couples

'For years, I was in a toxic and consuming relationship. I was too embarrassed to leave.'

I was numb. 

For the next few hours, I felt nothing but determination to remove myself from this incredibly toxic and consuming relationship. I had done nothing wrong and I knew it. Brandon knew it too, but he had become so comfortable disrespecting me because I had allowed it so many times before, and I had now become his personal punching bag. In a situation where he had become desperate, he had needed an outlet for his anger, and I was it. 

I needed an outlet of my own though, and so, against my better judgement, I called his ex-partner, Amelia. 

“You are kidding me!” she had said in disbelief when I’d recounted the evening’s events.

“Unbelievable!” I could hear her partner, Jeremy, fuming in the background as Amelia relayed the story. “He doesn’t deserve her.”

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I appreciated the validation. I felt as though I had lost touch with reality by this point and couldn’t rely on myself to recognise that Brandon’s behaviour was not normal or appropriate. I still felt that things could be different if only I tried harder. I believed that Brandon just needed more love, because obviously someone had loved him less than what he’d needed at some point in his life, and now he critically needed love in abundance. Who better to provide that than me?  

This is where the importance of social support becomes apparent. I couldn’t rely on myself, as my own judgement was compromised by my idealistic views, and while Amelia was good for immediate validation, what I really needed to successfully remove myself from what had become a waking nightmare, was ongoing support. 

The trouble was, the situation was so embarrassingly toxic, that I felt too ashamed to admit to anyone that I knowingly and willingly stayed in what I knew was an unhealthy relationship. I felt as though I was a glutton for punishment for staying and that, considering my awareness, I deserved everything I got.

My resolve lasted four days. This was a milestone for me as, previously, my willpower to stay away from Brandon had usually weakened by this point. I wondered why he hadn’t reached out to me. Usually, Amelia would contact him and tell him that I’d called her, he’d be infuriated, and he’d contact me to give me a serve. But he hadn’t even done that this time. It was almost as though he’d just forgotten all about me. 

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Then one evening, as I was sitting in my lounge room channel surfing, I heard a noise at the front door. I went to investigate and discovered a bag of my belongings had been left. In it was my hairdryer, my toothbrush, my pyjamas, and a pair of shoes that I’d kept at Brandon’s house. I could only assume that he wanted my things out of his place so that he could move forward in his relationship with Cathy. 

And there went my resolve. Like always, as soon as Brandon ran, I chased. No matter what. The implication associated with the return of my belongings – that he was done with me – was so hurtful that I managed that pain the same way I always managed it: by engaging my old friends, denial and avoidance. The pain was too intense for me to deal with, so I simply didn’t. Instead, I turned to Brandon to retract the pain he inflicted. Take it away. Make me feel good instead. 

As though to rub salt into the wound, the birthday presents that I had ordered for Brandon arrived. I thought back to my reluctance at buying them in the first place, as I had been unsure whether we would still be a couple by the time his birthday arrived. It seemed my reluctance had been justified, and I was now kicking myself at not having listened to my gut. But, then again, perhaps I could use this gift as a way to extend the olive branch. 

Brandon’s birthday was still a little over a week away, but I thought that, given the circumstances, I could give the experience gift early and use the quality time to repair what was left of our relationship. I could save the other gift for his actual birthday. 

The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced it was the right thing to do and I couldn’t wait to action my plan. I decided that, at the next opportunity, I would extend my offering. I felt certain that, after a little bit of apprehension, Brandon would accept my offer of a truce and we would, hopefully, be able to move forward. 

So that’s what I did. Unfortunately though, it appeared Brandon hadn’t been hoping for a truce at all, because after I’d rung his doorbell, I was greeted by none other than Cathy herself. 

I wanted to turn around and run, but I barely had any time to react before Brandon appeared behind her. I felt I had no choice but to pathetically present him with the gift, while he stood uneasily with his new girlfriend smiling smugly alongside him. 

“What are you doing here, Molly?” he asked.

“Well…” I began, awkwardly. “I had come to give you your birthday present early. It’s an experience gift, so I had thought that perhaps we could do it this weekend coming. I didn’t realise that you had already moved on…” I said feebly, with a glance at Cathy.

“You dumped me, Molly. We’re over,” he said, shaking his head. But although he may have spoken those words, his eyes told me differently. I saw sadness and regret in his eyes, and I realised that he didn’t mean the words he spoke. 

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I understood that the opinion of strangers was so important to Brandon, that he would sacrifice whatever and whoever he had to, to uphold the stranger’s high opinion of him. In that moment, I recognised that Brandon’s self-worth was so incredibly low, that he required this external validation to feel as though he was a person of worth. 

Still, my understanding of Brandon’s motivations for his behaviour didn’t help his cause. I didn’t soften as I once would have, after all, I always seemed to be his sacrificial lamb and I was tiring of it. Instead, I decided to use the advantage I now had to improve my own position. If his reputation was so important to him, that’s where I would take aim.

