Internet Friendships Helped Me See My Abuse

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

ne fateful day in 2017, I didn’t know how to operate Snapchat very well and accidentally made a group with four of my contacts in it. I had never met these friends in person but we knew each other from a Facebook group.

Group chat accidentally formed, we started chatting every day and became extremely close. We’d share good news and bad, vent about life, send cute cat photos, the works. These women were my closest friends for a brief part of my life.

These friends and others, people I had never met in person before, were there for me in some of my darkest hours.

Uncovering abuse

I believed the problem was me. My insecurity. My neediness. My lack of trust in my husband.

Part of realizing that you’re being abused is learning what abuse is. So many people think that abuse must be physical, but financial, emotional, and sexual abuse are just as traumatizing. And I had no idea that I was living in an abusive home until friends started pointing out that my husband’s behavior was controlling.

Actually, that’s not true. Another group of online friends told me I was being abused two years prior. I made a plan to leave, but he convinced me to stay. I was so relieved to see his remorse at hurting me, and I was sure it was all a misunderstanding. I told him that some of his behavior was controlling and he promised he was sorry and it would change. He said he never meant to hurt me.

I thought things would get better, and I didn’t want to have been wrong about them. So I believed the problem was me. My insecurity. My neediness. My lack of trust in my husband.

We got married the same year I tried to leave.

I promised to never talk about our problems online again.

The cracks in the facade

What if this is abuse?

I held out for months and refused to talk about anything negative in my marriage. I only shared good news, funny stories, and things that showed how happy I was in wedded bliss.

Eventually, I needed to ask someone for help. I didn’t have many friends in person, and I hadn’t been to therapy since before I tried to leave him. When it felt like everything was all wrong, I turned to my new friends.

As I shared my marital woes with my Snapchat friends and expressed my unhappiness at being so confused at why things weren’t any better, they started giving me advice about how to stand up for my boundaries and ask for what I need.

The thought of asking for what I wanted was so uncomfortable.

Over time I started asking other friends for their advice too. I was grasping at straws and hoping someone would tell me that what I was experiencing in my marriage was normal. But two friends told me to go on strike at home and just stop doing the monumental list of things I was doing to make the household run.

My response was like ice in my stomach. I could not stop taking care of him. That would be terrible of me. I couldn’t fathom being so disrespectful.

Eventually I started to wonder, what if they’re right? What if this is abuse?

The gut check of sharing something I was uncomfortable with and having friends tell me it was actually controlling behavior was eye-opening.

Isolation from my friends

He said I was painting him in a bad light and not telling the full story, that I was making myself look the victim. I was worried he was right.

My husband suggested social media breaks. The more I talked to my friends, the more he tried to stop me from talking to them. I couldn’t use my phone while we were together without his commentary on how I wasn’t paying attention to him. I started keeping my phone in the other room so that he would know I was focused on him.

If I talked about our marriage in private Facebook support groups, he had a problem with it. If I talked about our marriage to a smaller group of friends, he had a problem with it.

He said I was painting him in a bad light and not telling the full story, that I was making myself look the victim. I was worried he was right. Maybe I was remembering things wrong because I felt hurt. I started recording conversations so that I could listen to them again later and remember what happened.

As our marriage entered its final days and the fights were worse, I even started sending my Snapchat group one minute recordings of our fights. Surely if I was sending exactly what happened, I could not be lying.

Over and over they told me he was manipulating me. Abusing me.

Leaving

My marriage imploded publicly on Facebook.

Deciding to leave was hard. I was heartbroken over the idea that I’d irreparably hurt him. I swung between extremes of abject joy at the thought of not being married to him anymore — and horror at the thought of leaving him.

But when someone shared my plans to leave, including screenshots of my posts from the private Facebook group where I had discussed my plan and been encouraged by countless strangers to do what I needed to do, he made leaving much easier.

He shared the posts, smeared my name with anyone who would listen, and told a story that I had demanded an open relationship and when he said no, I threw our perfect marriage in the trash. My marriage imploded publicly on Facebook.

(Honestly, that’s pretty on brand for me.)

Internet friends are real friends

Without my friends, I would have continued convincing myself that things were fine.

I am not exaggerating when I say that internet friendships saved me from my abusive marriage. Without a network of friends I could ask about what I was experiencing, I would have continued convincing myself that things were fine and I was just really needy and insecure.

They held up a mirror I needed to see, and they helped me when I had doubts about what to do next.

To my internet friends — you saved me. Thank you.

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of bit.ly/GaslightingMillennials

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