How social media helped me escape an abusive relationship

Abusive relationships are tricky because, for me, the physical abuse wasn’t the worst part. The bruises fade and sometimes they were never there at all. But the emotional abuse—it finds a way of lingering around forever.

There was the time he hid my keys in his apartment so I couldn’t leave. He pinned me down on his bed and reprimanded me for being disrespectful. I think I had made his friends laugh. Being funny was a no-no. I wasn’t funny. You think you’re so funny Alison, you aren’t funny.

There was the time I had a seizure in public (I suffer from epilepsy.) Using my health against me was another major means of control. “You’d be better off never leaving the house; you’re so fucking embarrassing.” I believed him—I believed I shouldn’t leave the house and I believed I was embarrassing and I believed he was the only person who would ever tolerate me. Although my seizures are now under control, I still have stretches of agoraphobia where his words circulate in my head.

One night we got in a fight walking home and he decided, as one does, to smash my head against a car door. He shattered my phone against the cement when I threatened to call the cops. To be honest, I probably would not have called them anyway. I loved this human desperately. I cannot explain why.

Sometimes I would drive around at night, blasting Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” singing along. I’d disassociate until my own life felt like a movie.

Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

For some reason, I stayed through it all: I stayed after he cheated, after he roughed me up, after that time we woke up from a blackout and my face was mangled and his shirt was covered in blood. I stayed after he told me I was worthless and fat and my face was the size of the moon and my nose was too big and I wasn’t funny and I wasn’t good at my job and no one would ever love me except maybe him if I behaved right.

My best friend asked me an important question when I told her I was writing this article.

“Did you ever think of just reporting him?”

Yeah, sometimes. But mostly, no. I didn’t want this person to get in trouble, I wanted him to love me. Sometimes I felt vengeful. Sometimes I wanted to murder him myself. I used to fantasize about it. But I was so emotionally broken down, so spiritually worn out, that all I wanted was to be acknowledged as human by this person who had brainwashed me into thinking he was the only person on this planet who would ever love me.

When I finally came forward and asked for help, no one believed me. My abuser was charming. Popular. He was dedicated and helpful at work and he was life of the party. I was painted as crazy.

So I packed up my belongings, left town, and started my life over.

As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” (I get most of my wisdom from Julia Roberts movies.) With zero self worth it was time to rebuild, and social media was surprisingly one of the resources that helped me do that.

Twitter gave me a forum for using my voice again, slowly and surely, 140 characters at a time. When I was too afraid to leave my house, social media was sometimes my one and only outlet to the outside world. People say not to base your happiness off “likes.” Sure. But I can say, for me, all those years ago, each notification was a validation to me that what I said maybe was worth something to somebody. That maybe I was funny. Maybe I was relatable. Maybe I wasn’t as ugly as I thought.

Social media got me jobs. It introduced me to new friends. It’s shown me supportive women who have been through the same things I have been through. It has shown me incredible men who value the voices of women, who support them professionally and personally, and see them as multi-faceted human beings and not as objects. It’s given me a safe space to be weird and creative.

I am grateful for the beautiful, brave women who are now sharing their own stories, because it makes me feel more comfortable sharing my own. Thank you.

So what do we do now? I guess we share our stories so women feel less alone, to create solidarity with one another. We share stories so it becomes real to men: This is happening to women they respect and love. So the next time a woman says something, giving even the slightest indication of abuse, we can support her and do something about it. Abusive relationships are confusing and layered and difficult. Don’t judge.