On 31 December 2007 I rang Andy, my “partner” for 13 years, and told him I needed a break. His response confirmed that for at least 11 of those years how he presented our relationship to me and my family was different from the way he and his family saw it. The few words he spoke in reply told me, as I already knew, that I was merely his enabler and that any relationship had be a partnership in co-dependency.
It had started off with a casual peck on the cheek at a bus stop one night. We’d known each other for a few years as we attended some of the same AA meetings. I think it was very telling that the kiss took place while I was seeing him on to his bus then had to walk half a mile to my bus stop. Andy wasn’t a nice man but I wanted him to be a nice man and I told myself and anybody who would listen how nice he was. I whistled louder in the dark than anybody in the world had ever done.
Shortly after Andy and I began seeing each other I was diagnosed with Bipolar I. It was devastating getting that diagnosis but, with the added pressures of horrendous neighbours and a very stressful job, I was ripe to be manipulated and manipulate me he did. He always referred to my illness as a “condition” implying that it was something that could be got over or easily controlled which shouts loudly that he didn’t understand what it was and that he didn’t care enough to try to understand.
I have never lacked confidence and I don’t fear very much at all though I’m not keen on heights or cockroaches – but when do you find yourself on top of a cliff surrounded by cockroaches? I feared being alone because I was a recovering alcoholic with a major mental health problem and I knew that I need support. I didn’t get it.
Andy would tell me how clever he thought I was (I am) but he also treated me as though I was more than a little stupid. He would applaud my quirkiness and then speak as though he found it shameful. After telling him of a life time of being underweight and scared of food and the fact that I knew that I could easily overeat he started to feed me chocolate in huge quantities because I “needed to put on weight” then blaming me for being fat when our sex life came abruptly to a halt. I didn’t need to put on weight, I was a healthy size 14 and not unhappy about it until I met him.
Once the sex was gone for good he stepped things up a notch. People who are really good at emotional abuse make you feel worthless but also that if you leave then they’ll collapse into a heap and die. It’s confusing and when you play those sort of games with somebody who has a serious and unstable mental health problem then there is no way that they are ever going to get well.
I had a year living on basic benefits when my last job ended and it became clear that I would never work again. I found it hard to afford to eat yet he seemed to delight in cajoling me into meeting him from work in his lunch hour so that I could watch him eat and then watch despairingly as he threw away most of his lunch because it didn’t come up to his high standards while I suffered stomach pains because I couldn’t afford lunch.
Later on in the relationship he became my carer for a few months which I realise now was just a way for him to stay at home and make model aeroplanes all day. There was certainly little caring and there is a still a level of chaos in my home which I can’t sort out as a lasting legacy of his uncaring caring. I stopped the arrangement quite quickly and felt that I had spent years walking around neither awake nor asleep. I doubted the doubts I had about him for a while but then began to make steps to get him out of my life. It took years.
I tried not answering the phone but he would turn up on my doorstep. If I answered the phone there would be an emergency going on at the home he shared with his mum only to find nothing happening when I got there. I was a fat, unattractive, stupid woman with quirks that were embarrassing but I was also the person he needed to sort his life out for him. I told him I was thinking about going to live back up in the north east again to live by the sea and he got so angry that I’d even thought about leaving the west country without consulting him. I was permanently depressed and, after many years of sobriety, began to walk down the booze aisles in supermarkets, having fantasies about buying a bottle of scotch and drinking myself into oblivion.
On 31 December 2007 he told me he was taking me out for a meal to celebrate the new year and it turned out to be a burger in a Harvester at 4.30 in the afternoon because his mum had demanded he be back home by 7.00. I sat there watching this hands and winced at the thought that I’d let him touch me with them. I saw his soft face distorted as he ate faster and faster in order to get away from me so he could get back to his mum and I realised that if I didn’t do something that then that I was looking at that sight for the rest of my life. It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, it was the hammer blow that missed the nail and shattered the coffin.
I went home, waited an hour and then rang him to say I needed time out and that I expected him to leave me alone to enjoy some peace and quite for a few weeks. Two weeks later I wrote to him telling him I never wanted to see or hear from him again.
Throughout our 13 year relationship he’d told me often that I was bad at things – I was a terrible artist (I’m not he just didn’t understand abstract art), that I was only technically clever not really clever (still working out how I fell for that one) and that I could never take photos because I wasn’t creative enough (presumably because I’m a terrible artist). In February 2008 I bought a camera just to see if I could take photos and I was delighted to find out that not only could I take photos but I could take good ones. Six weeks after I bought my first point and shoot I had a photo published in a travel guide. That was joyful and it stuck two very rigid fingers in the face of the man that told me that I could never take photos.
That was the turning point – that one photo in the travel guided changed everything for me. My mental health began to improve, I stopped wanting to drink (and will celebrate 24 years of sobriety shortly if all goes to plan) and regained my confidence. I lost a lot of the fat that he’d piled on me over the years but kept just enough so that I have a magnificent bosom. I have stopped being infected by somebody else’s fears. I have a home that is scruffy but animal centred, I bake bread, I take photos, I write and I live. I LIVE.