Guest Post: Joanna – A Story of Gaslighting & Deception – In My Own Words

My friend Kelle Lynn wrote my story JOANNA – A SURVIVOR’S STORY OF DECEPTION & GASLIGHTING and published it in the Blog section of the Justice Thru Storytelling website in June 2018.  She changed the names and a few destinations to keep me safe from the abuser I was with for 18 years. She encouraged me to share my story so now it’s my turn to speak in my own words.

I hope all of you are taking advantage of the many available resources on intimate partner violence available today.  One book I highly recommend that has helped me is “After Narcissistic Abuse, There is Light, Life and Love” by Greg Zaffuto.  I also hope many of you are watching a short series on Bravo called “Dirty John”.  I have and it brings back so many feelings I thought I had put in the past.

I’m pretty sure all of our stories are eerily similar…what starts out as a whirlwind romance over time turns into a nightmare.

Mine started at the time I was about to turn 36-years-old.  He was the first man I truly thought I could settle down with.  We had so much fun in the beginning, fabulous vacations, exotic adventures, long talks.  He showered me with gifts and affection and was the epitome of a perfect gentleman in front of my friends and family.  No one was the wiser, thinking we made a perfect couple.

One Christmas I received a beautiful diamond ring and I was happier than I had ever been.  We talked about forever! He told me all the things I had always longed to hear…how we were soulmates, loved the same activities, and had the same morals and values.  However, these morals and values were not really his, they mimicked the ones I told him in one of our very first talks about my family.

While I was the one being honest in the beginning, he was either mimicking what I said I had always hoped for or he was lying about his past.  Although the things he told me actually happened, he reversed many of the facts. For example, he told me his ex-wife was an awful person who lied and cheated and was never where she said she would be.  He said their divorce devastated him because all he wanted to do was love her forever and have a family with her. In actuality, he was the liar and cheater and actually went on vacation with someone else all while he pretended to go to work.  (He was a pilot for a major airline so of course when he packed his bags she thought he was going to work.) One day she injured herself and had the hospital contact the airline to get a hold of her husband and send him home and they told the hospital he was in the middle of several days off and not actually at work at all.  Of course, I found this out after I left him many years later.

After his tearful story about his ex-wife, I felt an even stronger connection with him.  I knew I would not do anything to hurt him and was determined to be the best partner I could be for him.  After that we settled into a very happy and content existence. For those of you familiar with an airline employee’s life, long stretches apart are quite common.  He and I were no different plus we were based in two different cities. Somehow, we managed to talk on the phone daily and plan our schedules around seeing each other.  It almost extended the so called “honeymoon phase” of our relationship into years as we made the most of our time together when we had it.

Although we never ended up marrying and I wore my ring constantly, I thought I had the perfect relationship…plenty of time with him and plenty of my own time to visit my family or catch up with girlfriends.  I had no idea he wasn’t where he said he was when we were not together and not flying. He commonly said he was going “fishing in the mountains” (which meant there would be no cell phone connection) or he was going hunting on the weekends, again in the mountains with no cell coverage.  When we finally would talk he would tell me grand tales of his adventures. I had no reason not to believe him.

Finally one Christmas I started to have my doubts.  He came to visit over the holiday by driving his truck to my home instead of flying stand-by over the holidays with an armful of packages.  Made sense to me, right?

During the visit he said that next year we should meet up with his family at a resort area in Washington State.  I thought that sounded lovely! Daily, he would have me look up the weather in that area (light snow, or chilly conditions) and we’d talk about how wonderful it would be to sip our coffee looking out the window at the beautiful snow.  After the morning weather report he would drive down the street to the convenience store to get a newspaper. It should have been a trip that took all of five minutes, however, sometimes he was gone as long as 45 minutes. When I questioned this, he said, “Oh that guy that works there is quite a talker!”  I bought it at first but then I realized that the man that owned that store is originally from another country and his English is very limited. It wasn’t until he was all set to drive back to the mountains of Colorado that some pieces fell into place. He asked if I could look up the weather forecast for a few different cities for his drive home.  I said sure and thought he would ask for Dallas and Wichita Falls. No, he asked for Boise and Salt Lake City. I told him it sounded like he was planning a drive from Washington State to Colorado instead of Texas to Colorado. As he stormed out the door he told me I didn’t know what I was talking about! I had an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach that he told someone else that he was actually at the resort in Washington State with his family and called her daily to talk from the convenience store.  Funny how the person on the other end of the cell phone has no idea where you actually are. What made me the most mad was that I had made a wonderful Christmas for him. I loved to cook his favorite meals and bake all of his favorite cookies. When I tried to bring up the subject so that I could get answers, he totally shut down and wouldn’t talk about it ever again.

