‘He lit my insides on fire. So, I did it. I married him. My body signaled that something was off. I pegged it as nerves. I didn’t know about the pools of women.’: Woman breaks free from abusive relationship 

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“I was 17 when I met him. He was charming, sweet, thoughtful. I was certain he was my soul mate. He lit my insides on fire. I felt like I couldn’t breathe when I was around him. Every time I would see him, my body would tremble. At the time, I took it as a form of excitement.

Now, I realize it was my body and intuition sending me physical signals that something was off.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

I was instantly hooked on his every word. He knew exactly what I needed to hear and feel at all times without me ever having to utter a word. I was addicted to him. I didn’t know how I survived this life so long without him and I knew from that point forward that I didn’t want to. While there was so much that contradicted his every word, there would be 10 more things that made me fall even harder for him. I didn’t listen. How could I? I had never felt this way for another person. It was an intoxicating love.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

He always seemed to have ‘attention’ from other females, but it appeared he never really entertained them (publicly). While he wasn’t a bad looking guy, he certainly wasn’t the cliché tall, dark, and handsome that society finds irresistible. It raised some eyebrows as to why women were so drawn to him, and not temporarily, but for years these women would be trapped under his psychological spell. He had a pool of women he could draw from at any time. He always hooked them from an online platform, myself included. He had a way with his words and making you feel like you were the only person who existed, but it was the same with everyone. The same love songs, the same pet names, the same date night spots, the same everything.

I remember the abuse being subtle, like a frog in boiling water. Of course there were red flags but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly it felt off. It wasn’t anything like you’d see in the movies. I didn’t realize the extent of the psychological abuse because it had been so calculated and happened alarmingly slow. Feeling numb had become a part of my identity.

While I did receive negative opinions about him from others, I thought they just didn’t understand. I told myself they didn’t know him how I knew him. I constantly found myself trying to prove the perfection of the relationship, so I didn’t feel so naive and stupid for staying in it. You wouldn’t have known there was anything wrong. Hell, most of the time, I didn’t think anything was wrong either. I would constantly second guess the proof I would find because he was so good at deflecting evidence and coercing me to believe it wasn’t his fault. He appeared perfect.

There was so much that happened in our relationship and I blocked a lot of it out so I could continue to move forward. It’s made it difficult to pinpoint the most pivotal moments but there are a couple things that still stand out. We had been living together for about 6 months the first time I found out he had cheated on me with not 1 but 3 people during a ten-day period. I was hurt, destroyed. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. While what he did was unfathomable, he had just recently gone through a divorce before we had gotten together, so he played it off as him being hurt, drunk, and stupid. I believed him, but I could no longer trust him. But we all make mistakes, right? I thought it was just that, a mistake. He loved me. He promised me this was the only time it had happened.

About another 6 months of bliss had passed. Really, it was bliss. While there were still red flags being raised, he ultimately was my best friend. We really did have an amazing relationship 90% of the time.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

He introduced me to a girl who would eventually become one of my best friends. She had just moved to San Diego (where we were) from the Midwest. He told me that she had previously dated one of his friends and moved out here not knowing anyone. So, being the naïve and trusting person I was, I befriended her without question. She ended up dating one of his best friends and the four of us became inseparable.

They would spend every weekend at our house with us. This went on for about 6 months. And then I found out from her boyfriend that she hadn’t ever dated one of his friends. He had met her on Facebook. He captivated her so intensely that she literally moved to San Diego to be with him and was shocked to realize when she got there that he had been living with me the entire time. He then ghosted her for about 3 months before deciding to continue the relationship and rope me into it. During that time, they were seeing each other behind my back. I was too blind to see it. Now, don’t get me wrong…I know he was 100% at fault for this, but I was so hurt that this girl I trusted, and let stay at my house, completely manipulated me and did all of this behind my back, all while pretending to be my ‘best friend’. Yet, I still stayed with him. I think we both got to a point where we could no longer tolerate each other, but it was comfortable. So, neither of us could pull the plug on this volatile relationship.

About four years into our relationship, we ended up getting married.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

You’re probably thinking I’m insane. Believe me, I thought I was too. Because of the lies and manipulation, he led me to believe I wouldn’t find anyone better than him. I remember waking up on my wedding day feeling sick. I wasn’t excited. I just felt like I was going to throw up and I wanted to run the opposite direction. I pegged it as ‘nerves’. I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be when you’re about to commit your life to someone? It’s normal.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

I should’ve listened to my gut. I knew deep down I was making a mistake. I knew this wasn’t someone I could spend my life with. But I kept thinking about all the people who came, who bought us gifts, all the money that was spent on this wedding. I couldn’t back out now, I owed it to them to see this through; at least that was the story I kept telling myself.

Courtesy of Kimberly Kay Photography

So, I did it. I got married.

