The Courage I Needed—How I Finally Broke Free from Him.

Via Maggie McCombs
on Feb 17, 2016
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It didn’t hit me all of a sudden.

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “You know, this doesn’t feel right.

The enormous realization of my horrible reality did not hit me like a freight train. It was somewhere inside me, dormant the entire time.

For years I tried my damnedest to push down what I already knew. I left it forgotten in the dark corners of my brain, content on spending the rest of my days in misery. At least in my suffering I knew I couldn’t fail. I was scared of doing anything for myself, afraid of the inevitable failure that I had.

Never, in a million years would have thought that this could have happened to me. Guess we aren’t really sure if we want to swim until we’re thrown in the deep end.

For a long time I had no idea what was happening to me. When he would yell at me, he would always apologize afterward. He’d say, “No, that isn’t what I meant. You are taking it the wrong way.”

I knew in my heart that it felt wrong, but his words were so sweet that I believed him.

He made me feel like the ugliest person on the planet; that it was a good thing he found me because no one else would ever love me like he did. But in my head, it was OK, because he had found me. “No one understands our relationship. It’s ours. Fu*k everyone else,” he’d say to me.

And I started to believe him.

“Don’t let anyone change your mind.” Yeah! Fu*k my friends, they don’t get it. Little by little, my friends, family, everyone fell to the wayside. If my family called me he told me sternly not to answer it, to hang out with him because he only had a few hours before work. I’d sigh deeply and let the call go to voicemail, wishing I could just talk to my Daddy.

I took him to the other side of the world within months of dating. My life had always revolved around the idea of working towards my next country to travel to, taking mediocre, but well paying, jobs to achieve this. The plan was to live and work there for hopefully a year, but the thought of pining for him while trying to live my adventure sounded awful.

So, I bought his plane ticket and held his hand through every step of the way. He was too scared to leave my side, even at the grocery store. I should have recognized this as an undesirable partner trait, a red flag, but I was obsessed with the idea of taking care of him. He hated it there, and his negativity started to invade and overwhelm me.

Where once I thrived and looked out at oceans with overwhelming joy, I saw only the sadness. I wrote in my journal asking myself, What is wrong with me? Why am I not happy? I worked for an entire year for this! I wish I had seen it then, but I did not. His constant anger, his hatred of everything, everyone…The only thing keeping him sane was being able to drink until blackout, scream at, and embarrass me.

I asked him to quit drinking dozens of times. In his drunken stupors he was the meanest. He would tell me that my life was a joke. That I was the worst person on the planet. In a way I believed him. After all, he was the only one who loved me now, who loved me the most. Slowly, my self esteem hit rock bottom after having the hateful words thrown at me so often.

Shortly after the first few months of being together, I found out he was cheating on me. Handfuls of women. He would drink until he’d pass out and I would discover nude text messages between him and them. I received Facebook messages from men I did not know asking me to please have my partner stop harassing their girlfriends.

I would confront him, and of course he’d have an apology ready. But the worst part was he made it my fault. If I asked him about it, he said he didn’t want to talk about it, and why did I have to keep bringing it up all the time? I would ask to see his phone and he would accuse me of not trusting him. He’d tell me he hated himself so much he wanted to commit suicide.

Always, always threats of suicide if I ever left him.

If there wasn’t food in the fridge, he complained that there was nothing to eat. I went to the store and cooked his dinner every single night. In stores he would have epic melt downs where he would say to me:”I need to get the fuck out of here now before I lose my mind.”

I cleaned, I did his laundry. I asked him to please change the toilet paper roll, but of course he never did. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that he’d yell at me for asking him to. I would get upset that he had yelled, but then came the apology. “Do you hear the way you speak to me?” I’d ask him. He’d say, “I’m not yelling at you!!!”

My sweet, fun loving, positive self became slowly engrossed in trying to keep this human being alive. Every single action in my day became taking care of him and keeping him happy. I lost all sense of who I was.