I tried to put it out of my mind because we had an annual upcoming vacation which was already paid for.  He was now retired and constantly talked about how bad the stock market was so he needed me to pay for my vacations.   I was trying to enjoy myself but when we arrived at the resort, he started acting very unusual. It was a casino and he kept wanting to go to the second level and look for his favorite slot machine.  I told him that we never gambled anywhere else except the main gambling floor, but he was insistent…he wildly ran upstairs and pointed at his favorite machine shouting, “Don’t you remember?” I had no recollection of ever being up there and he even commented on how good the food was up there.  Nope, I hadn’t eaten there either.

Suddenly the thought hit me and almost brought me to my knees.  That former summer I received an email from this resort asking how my “birthday visit” was.  I thought it was some mistake, but now I realized the email came shortly after his birthday…he was there when he told me he was in the mountains fishing.  We got into a huge argument but he just kept lying to my face saying he wasn’t ever at the resort unless I was there with him.

Of course shortly after that he began pouring on the affection and the gifts.  I forgave him. This is what makes the cycle continue as I longed for that wonderful man that I fell in love with in the beginning of our relationship.  This wonderful behavior continued for several months until the airline that I worked for made an announcement. Our base in Denver was opening up and I could transfer to Denver as early as the following year.

Our good friends that we always vacationed with every summer at their cabin in Wyoming would constantly ask when we were going to get married and we would reply that we couldn’t because we lived in two different cities.  Well, not anymore! Since nothing was keeping me in Texas, I immediately called him and told him I would submit my transfer to Denver and put my house up for sale. I thought he would be happy for me, but he was not. He only said a resounding “no” followed by “stay in Texas”.  He said it in such a cold and flat tone that I could hardly believe my ears. He wouldn’t discuss it any further.

Shortly after the angry response regarding me transferring to Denver, I had the opportunity to fly up to his house to go on a camping weekend with him.  I wanted to go for two reasons: One, I wanted to get to the bottom of why he didn’t want me to leave Texas. Two, each weekend during the last month he told me he went camping at the reservoir and had so much fun.  He said it was packed with people fishing and having fun and there were so many fish that they were “practically jumping out of the water”. He had a pop-up camper attached to one of his trucks and we had used it to go camping quite a few times in the past.

I flew up to Denver in the evening and we would be leaving the next morning.  I was shocked to see the condition of the camper. It was filthy and had obviously been closed up since last fall.  One of the pop-up latches was broken as well. As he tried getting it ready to use he asked me to go upstairs in the attic to get our fishing gear ready.  Since he had been fishing the last few weekends, I figured that his gear would be ready to go and I would only have to gather my things. I was wrong. The attic was in complete disarray and stuff was thrown all over.  Nothing was organized and after digging through piles of junk I found bits and pieces of our fishing gear. It was glaringly obvious that he hadn’t been fishing.

Finally ready we headed up the into the mountains.  As we were driving, we came across a newly finished stretch of highway.  It was freshly paved and beautifully landscaped. He commented, “Wow, wonder when they did this?”.  I replied, “Well surely they didn’t put this in since last weekend. Are you sure you went to this reservoir?” I received an angry glare.  When we approached the reservoir he told me we wouldn’t have any cell phone reception so if I wanted to call my mom before we headed in, now would be the time.  I called her and chatted for a few minutes, then I texted my high school friend to tell him where I was, that something wasn’t right, and I was feeling uneasy.

As we turned in I could see that it was desolate.  There wasn’t a soul around. Why would this weekend be any different from the last few weekends when he told me that it was packed with other campers and fishermen?  I felt like I had been sucker punched in the stomach and I could feel fear creeping into my brain. Now I was glad I had sent my friend that text even if it seemed a bit extreme at the moment.