Courtesy of Kimberly Kay Photography

I drank a lot that day because I was afraid people would be able to see through me, that they would realize I wasn’t actually happy. I tried so hard to smile big and be excited. But I wasn’t. Looking at the photos, I can see it in my eyes. I’m not there. I look dead inside.

Courtesy of Kimberly Kay Photography
Courtesy of Kimberly Kay Photography

No one knew what was going on in my relationship. Not my friends or my family. I kept it private. I was afraid to share details because I wasn’t ready to leave and I didn’t want anyone to talk me into leaving either. But if someone had known, they wouldn’t have let me follow through with it.

The abuse escalated quickly after we got married. He started becoming more violent, punching the walls, breaking my things and screaming at me and calling me names when he was angry. Throughout our relationship, he hit me 3 times. But I was never afraid of him. In fact, I never even saw these handful of times as abuse until after I left him. I saw an anger in his eyes after we were married that I’d never seen before. My hair started falling out in clumps from stress. I was losing weight. I had permanent fatigue. I was having panic attacks and my depression was at its peak. I only stayed for 3 months after we got married and then I finally got the courage to leave. I called my family and let them know what was going on, and then packed what would fit into my car and never looked back.

As much as it sucked at the time, I needed to go through it. I needed to feel myself physically bound to someone for eternity to realize it’s not what I wanted or deserved. It was getting married that allowed me to wake up. Feeling myself physically bound to a person who repeatedly hurt me with no remorse was exactly what I needed to finally walk away from the situation once and for all. It took everything in me to leave, and for a while I still wanted to go back. I loved him. I was addicted to him and I never understood why. I once read that there was a study done that getting away from a narcissist is harder than an addict getting off of heroin. I believe it. I lived it. It took me years to finally let go.

In the last couple of years I’ve started sharing this part of my life with others. At first I didn’t want to, partially because I was ashamed of myself and partially because I felt like if I talked about it, I was reliving it or asking for sympathy (which is the farthest thing from the truth). Because I made the decision to leave the relationship, I’ve always felt a sense of guilt and wondered if the people closest to me saw me as a failure, because I saw myself as one. If I couldn’t even make a marriage work, what else would I fail at in my lifetime?

For some reason in abusive situations, we are shamed into staying silent. We are mocked for coming forward with our stories and are called liars or exaggerators. People ask, ‘Where’s the proof? He always seemed like such a great guy, so kind, always the life of the party.’ I wish I could go back and tell that girl, ‘It’s okay to leave. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. People will forgive, people will forget.’ The only person I was hurting was myself.

Nothing can prepare you for a betrayal like this. The way it psychologically messes with your mind and spirit is unfathomable. Those who have been through it are currently nodding their head alongside me. The pain we feel is dismissed because narcissists are very well liked among their peers. We are deemed as crazy or liars. While it was painful, I also found comfort in the hurt and anger; it had become my emotional home. I didn’t know who I was when I wasn’t depressed and filled with anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of misgivings in the relationship. But when someone consciously makes the decision to hurt you over and over again and have no empathy towards you or the situation… that’s when it becomes abusive and malicious.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last 4 years: life was happening for me; I needed to go through this to become the person I am today. I stick things out because I want to see the best in everyone. Even through the peaks and valleys, eventually I’ll make it back on top. We will never have 100% approval from the people around us, so we may as well do what feels right for us individually. You really do find out who your true friends are in hard times. I now have standards for what I will and will not tolerate in a partner. I now listen to my intuition when things feel off. It’s okay to take time to heal. What doesn’t kill you, truly does make you stronger. I’m a resilient freakin’ human now.

If you’re going through a rough season, remember it’s just that, a season. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I fully let go of the pain I was carrying around from this situation until about 6 months ago and I left the relationship in 2015. It’s been 4 years and I still have days filled with self-doubt, wondering if I’m unlovable and if anyone would ever want to deal with my ‘baggage’. But I’m free. I no longer live in the shadow of someone whose sole purpose is to take advantage, lie, and manipulate the people around them.

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

Healing takes time. Learning to love yourself takes time. Building some armor from our trauma takes time. The things we don’t think we’re going to make it through are what shape us into who we are intended to become. It’s hard to move on when you’ve been ripped apart over and over again. Trusting someone feels like the last possible thing you will ever be able to do. But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that everything I’ve gone through is preparing me for everything I’ve asked for and if I stay resilient and can help other people with my story, despite the backlash I receive, that’s what I’m going to do.

Today I help women overcome and break old patterns to reprogram their mind to work for them, instead of against them. The only thing that has helped me in the last few years is realizing that I am ultimately in control of my outcome and my life. I refuse to let my past dictate my future. I’m worth more than that.

If you are in a similar situation or are still holding onto the pain of past grievances, I give you permission to let go. You are enough.”

Courtesy of Nicole Matteson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Matteson of Bend, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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