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