Saturday, April 14, 2012

I Could Have Died: Red Flags

by Nikko Lee

Have you ever contemplated jumping out of a moving vehicle? The movie stars do it all the time. Just before the car explodes or drives off a cliff, the hero opens the door and jumps without hesitation. Lacerations, road rash or broken bones are nothing compared to the certain doom he or she is narrowly escaping.

I'm no movie star, action hero or daredevil and by no means do I have a death wish. In fact, the likely injuries and sheer desperate insanity of the act were all that kept me from doing it. One beautiful Sunday afternoon a few years ago as my then boyfriend and I drove through a serene national park I pictured myself undoing my seat belt, opening that car door and escaping. There was no bomb or imminent cliff, but the certain doom I was facing in that car could have just as easily killed me.

I had met him online years ago in an online role playing community. His character was known for being quick-tempered and a womanizer (red flag #1). After years of role playing together and getting to know each other out-of-character, we finally decided to meet in person. He had just left the military on a sour note (red flag #2). With no place to stay and no job, he needed a few dollars for the flight (red flag #3) to come meet me. Naively, I offered him a place to stay as he got back on his feet. Almost immediately he started talking about our future together (red flag #4).

The attraction between us was intense, overwhelming and all-consuming (red flag #5). I was fascinated by every aspect of him and accepted his faults along with his qualities. He seemed supportive at first, but soon he started in with these sexist and demeaning jokes (red flag #6). It only took a few arguments before he stopped that. I was a strong and independent woman after all – or so I thought.

We had a rocky relationship from the start. When we argued, it was an all out battle (red flag #7). He never laid a hand on me. He didn't have to. Instead he would yell at me, insist that I had mental problems or even laugh at me when I expressed my feelings (red flag #8). In many subtle and not so subtle ways, he undercut my opinions, beliefs and feelings (red flag #9). When something went wrong, the fault rested with someone else (red flag #10). Each time I tried to end the relationship he would always vow to change(red flag #11).

Little by little I was losing myself. He had me convinced that I was being selfish, neurotic, or unreasonable when I expressed concern about his online activities – infidelity was a recurring theme with him (red flag #12) – or lack of stable employment (red flag #13). It always came down to his word and against my perception. I no longer trusted that little voice inside that kept telling me how wrong things were. My friends and family couldn't understand why I stayed, and eventually I stopped talking to them about my problems (red flag #14). I was isolated and worst of all didn't even trust my own judgment (red flag #15).

The red flags just kept piling up, but by then I was in so deep I didn't see a way out. I believed that relationships involved working through the hard times. But there were always more hard times than good times. When I was dragged into yet another argument that Sunday afternoon, all I could think about was jumping from that car just to get away. I wanted to escape from him, my choice in staying with him, the sadness of feeling like a failure, the hopelessness of a never ending cycle of pain, the loss of a relationship that never was, etc. I was willing to pay almost any cost at that point, except my life. That's when I realized that this relationship was killing me.

I spent several more months nurturing the false hope that he had finally changed, followed by the inevitable agony of finding out he hadn't. Little by little my own life was changing for the better. I started taking martial arts classes again. Medication for depression and seeing a therapist helped get my brain out of the darkness that was consuming it. Eventually I developed the fortitude to end things for good the last time I found evidence he was being unfaithful. At the time, all I could think about was hiding away from the world and healing.

For months, I had nightmares that I was back in that eternal relationship loop with him refusing to leave. If he had hit me, I would have left immediately. Emotional abuse is just as insidious as physical abuse. It rots a person from the inside out. There are no bruises or scars to show anyone. Slowly, but surely, it eats away at your very sense of self until there is nothing left but the husk of a person.
Now I can see so many red flags and how ignoring them could have killed me. I'm just glad I found my way out before the damage was permanent. Saving my life didn't take anything as dramatic as jumping out of a moving vehicle. It just took regaining trust in my self and valuing myself enough to do what was best for me.


  1. Nikko, I thought I comment earlier but it seems to have disappeared. Thank you for posting this. You've done a service to other people out there with red flags waving in their faces. I'm glad that you survived.

  2. Thanks for this, Nikko! What Kathleen said.

  3. Nikko,

    Thank you for sharing this. I know how difficult it is to be objective about a relationship in the face of that sort of intense physical connection.

    I'm glad you survived!


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