Dear James, Part 4

Dear James,

Do you remember the first time you were abusive to me?  I do.  It was a Saturday morning and we had plans to go to a car show.  You told me I was being too cheerful, that I needed to be quiet in the morning.  Do you remember doing this?  I do.  I was taken aback and thought you were kidding.  You weren’t.  And do you remember what I did next?  I apologized.  To you.  For being cheerful and excited about spending the day with you.  I would do this a million more times for things that included:

  • Smiling
  • Being too happy
  • Being silly
  • Talking too loudly
  • Laughing
  • Humming

When we first met, these were all things you loved about me.  Why were they then, after only a few weeks, starting to bother you?   The saddest thing of all is that I believed you. I also believed that there was something terribly wrong with me and tried until nearly that last day we were together to be the girl you wanted me to be.  I lost every part of me trying to be that girl.


There were brief periods when I thought I had figured it out.  My attempts, however, would fail at every turn.  Any of the above scenarios would be turned upside down when you would then claim that I was:

  • Too quiet
  • Too serious
  • Hiding something
  • Disinterested

This caused me even more anxiety, confusion and despair.  I didn’t realize then that you were actually a disordered sociopath who deliberately controlled and manipulated me with a set of ever-changing rules and with no boundary you weren’t willing to cross. You, however, had carte blanche to live your life however you chose and were self-assured in establishing your own boundaries that were never to be crossed or questioned.

The other component, beyond you being a sociopath, is the cyclical nature of abuse.  My attempts would seem to work during the honeymoon period, then tensions would build and I would desperately scramble to try other ways of managing your behavior, followed by you exploding in either rage or, your favorite, the silent treatment.  And then it would start all over again.  It went from every three weeks at the beginning of our relationship to every three days at the end. Every three fucking days.

And when I write this I just imagine all the arguments you have crafted to say that I am either to blame or that I like playing the victim.  Sorry, your PhD won’t save you with this one.  I am neither to blame nor do I enjoy playing the victim.  If you were really listening, you’d hear that I’m playing the survivor.  A survivor who is trying and succeeding at getting her life back after you tore it apart on purpose to fill your black hole of abject self-hatred.



Leaving Las Vegas

The most intense abuse I experienced with James was always during the times we traveled. I believe that all bets were off once we got into the car or the plane took off from the runway.  It was his opportunity to ditch his mask of sporadic kindness for the real James to emerge.

Our first trip was six weeks into our relationship where we visited to my parents en route to a folk festival.  He was very cold and distant in the car, annoyed at me in general, criticized my driving, didn’t like the music I played on the radio and said I was acting “too happy.”

This was confusingly followed by him being delightful when we met and spent a day with my parents.  Then cold and withdrawn when we left to attend the folk festival the next day. There was a tiny voice in my head telling me that something wasn’t quite right.  I ignored it and decided that he must have been a little nervous meeting my parents, work stress or maybe I’d done something wrong.

A month of two after that we flew to Las Vegas for a few days.  While in Las Vegas, my sweet friend Laura was also there.  She had said to text if we wanted to meet up.  But with a long weekend kind of trip, she and I knew it wasn’t very likely that we’d have time to connect.  And James wasn’t keen on the idea, wanting to spend times “just as a couple.”


Well, connect we did, albeit only by a flurry of texts, on the last night of the trip.  I was so upset and nearly left to stay with her and look for a flight home after James went nutty on me for taking too long in the bathroom at a casino.   Yes, you are reading that correctly. Somehow my taking too long in the bathroom translated to me doing something suspicious on my phone with the implication being I had gone to the bathroom to text someone else.  I wasn’t gone any longer than usual and was not texting.  I was peeing for chrissakes!

I was still more of the old Jenny then as it was so early in our relationship (my sweet noggin had not yet been eroded) and was able to call him out about his behavior.  I told him that I would never cheat on him, that he was treating me poorly and that I would never treat him the way he was treating me.  I started to cry.  And instead of just talking through this or being gentle to me, he said I wanted attention, was being dramatic and that he wasn’t going to speak to me. We walked back to the hotel and I cried myself to sleep.

