EPIC JOURNEYS: Real People, Real Stories.
We know how isolating the experience of digital harassment can feel. EPIC JOURNEYS is our effort to help you feel less alone. These are interviews with real people who’ve lived with this problem or are living with it right now.
We invite you to reach out to share your story with us – your words could be the comfort and wisdom someone in this situation needs today. Provide contact details at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of us will call to talk it through.
*names have been changed to protect people’s identity
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I’m 48 years old and run my own communications and marketing business. I’ve been on my own for 4 years, single parenting young twins.
HOW LONG WERE YOU AND YOUR PARTNER TOGETHER?
*Mark and I lived together off and on for a decade. We were engaged but never married. It was a rocky relationship; a tense home life punctuated with periods of enviable travel, adventure and luxury brand shopping, LOL. Mark was self-made and had done exceptionally well financially. He had a high public profile, was active in the community and from the outside, was an ideal partner. It looked to everyone as if he and I were living THE life.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU LEAVE?
It’s still hard for me to admit what the relationship was: verbally and emotionally abusive and controlling. Living with him was to walk on proverbial eggshells: he could blow at any moment, without any apparent provocation. This was not-obvious control, encouraging me to stay small, quiet and pleasant or he’d rage. He was incomprehensibly jealous, so I rarely went out – it just wasn’t worth the accusations later. More obvious control was what I now recognize as stalking behaviour: phoning to check on me every 15 or 20 minutes when I was out anywhere without him, for instance.
I pretended this wasn’t the case. I diminished everything to save the idea of myself as a smart, strong, accomplished and educated woman, because that kind of woman doesn’t let something like this happen. What’s damning is the longer you avoid seeing the abuse for what it is and making excuses for your partner’s behaviour, the longer you stay.
Just the idea of leaving and how I’d manage it – because Mark would never “let” me go – was terrifying. I had to plot my way out in a very strategic way and I didn’t tell a soul because it felt too risky. It felt like a real possibility that Mark could kill me for “taking his kids” and abandoning ship.
I had to be clever. Months before my departure date, I forwarded my mail to a PO box. I opened a separate bank account. I started to pack things I knew he’d never notice, like kids toys and books, and I stored them in a friend’s garage. I siphoned money from a long dormant joint US account for a down-payment and few months rent until I could figure the rest out. I consulted a lawyer to make sure I was “allowed” to take money from the account.
I set my departure date for when Mark had board meetings I knew he had to attend. With little more than our clothes and the few things I’d managed to pack before hand, I took the kids and left our multi-million dollar house and lifestyle.
WHEN DID THE HARASSMENT START AND HOW?
Oh my God. Like, immediately. 30 or 40 text messages every day, I’m not even kidding. Plus emails. Plus phone calls. It was unreal. It swung from “I love you, I’m sorry, please come back” to “You fat cunt loser, the best thing you can do for the kids is kill yourself.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK? WHAT DID YOU DO?
I thought Mark was just out of his mind with grief and he’d calm down with time. I basically made excuses for his insane behaviour and for sure didn’t think he could or would keep it up – the sheer volume and ugliness of his communications was jaw-dropping.
After a month, I was advised (wisely pressured!) by a friend to file a police report – Mark was on a death threat kick at the time, and as she said, if anything happened to me, at least they could draw a straight line between Mark and I. It’s crazy to think about now.
I also started seeing a therapist. I was scared and seriously out of my mind. Here I thought I’d just done the hardest thing I’d ever do – the daylight equivalent of a midnight move, alone with two toddlers, no family near by and no plan for how I’d make my life work - and now here I was suddenly being viciously harassed 15 hours a day. I was totally in survival mode and barely coping.
WERE YOU DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING?
Oh man, I wish. I was told to track everything by both the police and my therapist, but two things: One, I thought it would stop. I totally underestimated his tenacity and spite. I’m now in year four and STILL dealing with this issue, though not every day anymore. It’s more like 3 days a week or so where I’ll get 5 or 6 harassing texts. Never in a million years did I think it would carry on.
The second thing is that there is no way in hell I could keep up with the tracking then. I was anxious, alone, trying to work, raising 2 toddlers in a new apartment, and being threatened and harassed 40 times a day, every day. I was completely, emotionally overwhelmed. Tracking all of that is a fulltime job by itself and I’m not exaggerating. It’s hard to describe the sheer volume. Hundreds of screen-shots and email forwards, and recording every voicemail and phone call on top? Forget it. I was already so psychologically burdened, it was just impossible.
Had I been more vigilant in documenting everything, I would have gotten a MUCH better separation settlement though, that’s for sure. I didn’t have the proof of his abuse or intimidation to sign the agreement he offered; I only had my word against his. It was kind of awful on the one hand, but I was also so eager to have it “finished” on the other I just signed away everything.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW TODAY YOU WISH YOU KNEW THEN?
For sure don’t rush to settle and sign a divorce agreement. You don’t know you’re out of your mind until you get your mind back...Give yourself the gifts of time and space. Get an interim agreement for 6 months or a year then renegotiate for real when you’re feeling more in control. I didn’t even know this was an option until long after my crappy deal was closed.
I can’t stress enough, the importance of documenting. When I finally got it together to track more thoroughly I was able to get a restraining order and supervised visitation, both of which made my life infinitely better. I recorded voice calls and everything – still do, including those Mark has with the kids – and they’ve been foundational.
I wish I’d filed police reports sooner and more often. I was so scared to in the beginning, but it’s easy to do and creates a powerful story-line and defense for later action. In my case, Mark only found out about the police reports when I applied for the restraining order. They were a surprise to both him and his lawyer. It’s terrifying, but it’s vitally important to draw hard boundaries around this type of person.
I don’t know. I’m a smart, educated, successful woman and I thought all of that insulated me somehow from this. It doesn’t. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it isn’t personal and that Mark’s behaviour isn’t even about me. It’s about Mark being a certain kind of personality who straight-up can’t help it. I just happen to be the unlucky recipient of his craziness. All I can control is how I respond to it.