5 Facts About My Abusive Relationship

May 24, 2014
Kelly Coffey

No one else is harming me, but I’m a master at hurting myself. Here’s five facts about the abuser in my head, and how I quiet it down.

The beast is a bitch.

The beast is a bitch.

Independent and energetic, outgoing and bold, I seem to be a study in female empowerment.

To look at me, you’d never guess that I’m in an abusive relationship. 1 Not with my husband – he’s a sweetheart – but with myself.

I was once 2a high master of self-abuse. Maybe it’s because I chugged all the insults the little effers on the playground spewed at me. 3 Maybe it’s because I internalized so many messages about  what was wrong  with my body from giant Gap ads and thin-slinging billboards across NYC. Whatever the cause, when I was still a very small Coffey, those messages started to come at me from inside my own head – ostensibly in my own voice – inspiring some serious self-harm.

1- I hurt myself.

Before I stopped making decisions in desperate efforts to change 4 and started just trying to take care of my body, my self abuse took make forms. I’d make myself crazy calorie-restricted diets. I injured myself doing stupid exercises in stupid ways.  One could argue that my decision to have weight loss surgery was an extreme example of me playing the abuser. 5

I don’t hurt myself today. At worst, I subject myself to nagging, low-level discomfort, sort of like I’m a gnat flying around just inside my own ear.

2- I talk trash.

No one has ever been as mean to me as I’ve been to myself. The worst bullies from my childhood might as well have been singing nursery rhymes compared to some of the crap I’ve said to myself while brushing my teeth in the morning. My abuser’s Greatest Hits include “You’re worthless and so are your stupid ideas.” “Quit the ‘this time’s gonna be different’ shit. You KNOW you’re gonna fail.” “Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?” “You’re pitiful. All you do is embarrass yourself.”

imageWhen the abuser weighs in today, it’s decidedly less harsh. Blame my wierdly healthy, modern, yuppie lifestyle, but sometimes I’ll go weeks without hearing much worse than “Maybe if you drove a Prius people would think you were less of a bitch.”

3- I hit “Repeat.”

I have a lifetime of memories to choose from, but when the abuser is at the mic, I see replay after replay of only my most painful, most shame-inspiring memories. Today, if I get stuck in a pattern of old, unhealthy behaviors, 6 I know I run the risk of getting stuck in an abusive memory loop. One more reason to take loving care of myself (not that I needed another one, thank you very much).

4- I hide the truth.

Historically, when I was abusing myself, 7 no one knew. Maybe I liked people thinking I had it together. Maybe I feared what folks would think or say if they knew the truth. More likely, I was so wrapped up in the hurt and the stories in my head that I hardly even noticed the people around me, let alone wanted to chat. By now I know that keeping the fact of my abuse from others gives the abuser power. When I reach out and share the truth of what I’m experiencing, it cuts that harmful power in half.

5- I keep going back.

This is the kicker. Eleven years I’ve spent learning to love myself and my past, learning how to live so I enjoy keeping myself healthy. 8 And yet, when something goes wrong – say, a mean comment on my blog or a few nights of lost sleep – the abuser can still snap to attention. 9 Today I recognize the abusive voice (and the things it urges me to do) as a warning siren: “Attention: something is off.  I need more sleep/sunshine/time at the gym/sex/alone time with friends/time watching Louis CK & Oatmeal cartoons, STAT.”

Back in the day, hurting myself was status quo. I mistakenly thought the abuser was right, and that my body, my feelings, my opinions, my needs, that all of me was ugly, or wrong, or just plain stupid. I walked through much of my life thinking that hateful voice was my own, and I let it control me.

But that voice was not my voice. My voice is sweet and deep. 10 It encourages me to eat when I’m hungry, to sleep when I’m tired, and to dance like a lunatic in my living room 11 when I’ve got tons of energy and nowhere else to put it. When it yells at me, and it sometimes does, it’s almost always through a smile.

Today, the abuser lies mostly dormant, having been crowded out by the many things I do to stay well. But unless I stay committed to treating myself well each and every day, I have no doubt the abuser will dust off her jacket and get right back behind the curtain in my head.

Self-abuse may be my default, 12 but rather than roll over and submit, I let that fact be my primary motivator. I have no reasonable choice, if I want to be happy, than to to do loving things for myself on purpose, consistently, and with all the enthusiasm I can muster.

