I’ve been waiting for the right time to discuss my past experience with my abuser. Waiting for the courage to put it all out there and to make sure I’m indeed ready to have it in print, on the internet.
With the whole Gillette debacle on everyone’s news feeds last month, I thought this might be the right time. Let me preface this story by inviting you to watch the commercial if you have not yet:
We believe: the best men can be’ razors commercial takes on toxic masculinity
As I watched the commercial, literal tears filled my eyes. As a sister of two young boys, a dance teacher who works with little ones every day, and an abuse survivor, I was moved. It’s like Gillette knew my story and made a commercial that could actually make a difference! I felt so empowered and personally connected to their message. The words “boys will be boys” were said to me by a local police officer after my abuser had smashed the side mirror off my car. A person of authority who was supposed to protect me said the words, “boys will be boys.” Maybe you think those words hold no negative weight and you think that I’m being a whiny, politically correct baby, but in all the times I’ve heard the phrase, it’s used as an excuse to justify disrespectful, disruptive, or just plain rude behavior. If the words “girls will be girls” were used to excuse girls’ disrespectful behavior I would have the same opinion. In that moment with the police officer and in other moments throughout my life, especially the dramatic 3 months with my ex, is when I realized that something has got to change in the way we raise men.
Taryn’s Truth is not supposed to be political, and I personally don’t feel like politics have anything to do with the Gillette commercial and those associating politics with it have truly missed the point. If your first instinct is disgust and you feel there is an “agenda” against the true-American man (whatever that means), then I want you to take a moment an envision your daughter, sister, mother, or even your grandmother getting grabbed as they walk down a city street. Envision a man threatening them so vividly that they have to drive 5 hours out-of-town to feel safe. Envision them downplaying their own talents and dreams, because their man has to be more important. Envision them shaking with fear as the man of their dreams (so they thought) wouldn’t stop threatening them. Envision them being told that they aren’t as capable as men. Envision them reaching out for help and no one would believe them, not even the authorities.
All of these things are very real and I know, because all those things above are part of my story. The worst part is that this isn’t just a part of my narrative. This is happening or happened to women I know everywhere! I would go to work and it happened to women there. I went to a coffee shop and ended up talking about a woman’s abuser there. I would share something on Facebook and I would have a handful of women reach out and say it happened to them too! WHAT? I couldn’t believe this.
As I began to unravel my story and other women’s stories, I realized that the amount of physical, mental, and emotional abuse was staggering.
My story begins as a nineteen-year-old who was broken, partying daily, having a ton of fun, but living with extremely low self-worth. I wont lie, there were some amazing memories in that college town, and I met some people who I will always be close with, but I also had my lowest points there too.
I had just broken up with my first college boyfriend of three months and had lost some weight (from stress, super healthy right?). I had a lot of new attention from guys and it felt amazing. My lifestyle was work, party, work, party and then….my ex walked into the picture. Boy, was I hooked. He was so masculine and that felt safe. It felt like he would protect me through anything. Looking back now, I realized that growing up my home life was a bit of a roller coaster, so finding that “safe” feeling was a result of living with up-and-down chaos. I still wrestle with life being too comfortable and not being okay with contentment to this day. If life is fabulous right now, something awful must be headed my way soon, right?
Our first year of the relationship was long-distance, which was fun. He was a college athlete, which was also really attractive to me, because that meant he was goal-oriented. He seemed to be motivated about the future and wanted to strive for bigger and better things. After about 6 months, I really thought he was the one. He had shared with me that he was in anger management classes and had spent a weekend in jail for mistakes he had made in the past. He didn’t go into too much detail, but I thought, “hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?” Later on, more information was shared with me, and I realized I had ignored a pretty large red flag.
At about a year we were in a transitional stage. He got offered to play at the D2 level at Wayne State, and asked if I would come with. At this point I was ready for a change and my grades weren’t good enough to get into any other schools in MN (whoops). I followed him, because ya know, love. Living together was fine at first. As the year went on, I gained confidence in my academic ability, but, I was loosing confidence in our relationship. I started to notice little things like intimacy was lacking. I felt completely unwanted all the time, like I wasn’t desirable or pretty enough. I felt alone. I realized that I had been dating this man (boy) for a year and a half and I knew nothing about him. We shared nothing. I was craving that openness and connection. Thankfully my communication major helped me achieve a lot of that. The Wayne State Comm. Department really saved me in many ways. They were my people. The people I could open up to about what was going on in my relationship and didn’t judge me, ever (love you all).
At the end of our first year living together, we both were unhappy. It was evident, but I was terrified to bring anything up to him. He was the most intimidating person to talk too, so I shut down. I knew he could never see my point of view and deep down I knew that was a big problem. I decided to write it all down and spill my feelings in a letter. We went back to MN for the summer and I left the letter on his bed. He said nothing. In fact, ignored me and disregarded all of my feelings, basically making me feel crazy. I “messed up” by writing it. A couple of days later I left for Australia in the midst of not knowing where my relationship stood. I came back and we still never really talked about it, but I stayed in the relationship anyway. My biggest excuse was that “we always had so much fun together.” Truthfully I just didn’t know who I would be without him. It felt like I couldn’t breath thinking about not having him in my life.
