So for those of you who missed my Facebook post last week, it was a doozy. I celebrated my birthday by opening up about my past abusive relationship because as of three months ago, it was legally over.
The backstory is that I bought a bar in New York with a guy who turned out to be a different person once all the paperwork was signed. We incorporated in February 2012 and then spent six months renovating and getting all the necessary permits in place to open in July. In those six months, the financial burden increased, as did the stress levels. I found my partner’s breaking point by June, and it scared me. To the point that I tried to back out of the business before we even opened the front doors. Long story short, we ended up opening together and I proceeded to spend the next four years focusing on running, but getting out of the business, while he spent them making my life a living hell. He punished me for wanting out of the business and ultimately, his life. And as of September 1, 2016, I am finally out.
After the doors closed, I focused on getting my life back. I dropped 17 cases of beer off at my friends’ house in Brooklyn, dropped boxes of paperwork at my parents’ house, and ran away to Bonaire to do a little bit of business account closure and a lot of scuba diving. Since then, I’ve been focused on finalizing the closing of the business and networking my way back into the real world. Oh, and just before midnight on my 36th birthday, feeling a mix of vulnerable yet strong, I posted my story alongside a picture of myself half naked on Facebook for my friends, former colleagues, and frankly the general public to see. And then I went to bed. Here’s how that went…
By 12:55 am my mom had both texted and Facebook messaged me to tell me it was a mistake to share with the world on Facebook. It was too public, especially given that I was in the middle of the job interview process, and I would soon regret my decision. Maybe she was right.
By 4:00 am I woke up to a missed call from my mom. My heart beating a mile a minute and I laid there for an hour staring at the wall wondering if I’d made a mistake. I kept reminding myself that I had thought long and hard before posting. I may have written the post hastily that night, but long ago I had realized that unless I made my story public, I would never be able to move on. So I left the post alone and eventually drifted back to sleep. And what happened next blew my mind.
I woke up around 6:00 am to 183 likes (more than anything I’d ever posted before) and three messages from friends sharing similar stories. I felt a little less apprehensive.
By noon, the post was up to nearly 300 likes and I was in full-blown conversation with 16 friends and three strangers (friends of friends) who read the post and were inspired to reach out.
By midnight, the post had over 500 likes, 175 comments and nearly 20 messages sharing similar stories, meaning 40% of my friends saw and reacted to my photo, an astounding 14% felt compelled to comment, and almost 2% had been through the same thing AND were willing to share. Considering only 4% of friends reacted when I posted about selling the bar in September, it’s obvious that for better or worse, I did an amazing job of hiding my situation and my pain. But what’s scary is that 2% number. Of the 20 people that reached out, 50% were guys, and five were complete strangers.
Our stories may have been slightly different, but they all involved a silent pain and isolation brought on by someone else. I heard tales of abusive relationships with parents, boyfriends, and wives, some former, some current. The pain caused was verbal, physical, sexual, mental and often ended in financial distress. Some were caused by mental disorders, some with anger issues, and some driven by insecurity. Only some had walked away so far, but none without scars.
I’m happy to be on the other side of it, as are many of the people who reached out. I feel relief, and an understanding of freedom that I’ve never felt before. But we’re the survivors. If 20 people shared similar stories, how many more still aren’t ready to share? I can’t help but think how many friends work a little bit longer, stay out a little bit later at night because they don’t want to go home. How many lay awake at night scared, frustrated, knowing the deserve better while dreaming of ways to get out?
We tend to post our best selves on Facebook, the image we want the world to see. We often present ourselves in life the same way. I got countless notes saying “I had no idea you were going through that.” The old me would take pride in that. I kept my problems private, even from those who worked alongside me every day, and kept a brave face to the world as I climbed the corporate ladder. But hearing how many people were walking beside me experiencing similar hardships; the new me has nothing to hide.
What do we do about this problem? How can we provide a safe platform that goes beyond an outlet for discussion to a place that provides actual solutions?I don’t have the answer. But what I do know is it’s something we don’t talk about. Sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of embarrassment. For me, I didn’t talk about it because it was something I thought I could handle myself. I didn’t see a way where talking about it provided a solution instead of just burdening others with my problem. I knew it was bad, I knew I needed out, but I didn’t see a way to win that involved others. So instead I toed the line of putting up a façade of a happy relationship for the sake of the business and needing to sell the business and get the heck out. I lived in constant fear from the voice on the other side constantly telling me that I would “ruin everything.” And I know I’m not the only one.
So what I ask is this. As we go into a New Year, refreshed from a little time to reflect and enjoy the holidays, that the next time someone ticks you off, you take a minute to stop, take a deep breath, and think about how you react. Smile at strangers. Give people a little more leeway when they’re having a bad day. You never know what someone is going through and sometimes a rational response and a smile will go a lot farther.
I posted my story because I wanted people to see that it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t mean you are damaged goods. There’s no reason to be ashamed. Right now, I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. Life will go on and I get to live it to the fullest. And maybe now I’ll appreciate it in a way I didn’t before. We all experience bumps and bruises along the way, but with time and support, you can come out on the other side a little bit stronger than you were before.
If traveling to 13 countries this past year renewed my faith in people, the response to my story on Facebook renewed my faith in my friends. I got to re-connect with friends I haven’t heard from since college, high school, even elementary school. I felt solidarity with people I never felt close to before because we shared a moment, the least desirable kind of knowing glance, if you will. And I inspired five complete strangers to feed off my strength and feel a little less alone. And most importantly, I’ve gone from feeling isolated to totally in control and surrounded by only the best people. I can put my story out there because I feel great. The weight has lifted, and I have nothing left to hide. So, it may have been a risk to share, but one I’ll never regret taking.
* Originally posted on Medium 12.31.16.