I lived too many years in the shadow of abuse, and Holy Hellfire, Batman, I want better in this life. I demand better. I will do what I can every day to make it so.

I will continue my campaign to snuff out the abuser. Until then, when she pops up, I’ll try to remember to greet her with a knowing and vaguely amused ‘Jesus Christ, not you again.’

Thanks to Lynne Marie Wannamaker, trainer & self-defense rock star, hard at work to put a stop to domestic violence.


  1. I’m writing here for maximum impact. Domestic abuse is very real and not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available now. Call (800) 799-7233.
  2. and, at times fewer and further between, still am
  3. Of course, ’cause I’m all mindfulness-and-light in my current life, I’ve cultivated love and compassion for the hurtin’ units those little effers must have been.
  4. How I looked, how I was feeling, how people perceived me, how much misery I could tolerate…
  5. I’m truly happy with my life today, and so I’m grateful for everything about my past  – everything that got me to this point. My choice to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in 2003 is part of that past. Weight loss surgery can be a fabulous, short-term tool for those who treat it as such. On the other hand, weight loss surgery can be an unmitigated disaster that leaves someone just as overweight as ever and with myriad health problems directly resulting from the surgery itself. As with all things in this life, it depends on a bunch of factors.
  6. For me, this means eating the foods I don’t relate to in a healthy way, not getting enough good-quality sleep, not being consistently active, and not calling my mother – Hi, Ma! – among other things.
  7. High five to those of you who think “masturbation” when you read the words “abusing myself.” Go, Go Catholic school education!
  8. It’s not a miracle – it’s attainable. I promise.
  9. Another word on domestic violence: Relationships are complex and nuanced, especially domestic relationships that involve abuse. As many know, there is a tendency for the victim to return to, or stay with, the abuser. This pattern is often pointed to in order to justify placing blame on the victim. This way of thinking is oversimplified, short-sighted, and entirely unhelpful. For more information about why the victim often goes back to or stays with the abuser, what policies your community can adopt to keep victims safe, and ways to hold batterers accountable, visit here (the link is clickable in the footnote below the post).
  10. Like an au lait from Cafe du Monde. Hold the beignets s’il vous plait and thank you very much.
  11. Today, the song on the radio was ‘Pressure Drop’
  12. Coffey’s defaults include: morbid obesity, complete inactivity, drinking a lot every day, smoking a pack or more a day, using ‘recreational’ drugs ‘occupationally,’ sleeping during the day, and listening to hair metal. Good hair metal, but still…


 We all feel stuck in the cycle of self-sabotage, out of control and powerless. I put together a workshop to give you practical, actionable next-steps to ensure that you feel healthier and more in control, starting now.

See the Schedule

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Showing 15 comments
  • Brooke

    Apparently the person in your head, and the person in my head are kindred spirits. No one makes me feel worse than me. You’d think that when that horrid little shit was making me feel worthless and miserable I’d reach for a salad, but no, my self loathing wallows in brownies and beer.

    I begin workout regimens, only to injure myself, and then punish myself for my failure. Over, and over, and over. I’m still trying to make it stop. Every day is another 24 hours lost that I could be healthier, and happier. Have more energy, and less aching joints. If only my head would take its own good advice and stop listening to the bully that lurks in there too. I have to. I’m out of control, hurtling toward a heart attack, and only I am standing in my way.

    • Coffey

      Speak it, woman! Speak it! There’s so many of us out here it’s crazy not to speak the truth!
      (Thanks for sharing yours, Honey)

  • Karen

    Boy this really hit home for me….i am getting better at shutting that little voice off…mine would say “who do you think youre kidding, youre not worthy” abusive, ya. Its getting better, thank you for this article…im not the only one;)

  • Liz Washer

    Yup. Yup, yup, yup.

  • Becky

    Seems the person in my head is also a kindred spirit. Pushing 400. Scared. Miserable. Hate myself more than anyone really knows. Tried so many times to stop the abusive cycle, but can never completely break free. It affects every aspect of my life. I blame my weight on 3 bad break-ups and the loss of my mother, the latter pushing me into type 2. But the blame rests solely on me, on my inability to love and take care of myself. How do you beat the abuser into submission? How do you learn to care for yourself the way you care for everyone else? Will you adopt me and kick my ass until I learn?