Needless to say we didn’t catch a single fish.

The next morning was an absolutely beautiful morning and I put on my exercise gear and went speed walking up on the ridge overlooking the water.  I could also see the camper in the distance and as I got closer I could see him on his cell phone and I could hear his laughter in the calm silence of the area.  As I approached the camper he had put his cell phone away. When I questioned him about talking on it, he laughed and told me he wasn’t on his phone and that I must have been imagining things.

Again, we didn’t catch any fish. By mid afternoon I had enough.  I asked him to take me back to his house. He had no explanation as to why the other weekends were so busy and the fish were so plentiful.

Once we were back at his house and all of our things were put away, I asked him if the Rockies were playing that evening and that I’d like us to go.  He agreed and as we drove down the canyon suddenly my cell phone pinged with several voice mails from my sister. She knew I was up at his house and I wondered why she hadn’t tried his house phone.  His remote property had no cell phone reception, hence the house phone. Her messages were alarming……our mother had been rushed to the ER with chest pains and she wanted me to know. She also said she had called his house all afternoon and the phone rang and rang, but the answering machine never picked up.  I quickly told him what she said and asked him to turn the car around so that I could pack my things and fly home. He displayed no warmth or compassion and my heart sank even further. When we got back to his house, I noticed the ringer had been turned off of his phone and the answering machine unhooked from the phone.  He quickly snatched the phone out of my hand and never explained the reason they were not working properly. I left Denver early the next morning and in my heart I knew I’d never return to his house, which I now referred to in my mind as “the house of secrets”. I wished I would have had more time to pack my stuff as I left many things behind.  My own personal possessions that I would never see again.

For some reason,  I still wanted to go on our annual vacation in Wyoming.  My reasons were simple. I loved all of the people that would be there, including his dad and I knew they were all getting up there in years. Because of his dad’s failing health, this would probably be the last time we would all be there together.

He flew to Washington to drive his dad to Wyoming, and I flew to Denver, spent the night in a hotel, and took a flight to Sheridan the next morning.  From my hotel, I kept calling him to try to coordinate what time they would arrive in Sheridan with my arrival from Denver. He never answered the phone except for once when he told me they would be arriving around the same time as me.

When I got off the plane he and his dad were waiting for me.  I loved his dad and quickly gave him a big hug. All I got from him was a quick kiss and we were off.  We headed to the grocery store before going up to the cabin as this was tradition since it is a very treacherous road in and out of the canyon where the cabin was situated.  I stayed in the car with his dad while he went into the store. His dad quickly demanded to know “what is going on?” He wanted to know what it meant when someone typed on their phone.  I told him that was called texting and that it is a non-verbal communication with someone. He said his drive from Washington was very frightening because he was constantly typing on his phone and that they almost drove off the road several times.  His dad said that normally he loved road trips with him, but this time was different and it scared him. I told his dad that he wouldn’t answer any of my calls except for one so it wasn’t me he was in communication with. His dad was brokenhearted hearing this.

I could barely keep my chin up during the visit and the tears kept rolling down my cheeks.  I kept myself busy by exercising in the morning and fishing the beautiful stream by the cabin in the afternoons.  On the third day he decided to go for a run and said he’d be back shortly and we would go fishing again. I decided then to tell my friends about the chance for he and I to be in the same city with a pending transfer to Denver.  They couldn’t believe that he told me to stay in Texas!

As if right on queue, we noticed that he had been gone close to three hours.  No one can run that long in that rugged country so three of us took the truck to begin a search and rescue mission.  The rest stayed behind at the cabin. They were certain he had fallen and injured himself, but I could feel deep down inside of me that he was up to no good.  I was almost certain that he had taken his cell phone to the top of the ridge to try and communicate with someone since there was no cell phone coverage at the cabin.  The reason I say this is because when I went into our bedroom to grab my jacket I noticed he had closed and locked his suitcase, which he never did, so we would not know if he had his cell phone or not.  I mentioned this to my friends and they too found the locked suitcase odd. We found no sign of him on the rugged trail to the top of the ridge which he ran and after our treacherous descent back down to the cabin, there he was laughing and telling stories of his grand adventure!  We were furious and when we asked him where he was he said he found a cave that he just had to explore. The friend who owned the cabin said that he knows the land like the back of his hand and told us there isn’t a cave anywhere on the property. All eyes were now on me as my friends started to realize that I was right and he had been up to no good.

