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Escaping Your Toxic Relationship

Leaving an abusive or super unhealthy relationship feels nearly impossible when you're in it, and the "self-help" articles I see online really don't do this experience justice, so I wanted to take what I learned in my two abusive relationships and how I got away and share them with you, in hopes that it might just be the critical piece you need to help you with leaving.

What most people don't talk about is the attachment you have to your toxic partner. You may know you need to leave and want to, and you may be fully aware that you're unhappy and suffering, but regardless- manipulation tactics have kept you stuck, which means there's a high risk of you not leaving.

The reason for this is that you've been programmed to question yourself in every aspect. The longer you remain in that environment, the more detached from yourself you become, and the reliance on your toxic partner deepens.

Women in these positions are scared to end things because there's a real genuine love there; no matter how abusive or unhealthy (due to the manipulation tactics of their partners), these women aren't actually aware that they're ever so slowly being acclimatized to the control, the gaslighting and the undermining of her autonomy and intelligence. So reliance on the toxic partner starts to build unknowingly. Then one day, something wakes them up to this realization which will look different for each woman depending on their situation, but they're left in a sticky situation... how do you escape?

In my experience with my ex-fiance, we lived in Africa and had a large plot of land. Because we were in the middle of nowhere, it was tricky to get a cellphone signal through the heavy concrete walls of our home for me to make calls to loved ones in Canada. I found myself wandering the big yard as I spoke to my mom or aunt and would frequently find myself getting the best signal in a tree fort we had. My ex showed concern about this because he feared that venomous snakes might bite me, so he asked me to keep the calls away from that area.

I didn't think anything of this since I thought my man was looking out for me, so I changed my spot and would sit on a lawn chair on our dirt driveway while I'd admire the African sunset while chatting away. When he saw me do this, he got frustrated and condescending.

"Darling, that's dangerous to do in the evening, as a snake might see your body heat and be attracted to it ."

He told me he'd feel more comfortable if, instead, I took my phone calls on the swing we had set up, about 15 feet away from the house. I was annoyed and felt like he was being overly cautious since I'd yet to see a snake on our property. It was cold season there, so they were likely in their dens, but I agreed in order to avoid what I knew would end up being a big fight and somehow result in me receiving the cold shoulder and silent treatment from him.

So I moved my calls to the swing - SURELY, this was safe enough. Nope! He asked me why I didn't take my calls inside and assured me he wouldn't listen in on them. Now, I don't know about you, but the way my ears tend to work is that they're constantly hearing things, and they don't have an off switch, but really, the main point here is he somehow forgot the vital fact which was we couldn't get cell signal inside!

This is an example of how someone can ween you out of your independence right in front of your nose without you catching on. Anyone reading this who hasn't been in this situation will roll their eyes and think how naive one could be to fall for this, but it's the strongest, most badass women I've ever met who have a story like this. These aren't the feeble, fragile, weak-minded women portrayed in abuse stories; oh no, these are kick-ass women who'd NEVER think they could fall into a relationship like this. The slow burn is the worst because everything starts out extraordinary. Your new boo takes you out on lovely dates, he has so much in common with you, and you both agree on the important stuff. You feel like he understands your views on life and LOVES how independent you are - he loves a go-getter. He agrees with everything you do; he seems like he's done a bunch of his emotional work, and you feel like best friends.

Then the comments come in, the ones that you don't necessarily feel comfortable with, but it's just here and there and not enough to cause a conversation about; besides, you know him now, you know his character, and everyone has their little moments, right?

Then he begins to undermine you in private - you might say a word in a different way than he does or get a quote wrong that you're reciting. Maybe you mess up on the directions and realize he needs to take a U-turn to that most recent set of lights, perhaps you have a deadline the next day for work, and you need to stay up late and not go to bed at the exact time as him.... these things are no longer accepted as the human experience but begin to agitate him. He makes little condescending comments about you which eventually start to get at you and your confidence that you try to avoid doing these things. You try to bring it up to him, but because they're so little at the time, he shrugs it off as you being too sensitive and that he can't make a single comment without you throwing a hissy fit.

Because these are such trivial things, bringing it up to friends to process or ask their thoughts doesn't make sense because the relationship is still mostly good at the end of the day.

