Pilates saved my physical health and probably saved me from a lifetime of chronic pain, but yoga helped heal my heart, allowed me to forgive myself and saved my soul. One day I hope to find love and a partnership and yoga helped me be able to find myself and be whole enough to maybe do that.
I started out wanting to write about how yoga saved me, but I realized that for the impact of the salvation to mean anything, I wanted to tell the story of how I got broken in the first place, and why I sought out yoga. So this will be in three parts.
WARNING: This got waaaaay darker, way more personal and way deeper than I had anticipated. It ends well, but since this post is about physical and emotional abuse, if abuse is a trigger for you, maybe skip to PART II and PART III if you want to read how I came out of the darkness. If you know me, and maybe don’t want to know this about me, that’s o.k. too. Skip ahead to PART II and PART III.
If you are a victim or survivor and need help, please contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 24/7.
PART I: Broken
Perhaps I should start more or less at the beginning of what lead to me being an empty shell in desperate need of salvation. Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending (Parts IIand III), but first I want to share how I ended up at the bottom of a dark well looking for a lifeline.
About 10 years ago, for about a year, I was in a physically abusive relationship. Let me just say, this was really dumb of me. I have forgiven myself, but when I look back now with a clear lens and a happy heart, I just have to ask, “What were you thinking?” Like all abusive relationships, it didn’t start out that way. He started out attentive and loving. Then there was the cheating and the public humiliation. Then there was me begging for him to stay and him leaving only to come back sheepish and gentle bearing good will and winning me back over. There was the time he was drunk, and I was scared, so I locked myself in my room, and he kicked the door down, dragged me out of bed and then kicked me. I told him to leave, and he threw a bag at me and told me to pack it. I didn’t do it. Perversely, I wanted him to stay. I wanted to fix him. I wanted to heal what was broken in him that caused this anger. Once, he pushed me down the steps outside a public venue in front of half the town. The reason I was there was to help out a friend of his.
Ultimately, he did leave. He got together with the woman with whom he was cheating (notable that she was just one of many, but she got pregnant). I thought it would be a good idea to warn her of his dangerous behavior. I assured her that I didn’t want him, I REALLY was over it at this point, but I wanted her to protect herself and her baby. I guess she told him because they showed up at my house, and I let them in. He grabbed my by the throat and pushed me to the floor. Right before I blacked-out, he let go. She just watched.
When I regained consciousness fully, they were gone. I called a friend. He was a police officer and a friend of my ex but also had been a good friend to me. He came over to comfort me and we ended up in bed. I was numb. It was like it was just happening to me. While this was not rape, I felt the disconnect that rape survivors sometimes talk about. I didn’t want it, but I didn’t have any fight in me in that moment. Someone I trusted took advantage of my vulnerability.
Luckily, I left the town soon thereafter and moved to the capital city. (This did not happen in the US, for the record.) I was going to leave my past in my past. The capital city offered much more than the tiny village I had been in, and I was excited. I pushed my ex and everything that had happened to the back of my mind and suppressed the pain. I smiled outwardly. I loved my job, I met great friends and I had a good life. Honestly, I didn’t thin there was anything wrong. I had moved on.
I dated a really lovely guy. He was younger than me. He was funny, kind and talented. We worked together on a project and did not start anything until after that was all over. But I was a wreck; I had not processed what had happened to me or even begun to deal with it. I had not told a single person the extent of what had happened. It would be YEARS before I talked about being strangled. I was emotional, distrustful, drinking too much, smoking too much pot (which makes me super paranoid and overly-emotional), and being generally reckless since any of this would have gotten me fired and sent home. I was beautiful disaster.
We were out one night because our relationship largely revolved around partying. I was high and when I couldn’t find him, I got scared. I called a friend, hysterical. He was with her and on his way back. He had probably gone for drugs. I don’t remember now. He got back to the club, and I walked up to him and smacked him across the face. Needless to say, he was less forgiving of abuse than I was, and that was it. He left. For weeks, I begged and pleaded for his forgiveness, but to no avail.
