I was working at an Irish Pub when I met Mike*. Until I’d met him, my mind had been made up and I was going back to Canada. I had money saved for a ticket, and I was just waiting for my semester at university to be finished before I left. And then Mike came and convinced me not to go.
He was a customer, and I had just ended a relationship that fell apart because I was cheated on. Mike used to come in almost every day when he finished work for a few drinks. He would sit at the bar and chat to me. He knew about how and why my relationship had just ended, and he was very supportive. He would tell me that I deserved better. I knew he was right, what I didn’t know is that he’d be so much worse.
In the very beginning everything was normal. We would text each other constantly. He’d tell me how beautiful I was and made me feel wanted. He was a plumbing apprentice for one of the other regulars. From what I could gather, he’d fallen pretty hard in life, and was just getting back on his feet. The man he was working for put him up in a granny flat out in Jimboomba with next to no rent, and bought him a car, which Mike was paying him back for. So needless to say, he wasn’t doing well financially.
Mike knew that I’d saved money for a plane ticket, and asked to borrow some for bills. He told me he felt terrible asking, but that he really needed it. I told him not to stress and gave him a few hundred dollars. A few days later, I was planning to sleep at his house after work, and I gave him some money to pick up some food so we could have a nice breakfast together the next morning. When I woke up in the morning I discovered that he’d spent it on alcohol. Things continued this way, and all of my savings were gone within a month.
He always insisted that I text him when I got to or left work or uni or wherever I was going. He said it was because he cared and he wanted to make sure I was okay. It was really so he could keep tabs on me, and he’d get very angry if I ever forgot to text. I’d receive a string of messages, sometimes he was just angry and called me stupid, sometimes he would accuse me of cheating. This was the first sign of abusive behaviour, and I was completely oblivious to it.
A couple of months into our relationship was the first time he yelled at me. I can’t remember what it was even about. Something stupid like I didn’t hang the washing up the same way he does, or I asked him a question when his mind was busy thinking about something else. He yelled at me, told me I was stupid, swore at me. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just walked back inside and sat on the couch. A few minutes later, he came inside and went straight to the bedroom. When he didn’t come back I went in to find him lying in bed in the dark, teary. He apologized and told me that behaviour wasn’t him. He told me he was just stressed out and that he felt terrible for talking to me that way. He actually managed to make me feel bad and guilty for being upset after he yelled at me for nothing, and I sat there and comforted him.
I moved in with him only 3 months after we started dating. My Mom had told me to since I was sleeping there every night anyway. Mike was happy about it at the time, but it’s something he’d throw in my face for the rest of our relationship, how he’d taken me in when my Mom “threw me out” even though “he didn’t want to”. He failed to mention any reservations at the time, and was excited that I’d be moving in with him. We got a kitten soon after and named her Zoe.
He use to drink at the bar while I worked and then I’d drive us both home. He would be so wasted that I had to drag him to the car every time. Normally when we got home he’d just be a funny, silly drunk. But after a few months, things changed. He started picking fights about stupid things, things that didn’t matter, things that didn’t even make sense, and I would try to reason with him, but it was impossible. I learned quickly to just agree with what he said and apologise to prevent things from escalating. The best course of action was always to do whatever it took to keep him happy, and get him to go to sleep.
Of course he never remembered anything in the morning. I would wake up angry at his behaviour from the night before, and then he would be mad at me for being mad at him. Eventually I would cave and forgive him, without him even saying sorry. I told him I didn’t like his drinking because of the way he was acting, and he made me so many promises. He promised that he wouldn’t lose control again, he promised that he would cut back, he promised that he would stop all together. He broke every single promise. He didn’t even try to keep them.
He was fired from his apprenticeship because he was too difficult to work with. He told me that him and his boss just fought all the time, and he used to come home so angry and then take it out on me, yelling. When he lost his job I was worried from a financial point of view, but I was realived because it meant that he wouldn’t be getting wound up every day and coming home mad, I was wrong.
The other man who lived on the property, Cory, had a bunch of sheep and horses. He didn’t take care of them, and they kept dying from dehydration or starvation. I called the RSPCA multiple times, but they did nothing. So I started going out to them to give them food and water. Of course, Mike got mad at me for this. I was deeply conflicted, as an animal lover, it was so difficult for me to watch these animals suffer and die and not be able to help them, but if Mike caught me out there, I was in big trouble.
As the months went on the fighting got worse. If anything was out of place, like the curtains weren’t lined up perfectly, it was on. Yelling, name calling, throwing things. I don’t think there’s a single derogatory thing he hasn’t called me. This really hurt at first, but I quickly grew a thick skin and let those comments fall right off of me. Not everyone can ignore when they’ve been called a fat, lazy, worthless piece of shit, or a braindead whore, but I can now, thanks to him. Like I said, it hurt at first, but I quickly learned to ignore it as a coping mechanism. I knew that it was wrong, but I made all sorts of excuses in my head for him. He was stressed, he was dealing with depression and anxiety, he was always fighting with someone in his family and it was putting him on edge, the excuses were endless.
He would tell me to pack my things and get out. That’s exactly what I did the first time. I started packing my things. Then he was angry at me for giving up and leaving him, and would continue to follow me around the house and yell until I’d unpacked all of my things, and then act like I was in the wrong for being ready to leave. I can’t even tell you how many times this happened in the first year. From the 3-6 month marks in our relationship, this was a fortnightly occurrence.
I know what everyone is thinking. I was dealing with some messed up behaviour early in the relationship, why the hell didn’t I just go? One of my biggest vulnerabilities is empathy, I’m able to be sensitive to what someone else is feeling and going through. Mike was dealing with what I can now recognize as several mental illnesses, and I felt like I was the only one there to help him. I didn’t want to give up on him, and all of the posts on social media about not abandoning people with mental illness was telling me that I was making the right decision to stay. So wrong.