This is how it begins, slowly. In ways that you're not even sure how to word what you're experiencing. When you've never been gaslit, you don't know how to identify it, which is perfect for the abuser. After my first abusive relationship ended (not the fiance), I had no idea what to say in response to my friend's question, "Can you give me an example of how he mistreated you?" This was a perfectly fine request since she was there to help me process, but other than the one time he shoved me up against a wall, causing me to fall to the ground - he hadn't been physical, but I knew something wasn't right. It wasn't until I came across a random Pinterest post that gave an example and explanation of gaslighting that I realized what I was working through.

Let me tell you, I'd rather be punched in the face and deal with a broken nose than undergo a relationship that was based on gaslighting. It's psychological warfare, and it has the power to tear your mind apart from the inside. You'll start out as a wild, full of life, joyful, carefree, independent and optimistic woman, and after the effects of gaslighting, you won't even recognize yourself in the mirror. The impacts of gaslighting from two abusive relationships have been profound for me and have been the hardest thing to heal from - it's a slow poisoning of the mind.

Eventually, these little changes turn into big ones. Before you know it, you're being banned from speaking to other people, not allowed to visit with your dad, told that going back to university is selfish, tires are slashed on your vehicles, forbidden from going to the gym and coming home to an angry partner after going for lunch with some new friends you met at the mall. You then find yourself in a full-on yelling match because your work requires you to travel out of the country, and he doesn't want you to; he resents you anytime you get a cold, and if you don't respond to his calls within 6 minutes, he wages war on you, claiming he was fearful for your safety...when he knows you're visiting with your very safe family.

There's so much more that I'd like to touch on in this blog post in terms of explaining all the aspects and examples of abuse, but that's for another time.



You still love him, don't know how you would cope without him, and when you think about living without /never seeing him again, you feel an intense hole in your aching heart. You panic; you feel like your world is ending and you're making the wrong choice... even though you know you must get out.

This is the most critical part of the breakup because it's you convincing yourself that you have enough strength to do it. I struggled to do this with my ex-fiancé; I knew my soul was deteriorating by being with him, and I knew I needed to leave, but I wasn't fully prepared to accept the reality that I was ending things with him.

There were aspects I loved about him, and he was really good at making me feel loved and understood; when he could sense I was showing signs of wanting to leave, He would do a 180° and manipulate me into thinking he was willing to change. This does wonders for a woman being neglected in all areas of a relationship. You want to be loved and admired, but when you're ignored, untouched and rarely appreciated, you become starved of these things, and when you DO get them, you crave them even more, which puts you into a vicious cycle of breadcrumbing. Hot and cold confuse the body and mind after it switches one too many times.

I recognized that I didn't have the full strength to end things officially, as it would have put me in shock, so I decided to wean myself off and take action on the following:

1. Shift Your Reality

When you're in this type of relationship, the manipulation has likely created a trauma bond with the person, making it ten times harder to leave. You love him, there are good things about him that you fell in love with, there are lovely moments you two have shared, and you've likely changed a considerable part of your life for him, whether that be moving to a new city, cutting off friends and family, having a child before you were ready, giving up your job etc. These significant changes for you mean that you've relied on him more than you would have in the past because he's your only support system. Because of this setup, you will doubt you can live without him. You may think he's as good as it gets with a partner, and you may think about all the things you love about him and how much your heart would ache if you never got to experience those again with him etc. So these aspects keep you stuck, so you need to acclimate your mind and body to this new possibility without it actually being a threat.

Start imagining what life might be like without him; plan out the design of your own apartment or what it might feel like to care for your child in your own space without the threat of his presence. Imagine going for a coffee and sitting in the sunshine, happily listening to the chatter of people around you with no sudden realization that you must go home and see him. You need to start imagining these scenarios because if you just go for it and try to end things and leave, it's likely that your mind will go into shock. Remember, this isn't your usual healthy, strong mind that you've always known ... this is your manipulated, trauma-bonded, gaslit brain, and it needs some extra time. If you jump, you'll likely be back home within a month.

2. Save Hush Money:

Running away is hard when you don't have control over your finances. Women from all countries and all economic levels should have some money saved away, enough for about three months' rent plus an additional two months' worth of groceries. If the time comes for your escape and you don't have a say over your finances, you'll at least have enough for the first and last month's down payment for an apartment which is always required, plus an additional month of rent to give you that cushion. You need to find clever ways to access the cash, and it will likely take time to build your stash. Start now, even if it feels too little to make a difference. You could be closer to your goal in six months or be exactly where you are now with nothing.

Here are some ideas to help you find extra hush money:

  • Purchase a loadable credit card at the gas station where you load money on a temporary card, and then your purchases from that card must be traced.

