I was so relieved to escape that I hadn't considered how it would feel when he found love again.
After escaping from my abusive relationship, I would occasionally use social media to check up on my ex. It wasn't because I missed him or wanted him back but because when someone has beaten you down for three years, sexually abused and assaulted you, part of you wants to see their life in ruins.
I was extremely bitter following our breakup. This man had taken everything I had, broken me as a human being and then, as a final insult, raped me in my own home. I wanted to see his life fall apart. I wanted to see his misfortune. But what I saw instead were photos of him smiling with another woman.
Relationships break down for a number of reasons and naturally there will be feelings attached when seeing an ex with a new love. I had experienced some of those feelings before" the twinge of jealousy, the reflective "what if's," the inevitable comparisons between myself and the new partner.
But this time the feelings were different than anything I'd felt before.
I hadn't expected to feel angry. After all, I had escaped. (Granted, it was with a crippling depression and PTSD symptoms, but I was alive.) But the relief of escaping completely disappeared when I saw him with this new woman. I was furious because they were happy.
It wasn't fair that an abusive ex moved on and was happy, while I was going to weekly therapy sessions to deal with what he did to me. I was angry because from the outside, it didn't look like he was treating her how he had treated me. It made me feel like something was wrong with me, like I was weak and meant so little and therefore was easy to manipulate and abuse.
My initial anger quickly turned into fear because we used to be happy once, too. I was beaten down so much I now can't remember one happy memory with him but I know there must have been some early in the relationship because that's how abusive relationships start. They call it the honeymoon period because the relationship is so good in the beginning it makes it easier to excuse the cracks when they start to appear and expose the abusive person who lies underneath.
So when I looked at his new girlfriend — smiles captured in a Facebook profile picture with an emoji heart as the caption — I felt terrified for her. I wanted to get in my car, drive to her house and plead with her to run away from him as fast as she could.
I couldn't bear to think another human being was going to be put through the horror I had experienced for the previous three years. I realized I hadn't even considered the possibility that he would find someone else because I imagined he was incapable of love. He had been a monster to me, and sometimes I forget others have never seen his true colors.
I wanted to hold her by the hands and tell her everything about him was a lie. I wanted to show her how manipulative he was, how he plays the victim even after trying to hit you or after being caught cheating. I needed her to see how he believed women's bodies were his to own and take at his leisure, and that if she was with him she would completely lose her own agency over her life and body.
I wanted to tell her to leave now before he warped and molded her until her family and friends didn't even recognize her anymore. I wanted to tell her she was worth more than he would make her feel. I wanted to warn her before she became me.
But I couldn't do it. I knew the hold he had over people, I knew what he must have been saying about me and I knew any attempt at a warning would just come across as being the crazy ex-girlfriend he had painted me to be.
She was in love and didn't want to hear how he would change her, demean her, abuse her and disrespect her — and I don't blame her for that. If one of his exes warned me, I wouldn’t have believed her, either.
I was angry, worried and disgusted. Most of all, I was frustrated because I wanted to prevent him from hurting anyone again. And seeing him be loving to another person stung because he'd been so cruel to me.
There are no advice columns or easy Google search answers for dealing with seeing an abusive ex move on. People don't think ahead that far and believe that once you've moved on from the relationship, you'll be OK. This isn't true.
The unexplainable helplessness of seeing your abuser happy with someone else is something countless people have to deal with every day, and it's really conflicting and hard to put into words. People expect you to just be OK with it because you're safe, but I couldn't be OK with it because I felt responsible for his new girlfriend's well-being. I felt like if I didn't try to warn her, I would put her in danger, but if I did try to warn her she wouldn't believe me and I would undo a lot of my progress.
I've unfairly taken on the burden of her safety, which is tearing me up inside.
I'm still trying to put myself back together one piece at a time, so I've stopped looking at both of their social media accounts. It doesn't help my healing to see him happy because I still want to see him miserable.
Maybe he won't hurt this new girl. Maybe they'll be happy together and I really hope they are — for her sake. As much as I want him to never experience another joyful moment for as long as he lives, she deserves better.
I'm not optimistic, though, because I think he'll manipulate and abuse women for the rest of his life and I hope she has the strength to get away from him sooner than I did.