Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.
In the brief time my husband and I quarantined together during the pandemic, our marriage unraveled. After 12 years together, all it took was a few months holed up in our dream home to show me that my marriage had become, as my attorney put it, insupportable.
When my husband started working remotely, I stopped sleeping. I read news stories about pandemic divorce rates and about how victims of domestic violence were more isolated than ever. When I saw myself in them, I felt silly for entertaining the thought that my husband was abusive — or that he’d let me leave.
He hates me, but it’s not like he’s hitting me.
My freelance work disappeared. I applied for unemployment and found ways to get away without getting infected. As an early summer heatwave set in, I floated in the hammock until the sun made me dizzy and rode my bike until my legs cramped. I relied on time apart from my husband to shore up my reserves. If we spent every waking hour together, there would be nowhere left to hide from my marriage.
We lived in that bubble for months, pretending I hadn’t stopped eating and sleeping. My clothes no longer fit. Black pools formed under my eyes. My hair started falling out. I think he liked me best that way. It made me pliable.
Once I realized the pandemic had no expiration date, I’d lay awake and envision slitting my wrists in our pink vintage bathtub. I needed help, but I only had him. I learned to never show him my soft underbelly. When I disclosed secrets I’d only told a therapist, he used them against me — or worse, divulged them without my consent. So I didn’t tell him I wanted to die, just that I was miserable.
“I feel like you hate me,” I said. “Did you ever love me? Or at some point, did I do something to make you stop?”
He sighed and said that from the start, he knew he wanted me in his life forever. “I still see that girl when I look at you, but I no longer recognize myself when I look in the mirror.”
I would’ve said I didn’t recognize him either, but deep down, I knew who he was.
He was the guy who said he’d never hurt me. And he was the guy who heaved a piece of furniture onto my foot, breaking several bones the day before we’d planned to meet my ex for drinks. Who prized his mother’s Nancy Drew collection, and who dropped a bookshelf on my head when he got frustrated with the assembly process. Who gave our dogs silly nicknames, and who wrapped a leash around our Chihuahua’s neck, choking him as I screamed in terror. He’s the guy who gaslit me and denied those acts for years, all while fessing up to them in his journals.
That’s just the highlight reel. Day-to-day emotional abuse is more subtle, a string of acts marked not with a bang or a bruise, but with a series of tiny quiet deaths that weather you so slowly. When inspected in isolation, individual events can look benign, so you explain them away.
But quarantine dropped the full weight of it upon me. I started recoiling from him reflexively. When he was near, my breath quickened, my hands trembled and my skin glistened with sweat. Emotional flashbacks paralyzed me. When I confided in my therapist, she appeared relieved, as if I’d pulled the missing puzzle piece from my pocket and pressed it into her palm. She diagnosed me with complex PTSD, a form of post-traumatic stress common in prisoners of war and those who endure long-term chronic abuse.
The diagnosis left me dizzy and untethered. If my husband was abusive, I had nothing to show for it — no fist-shaped holes in the drywall, no police reports to prove I was anything other than as content as I pretended to be. It wasn’t until I researched emotional abuse that I found a checklist of behaviors I’d begged him to address. Gaslighting. Manipulation. Humiliation. Isolation. Withholding affection. Invalidation of pain. Financial control.
When we finally named the abuse, my husband didn’t seem surprised. “I’ve been miserable since before I met you,” he said. “When I see you happy, it makes me upset.”
He hadn’t seemed happy all those years because he wasn’t, but maybe I could be. In the middle of a global pandemic, I realized my husband was the most credible threat to my health. So I left.
Here’s the thing no one tells you about resilience: You can survive anything, and that’s the scary part. Your body is designed to suppress the rising waters of trauma until you reach dry land. Once there, your body opens the floodgates, inundating you with the immeasurable grief and anguish you couldn’t process while fighting to survive. You dive into the pain without knowing what’s on the other side. Is it a better life or just a different one? I’m not sure. But for the first time in years, I’m glad this life is mine.