'I've Had Such Lows': Discussions on Rebuilding Boundaries After Abuse
Two strangers, McKenzie and Nicole, open up about their recovery from domestic violence and how past trauma impacts their current relationships.
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A Conversation with McKenzie and Nicole
In this episode, McKenzie and Nicole discuss how their past abusive relationships impact their lives today. McKenzie, who found healing and support in a new, healthy relationship, shared her experience with Nicole, who remains fearful of opening up again.
Over the course of the discussion, McKenzie and Nicole swapped stories about their past abusive partners. This shared experience gave McKenzie space to show Nicole how she learned to love again after such a harrowing experience. McKenzie admitted that she also didn't date for years after her abusive relationship, but has since gotten better at pinpointing what abuse looks like. In her current relationship, McKenzie, "know[s] that this is what love is supposed to feel like."
When it comes to moving on to a new relationship, Nicole's biggest barrier is finding a balance between not standing up for herself when she doesn't like something and, on the other end of the spectrum, having aggressive responses to small disagreements. Navigating her trauma responses remains a work-in-progress, but Nicole knows she will continue to heal when she sets boundaries for herself and speaks up when those boundaries are violated.
My grandpa does everything for my grandma, and so I had very high expectations for love and relationships, and I'd been in some pretty messed up relationships. I'd been in a very abusive one. The relationship was going really well at first. I was like, "Oh, this is the man I'm going to marry." But then when it came time to go back to college, there was a party going on one time, and all of these girls were trying to come up and hug him, and he'd kind of shut himself off and look at me real quick.
I was like, "You can hug your friends. That's fine." I didn't connect the dots until the next day when I found bobby pins that weren't mine in his room and I was like, "He is cheating on me." I didn't realize that I needed out of the relationship until I was visiting him one time. He was playing video games and he got so mad he broke a window in his apartment. He didn't want to pay that charge [so] he took a piece of the glass and slit his forehead and told the apartment owner that he had fallen headfirst into the window and that's how it broke.
I was like, "No, if you're OK with mutilating yourself, what would you do to me?"
So when I went home, I was like, "No, we're done."
This is not going to work. This is not going to work! Yeah, no thanks.
No thank you! I did this all over text because I knew if I called him again, he'd be able to talk me out of it. And he called me and I wasn't answering, and I was listening to the voicemails and he was sobbing, saying, "I'm so sorry. I won't cheat on you ever again."
The semester ends and he moves back home, and like I said, he lived a mile down the road from me and he would show up at my house at random times during the night—never during the day. It got to a point where I'm like, "You need to stop coming to my house. You're not welcome here. I don't want you on my property."
Then when that wasn't working, he would text me constantly. I had to block his phone number. So then he started texting me off his brother's phone. I had to block that number. I had to block him on Facebook. I had to block them on Instagram. He would get texting apps: text me off of those. I would block those.
Eventually, my mom and my stepdad had to come over to my house, and then we called the cops together. The cop came out to my house and we did all of the, you know, no contact. And the cop called him off of my phone saying, "I'm informing you personally, you're no longer allowed to contact this woman."
It just made me feel so worthless and like a piece of property that he felt he owned, more than a person that deserved respect. Do you think that affected your relationship and why you stayed in it as long as you did?
Because I think that that affected mine. I'm like, "We're disagreeing, but we can work it through because that's what my grandparents did."
That's what my parents do.
Yeah. You don't know where the line is because you're always told if it's the person you're meant to be with, you will find a way to make it work.
You'll figure it out.
I was raised in the Midwest in a family where my parents were married and went to college and were really religious, and we were supposed to grow up a certain way. And when I started dating, that's not how it went at all. I started acting and modeling, and I met this guy in an acting class when I was 17. He wrote me poetry and I was super artsy and I was like, "Aww."
Oh, of course!
So that's what initially hooked me. I was attending college the next year after we met. I'm a really big Winnie the Pooh fan, so he would leave Winnie the Pooh stuff and flowers and stuff on my car. But again, I didn't park in the same place, so it took me a while to figure out, "He's stalking me."