Then, I met HIM.
VERY LONG story slightly shorter: I met a guy that I fell head over heels for. We dated for about 6 weeks, and he broke up with me to get back together with his ex. About a nine months later, we slept together. Yes, now I was the other woman. (Remember that reckless behavior I talked about?!?!) And then we both, independent of one another, moved to London. He was from there originally although had been raised where we met. He was still with the ex, but she stayed behind. I had decided to go to London for graduate school.
It is important to note that these stories all took place over a three year period when I was living and working in a developing country, and I was working on youth empowerment, gender development and HIV prevention and treatment. I saw a lot of difficult things. I was far from home with a limited support network. I spent about six weeks at home before I went to London, and I went to a therapist. I was a complete wreck. I was crying endless without any immediate trigger. I couldn’t sleep. I was grumpy and short with my family. I had told NO ONE about the abuse with the first guy, so I was bearing that pain alone. The only people who knew that I had hit the second one were our mutual friends at the time, so I was also bearing that shame alone. I harbored feelings for the third guy, but I was just trying to move on from him.
I was supposed to have been setting an example for the women and youth in my community, and I was just falling into the same traps as them. I was supposed to be teaching girls to be empowered and to make good decisions, and I had made terrible decisions. I was supposed to be representing my organization and my country well, and I was highlighting the worst possible traits of the expat.
I was full of shame. I was mortified. I felt worthless.
I felt undeserving of love, of my job, of living. I won’t say that I was suicidal, but I was doing things that easily could have gotten me killed. Even now, I sometimes wake up from a nightmare thinking about moments when I was so close to death that I don’t know what saved me. At the time, I didn’t care.
Therapy helped some and by the time I got to London, I was at least able to function. I threw myself into school; I met great friends; I explored the city; I got a part-time job; and I didn’t even think about dating. That lasted from September until January.
In January, HE called. He had broken up with the ex. We got together.
If you have never dated a narcissistic, self-centered, insecure, selfish man-child, I don’t recommend it. He had been kind of a big deal in the world of music in his country (not England) in his youth. That was very much in the past, but the performer in him needed love and attention and was pretty much incapable of giving it back.
The best way I can think of to describe a narcissist is that they suck all of the oxygen from the room, and that leaves you gasping for breath. I am a giver. I give money, time, affection, my heart, my whole self. I often joke, however, that I’m needy because as much as I give, I am happiest when I am getting it back too. Quite literally: if I scratch your back, I would like you to scratch mine!
He was starting a business. I helped. I’m good with books and logistics and organizing stuff. I did the paperwork to incorporate him. I did the tax stuff. He was the creative force and the face of the business, but I was in the background. I was very much “the woman behind the man.” One must note that this was while I was in school full time and working part time, and he wasn’t paying me. He told me to log my hours. I told him he never had to pay me as long as we were together, but if he left me, I wanted to be paid out! At the time, I just loved that this was a way that I could feel needed.
I said one time that with him I felt like the dog sitting next to its human at the dinner table. The master takes the dish of food and then serves himself before passing it around to everyone else at the table. They all eat their fill, and if there is anything left, it gets thrown down to the dog. Does the dog reject this treatment or ask for better? No, the dog hungrily laps up whatever it can get and then stares lovingly at its master. I was the last person for him to ever pay attention to.
The other thing narcissists do is constantly shift and deflect blame. It is never their fault. He was notoriously late. Unacceptably so, but if I ever got upset, he would flip it on me and I would end up apologizing for being upset.
He was utterly unreliable. I would get sooooo happy when he would join my friends and I out or meet me for a date or do anything. Most times, he would either say no to the invitation; say yes, but then cancel; or say yes, but show up two hours late. If I was out with friends and he called, however, he would want me to leave immediately and be by his side. I was so happy to be needed in that moment, I would do it without a thought, but he was never there when I needed him.