    • Coffey

      Becky. Honey. Thank you for writing. In my experience it hasn’t been about beating the abuser into submission, more like learning to laugh at it. And in my experience, I’m infinitely more capable of laughing it off if I’m treating my body well. The action always come first for me, and the mind sort of drags ass behind it.
      I’m so glad you’re following the blog.

  • Olivia

    The noptes part of this piece are really good. Keep it up Coffey!

  • Candice MH

    I am so encouraged that you are writing these things. It seems if I want inspiration to start treating myself better, I get bombarded with fat/age/etc. shaming messages (they can be subtle or obvious). It is incredibly hard to go ‘anywhere’ safe, where loving and accepting all the aspects of my existence is a focus. Giving people options for tools they can use to stop abusing themselves; that is commendable. I don’t want several smoothie recipes to stop me from aging or getting fatter, I want someone who talks about their process, and self acceptance focus. That is what is useful.

  • annaraine23

    Kelly, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have stumbled across your blog. I can relate to so much of what you are saying. I am an obese woman who has turned to food for comfort since I was a child. Like you, I suffered through cruel taunts from my classmates that continue to haunt me to this day. Every nasty word that has ever been said to me has been internalized and chased down with unhealthy foods. In the past five years, the longest I have ever gone without bingeing has been a week. I feel terrified, disappointed, shaky, and angry at myself. And yet, I continue to try. The fact that I continue to try is something wonderful. It means that deep down, I am still alive and fighting to get out from under this rubble.

    I know that my problems with food go so much deeper than the simple act of craving. Yesterday, I binged because something deeply emotional happened. My girlfriend of two-and-a-half years was told by her mother that she was unnatural (for being gay) and that I would never be part of their family. When my girlfriend called me up, crying, I immediately turned to food to calm myself down. In my mind, the Abuser was in full swing: “This is all you fault. If your girlfriend were not with you, she would have a good relationship with her family.”

    The guilt and sorrow chipped away at me all day yesterday. As a result, I ate until I was physically uncomfortable and feeling sick to my stomach. Eating did not resolve anything. The emotional pain was still there and it was coupled with physical pain.

    Your words ring true, Kelly. I internalized something painful and found a way to blame myself for something that had nothing to do with me. This is not fair to me or my health. I need to accept the good things about myself and learn to embrace who I am as a person. Until I learn to love myself, I will always find a way to demonize who I am and use food to drown out the pain. Thank you so much for your wonderful words. They were much needed today and every day!

  • Kellie

    Hi Kelly!

    This. Your words in this post spoke to me! Over the past year, I’ve managed to kick out the abusive sumbitch that was rolling around in my head as well.

    I wish the younger version of myself could see and understand what the older / wiser / stronger version of me knows to be true today.

    So much time wasted in hating ourselves because of the insensitive words of others and the unrealistic portrayal of “how a woman should be” by the media.

    To get to the point where we *know* without a doubt that we are more than enough and have always been more than enough, no matter what we look like or what is deemed socially acceptable — is a very freeing notion. Inner connectivity is worth its weight in gold.

    I was stuck for a very long time but no more!

    Thank you again for this post! 🙂


    • Coffey

      Thanks, Kellie! By the way – ours are the only two acceptable ways to spell our name.

  • Donna


    I was turned on to your website by a post from a facebook friend. That was 2 hours ago. I can’t seem to read your words fast enough. I cannot believe how much of what you are saying resonates with me. I am finding making good choices and staying committed very hard but I didn’t fully realize why until now. The self abuse, #3, is a very long term problem. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so honest and saying out loud what most people won’t admit to. I’m 58 and struggling to take control of my choices but since finding you today, I think it all may become a bit easier.

  • Sheila

    “Historically, when I was abusing myself, no one knew. Maybe I liked people thinking I had it together. Maybe I feared what folks would think or say if they knew the truth. More likely, I was so wrapped up in the hurt and the stories in my head that I hardly even noticed the people around me, let alone wanted to chat. By now I know that keeping the fact of my abuse from others gives the abuser power. When I reach out and share the truth of what I’m experiencing, it cuts that harmful power in half.”… This is like a 2×4 to the head laced with dynamite. The truth of this statement has levels/layers are endless. Wow, Coffey. Just wow.

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