We carried on being together into the next school year. Very disconnected, but still together. We did however, decide to live separately. We thought having our own space would be better for the relationship. Now I know it was just a preparation for the end. The memories are fuzzy at this point, but this is the year that everything changed.
Over the summer prior to the life-changing school year, I had made some horrible choices. I felt so incredibly lonely that I found comfort in old habits like partying and other guys. I can’t blame him for those choices. I should have walked away from the relationship, but I just couldn’t let go 100%. He’d pull away and then pull me back in again. I think down deep I knew that if I were to let go, he wouldn’t have let me.
Flash forward to the school year. I wasn’t happy and we had good moments in between the mess, but my drinking escalated. Not daily, but when I would go out, the amount went up. It was the only time I felt free and one night I felt a little too free, and made a mistake. My ex found out and all the choices from the summer prior started to unravel. To put it lightly, shit hit the fan, and his “other side” came out in full force and this is when I was introduced to what I now know as my abuser.
I can’t repeat the names I was called. It was mortifying and demeaning and because I was the one messing up, I thought I deserved it. I was the screwed up one that wasn’t faithful. I found out later that he was unfaithful throughout our relationship (interesting how that works). All of these mistakes happened while drinking and in order to save myself and the relationship I checked myself into out-patient treatment for 3 weeks. I dealt with some heavy emotional baggage there and when I came out, I was stronger, but still emotionally fragile and I think my ex looked at it as a way to manipulate me. I was the one that needed help, not him, so he held that over my head as a control tactic. I think he felt like some sort of knight in shining armour, but turns out I had learned coping mechanisms to become my own savior.
I was sober for 9 months and as I got healthier, the relationship got weaker. We technically broke up in January, but continued doing whatever we were doing until we went back to MN for the summer. That was the most mentally painful summer I have ever had. It was also the summer that changed my life. I worked with a sponsor and constantly worked on myself. I had my family for support and I spent saturday nights with my mom listening to motivational speakers rather than partying in uptown. I saw my ex maybe 5 times that summer. We would go days without speaking and I remember my heart physically hurting. I still couldn’t let go completely.
When we got back to school, we hung out one night and I gave him a choice. I said I was done living in the grey area and we would either make this work and put our 100% effort into the relationship or we would be nothing at all. I didn’t need him at this point, but after three years together, there was still some love left there. He couldn’t give me an answer, so I decided no answer was my answer. At this point forward I was done!
I felt alive, refreshed, and strong. I was back in my comfort zone. I was super involved in my comm. department, my PR internship, and coaching. I had amazing roommates who supported me throughout everything, including my sobriety. We would go out and have a blast. I realized I was fine on my own. After awhile I decided to talk to other men and go on a few dates. This was the start of the most stressful and difficult three months of my life. Apparently I was done, but my ex wasn’t.
After he realized that he had lost me and lost control of me, the insanity kicked in. It started with threats on social media and trying to intimidate friends or anyone I was possibly talking too. His drinking was out of control. From the outside looking in it seemed as though he was spiraling. I had blocked his number and social media contact with him, so he would email me. One message would say how I ruined his life and I was a slut, whore, etc…Another email would say how much he loved me and would have to kill himself if he didn’t get me back. I was so nervous that he would take his own life that at one point I sent the cops to his house to check on him. My mom had conversations with him to try to get him into treatment. He said he would go, so of course my sympathetic self decided to be there for him, as a friend. It was just more manipulation.
I was talking to a guy at the time and my ex found out. He wanted to talk and I got in the car with him. Looking back I have no idea why I continued to play his game, but I was terrified. He made me tell him the guy’s name and after I finally did, out of fear, he left me in a parking lot all the way across town. I had to call someone else to pick me up. The next weekend I was with the new guy at the bar with friends. My ex showed up and got in his face. The whole baseball team escorted me out of the bar safely thank goodness. He then proceeded to threaten the guy by saying things like, “I know where you live. She’s a psycho, you’re making a mistake. Better watch your back.” That same night, he broke into a baseball house and punched a random guy in the face.
I tried to manage his behavior on my own and even though I knew what he was doing was wrong, I still didn’t know if I should involve the police. I honestly think I was in shock. I had read about women in these situations before, but could NOT come to terms with the fact that the women I read about was now me. My family and friends finally convinced me that the police needed to be involved. I brought proof of all the threats on social media and email. So much proof that I thought they would have to arrest him or do something, but nope. There was no direct threat that actually stated my full name, so their “hands were tied” and “boys will be boys.” There was nothing they could legally do.
After this, calling the cops became a regular occurrence. One night, at 2am, my ex was yelling outside my house, banging on all the doors and windows. My roommates and I were hidden behind the couch dialing 911, because he wouldn’t leave. This happened twice. Still there was nothing the cops could do.