He had a brutal temper. He was never once physically violent with me, but I never knew what was going to set him off. I was always on eggshells. One wrong comment, one too many texts, one annoying question, he could blow up. However, if I retreated, he came running. If I ignored his calls or texts, he would blow up my phone. I often felt like we were in this dance: I would chase him, and he would retreat; I would give him space, so he would chase me; I would think we were meeting in the middle and turn back to him only to see him walk away again.
He would get mad and storm off, and I wouldn’t hear from him for days. Once he called me “stupid” for hanging out with a friend of his while he was gone, and I didn’t hear from him for a month.
I suspect he may have some bi-polar tendencies. I don’t know if you can be sort of bi-polar, but his moods were intense. When he was on a good day, OMG, he was amazing. He was funny, smart, loving, complimentary, kind. I lived for those moments because when he was on a bad day, it was the exact opposite. He spent 95% of his time high. He claimed it made him more creative, but I saw the gentle person he was when he was not high and preferred it to the erratic maniac that weed triggered. (I had stopped even dabbling in weed before I moved to London in 2010. I had only done it a few times, but I realized it did not do good things to me.)
I could tell immediately which version of him I was getting, and if he was in a mood, I tried my best not to set him off, but then there was always a new trigger.
He posted constantly on Twitter and Facebook. I called them his “words of wisdom.” He was always handing out advice, tips for life, sage words, but he didn’t seem to follow any of them himself. His hypocrisy was galling. He claimed to be deeply religious, but his actions were unkind and selfish.
This went on for a year until one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I told him to leave, I closed the door and that was the last time I saw him.
I was a shell of my former self. I looked at myself in the mirror and cried.
My skin looked grey, my hair was limp, my posture deflated. I was lifeless, listless, joyless. It was as if he had sucked the very life out of my heart and soul. How had I let myself get to this place? I felt such shame. I also feared I would be alone forever. I held onto him because I thought that he was my last chance at a husband. I felt pathetic.
That was Sunday, January 8, 2012. I started a new job the next day.
He left the country almost immediately. On Valentine’s Day, he posted a picture of himself and another woman. He had never posted a single picture of us or mentioned me publicly in any way.
He asked for my bank details to give me the almost $500 he owed me. He never transferred it.
He would periodically reach out to me and tell me he loved me and that he would come back. He just kept me dangling. Our cosmic connection was eerie. I wouldn’t have heard from him in weeks, and then I would have a dream about him and he would message the next day.
In December of that year, I once again said, “enough!” I told him I needed to be free of him. I blocked him on Facebook and whats app. I signed up for dating apps. I tried to get out there, but I still wasn’t whole.
I changed phones and somehow he was no longer blocked on whats app, so on a weekend that I had set up multiple first dates, I got a message. “How are you?” That was April.
We once again began talking and he once again made promises. He still hadn’t sent the money. In September, he messaged to tell me that he was back with his ex-wife and she was pregnant.
I literally collapsed. It was like someone had heaved a bowling ball into my stomach. I fell on the ground in a puddle. It turned out that she had delivered the day before, so back in December, they were already together and in April, she was very pregnant.
But that was it. I was done. I was free.
It was as if a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I could breathe again.
He was no longer there, lingering and waiting. Since then, he emailed occasionally, often on my birthday, but it had no effect. I just did what is best with him: ignored it. It has been years since I have even gotten an email from him.
He no longer haunts my dreams. I don’t really think about him at all. I am free of him.
He was out of my life, but I still had to heal myself.
There were many things that got me to where I am now. At the time, I knew that I needed help. I knew that those years and those men had done damage to me that was not going away on its own. I could not ignore the past, I had to face it. I knew that I wanted to be able to fall in love in the future. I wanted to be able to know that I deserved a good man.
I wanted to feel worthy of being loved. I wanted to forgive myself for the damage that had been done to me.
I wanted to be able to meet someone and for them to get the best version of me, not a wounded shell. I wanted to be able to find success in my career and be independent and happy on my own. I wanted to be able to be a friend that could be counted on to support her friends instead of always being the one who needed support. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be happy.
Yoga was a huge part of the reason that I managed to do just that.
If you are a victim or survivor of domestic violence and need help, please contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 24/7.