I now began to see him as my enemy instead of my soulmate.  Watching and hearing him lie to my face hurt more than anything I had ever experienced.  No matter how hard I tried to make things right and work through our difficulties, he continued to deceive me behind my back.  Once he knew I was on to his behavior he upped the pain level. It’s as he was now doing things on purpose. He would sit and text in my presence and work on his lap top, but if I came anywhere near him, he’d quick snap them shut so I couldn’t see what he was up to.  The level of disrespect was now out of control. One time he kept using the f-word while talking to me and I asked him not to use it in my home. He came up to me and pressed his nose against mine and repeated it over and over until I walked away in disgust.

I asked him to go to counseling with me to see if we could salvage what was left of our relationship.  Originally, when he told me his ex-wife story, he told me that they went to counseling for seven months to try to save their marriage.  I thought after all this time he’d surely want to do that with me. He screamed at me and told me if I need counseling then I must be the “crazy one”.   I found out much later that he never went to counseling with his ex-wife.

I did go to counseling by myself.  I hadn’t been sleeping because I had so many thoughts spinning around in my head.  I tried explaining things but it sounded very mixed up and confusing. The counselor suggested I write all of these thoughts down and put them in order telling me that it would make sense if I wrote out the timeline of my relationship.  The counselor said it sounded like he was purposely deceiving me, knew what he was doing, and more than likely he did it to others in his past relationships. He also said that his type of personality, narcissistic and pathological, is more dangerous after the breakup so I must take things slowly and make sure I have everything in order.  He also suggested I take his name off of any documents, such as beneficiaries and my will, and to change the locks on all of my doors and change the passcode to my alarm system.

Before I accomplished this my health took a turn for the worse.  I hadn’t been eating or sleeping. One morning as I was walking through the airport, suddenly I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other.  It was frightening. The airport paramedics told me I had a stroke and they were rushing me to the hospital. Since his name was down for emergency contact, the hospital called him and he flew down to help me.  Before he arrived the doctor talked with me about my stress level. He told me that I was very lucky because I had no residual affects, but next time I might not be so lucky. He also said that I should “get rid of him” as if he knew what was really causing me stress without me saying it.  When he walked in, instead of being caring he actually said, “ See, I told you your head is messed up.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

For the sake of my health I knew what I had to do.  But even after all the awful things he did behind my back, it was my toughest challenge yet.  Now I rarely picked up the phone when he called. My mother’s health was in serious decline and I used that as an excuse to not spend any time with him.  When she was in her last days I did call him daily because I needed my best friend to cry to. Then I called him and left a message when she passed away. I even sent him a text but he claims he was out hunting.

Her funeral came and went and I kept looking at the door for him to walk in, but he never did.  People at the funeral kept asking where he was and I just stood there alone. It was the worst time of my life.  I didn’t have him, my best friend, to help me grieve the loss of my mother and I didn’t have my mom to help me sort out my relationship with him.  However, once she got to heaven, she must have joined forces with my dad because suddenly the next time I spoke with him, I told him it was over. He screamed and cursed at me, then would be sweet, then cursing again.  It was insane, and he was insane. I asked him why he didn’t attend my mom’s funeral and he told me that I didn’t invite him. I told him that I didn’t invite the other 150 guests that showed up, they came out of respect, something he clearly didn’t have for me or my mom.

It’s been a rocky road since then and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him or something from our 18 years together…especially when the days of our annual vacations are upon me and I’m not there anymore.  I have a hard time trusting anyone and believing what they say. I have avoided any type of online dating because people just aren’t who they say they are…trust me. I came across his bio on a dating website on my computer while we were supposedly in a committed relationship.  That story is for another time, as I have so many, many more stories. All I can say is that in the beginning he was too good to be true. That should have been my first and last red flag.

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