He'd corner me at home when sober and say things like, "Don't think that just because you're doing well, you're not sick." If I got upset, he'd coldly say, "Look at me. I'm so calm. And you're falling apart. What does that say?"
Since I'm a therapist myself, he'd taunt me with rhetorical questions like, "Aren't you supposed to help me? You should know better."
It didn't matter how many times I said, "I'm not your doctor or therapist. I'm your girlfriend." He continued to insult my credentials and credibility.
"How do you even help your clients if you can't even be patient with me?"
Other abused women have told me how their empathy is used against them. "You're a healer/coach—how can you not help me?" But you can't help a person who adamantly refuses to change anything and only wants to feed off your energy. Women who are especially empathetic are actually often bait for psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists—exactly because of that sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Research shows that abusers eventually become violent. And I know what it's like to become so desensitized that you accept things you never would have tolerated before as normal. When a policewoman told me, "You're at medium risk of suffering significant harm or homicide perpetrated by your partner," I was stunned. That's how much my reality had been skewed.
For a long time, I felt guilty for even entertaining the thought of creating an exit strategy. When a friend told me, "Honey, you need to see your doctor. Get it on record," I felt trapped by the guilt of betraying him by telling a professional.
I still wanted to believe he was a good person. That he could change. That he loved me. That he could love me.
You owe it to yourself to keep yourself safe. If you don't honor and protect yourself, who will? You are so much more precious than your abuser would have you believe.
For me, the steps to an exit happened slowly, over time. My local friends, a domestic violence charity, and my doctor knew. After that, I started to mentally organize my belongings, so I could execute easily when the time came. Eventually, I started to discard and donate things in small batches; I corralled my important documents and scanned key ones. I locked down my devices, hard drives, and Kindle accounts, changing every password I had.
I was absorbing information about the Dark Triad (psychopaths, narcissists, and Machiavellians) wherever and whenever I could, and didn't want him to know. And every night, I'd pin everything I wanted in my new home on a secret Pinterest board. It'd be a place of beauty and light—no tobacco ash in my bed—and it would smell divine. It gave me something to look forward to. I even arranged to rent a friend's spare room if I needed an emergency out.
I was still holding on to some invisible hope, though. I thought, maybe he'll check into rehab. Maybe he'll change.
But he didn't. And everything I'd done up to that point meant that when he shoved me, twice, doubling me over in pain, I didn't have to think about whether or not I could get out. I just had to go.
I packed everything up in eight hours, and I've never regretted that choice for a second.