  • If it's safe, sign up for a personal bank account, then explain they must not contact you for safety reasons. Set up the address to which the card will be sent to friends or neighbours. Hide the card and keep your hush money in that secret account.

  • If you can access cash that he's hiding - count how much he has and what denomination of bills - then photocopy those at home (it's technically illegal) or purchase fake money on Amazon so you don't arouse suspicion after replacing them.

  • If you've got a joint account, ask for cash back when you go to the grocery store; cash out usually doesn't show up on bank statements, but ask your bank just to be sure. Quietly sell items for cash, offer to pick up an item for your friend at the store, and then have them pay you back in cash. Pull coins at the fountain, discreetly take a few dollars from his wallet, purchase an item, and then refund it for cash, and sell your clothes on a site like Poshmark.

My aunt told me about the Zambian women living in the villages and how they'd always squirrel away money. Many of the situations in the villages are structured around the man being in control and the woman having to follow his rules, and this often leads to men spending all the money at the local bars while the woman and children are left at home hungry. So when it's time to buy groceries at the market, she always puts away a few dollars, even pennies. Money adds up.

3. Breakup Bug-Out Bag

No, this isn't your typical apocalypse bug-out bag, but it has a similar structure. Now is the time to get your important documents and papers photocopied, printed and put on a USB (or multiple). Get your passport, driver's license, health info, social security info, bank info, birth certificate etc. and take photos with your phone, send them to a secret email, put them on a USB drive AND print them. You seriously never know what a person will do when they don't get their way, so make sure you have backups to your backups if one is found and destroyed. If he has your papers and you think you can access them, replace them with a photocopy. Purchase a fake passport of your country on Amazon to replace your real one.

You have to maintain your everyday routines and not trigger suspicion.

If you can play a game with yourself and pretend you're a spy needing to get out of a hostage situation, this can clarify what you need versus stuff that's easy to replace. When I was at this stage with my ex-fiance, I'd put headphones in while I was cooking, so he wouldn't bother me, and I'd work out what exactly I'd need to escape, how much time I'd likely have to get out and where I'd hide all those things. Although this sounds daunting, it provided me with an escape from reality. I didn't know how long I would have to continue living in the house since I was back and forth about whether to stay or leave. And when times got tough, I'd imagine every possible scenario, making me feel better and a bit more prepared.

Also, consider items of sentimental value you wouldn't want to lose, like jewellery from your family, notes, journals etc.

You can buy many things online to help you hide things and even record, so you can use that as evidence. So here are my favourite items. Remember to purchase these with your loadable gas station credit card.

4. Share it With Yourself

You'll find yourself unable to tell others about what you're experiencing when you, yourself aren't yet sure. Putting chaotic thoughts into words can feel impossible, and if you can't tell yourself what's happening, you'll probably not tell another person. Because I was isolated in the African bush, I would put my headphones in, turn on the audio recording app on my phone, and talk to myself as I went for a walk.

I didn't have someone to process with, but I DID have myself, so I pulled out my phone and spoke to it as if I was on the phone, chatting away to myself. It was odd at first, but then I got used to it. I wasn't going to send it to someone, so it was a space where I allowed myself to sound stupid and unorganized, and it ended up being one of the most profound things I did. When we're in these abusive, not-so-good environments, having someone else tell us it's unhealthy and that we need to leave can often create more harm and result in us staying.

That's why so many of us don't tell others because their brutal honesty sometimes threatens our very survival. But when I started talking to myself out loud, I shifted my perspective and even more so when I would listen to myself back. I was listening in on my own realizations, anger, hurt, fear and vulnerability differently than I'd ever interacted with myself before. Someone else wasn't speaking in on my life; that was me! I was speaking about my life in ways I hadn't been able to in the past because all my thoughts were stuck inside my head.

When you've successfully figured out how to share what you're experiencing with yourself, this makes it a little more doable to share with a trusted person. This has been an incredible tool for my clients to help them process (no matter how much they say they hate their voice).

There are many other articles with different tips, but I wanted to share the four essential actions I took to escape from an abusive man while living in the African bush. I had to end an engagement and return to my family (who weren't supportive of the relationship in the first place) with my tail between my legs. I spent my entire savings to make the relationship work and messed up my mental health too. There's no situation that should cause you to feel like you can't back out of something - no matter how embarrassed or ashamed you feel. Your priority is to find an environment in which you can bloom - that's your one job on this earth, and if you're not blooming and blossoming, then it's time to get out of the shade.

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