alone is better than The Wrong Thing: an escape from abuse


“All I could say was, "I don't know what to do." I remember her taking me by the shoulders and looking me in the eye with a calm smile and saying simply, "Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I never wanted to write this story. I wanted to move on from this part of my life, you know? Forget about it entirely, if I am being honest. That is usually an indicator that it is a part of life that needs to be written about.

I handed my business card to a Chamber of Commerce member the other day. I looked at it, and the words “truth-teller” stood out to me in white text, on green cardstock. That is something I have claimed as my identity.  So, I guess that settles it. “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

I shared a thing about mirrors with you last week.

I was in a terrible relationship a few years ago. It fell apart, as things do, thankfully. After it was over, I was left alone in my house with a bunch of pieces of my life that I didn’t really recognize anymore. I told you that it took me years of sitting there at night, alone, with my thoughts, to not twitch with loneliness, and then to not pick apart the woman I saw in the mirror when I walked around the next morning after the sun came up. It took me a long time to be kind to her. There are seventeen mirrors in my house, not counting the tiniest one in my Marc Jacobs blush compact. It took me all those years to see that actually doing the work of figuring out who I am, what I love, what I was put on this planet to do, all of that, was the only thing that could actually release me back into my own life.

But I struggle here, at times, with the woman in the mirrors. And not for the reasons that it seems a lot of other people do.

Last night, I came home, and I looked in the mirror, and I saw a woman there. I love her. I feel so much love for her. And I respect her, because she did all that hard, identity-claiming work. She knows who she is, and she knows how to stand in her purpose. But I told her, “It might just be us. It might just be us in this house at night.” This both terrifies and comforts me, and I will tell you why.

Coming home, and it just being me and who I see in the mirror doesn’t all the way terrify me. It gets quiet, and lonely, but coming home to silence and solitude beats the hell out of coming home to the wrong thing.

For a year and a half, I was in this wrong thing, with G. And then for another year, more recently, I was in Another Wrong Thing, which I am not ready to talk about yet. I have spent every moment of my serious relationship life knowing that I was in The Wrong Thing, but telling myself to stay and pour more of myself into trying to make it work.

G was subtle at first. Our relationship began the day I found out that Maggie died. I don’t know if I need to explain that any further; I was completely untethered. He was an incredible support in the immediacy of such a hellacious loss, but when I regrew a backbone, and my stability, he balked. Hard.

“There’s a big world to live in, but you’re only interested in the volume of your own skull. You’re as stubborn as a mule and selfish like a child,” he said. Well, yelled. And then he stormed out of the Starbucks we were sitting in. I was frozen. A stranger came and asked if I was alright. I called an Uber.

I stood up to him later. That made it worse.

“I mean, you now have the excuse you’ve been waiting for to blow me off but were too much of a stupid little girl to do so on your own. You loved the attention from that stranger. That’s what you’re all about, right? Capitalizing off of distress? I mean, that’s all your dumb blog is about. It’s not like you live off any of that bullshit. You just like people to fawn on you. Too bad your god is fake or you could use your ‘relationship’ with it to ask for relief. Go blow some millionaire motherfucker. We both know you want to because of his money. You wouldn’t know what to without it, you dumb bitch. Your issues are what keep you warm. You could have more, but you’re too in love with yourself for that. Pure narcissism.”

It got a lot worse. I’ve blocked a lot of it from memory; the above is just what I have screenshots of. I don’t have screenshots of the yelling, of the tone of voice, of the facial expressions and hand gestures and the general disdain for my existence that was communicated. Of the way all of that made me feel.

He told me a couple of months later that he wanted to marry me.

This is what emotional abuse looks like, by the way. We stayed together for another year.
It wasn’t love, even though I tried to tell the woman in the mirror that it was over and over again that yes it was, yes it was, yes it was.

The part that terrifies me is that it found me again, a year ago, through another vessel.

I heard, “You’re being too much,” almost daily, and told myself that I deserved it.

I tolerated gaslighting, and had my reality continuously repainted before my eyes, and told myself that I deserved it.

I heard that I was crazy, that my anxiety wasn’t real. That my voice was too loud, that my story was too raw, that “there are just some things you shouldn’t share.” To be quieter, softer, smaller.

I had my identity taken out of my hands, and then torn apart piece by piece, and he narrated the whole process to make it sound like he was doing me a favor.

When I vented to friends, it got back to him somehow and made him mad: “You have all these degrees; how can you not understand something as simple as keeping your mouth shut?” And I told myself that I deserved it.

I told myself that I deserved being hit. And even if I didn’t, that he didn’t mean it, because he was drunk. It didn’t count if he didn’t remember. And besides, it was only the one time. I tried to talk to him about it the next day anyway.

“That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, it’s not a big deal.
And if it is, it’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.”

That’s the voice I bought as truth. And y’all wanna know why I’m afraid of going on a date.

I don’t remember why, or how, but I kicked it to the curb one day. Cold turkey. I realized it one morning in January. I was getting ready for a photoshoot. The woman in the mirror looked back and said, “Well, it’s about damn time.”

So, I come home alone at night, and I look in the mirror. And I see a woman who feels lonely at times, but she is also fierce. She has fought her way back up from rock bottom, from dark places. I see such strength in her. She is my hero, even though she is scared.

I have an amazing life. I get to do a lot of really incredible stuff. People tell me wonderful things about my self every day, and I believe those things. I get to be the fun, funny PR girl who is always at an event or always doing something interesting. This season has me in a constant state of disbelief.

But then the sun goes down, and I come home. And it’s just me. And at my core, I am afraid that all I will ever be is the funny PR girl. Not someone that anyone will want something real with. That is my deepest fear, and it is very difficult and disorienting to type it out for someone else to read.

Because I do love my life, and I do love this season. I feel abundant and happy. I have strong friendships and feel like part of the family everywhere I go. I am in a good place. A true, good place, for the first time in my life. I am terrified of losing my footing. It is hard not to be. It is hard to not wait for the other shoe to drop.

Anytime I ever told the whole story about The Wrong Thing to someone, they told me to leave. And I didn't know how to do that. So I stopped telling the whole story. My mother would tell me, "there is a good season coming for you; I can feel it," and I didn't believe her because every time I got in the car and left her behind in Virginia, I was driving back to The Wrong Thing that I didn’t see a way out of. Telling her the whole story back then would have been so hard for her, so I didn’t. The same with Another Wrong Thing. So, I kept things from her and everyone else, and let them hurt just me.

I wish I’d had the courage to leave, rather than exist in a world where I took whatever I could get and accepted that I was merely tolerable instead of exquisite and radiant and unstoppable, which are all things I only realized that I am after he left and I had to come home to a quiet house and look in the mirror again.

His house was cold; his heart was even worse. There were no mirrors on the walls there, though. I couldn’t see the strong woman in the mirror. I wonder at times if this was intentional.

I can see her seventeen times on the same lap through my house now. Eighteen if I open the Marc Jacobs blush. I don’t see as much sadness in her eyes, which is good, because she has been though some things. I struggle believing that this many difficulties can happen to a person and she still be happy. But, this seems to be the overwhelming victor.

"There is a good season coming for you; I can feel it," as her mama said.

That sentiment -- deserving a good thing. It no longer makes her uncomfortable She knows that she deserves something good, someone good. And that it is all coming as fast as it can. She is in no hurry; the loneliness is annoying, but she is never really alone. Struggling beautifully, comfortable in her own skin, sure of her place in the world. Finally out of The Wrong Thing. Now she just has to figure out how to, one day, be in A Good Thing with someone.

My favorite part, though, is that she is having an easier time believing that she will be someone’s Best Thing.