I think by that point we'd already been dating for a year. He was my first everything: my first sexual experience, my first every kind of experience that you can have as a young woman. He took me out on some dates, and in my mind, I'm like, "Oh, this is nice." But then in retrospect, everything was to manipulate and control, like putting the flowers in the Winnie the Pooh and stuff—he was really strategic, and I didn't understand any of that.
I thought I was in love with him and I moved in with him. He wouldn't give me a key. Then he just turned into a completely different person, which honestly, he was probably always that person. I just didn't see it.
But then it got real real when I had been gone from home for two weeks. I didn't have a phone. I'm really close to my family, so I'm at the payphone and I am in tears, like, "What is happening?
This is not what I thought living with my boyfriend was going to be like." She was just like, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you're going through this." So it was like—I don't know—a three minute conversation because I ran out of change and I'm like, "I love you." And she's like, "I'm thinking about you, and it's going to get better."
And then I turn around to walk home and he's right there in the car. But he worked in Burbank at the time. So I start walking towards the apartment and he starts accusing me of being with some man. So I go to try to get into the door. He stops the car in the middle of the street, jumps out, runs in the house, locks the door. I sat on that curb for seven hours. He would not let me in.
And then about 10 o'clock that night he comes out. He just opens the door but he doesn't say anything. So I just push past him. He tried to offer me food. I went like this to the plate. And in my mind, I was like, "Ooh, why did I do that? Is this bad?" I was out of sorts. I didn't know really how to respond.
The next morning, he said he was going to get breakfast. The whole time he was gone, I was looking for a knife. I'm just like, "What the hell, man? Like what? This is so not me. This is bad, but how do I get out of it?"
So he comes home, it's Saturday. He pulls a gun out. Never seen a gun, ever, except on TV. So he puts it in my lap. And I remember it being really heavy. He starts crying and he's just like, "If I can't be with you and I can't make you happy, then nobody can. Then he's like, "Shoot me, shoot me." And I just started running. I just ran. I just ran.
Well I'm really happy that you got out of it, and that you knew to run at that moment. Oh my gosh, that is so scary.
I know a big part of what I've learned and I've gotten better at now—I'm not married or in a relationship now—is if I feel that something is happening or is being done and I don't like it, I speak up immediately. Before I would wait if I felt like, "Ooh, this makes me uncomfortable. I'm not sure," I would swallow it, which is a messed up way to look at it.
But then the flip side of that is that I've had to also learn to reel in. I think sometimes I flip out unnecessarily because of the trauma. It's a trauma response. I'm like "What? You're doing that? Oh, I'm gone." It's like, "Wait, was that really necessary for you to cuss him completely out or hang up on him?" He doesn't understand. Just try to explain it to him. I'm like, "I apologize. I have some traumas that I'm still trying to work through. What you said triggered that. And I think that was my response. That's what you got. I'm not usually like that all the time, but I'm dealing with some stuff. I'm working through it." That's where I'm at now—trying to find that happy medium and balance of having boundaries, setting boundaries for myself, speaking up when I feel like I need to, but not overly doing it—
They have their own history.
—listening to him too because he's probably got his own trauma responses as well. So am I listening to him, or am I just like "Me, me, me, I'm her. I'm the victim. I'm this," but not listening? That's not going to get us anywhere, either.
I didn't date for years because I didn't know what would have been considered abuse. So I think now it's definitely forced me to really pay attention to what's going on. It's made me really aware of myself and what I do in a relationship. It's helped me find my flaws: I've got depression and anxiety so I can get very agitated, very quickly. It wasn't until I found the man I'm with now that I'm like, "I don't want to do that to him. That's not fair to him because these guys are doing it to me." And I was so unhappy. It inspired me to get on medication for it and control it because he doesn't deserve that.
Going through what I did, I would die if I ever made anybody feel the way that I felt, and so it's definitely helped me work on myself quite a bit. It was rough for a little bit, but I'm really happy that I went through it, as weird as that sounds like, "Oh, I'm so happy!" but I am.
But now you can compare what you have now—to be appreciative.
Exactly. And it makes the good times so much better because I've had such lows that now I know I'm being treated like a queen. I know that this is what love is supposed to feel like. I don't have to question it any more. And that's such a relief.
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