What happens when the rose-colored glasses break

The Experienced Abuser

Here's something that's really been bothering me lately: How?
How did this happen again?
How did I end up in another abusive relationship?

The first one was many years ago. A lifetime, really. I was in my early twenties. He was charming, funny, sweet .. until he wasn't. Behind closed doors he was angry, manipulative, demeaning. The abuse was verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual .. you name it. He would flip without any notice. One moment everything is fine, next he's raging – shouting every obscenity imaginable at the top of his lungs. threatening, throwing things, punching holes in walls, basically trashing the place. A lot of that time is blocked from memory – I can only recall bits at pieces. Like hiding in back corner of the closet crying for what felt like an eternity. Or showing up to my sister's wedding looking (and feeling) like a sack of bones, dark circles under my eyes, my size 4 dress hanging on me like I was playing dress-up in mom's clothes. Or his aunt asking me if I'm okay and wanting desperately to beg her for help but couldn't because he was standing right there. Or standing over my daughter's crib while she slept at night begging her forgiveness for giving her such a nightmare of a life. Or the night I locked myself in her room and slept on the floor – no blanket, pillow, or even my phone – trying to block out the sound of him taunting me for hours through the walls.
Thank God for my parents. I finally found the courage to set my shame aside and told them a little bit of what was going on. When dad showed up to help me pack my bags and leave he showed Dad his true colors. It was a long, dark road. The divorce was ugly – and it was expensive. But I finally escaped. I spent the next several years adjusting to the Only Parent life, busting my ass to make ends meet, and healing. Learning from my mistakes. Memorizing the red flags. Protecting my heart from men. Sure, I dated off and on, but I never really let anyone close enough. “Never Again,” I said for a long time. Slowly, I learned to trust again.
The scars were still there, but eventually I found myself in a long-term relationship. When it ended it wasn't because he was a bad person – not even close. He was the kind that would never intentionally hurt anyone or anything. And if I told him he was doing something that bothered me he listened – and worked hard to not do it again. Boundaries were respected – always. It just didn't work out. In the end, we were at different places with different goals in life. We parted ways amicably. I wasn't vulnerable. I wasn't damaged or broken, no damsel in distress here. I was a strong, independent woman. I was simply ready to move on.
So how did it happen again? How – after 14 years of healing and working on myself – did I find myself in another abusive relationship? Back then what I went through wasn't shameful – I was young and dumb. But now I know better. I know what to watch out for and what types to stay away from. I wasn't vulnerable or desperate for a man.
So how, exactly, did I end up here again?
Today it hit me: Victims aren't the only ones who “live and learn.”
That's how.
Think about it. Abuse is a skill. If it wasn't, no one would get away with it! Every skill is mastered with practice. A surgeon who operates several times a week will gain experience faster than one who only operates a few times a month. A surgeon who progressively adds to his skillset is more experienced than one only only performs the same, simple procedure over and over during the same time frame. A surgeon with 20+ years of experience is capable of performing much more intricate procedures than one who just started.
So while victims are spending years recovering from their trauma, their abusers are out there expanding their skillset at a much faster rate. Just like surgeons, abusers don't need recovery time before moving to the next. Some of them even work overtime, working multiple victims at once. And that entire time they are taking notes and they are evolving. When a victim escapes they think of ways to keep the next one trapped. When one trick stops working they'll find a new one. As victims get wiser, so do abusers. Ultimately, master abusers have learned the fine art of making red flags look like white ones.

THIS is why an abuser in his 40s barely resembles an abuser in his 20s. The one in his 40s is more experienced and has acquired many more tools along the way. Tools like isolation, slander, or financial abuse. Isolation removes a victim from the support and resources she needs to escape – which is exactly why at 40 I don't have the resources I had (family/friends nearby) to escape like I did in my 20s. Slander damages her credibility and even recruits others to join in on the abuse. Financial abuse makes her dependent and restricts resources necessary to make an escape.

Some tools they even steal from their victims! Tools like documenting everything. Remember the time Garrett's behavior changed because he was recording our conversations? He learned that from someone – my guess is someone who started documenting things to protect herself (or maybe keep her thoughts straight like I did). Of course, in typical abuser fashion he twisted this tool and turned it into a weapon: blackmail.
Another tool a master abuser will use as a weapon: the legal system. “Just get a restraining order” they say. (Be honest, how many times have you said that?) Restraining orders are nice. Sometimes they work. But there are many reasons they don't. Restraining orders are like laws – they only work on people that abide by them. If abusers were rule-followers, they wouldn't be abusers, would they? Sadly, sometimes a restraining order can infuriate an abuser and ultimately do more harm than good. Sometimes the legal system fails – by either not granting the order for whatever reason, or by not timely serving it. The other problem: they work both ways. An abuser at risk of being exposed will retaliate – but never at the same level. He will always take it a step further. It doesn't matter if he has legal grounds. If he has already started his smear campaign and documenting baited conversations for “evidence” against you, he has absolutely no problem lying to the authorities to intimidate or get revenge for exposing him. All abusers are liars. They have to be in order to justify their actions.

My first abuser was a rookie.
My second abuser has mastered his art.