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Names have been changed to protect identities of people in this story, but everything is raw and real. I am telling this story on behalf of a very close friend. They have given me permission to tell their story as my first article as they feel it is important to recognize someone may be a victim of gaslighting regardless of age or gender.
I'm writing this fresh. Originally I never wanted to tell anybody about this, I'm ashamed that a so-called hardcore feminist like myself could be reduced to the sobbing "bird" on the wing of a gaslighter.
Zach was the love of my life. No question and no kidding. I'm 19, which some may say is too young to fall, but I fell and I fell hard. Like the twisted cliche teen of 2017 I am, I met the guy on Tinder. He took me to the pub after work one day and I was hooked. How could a guy be so perfect? Perfect teeth, punny sense of humor, and potentially older and wiser. We talked about everything and nothing. We saw each other three times in the first week and called it a done deal. I was his girlfriend and I couldn't have been happier.
What I Didn't Notice
In the six months we were together, he came to my house twice. That's it. He blamed it on anxiety and I believed him —suffering from both depression and anxiety myself. I was head over heels and I just wanted him to be comfortable, so I spent less and less time at home.
My mum's attitude when meeting Zach was friendly, but there was something she'd never done before. Something about the atmosphere when they met put me on edge; it was awkward. Later mum told me that he wouldn't meet her eyes even on the first meeting. Why do mums know everything before it even happens? No wonder he never came over. She knew the type of guy he was straight away.
But anyway, before I was aware that the sun didn't actually shine from this guy's face... It turns out it's not only home I didn't see very often. I only attended my sixth form ball for 30 minutes before I decided I was sick of it and wanted to go home to Zach. There had been discussion before me talking about which friends were going, who else would be there, would there be drinking etc. I really was excited for the ball. But looking back, I notice how I played down how big of a deal this party was and said how much I didn't want to go because I didn't want him to be jealous.
"Will Connor be there?"
Connor was a friend, a really amazing friend. Unfortunately, we lost touch after he made an inappropriate comment about me having a "nice arse."
"Well be careful, boys can be d***s when they drink"
I had to be "careful" with a lot of what I did. I don't know what he was expecting to happen. I had to answer his texts within five minutes or I would have a series of:
"How's the party?"
"Grace. Answer me. I'm getting worried"
This would be accompanied by various missed calls and the messages repeated on all of my social medias.
I'd call, crying, scrapping for a suitable excuse other than just enjoying the party because I didn't want him to be sad I wasn't having fun with him instead.
In The End
I could sit here and tell you story after story like this. I could tell you how many arguments we had over guy friends that I felt I couldn't talk to anymore, me putting "attention-seeking" pictures of myself on social media when doing a new makeup look, me making him feel unattractive and unwanted — all ending in me crying, apologizing and begging him to stay with me.
One of the penultimate arguments we had, I literally had crumpled on the bed, kneeling and pleading for him not to give up on me. My mental health was often "blamed" for these arguments. Several times he would tell me my medication wasn't working and demanded I go back to the doctors. These arguments would push me so far. I was ashamed of hurting him in any way, taking him for granted, not showing him how much I loved him. So I would say I needed the loo, go to the bathroom, look at the mess in the mirror, and hit my own face or dig my nails into my arms, legs, and hands hard enough to draw blood. I'd hurt myself as punishment for having hurt him. This one particular argument, I'd lost it. He'd made me leave my house in the middle of the night to apologize because he wouldn't answer my calls. When I got there, I couldn't take it. The long list of everything I was doing wrong. So this time I didn't slip away. And in a desperate state, begging for his forgiveness, I starting hitting and punching my head, trying to knock myself out and make it all stop. It was then he said something that I don't think I'm ever going to forget.
"My ex was sectioned, but I don't think even she was as bad as you."
When I Broke
He broke up with me by text — another twisted modern cliche. This final argument was obviously my fault again. He was upset one night, the one night I had been in my own home almost all summer. I couldn't go back to his as I was starting my new college in the morning. So he went to a girl's house, which I would have been fine with had this girl not been apparently "stalking" him for weeks, saying he was the father of her child and constantly trying to meet up with him with very clear intentions. He called me 5 AM in the morning saying she had sexually assaulted him. Obviously I believed him and I took that blame on my shoulders, letting it drag me and drown me. How could I let that happen? I messaged her in my enraged and hurt state. She told me her side. He'd asked her if he could come over, they went to the bedroom, cuddled, and kissed for a while before he said he had to leave. I called him to say what she said and instantly he flew off the handle, saying I didn't believe him and screaming at me
"Why is nobody ever on my side?"
I didn't have the chance to cry or beg or apologize. He cut me off by text. And as I crumpled into my work colleague's arms on receiving the text, the first thing I said was,
"I want to kill myself"
And that thought filled my brain for the next few days. I felt sick. Physically sick. Why didn't I just believe him? He would never lie to me.
Then my mum sat me down and told me what a gaslighter was. When you google the term, it will tell you:
"Gaslighting is a specific kind of emotional abuse designed to make the victim doubt their own perceptions, memory, and reality."
And everything, as painful as it was, slammed into place, like a really disturbing puzzle. Every single story he ever told me about his exes, or people he knew or even sometimes his own family, he was always the victim. Three girls have sexually assaulted him. He has been accused of rape/sexual assault twice, resulting in him being kicked out of college and "bullied" out of a job. I believed every single one. And mum said to me
"How does this all happen to one person? I don't think bad luck can be an excuse"
He genuinely made me feel as if I were crazy. I self-harmed, I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't, my depression was worse than ever, and I couldn't stop thinking how everything was my fault. Everything had changed. I wasn't myself anymore. And I would never be myself again if I carried on this way with this man.
What I Know Now
- I am going to be another villain in his tale. Another dark figure in his biography he tells to his next ex. To him, I was no better than the Joker to his Batman.
- I couldn't have done anything right. I did love him. And despite what he says, I went out of my way to show it, whether it was bringing him a lunch to work on his long shifts, or organizing a little travel bag with toiletries so he had less to pack for his "lad" holiday. Even if I went back now, it would be no better and I would kill myself trying if I did.
- I will never apologize for being myself again. I should be enough for a person. My mental health doesn't take away from who I am and I shouldn't feel ashamed of it. And I won't anymore.
- The worst thing I know and the thing that made me write this article: I still love him. Facebook is a grand machine but it often shows you what you don't want to know. He is now with the girl he went to see after the sexual assault, another girl who had constantly flirted with him throughout our relationship and who obviously was gunning for us to end. When I saw photos of them together, happy and smiling together weeks after our relationship had ended, that sick feeling came back. And that thought "I want to kill myself" came back, buzzing around my head like an annoying fly that wont go away. No amount of tacky tinder dates or numbers I accumulate in a club will ever make that feeling go away.
- But at least I'm actually allowed outside now. At least I'm not cooped up in a room waiting for my "wonderful and loving" boyfriend to come home so I can have some form of social interaction. I'm home, in my room, in my bed, with my family who love me very much. Me and Connor are back in touch. And I'm allowed to talk to whoever, meet whoever and live my life by me. I have my college friends who are the most amazing friends in the world and got me through this, I can never thank them enough. I hope Zach is happy. And maybe that he will change. Maybe he will go to America like he wanted and get the house and have the kids like he always wanted. And I hope the woman he is with will make him happy in the ways that I never could.
- I'm single. I'm a good person. I'm a feminist. (He hated that word and now I see why!) And I will never dumb myself down, or deny my right to be myself again. Love should be loving, not controlling.