I’d like you to imagine that you have a friend or family member who has gotten involved in a new relationship. We’ll call her Jane, for Jane Doe. Jane was waiting for this relationship to come along for a very long time. She spent a lot of time preparing for it. She read books about the kind of relationship she wanted to have, even though she knew that books couldn’t show you what a relationship was really like. She spent time with friends in the kinds of relationships she was looking for, and watched them, tucking away bits of information for later.
When it came time to get into the relationship, it didn’t quite come together in the “usual” way. She had to rely on someone she’d never met to fix her up, based on a report made by someone who had interviewed her several times. When she was introduced, everything seemed awesome – this person was charming, sweet, and seemed to be exactly who Jane wanted to get into a relationship with. So, after two weeks of getting to know one another on dates to the movies, to the bookstore, to restaurants and the like, her new partner moved in.
Things were great for a little while. The new person in Jane’s life charmed everyone he met, and people congratulated her left and right. Everyone, including Jane, thought she had finally had her dreams come true. All of those years of waiting had paid off.
Except she realized slowly that things were getting a little weird. She knew she was being manipulated, but this person was so sweet and charming and she gave in, even when a little part of her knew it wasn’t for the best. If she tried to stand up for what she did think was best, he would hit her. And she was starting to have a hard time hiding the bruises.
He would scream at her. Often. And sometimes he would just scream because he was angry, punching walls or furniture or hurting her animals if they got in the way of his anger. He would pound the floor with fists and feet. He threw food at her sometimes and would refuse to eat her cooking. Alternately, he would take items she needed for cooking from the fridge and trash them. Sometimes he would open every can of soda in the house – not to drink, just to open so they would go flat. When she tried to make home made baked goods, something she enjoyed and thought she was good at, he would trash them. When she tried to make meals from scratch, he would sabotage her or throw fits of such extreme proportions that she would be terrified.
When he was mad, he would break things. When he was sad, he would break things. When he was happy, he would break things. He destroyed presents she would buy him, or that other people would buy him. He would wreck items in his room. If she did his laundry, he might empty his dresser, hamper and trash on the floor together and mix it up and make her spend the day doing laundry so he could have clean clothes again. Then when she managed to clean up, he’d do it again the next day. And the next. And the next.
If he found himself awake at night and she wasn’t right there – which happened every night, every 1 – 3 hours – he might put holes in the walls. Or sharpie furniture or walls or himself. He might dig up a pair of scissors to destroy Christmas decorations, or her craft projects. He would rip apart books that had been in her family for generations, or break things that he knew were sentimental gifts just because he could. He might toss library books into the trash or pee on things, because oh, my, did he enjoy peeing on things. Anything. And if that didn’t push her buttons enough, he would smear his poop on things.
But one of the things he did most often was hurt her animals. She had always been an animal lover, our friend Jane, and cherished her pets. She cried when he would kick them, and beat them, and poke them in the eyes, and drag them around by the tail. When she came out of the bathroom one day to find him throwing her cat down the stairs over and over, she asked him why with tears streaming down her face. “Because you love him” was the answer. Later, she found out that he was being just as abusive with her child, and though she tried everything she could to stop it, including notifying authorities, it persisted.
She tried counseling and did everything they told her to do. When one didn’t make progress with him, she tried another. And another. But every day was the same. It didn’t matter how often she asked him not to hit, not to destroy things, not to do the million little things that made her heart race and her breath wheeze and made her blood pressure skyrocket until her doctor became concerned. On the surface, he was still all charm, and her family and friends didn’t see what happened at home. So she put on a brave face and, terrified to talk about it, made do. She stopped seeing her friends. She stopped all the activities she loved. She spent all her time dedicated to trying to make the relationship work. She failed.
And it broke her heart into a million pieces, because she had been given the gift of the life she had wanted, but hadn’t been able to handle it. And when her family found out, they demonized her. They told her how horrible she was, reinforcing everything she had begun to believe about herself during the time she was in the relationship.
Our friend Jane Doe is me. My relationship was with an RAD child, whom I love very, very much. I couldn’t fix him. I became too broken and had to look to others in residential care to help him, now understanding that this is something that cannot be “fixed”.
I don’t know where life goes from here. But I’m going to try to find out.