Trigger Warning: male on female emotional abuse will be described ahead. I will do my best to limit the amount of detail I share but please beware – if these things trigger you, you might skip this one.
By the title, you probably assume I’m going to talk about financial debt. I’m not. Money is a part of it, but it’s much more than that. What I’m actually going to talk about here is similar to the feeling that many experience when they are “In debt” and cannot figure out a way to repay it.
That is how I feel every time someone does something nice for me, buys me a gift or gives me money. I feel “in debt”. Mind you, this is not THEIR fault. If you know me, it’s not YOUR fault that I feel this way. Also, people shouldn’t avoid doing these things….for the love of God, keep being the awesome humans that you are. I’ve battled this for years and the amount of guilt and discomfort I feel in this area is something I’m working on – so please don’t stop just because you’ve read this post.
Until recently I didn’t truly understand this feeling I had. I knew it felt wrong, but I have always felt it. It was like a lightbulb clicked on last night in therapy and suddenly it was all very clear. It stems from very specific things that happened to me over 10 years ago.
You see, I was made to feel every single day that I was “In debt” to my partner. This went on for almost 10 years. Every time he did something nice for me, put down his credit card to pay for something and kept a roof over our heads – I owed him.
But it wasn’t just financial things. I owed him if I went to see my family. I owed him if I got to go to the grocery store by myself. I owned him if I got to work for a job that I liked. I owed him if I got to sleep in an extra hour. I owed him for the alone time I got while he gambled. I owed him for being alive…
The debt grew larger every single day – a debt I could never actually repay – but that didn’t stop him from enforcing repayment options on me. What do I mean by repayment options? Let me outline an example. I have many but this one I feel comfortable enough to share, but trust, there are more horrifying repayment options than this (and this one is still pretty bad).
Emotional Repayment Example
To spend time with my family, on my own once, I had to give him money AND sit behind him for a minimum of 3 – 4 hours while I watched him gamble away every cent of my hard earned money. See, I had 2 jobs at the time, working an office job from 8am – 2pm then headed to a waitressing job where I worked from 4pm or 5pm until whenever I was cut. Sometimes that was after midnight if I was the closer and I tried to close most nights to avoid the horror that awaited me at home.
The casino visits were in addition to my already full work schedule. So I would come home, change and get in the car to go sit behind him while he played poker for hours. This meant often times, that I wasn’t going to get any sleep.
The real gamble then was if I fell asleep while we were there and he lost – he would yell at me until it was time to leave for work. Making the whole trip useless and therefore I would have to go again the next night. I would have to give him money again because this was now another debt to be paid. Last night’s lost put be in further debt.
If he won, then it might be okay that I fell asleep – but if he won we stayed longer. That increased my likelihood of eventually falling asleep because we would be there until the sun came up.
I tried to never fall sleep. It wasn’t worth the risk.
The truth is, there was never a way to “win” in this scenario – just lose less. He’d find something I did wrong and punish me for it. So I always tried to mitigate the damage by staying awake, rubbing his shoulders for hours and being as bright and bubbly as I could even though I was dying inside. My fate was being literally dealt right in front of me. I was always one bad hand away from terror.
The last couple years of that relationship, this happened weekly – sometimes daily depending on how bad his casino binges were. I was living with a full blown gambling addict and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
So you see, even though I was going along with the repayment plan, the debt never seemed to get paid down. This went on for years and years causing my brain to literally be re-wired to feel this sense of “debt” even now. I’ve been out of that relationship for 10 years and I STILL think this way.
I haven’t had someone as awful as that man dictating my life since then, but my brain still treats many aspects of my life with the same type of guilt, shame and fear. This is one of the many reasons I tried to find peace in the bottom of a bottle.
Things that bring people joy, often times, causes me to retreat or self sabotage. What was normal for me for many many years was trauma. I haven’t quite learned how to live outside of it yet. But it’s something I’m working on.
I’ve said this before but I try to continually make myself uncomfortable so that I can learn and grow and battle these demons that are still hanging around from that time in my life.
For years, I went from my toxic marriage to a toxic relationship with alcohol and even a toxic relationship with myself. I was pretty satisfied ruining my own life, opportunities and relationships because chaos is what felt normal. If I could create my own chaos, then I could control that. I didn’t have to be caught off guard when someone broke up with me or I lost that job….because I was the catalyst. The control gave me a false sense of security. I felt I deserved the bad things happening to me. Punishing myself because I was used to being punished. Heavy shit…
I’m still learning how not to feel “in debt” to my loved ones for doing things they gladly do because they love and care about me. I struggle with it even now with my partner. Fortunately for me, he’s so damn understanding of it all and patient. He’s teaching me how to be more patient myself and show grace and kindness even when things feel like they are falling apart. I’m learning from him and I’m grateful.
That’s all I really need right now is patience and understanding. I’m battling lots of things beneath the surface. What you see on my socials are just little glimpses of the happy times most often. But I, like you, struggle. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed. Sometimes I cry for no apparent reason. Sometimes I self sabotage. I am human. We are all human and it’s okay to NOT be okay every now and then.
That being said, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I feel that I’m on the path to getting rid of this “in debt” feeling and replacing it with gratitude and thankfulness. One day at a time.