real life

“The flowers I received on Valentine’s Day weren’t sent to say ‘I love you’.”

Trigger warning: This post deals with an account of intimate partner abuse and violence and may be triggering for some readers.

The door to the lift opens and there is already a lump in throat when I hear our office manager accepting a delivery. I can feel my heart beating faster as I hear her feet briskly making their way to my desk.

“You have flowers!” she happily exclaims, waiting for me to revel in the act of receiving a bouquet on Valentine’s Day, one of many that came to our office that morning.

But for me, these flowers weren’t sent by a caring boyfriend to say “I love you”. They weren’t sent by a dad to say thank you to his wife for all she does for him and the kids. They weren’t even sent by a friend to let you know you’re important to them and they’re thinking of you.

They were sent by ex-partner, in the midst of our breakup, if you can even call it that. The word ‘breakup’ sounds too soft to be used as a label for I went through and what I didn’t recognise at the time as a deeply abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

I’d discovered the November prior to Valentine’s Day that my boyfriend of three and a half years had been cheating on me for over a year.

Of course there were clues. They’re easy to spot in hindsight. Yet finding out he’d been cheating wasn’t even the worst part of our relationship.

He had isolated me from my friends and family. So much so, that I was too scared to go out, in fear of the flurry of text messages and calls I was bound to receive.

“Where are you?”

“Who are you with?”

“I know you’re lying.”

“Why aren’t you home yet?”

It was all too much to cope with, so gradually I went out less and less to the point where those in my office built a story around why I was so anti-social. “She’s an introvert and doesn’t like to go out,” was the go-to.

When that narrative already existed, I didn’t need to do much else to hide what was really going on behind the scenes. It happened so gradually, it all became incredibly believable.

I took the bunch of flowers and headed to the kitchen in the office. I’d already received some compliments by the time I got there, which left my hands shaking as I mustered a fake smile and whispered thank you under my breath.

Not far behind me was one of my colleagues, one of the few to know the extent of my toxic and damaging relationship.

“I can’t throw these in the bin, too many people have seen them,” I told her.

This was just one tiny example of a whole host of psychotic and manipulative mind games he would play. He sent messages to me knowing that they would tip me over the edge when I was already broken, and desperately trying to put myself back together after years of mental, emotional, financial and sometimes physical torture.

Years of willingly handing over my money for food, clothing and rent because he was on too small a salary to fully support himself and I, as the established one, owed it to him.

Years of being accused at checking out other men and ‘perving’ in front of him, to the point where when we were together, my head naturally gravitated towards the ground

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Years of being told I was ugly and that no one else but him would even take a second look at me, that no one else would ever love me.

Years of being slapped on the hand and pushed onto the floor when I said something he didn’t like or something he didn’t agree with, without leaving enough of a physical trace to alert anyone around me. Not enough evidence for me to go to the police, or even the sort of outwardly mark that may have made me decide to leave.

I grasped around for a vase in the kitchen cupboard as my colleague tried to help me think of ways to discreetly dispose of them. I knew it was too late and those around me would notice their absence, so I walked back over to my desk and placed them down.

A beautifully ugly reminder of all that I had gone through so far, and all that I was yet to endure.

I wish that was the last communication I had with my ex, but it wasn’t. I was still too far into the depths of believing I was worthless, unlovable and that I would never find anyone else who would even take a second look at me. That being treated like this was better than being alone forever.

Despite knowing in my heart this wasn’t true, when you have the same message drummed into you for long enough without hearing a counter argument, and your own feelings about yourself are not strong enough to combat it, you’d be surprised just how much you can believe about yourself that is so incredibly untrue.

I looked down at my phone to see a text message appear. It was from him.

“I see you got the flowers. I got them before what happened. I couldn’t cancel them in time.”

“Before what happened” referred to me talking to the woman he had been cheating on me with, who was going through the same torture I was.

Despite feeling physically sick every time her name came to my mind, I still felt oddly sorry for. I felt sorry for her because she had told me she had been treated the same way and couldn’t understand why she was still standing by him. Why she was still being treated so horribly and yet was unable to leave. I felt sorry for her because she was me, too.

The flowers stayed on my desk until they wilted and died and finally went into the bin where they had belonged all along.

If there’s one thing you should do on Valentine’s Day today, please make it this. If you have an inkling, a tiny niggle of a suspicion or one little fleeting thought that someone around you might be in a situation like mine. An abusive relationship, that took months of therapy to come out of, that still leaves behind mental and physical pain one year on. Please reach out and tell them that you are there.

They might still stay with that person, but being able to talk it through and hearing how unacceptable it is aloud, might just give them the strength to leave.

If you, or anyone you know are dealing with issues of domestic abuse:

Contact 1800Respect: 1800 737 732 or www.1800respect.org.au

Or speak to someone you know and trust.

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