see me race and be proud of me.
I would pack the van up the night before and then all of a sudden he would "have to go" to town or the pub. I would explain how important it was to me that he come with me the next day and I would beg and beg that he not stay out too late or get too drunk.
I would end up spending the whole night awake, waiting for him to come home.
Endless amounts of unanswered calls and too many tears later it would be the morning and I would find myself having to drive myself to my race. All day I would wonder if he was okay? Was he in hospital? Where was he? I would worry myself sick and before I knew it, racing wasn't fun anymore. The one person who I wanted to be with was slowly taking away my passion, my Everything…
....Weeks turned into months which turned into 5 years.
On Thursdays he would say to me how much he was looking forward to our quiet weekend... and would tell me to not plan anything because it was just going to be us - we didn’t need anyone else.
Friday I would call him after work and he would tell me how the boss had called him to go out to drinks and he had to go. Going to drinks meant that he would become more popular with the boss and it would open the potential to future promotions. If he didn’t go the boss would never offer him those opportunities. I would ask to come and he would say that I was not allowed. That it was a work event.
I would find myself sitting at home most weekends alone, devastated and depressed. I wondered what was so wrong about me that he would never want to introduce me to anyone. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I felt ugly. My self-esteem took a nose dive.
Friday night drinks would carry over into Saturday. If I was lucky he would stumble home around mid morning but sometimes it would stretch into Sundays.
The whole time I was at home crying and wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I living this way? I was too embarrassed to share it with anyone and didn’t know what to do. My friends clearly hated him and I couldn't tell them how I was feeling.
When he would come home I would care for him, remove his shoes and clothes, shower him, give him pain killers and water, soothe him to sleep. I felt a strange sense of responsibility to make sure that he was okay. If I wasn’t home to take care of him what would happen to him?
Before long I found myself looking through his wallet and finding drugs, checking his phone and seeing messages from other girls.
If I got angry at him he would get twice as angry back. I felt like I was in a loosing battle but for some reason after being with him so long, I never thought of leaving. There was a strange sense of safety in the known pain of this screwed relationship.
One day, I was told by a colleague that they had caught him cheating on me - the immense pain I felt from those words killed me. I rang him and told him to never speak to me again. I went to my parents and stayed there. He would call me non-stop. He did not address the fact that he was sleeping with other people, instead he made it my fault, told me how dare I believe idiots who didn’t know him. He said that we were a powerful team, that everyone else were all against us and that no-one could possibly understand what we had together...
I didn’t have any evidence that he had done what was said, so before I knew it I was back, back in his arms where I felt safe. Sickly safe in a constantly anxious life with a narcissist.
About this time I began going to yoga classes. The women teaching there were inspiring and powerful. It made me feel that I could find power back in my own body. The joy I felt coming out of these classes and the misery when I would go home began to eat at me.
The stress of that led me to visit a relaxation therapist. She helped me remember the powerful woman I had always been beneath the years I had been living a prisoner’s life. I learned that I had a big heart and as an empathetic person it was common for people like me to attract someone to “fix.” Although I had been trying to heal my partner for years, I saw that the toll it would eventually take would most likely be my life, my health and my spirit if I did not get out.
I moved out immediately and I do not regret it.
Looking back, the primary reason for not leaving earlier was that I felt embarrassed to have committed so much of my life to this man. I believed in the fairytale – the 'get married and live happily ever after' and some part of me still hoped that I could turn a very reluctant prince into my prince Charming. It was not to be. Absolutely not with him.
When you live in a constant state of shame it is normal to push everyone away. When you live with a difficult controlling person, your friends and family can feel it. Their eyes show pity, sadness and despair and that is hard to look at. So the easiest thing is to make your world very very small and lie to yourself that the ugly things are not really happening.
So, what have I learned?
Coming out of that relationship as a young woman after so many years I decided that I would date myself for a year. I have become comfortable with who I am and I am not afraid of being alone. I have realized that I am a powerful woman who is not afraid of trying things that many other women do. I am back racing my motorbike, wakeboarding with lots of male and female friends and I am about to learn how to drive a truck before heading overseas indefinitely. When I get there I will probably go and work on cattle ranches, ski-fields and definitely sit on a mountain top or two.
When I first left, I felt so fierce, so strong. Not long ago, a kind male friend came to me and said “It’s okay you know… to own that you have a broken heart as well as being angry.” Those words sat with me as truth and after I had a big cry something felt so much more healed. I have learned that it is important to experience emotions as they come, acknowledge them, allow them, check in and see if the emotion is helpful or harmful and then move on. We are trained that being in a relationship is the ideal. For me, it was a prison and it may not be something that I will do again for a long time. That's okay. My heart is still healing.
I have never been as physically strong or happy as I am now. My advice for women or men in a relationship with someone who takes away your freedom is that you need to take a good long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself “What is the ratio of happy versus down days?” All humans seek freedom to be themselves – be what drives them into joy and laugh more than they cry. You need more happy, than crappy.
What I have found from breaking free from my old life is that as soon as I chose happiness, I became a magnet for it. Piles of new friends and opportunities turned up out of the blue. After telling myself for years that I couldn’t leave my relationship because it made no financial sense, the minute I decided to go, the money just came. Family and friends couldn't wait to help me. That is the way of it.
I’m still coming out the end of my biggest life scar to date, but what it has taught me is what I do not want- how I do not want to live. I am ready for the biggest adventure of my life and I believe in myself.
I can’t wait to see what is coming next…
An excerpt from Emily's* (not her real name) story. Help us turn these new stories into a book!