The next couple weeks were filled with more crazy incidents. He burnt my grandma’s table that I had left at his house in a bonfire and emailed me pictures of it. He kicked the side mirror off my car, dented, and keyed it. I had started casually dating another guy and he threatened the guy’s family. He figured out how to call me, even though I blocked his number. I woke up multiple mornings in a row with 100+ missed calls. I had to turn my phone off, because it would vibrate all night. He logged into all my social media accounts and changed passwords, deleted friends, and sent horrible messages to people.
This was it. I needed to do something. I went up to Minnesota for a weekend out of sheer fear, because the behavior was escalating at such a rapid rate. I couldn’t help but think about what he would possibly do next?
The next step was Haven House, a local organization that helps and can give shelter to victims of abuse. They encouraged me to get an order or protection and walked me through the whole process. I filled out the paperwork and a week later, turned it into the judge. Within hours, because of all the proof I had and his prior convictions, the judge granted it and served him the papers the same night. I was free at last.
The following months I carried on and started healing. I was jumpy or as some would say, had PTSD symptoms for almost a full year after everything went on. But, I had an amazing support system. My classmates, my roommates, friends, family. They all were there and I will never be able to thank them enough.
Shortly after, Kyle came into my life. At first, my friends were concerned. Had I healed enough to begin something with someone else? Trust me, I wrestled with this concept for a while too, and while it was a little quick, there was something about Kyle that was too great to pass up.
The way we clicked was organic. It just felt right. He knew what had happened to me a couple of months prior. Instead of turning away and saying I had too much baggage…he helped me heal. He would hold me as I cried. It was never “I” with him, it was always “we.” How are WE going to fix this and oh boy, did I try to push him away. He didn’t budge and I’m forever grateful. It’s like God knew that I needed a blessing after everything I had gone through, so he sent me Kyle. Over two years later, and I still look at him with butterflies, most days (hehe).
In regards to my sobriety….I realized that I was trying to get sober for a person that controlled me and I started the treatment process for all the wrong reasons, BUT I am so incredibly glad I took 9 months to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol. I don’t regret it for one second. I dealt with things I probably never would have, because I was sober and working on myself. For over two years now I’ve been able to enjoy alcohol minimally and not lean on it to cope or for emotional support. Kyle and I both decided that drinking doesn’t need to be a huge part of our lives.
Writing this story took me over a week. Still to this day, I start shaking when I think about it. The toughest part is knowing I was a “victim.” I don’t want people to pity me or feel bad for me. I want to be an inspiration or possibly a beacon of hope for those in abusive situations. I don’t mind sharing my story, but it is so damn difficult for me to identify with the word, “victim.” I feel like a damn warrior! I know I’m not weak, but for me, as a person who prides themselves on their resiliency, it was hard to grasp that I “let” him walk all over me for years. I made excuses for him. I obviously now know better, that this was NOT my fault. This was a part of my path and I firmly believe the strength that grew out of the trauma is how I was able to start my business and maintain a healthy, successful relationship with Kyle.
Let me conclude with a few points about unhealthy relationships and/or abuse:
- If they are overly jealous, protective, or judgemental. It’s not love, it’s control. There’s a difference. Some people love to control you, they don’t love you. Most times, because they don’t even know how to love or they themselves are out of control.
- I know that “getting out” is harder said than done. You probably think that you’re the only one that can “handle” your partner’s behavior and that staying is strong. It takes a tough person to work things out, right? If you leave, maybe you’re weak? NOT true! Putting yourself first is the ballsiest move you can make.
- LIFE IS TOO DAMN SHORT. I stayed a year too long trying to manage the relationship, and for what? I couldn’t fix him and you can’t fix your partner either. There’s so many amazing people in this world and there’s a lot of things in this life you can’t control. One thing you CAN control is who you spend it with. Somebody out there will love you the way you deserve and help put your broken pieces back together.
- You will never be enough for the wrong person!
- Stop blaming yourself and stop apologizing just to keep the peace. Did that forever just to avoid tough communication or fights. If you can’t have a real conversation with your partner, that’s a problem.
- Love takes daily maintenance, but maintenance that comes from both sides. 50/50!
- Love is not painful.
- Don’t stay just because feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all. Find love in other things or within your beautiful self, instead of putting all your eggs in your toxic partner’s basket.
In conclusion, the reason why the Gillette commercial means so much to me is because I’ve lived with disrespect, abuse, misogyny, and toxic masculinity. I know the definition for that word, toxic masculinity, is inconclusive and some people think there is a war on men and there very well might be. I do feel for them and understand the dichotomy of societal male expectations. They have to be a handy-man that’s strong, but also gentle and emotionally available. But, I don’t believe that was the theme of the commercial. The theme was to be better men NOT less manly.
Like the commercial talks about, there are so many men (like my wonderful Kyle) that are making changes in small and big ways. But, “some is not enough.”
The world doesn’t need less manly men, it needs less misogynistic men.
I hope my story empowers and inspires victims AND abusers to seek help. I do not have any ill feelings towards my abuser anymore. I have forgiven him and moved on. It’s taken years, but I did it. As buddha says, “you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.”
Thanks for reading!
If you are in a dangerous or unsafe situation, here are a few organizations and numbers you can reach out to:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Haven House Family Services Center Hotline: 1-800-440-4633
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453