Didn’t I used to be funny? Charismatic? Wasn’t there something that I wanted to do with my life? I was lost in my depression. This is how he wanted it. If I was too distracted with him, then I’d forget about the epic life that I had planned for myself. I’d forget about traveling, and would resign myself to just taking care of him forever. In a way it was his own insecurity that caused him to be so cruel.

I’m not sure why I held on for so long. Fear of embarrassment, maybe. Wanting to prove everyone wrong. That there really was something good in him that no one else could see. On the outside, everyone I knew hated him. He was so mean to me in public that my friends would pull me aside afterward concerned.

I was always cowering in fear of something he’d do, constantly embarrassed that he was having a bad time. I probably acted out in ways I shouldn’t have. I drank too much, fought back. But it was in those moments of fighting back that I discovered that the fire inside me wasn’t extinguished… just very, very low.

I left him one cold, gray morning and it was the strongest thing I’ve ever done.

He took my car and my dog, and drove away saying, “I wish we could have talked about this,” in one last attempt to guilt me into staying. I waited for my friend to pick me up, sobbing uncontrollably.

It took a week or two to open my eyes. For the first straight week I drank and begged my sweet friend, whom I was staying with, to take me home. I didn’t belong here anymore. I missed the solitude and simplicity of my old life. Completely overwhelmed by my new freedom, every day was scary for me. It was like I had all this new room in my brain because it wasn’t full of his needs.

She firmly denied my requests, and gently reminded me, “You love people, your friends missed you, and you belong here.” She told me that although I had been locked in a metaphorical basement, that my friends were still there for me. I’ll be forever in her debt for loving and taking care of me when I needed it most. She gave me the gift of remembering who I was.

Eventually I could walk for longer each day without crying so much. It felt like being reborn. I did not realize it but I was being held captive in my own life. I thought that isolation was normal in relationships, when in fact I was a naive prisoner. Everything and everyone that I had cared about was lost to me, including myself, and the only thing that mattered was him.

I found out not one week after I left he started sleeping with someone else. You know when I found this out? After I had slept with him again. It was like being kicked in the chest, the wind knocked out of me. I asked if he had worn protection.

He just looked at the ground sullenly and responded, “I don’t want to talk about it.” After all the begging to get me back, he had the audacity to put my health at risk. I immediately got a doctor’s appointment. Everything ended up being fine, but it could have been so, so much worse. Fu*king asshole.

Still grasping for some sort of hope that we could make it work, I wrote out lists of all the things I wanted him to change.

He begged me to come home and reassured me constantly that he would change, that he would stop drinking in the mornings. I wanted to go home. I wanted to believe him, telling myself everything was going to be OK because we’d be together soon.

So when we moved back in together, I had myself completely convinced that he was in fact going to make all the changes I had asked. But you know what did change? Absolutely nothing. The yelling, the snapping, the drunken meanness….It hit me then.

My life is not this person.

He can make all the promises in the world, but he will never do the work to make them a reality. I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than to spend it taking care of him.

I never thought I would be here. Growing up I knew that if a man ever cheated on me he would be out of my life in a heartbeat. But you know what? I got cheated on, a lot. And I did not leave after any of them. Why? Because I had been brain washed and manipulated into thinking it was somehow my fault.

I never thought I would be here, but I am. I am firmly standing on the other side of it a stronger person than ever before, heart full of regret and loneliness. Yet, I’d rather it be full of lessons learned than have the hatred and misery of those years continue in my life forever.

For a while afterward, my relationship personality was that of a scared deer in the woods. I was afraid of my own emotions, constantly assuming I was unworthy of love and that everyone was trying to hurt me. I had to remember that it was OK that it happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault.

It was not because I wasn’t strong enough, but in fact it proved just how strong I was. Eventually, we learn to trust again. But first we must learn to trust ourselves. My fire is growing, and the light in the tunnel is getting brighter. For the first time in years, I am excited about experiencing life.

“I’m worried after all the time we spent apart you’re going to be all independent now,” he told me. And he was right.