Sometime during the night I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep.  We were staying in a suite so there was a full couch in the next room.  I took a blanket and my phone and surfed on Pinterest and Facebook.  (This was before I learned to completely stay off all social media and my phone in general.)  James got up an hour or so later to go to the bathroom, saw me on my phone, shook his head and walked back to the bedroom.

I followed him, laid down next to him and tried to put my arm around him.  He took my arm and threw it back to my side.  He said I should just go text whoever I was texting before.  Which again, I was not!   We ended up leaving the next day with him barely speaking to me.  When we got back to Chicago?  He was his delightful self again and acted as if nothing at all had ever happened.

This acting as if nothing had happened would be an ongoing theme in our relationship.  It caused me to be very confused about what was happening and if I was misunderstanding what had actually occurred.  This is called gaslighting.  Yep, it’s a thing.  Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions.  It is also classic sociopath behavior and worked well in destroying my ability to trust my instincts.

Something I want to clarify for anyone who is thinking, “he sounds like an asshole but being an asshole does not an abuser make.”  Yes, James was/is an asshole.  But he is also an abuser and this is why.  Anyone can have moments (myself absolutely included) where they are off, say something they regret or are unkind.  The difference is that with abuse, there is a PATTERN OR BEHAVIOR meant to control, manipulate or cause fear, obligation or guilt.  And that is a big damn difference. It’s this pattern that became the cycle of abuse I endured for months longer than I ever should have.


If You Are Scared

I talked a little bit about being scared yesterday.  If you are reading this and are scared, even just a little scared, I urge you to seek help right now.  Do not discount your fear.  It is so common for those of us who have been abused to lose our ability to trust our instincts. This is absolutely intentional on the part of our abusers.  But that fear?  It means something.  It is your brain fighting for you and trying so hard to keep you safe.

Leaving an abuser can be dangerous.  As much as I’d like to share with you the safety plan I used to extract myself from James, I don’t think it’s the best idea.  The dynamic of what I was experiencing is not going to be the same for you.  I want you to feel safe and BE safe.


Nationally, these are two resources for you that are available 24/7:

Genesis Women’s Shelter

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Another important resource is a risk assessment called the S-Dash 11 which is available through Paladin, an amazing UK organization.  The S-Dash 11 can be found by clicking on “Advice” then “Advice for Victims” on the link below:

Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service

In the western suburbs of Chicago, there are two shelters that have advised and supported me personally.  Pillars confirmed that I was the victim of domestic violence and helped me develop a safe exit plan for leaving James.  Family Shelter Service provided me with an advocate at the DuPage Courthouse during the process of obtaining  a temporary order of protection (which is something I will talk about soon) when I was scared out of my mind. Here are their links:

Pillars/Constance Morris House

Family Shelter Service

Your abuser will make you feel crazy.  This is intentional.  Your abuser will make you feel like the abuse is your fault.  This is intentional.  Your abuser will deny the abuse.  This is intentional.  Your abuser will play the victim.  This is intentional.

Do not be fooled by your abuser.  Trust that voice, however small, that is telling you that something is wrong.  And no matter what your abuser may say, there is someone who believes you.  I believe you.  You are not alone.



A Letter from James to Jenny

“You were the abusive one all along, cheating and lying at will, and any pain you’ve suffered is not nearly what you deserve.”


The above passage was part of a much longer e-mail ever so lovingly crafted from James to me.  It was the very last communication I ever received from him and earned him a temporary order of protection.

The last part…not nearly what I deserve…haunts me even now.  It’s caused me not to sleep at night.  It’s caused me fear in my home.  It’s caused me fear at work.  It’s with me now as I sit in my favorite spot on the couch with my dachshund curled up next to me.  I have so much hope that it will lessen in time.  But for now, fear is my companion.

