Letting Go of Ed
I was in an abusive relationship for over a decade. It wasn't until recently that I have come to terms with the abuse and have been able to speak out about it. I hope that my coming clean will inspire others to do so, and give others the strength to leave their own abusive relationships.
Ed first came into my life when I was fourteen. Socially isolated and with horrible self-esteem, I was a perfect target for Ed's plans to destroy me. In a world where I felt vulnerable and alone, Ed convinced me he could protect me. At a time when I was feeling so misunderstood, Ed understood me. Barely a teenager, I was desperately seeking to be loved, and Ed promised to love me forever — I just had to turn my life over to him. For a long time I believed his lies. I submitted to him willingly, mind, body and soul. I was his. What a relief it was to feel, at long last, that I belonged somewhere, belonged to someone. Suddenly, I was no longer alone.
The honeymoon phase with Ed was brief. He promised he could erase all of my problems, but he only succeeded in distracting me from them for a while. Ed was a welcome distraction from the emotional voids in my life that I was not yet ready to confront. With Ed, I never needed to confront them. Ed would make it all better. So I continued listening to him and obeying his orders. I just assumed he had my best interest at heart.
Over time, however, I became suspicious of Ed's true motivations. In retrospect, the abusive behaviors started very early on in our relationship. Ed was intent on isolating me from my friends. When my friends were out at the beach, Ed told me I had to stay home. Ed was extremely jealous; parties and social events were off limits. Moreover, I had to keep Ed a secret. That way he could have me all to himself. Ed objected to me forming close friendships. He knew that the closer I got to others, the likelier it was that they would find out about him. For years, I kept him a secret. Neither my family nor my closest friends knew about him. My relationship with Ed was "our little secret." It had devastating effects of my professional life as well. With Ed constantly harassing me, showing up at my work, keeping me locked up in the house for days on end, I was a distracted employee at best, and deeply depressed at worst.
When I was 16, after blacking out for seemingly no reason, I mustered the courage to tell my father about Ed's abuse. If anyone could stand up to Ed, it was my father. To my disappointment, he said, simply, "You have to stop seeing him," as if it were that easy. As if I could just leave Ed with no repercussions and never look back. My dad never said anything else about Ed to this day.
Ed's main tactic for keeping me in his grip was to reduce my self-esteem, making me feel so worthless and unlovable that I was sure no one would ever want me like Ed did. He insulted my appearance daily, shouting insults at me whenever he had the chance: You're so fat. You're stupid. You're lazy. Ed was especially concerned with my weight. When he felt that I was too heavy, he would force me to starve for days. When he determined I had overeaten, or had eaten the "wrong food", Ed forced me to throw up. He told me I was too fat to be seen in a swimsuit, and after age 16, I was forbidden to go in public wearing one. Ed told me I was ugly, lumpy, a freak. And of course I believed him.
Ed routinely forced me into uncomfortable sexual scenarios, promising me that it would be good for my development, would provide me with the love and acceptance I so desperately craved. He beat me physically as well. Even now, a decade later, I still feel the impact of his abuse all over my body. Ed even had control over my finances, and forced me to spend large amounts of money on him. If I didn't obey Ed and adhere to his strict rules of how I was to live my life, I was under threat of abandonment, which is what I feared most in the world. At every stage, I did what would make Ed happiest, for fear of losing the one constant presence in my life, the one person who would always protect me.
I tried so hard to leave Ed over the years. I did everything in my power. I prayed. I started to talk to friends about him. I even sought therapy. And sometimes he would go away for a while and I would think that he was finally out of my life. But as soon as I felt that void creeping back in, Ed would strike again. He knew I was vulnerable and alone, and it wouldn't be long before he worked his way back into my life. He'd hang around outside my house, usually at night, tapping on the windows, jiggling the doorknobs. He would call and leave voice mails, telling me I was being irrational, that I was giving up on the one thing that could save me from my pain — my relationship with him. He was a very smooth talker. When Ed came calling, I would run back to him and beg him to embrace me. And he did, every time. No matter how hard I fought to get away from him, he would always take me back. In retrospect, I know he was laughing at me. He knew I was too weak to ever leave him for good. And I was. Every time I went back to him felt like a defeat. I began to think that I would just have to get used to him being in my life, dictating my every move, forever.
Until I met a very strong woman who would become my therapist for two years. She convinced me that my relationship with Ed was unhealthy, that Ed was selfish and that his feelings for me were anything but loving. Ed wasn't saving me, she said, he was killing me. He had robbed me of a normal life. She gave me the strength to oppose Ed and to take the steps to leaving him for good. But, she warned me, Ed would not let go of me easily. He would not leave without a fight, and I had to be prepared to hold my ground.
She was right. Ed did not take kindly to my attempts at distance. He ridiculed me and berated me, he told me I'd never survive without him. When I wouldn't answer his calls, he would send his friends to pester me. He was determined to put me down by any means necessary. Every time I let him back in, I felt horribly defeated, and I told myself it was the last time. He knew my resolve was fragile, so he hung around outside my house, just waiting for me to open the door and invite him in again. Maybe, despite the years of abuse, we could still "make it work."
In case you haven't figured it out by now, Ed is not a person, but a disease. Specifically, Ed is my eating disorder, a personal addiction that has had affected my health, my well being, and my standard of living for over a decade. Since I began referring to my eating disorder as a person—or more specifically an abusive partner intent on destroying my life—my recovery has flourished in unprecedented ways. Viewing my E.D. as Ed has completely reframed the way in which I perceive my illness — no longer something that is part of me, but something foreign, a parasite, an unhealthy bearer of lies that exists independently of me and what I want for myself. It has been transformational and eye-opening to view my life from two distinct perspectives: what Ineed and what Ed says I need; my own personal truths vs. Ed's lies; my feelings vs. what Ed says I should feel. Acknowledging Ed has helped me to dissociate from my disorder, to listen to my truevoice, to find the trueme.
Dissociation is a powerful tool utilized in modern psychotherapy in addiction recovery. In my case, my addiction was to my partner, to Ed. I had developed such an intense dependency upon him that I no longer knew where I ended and where Ed began. Now I can step back and confidently draw a line between us. Ed is notme. Ed wishes to controlme, and now more than ever I can confidently disagree with him and disobey him. I wish I could take credit for this marvelous therapeutic metaphor, but I must give credit to Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge, co-authors of Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, two books which have transformed the way I view my eating disorder, and which have catalyzed my recovery in lasting ways.
I realize that Ed may never completely leave me. All the restraining orders in the world could not keep him away. And sometimes I still hear him rustling in the bushes outside my house. Sometimes I jump when the phone rings because I fear it is him. And sometimes, late at night, he whispers to me that I should come back to him, give him another chance. Especially when life becomes stressful and overwhelming. But I am strong enough now that I don't have to open the door. I don't keep the window cracked. I don't return his voice mails. One day Ed will see that I'm not the scared little girl I was when I was fourteen. He will let go of me forever. Until that day, I keep fighting.
Laura Plummer is a Boston-based writer who recently left a career in social work to pursue her writing full-time. As an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, she founded One in Four: American Women United Against Eating Disorders, a national Facebook group that eventually became an official student organization on the UNH campus.