“I don’t understand, Brandon. You’ve moved on after only a few days?” I asked him, with a sly smile on my face, to let him know that I wasn’t lacking clarity on the matter at all. 

“Oh, whatever Molly,” he said dismissively, but the implication wasn’t lost on Cathy.

“What? What do you mean a few days?” she asked, moving closer towards the door.

“Oh, did Brandon not tell you?” I asked, innocently. “We spent last weekend together.”

“Molly. Leave or I’ll call the police,” Brandon threatened.

I smiled sweetly at him. “You already tried that.”

“No, I didn’t,” he denied.

But Cathy wasn’t going to let this go. 

“What colour sheets are on the bed then?” she demanded.

“Grey,” I told her. She stared at me as she contemplated whether this meant I was telling the truth.

“I only have two sets of sheets,” Brandon interjected, “She had a fifty per cent chance of getting it right.”

“Brandon told me that you threw my hairdryer at him,” I said to Cathy, ignoring Brandon.

At this, Brandon picked up his phone and put it to his ear. “I’m calling the police, Molly.”

I guess it was a combination of Brandon’s portrayal of himself as a victim, and Cathy’s own confirmation bias – her tendency to believe evidence that supported what she wanted to be true – that prompted her to make her own threat towards me. “How would an AVO affect your career?”  

Bingo. 

“Hmm… I’m not sure,” I answered. “I’ve never had an AVO, so I can’t answer that. Perhaps we could ask someone who has had an AVO awarded against them for domestic violence-related incidences how it affected their career.”

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I saw Brandon swallow the giant lump that had formed in his throat, and I laughed inwardly. What had I become?

“Hey, Brandon? How did the AVO that was awarded against you after you whacked Claire’s head into a door affect your career?” I asked, with mock curiosity. 

“Just go away, Molly,” he said.

I decided I would. I was done here now. I didn’t regret coming, because now I knew. Now I knew that he had moved on and I could stop fantasising about us fixing things and living happily ever after. 

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Now I knew. 

Cathy would find out soon enough what Brandon was like, and hopefully by then, I would be emotionally free of him. 

If Brandon had made no effort to contact me following this, I believe that would’ve been the end of us. I had no interest in waiting around for him while he explored other options. I’d done that once before, and that situation had broken my heart daily. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that again. So, if Brandon was moving on with someone else, then I was bowing out.

Except that Brandon did contact me, two days later. I assumed that when Brandon called me from a withheld number, it was the first opportunity he’d had since I’d left. 

“What do you want Brandon?”

“To tell you that I’m sorry and to say the thing that you won’t believe,” he replied.

“Which is what,” I asked.

“You know what.”

“No,” I denied.

“I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry and that I love you.”

“If you loved me Brandon, you wouldn’t be sleeping with another woman. You wouldn’t be threatening to call the police on me,” I answered. “That is not love.”

“I know, babe. I don’t know why I do the stupid things I do,” he said miserably.

This is where I was faced with my own confirmation bias. I so desperately wanted to believe that he loved me and that he was sorry for hurting me that I chose to believe him based on his words alone. Nothing in his actions suggested any regret. 

A regretful action might’ve been to ask Cathy to leave immediately after I had, but instead, he’d continued to play house with her, only attempting to rectify the situation with me after he’d finished having his fun. Acknowledging this wasn’t consistent with what I wanted to be true, so I simply didn’t acknowledge it. His words were giving me the message I longed to receive, so that’s what I acknowledged instead. This is the advantage Brandon had over me, Cathy and anyone else who wanted to believe the best about him. 

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He asked if he could see me later that day and as much as I wanted to see him too, AJ had football training. I told Brandon as much and was surprised when he asked if he could come to the ground while AJ trained. For the first time in as long as I could remember, Brandon appeared to be making an effort to put me first. He told me that he didn’t care where we were, he just wanted to see me. I couldn’t remember feeling wanted by him, that I reveled in the feeling and instantly gave in. 

When he arrived at the ground that afternoon, he walked up to where I was sitting and immediately sat down behind me and lifted me up onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. He didn’t say a word as he rested his head on the back of my shoulders and held me as though he never wanted to let go. 

I was in heaven. To finally have my love appreciate me; to finally have him love me back in the same way I loved him; to finally have him wake up and realise that we had something worth fighting for was everything I had dreamed of for so long. Maybe the situation with Cathy had been a blessing in disguise. It had certainly hurt me, but if it resulted in a deeper connection for me and Brandon, then maybe we could say that it had all been worth it.

This is an edited extract from Molly and The Devil, One Woman's Journey From Emotional Abuse to Emotional Freedom, Molly Salinger. RRP$9.99.

Image: Supplied.

You can purchase Molly and The Devil, One Woman's Journey From Emotional Abuse to Emotional Freedom on Booktopia

Feature image: Getty.

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