I’m left to wonder what exactly he thought I deserved beyond what he had already inflicted upon me?  I believe that he was going to continue to stalk me either covertly as he had done for most of our relationship (for another day) or overtly by showing up to my home and business, as he had also already done.

He went on to say that I was:

  • Pathetic
  • Emotionally retarded
  • Cowardly
  • Immature
  • The antithesis of what he wanted his young daughter to become
  • A compulsive liar

I am none of these things.  None.  I’m not even going to defend myself beyond that because I know my worth.  Those traits above?   All projection and all traits possessed by James.  By no means am I saying that I’m without flaws.  (And I’m not a slut, something else he accused me of in that letter.)  I’m the first to openly admit that I am nowhere near perfect.  But the monster in the room?  It’s not me.

What I would like James to know is what exactly I did deserve from him.  How about:

  • Compassion
  • Trust
  • Tenderness
  • Love
  • Protection

While James has a PhD, he is no doctor.  Otherwise he may have been familiar with this phrase, “Primum non nocere.” This means “First, do no harm.” This is not something James has as part of his internal structure.  James is the opposite, causing signficant harm and lasting trauma.

I’m here to tell any of you who may be facing your own James that there is help and there is hope.  Just as I deserve to suffer no additional pain, neither do you.

Red Flags #1-#2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, James and I met online via an online dating site.  His profile reads (then and now…yes, he’s back online both OK Cupid and and who knows where else looking for his new soulmate) absolutely quirky and delightful.

We exchanged some silly messages back and forth via the dating site’s messaging system then switched to texting.  His texts were attentive, engaging, timely, complimentary and so funny.  They were also tender as we discussed certain parts of our past.

When I’d say something sweet or he’d find out we had something really obscure in common he would text back that I was his soulmate or the ever popular, “Will you marry me?”   I fell for that hook, line and sinker.  And while you wouldn’t necessarily think so, all of this was Red Flag #1 that I missed.  He was slathering me with false flattery and mirroring my interests, both of which are Sociopath 101.

Red Flag #2 occurred during our texting whirlwind.  A few days into texting, James called me on a Saturday night, totally out of the blue.  We had never spoken before and he accused me, in a joking sort of way, of being a catfish.  If you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon, look up MTV’s show Catfish or the original documentary, Catfish.  It’s pretty messed up stuff.


I laughed it off and told him I wasn’t, gave him my full name and told him to look me up on LinkedIn or Facebook. Which he did and immediately friended me on Facebook.  Then, even after doing this, he asked me a day or so later to text a picture with something he told me to write on a piece of paper so that he would know without any doubt that it was me.  I gladly obliged. Yes, gladly…I know!   After being out of the dating world for 20 years and then plunging into the digital age?  I was woefully naive and unprepared.

What I know now is that James was projecting about me being a catfish.  He had different profiles on OK Cupid (and likely other sites as well) and most definitely was catfishing other women when I met him, after I met him and even now.  I believe he likely started doing this while still married to ex-wife.  This was not a post-divorce habit he picked up. No way.  So his worry of me being a catfish was not just a passing worry.  He had done this to other people, knew karma was a bitch and figured it was his turn to be caught on the hook. I’m certain of it.  How exactly am I so certain?  James is a sociopath.  This is what they do.

Can I tell you I’m starting to feel kinda strong?  Like the old Jenny is finding her way back. This is not a fun time in my life.  But I have found kindness and love in some pretty amazing places.  And I’m not making the same mistakes that I’ve made in the past.  Red flags? They aren’t warnings for me.  They aren’t, “Hey, Jenny, you might want to be careful.” No, they are unequivocal deal breakers where I get to say, “Sayonara, asshole.”




Sand in my Toes

Spent yesterday with my daughter at the lakefront in Indiana.  I could see the skyline of Chicago in the distance and felt the tiniest pang of sadness and ick.  While I live in suburbia, James is a city boy and so much of the abuse I experienced happened there.