Author: Maggie McCombs

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo:  Carlos Silva / Flickr 


About Maggie McCombs

Maggie McCombs feels that even the most awkward situation has the potential to be the best story. Living in Portland, Oregon, she bar tends to fund her traveling habit. As a proud, 28 year old divorcee, she treats every week like it’s shark week. Connect Maggie on her blog and Twitter.


12 Responses to “The Courage I Needed—How I Finally Broke Free from Him.”

  1. Laurie says:

    Wow, what a powerful story. This will help others. Glad you are on the other side of this.
    You are very brave.
    Sorry to ask, but what happened to the dog?

  2. Bonnie says:

    What a powerful story..thank you. This sounds so much the same as what I went through for 30 years until I finally figured out he was gay. Thankfully you got out and away from him. Have a happy life,your very own life!

  3. Michelle says:

    Wow, I could have written this story. Thank you for giving me something to think about today…..did you get your dog back?

  4. Tanya says:

    Oh, my! So much of this is my life, sadly. I finally was able to leave physically by using credit card cash advances to scrape enough money together to get a tiny apartment on my own (on the sly, of course). But he's still holding some of my personal belongings "hostage" hoping that will keep me tied to him. He has used the crying, remorseful, begging tactic, the cussing me out guilting me tactic, dangling the offer of money tactic -he knows I can barely feed myself with the job I have since he decimated my former career with his jealousy and control, the offering me the dog so it'll be an excuse to see me, it goes on and on. I'm still being cyber stalked to an extent. Blocking him does no use, he always finds a way to get to me. Such emotional abuse & manipulation! As bad as it was, if I let him get stay in my head & don't gain back my inner strength, self-esteem & worth I will still in weak moments think maybe that's what I have to settle for because he has broken me so much. Thank you for "putting it out there". I know there are many of us. We all need to stay strong & courageous to get our vibrant selves back. These men are horribly co-dependent & narcissists. They can only hurt us if we continue to let them. In our vulnerability they took advantage of our love.. We are worth it much, much better!

  5. Michelle says:

    Sending you Love and Blessings. I am in this process now. Thanks for sharing, In know its hard, but thanks for the confirmation it can be done.

  6. Aaron says:

    I think it was very brave of you to break the chains and then write about it and put so much difficult and personal stuff out there for all to see. I hope it will influence others to recognize and also free themselves from destructive and abusive relationships sooner rather than later.

    Brainwashing, emotional blackmail and textbook abuse, it was all there.

    It’s a strange facet of human nature that sometimes we cannot see what’s right in front of us when we are caught up in it, and also what we are willing to adapt ourselves to, even unacceptable situations. Once one is stuck in this variety of rut it can be very hard break out of it. You are very courageous and inspiring Maggie and I am so glad to hear you are doing well and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It was honest and painful and powerful, and it was deeply moving on many many levels.

  7. I divorced my ex and left. Six months later I had to come back because I had nowhere else to go after my new roommate left me $1500 in debt and disappeared. A year and a half later I am still living with this controlling, co-dependent, manipulative jerk.

  8. Marcus says:

    This story sounds so familiar… Air

  9. Thank you for your kind words! Unfortunately, it was one of those things where I could choose to fight him for the dog, or simply let him go.

  10. Thank you! It's been so nice to have this out in the community and hear that many women go through something similar. Unfortunately, I was not able to get my dog back. I miss him every day. (The dog 🙂

  11. Thank you so much! The outpouring of love from the community has been inspiring and overwhelming. I just hope that I can inspire others, or to at least let them know that they aren't alone.

  12. Feeling trapped, especially due to financial reasons, is one of the worst feelings we can go through. I want to recommend a book to you that I found extremely helpful, maybe you will too. It's by an author named Beverly Engel and it is called "The Nice Girl Syndrome: Stop Being Manipulated and Abused — And Start Standing Up For Yourself". There are parts in it that strike a major chord with me, hopefully it will with you too. Good luck, and just know you aren't alone.