I was worried this weekend would be particularly hard as my son is traveling  in Europe for two weeks with his high school band.  And my teenage daughter most often has (as she should) plans with her friends.  So the weekends can be the hardest for me.  The quiet moments feel overwhelming at times.  It’s those moments where I force myself to remember the Jenny I was and that she has lightness and purpose.

My life was with James was miserable and small.  I love that I can jump in my car and go wherever I want.  I love that I can meet my friends for dinner and drinks or a walk in the woods.  I love that I can spend a peaceful day with my daughter at the dunes.  All without fear, suspicion, anxiety and control from someone whose goal was to delight in abusing me.  To breathe in and out without heaviness and fear is freedom.  I will never give that up.

Mr. Darcy Had a Brother?

James was truly meant to live in a different era.  I picture him in a Jane Austen novel, properly dressed in a long woolen coat and riding pants.  He could be Mr. Darcy’s disordered younger brother who is brooding and dark.  I say this because James and technology?  So not a match made in heaven.  My phone in particular?  The source of his greatest paranoia and great pain and confusion for me.  Let me explain.

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I am a small business owner.  A large part of my work outside of shop hours can be and is done remotely via my iPhone.  I’m also a single mom who shares custody of her children with my ex.  My iPhone and texting is how I stay in touch with my two on days when they are with their dad.   Re-read what I wrote.  Is there anything suspicious about this?  No, right?

James hated my phone.  “Who are you texting, who called, what are you looking at?   You said you were on Pinterest but I saw that you were on Messenger at 3:00am.”  These questions were asked every single day.  I learned quickly to just turn my phone off and put it away.  (And even quicker to NEVER go on Facebook outside of work hours.)  Although when I first started to be phone-less I got, “Why don’t you have your phone.  It’s really weird that it’s in your purse.  Why would you leave it there?”  In other words, there was no way to play by his ever-changing unwritten rules that ever worked.

Interestingly, at one point toward the end of the relationship, he even asked if he could be part of my cell plan.  No joke.  I’m pretty sure he would have spent quality time reviewing inbound and outbound calls and texts.  The scary thing is?  If I wouldn’t have broken things off, I think I probably would have allowed him on the plan.  That’s how sick and enmeshed I was.

In any event, around Christmas I changed cell phone providers and upgraded my phone. For some reason the provider did not turn on access to my voice mail.  So you could call me and I could answer but if for any reason I couldn’t get to the phone, it would just ring and ring.  And sometimes, for whatever reason, even if I wasn’t on the phone you would hear a busy signal.  I tried correcting this any number of times by called T-Mobile with no luck.

If James called and got the busy, which happened every so often, he would be very upset and become immediately accusatory.  “I just called and I’m getting a busy signal.”  Which was always, always followed up with, “It took you really long to answer. Were you talking to someone else?  I don’t understand why it’s ringing busy.”

FOR THE LOVE, JAMES, I don’t understand why it’s busy either.  And no, I wasn’t talking to anyone.  I talk to nearly nobody but you.  My world is small.  I am not seeing anyone else.  I have never cheated on you.  Never dated anyone while dating you.  Never texted another boy while dating you.  Never, never, never.  Not even at the very end when you were so sure that I was.  I should have been, though, for the amount of shit you piled on me by accusing me over and over.

Yesterday, I walked into a T-Mobile store with my phone in hand.  I explained the voicemail issue and they corrected it.  It feels good knowing there was something wrong with my phone.  That there was an actual glitch on their end.  I also asked about the busy signal and they said they couldn’t explain the technological reasons why but that “it happens.”

The fear I felt (and still feel) surrounding my cell phone use is deep.  The irony is that James could have taken my phone at any damn point and looked at it.  Searched my history, read my texts, looked at my call log.  He would have found nothing.  Maybe a few searches I forgot to delete on domestic violence.  But not ONE THING to show that I was doing anything untoward.  That’s not who I am.  And it’s not important if he believes that or not anymore.  All that matters is what I know to be true.