The “other woman” became my best friend and helped me leave an abusive relationship

I always had anxiety when I traveled somewhere for the summer. It was never about the planes I had to take or the circumstances that made me leave. It was because of the anguish I felt whenever I left my then-boyfriend. This wasn’t the kind of boyfriend who had me so head-over-heels that I never wanted to be away from him—not at all. This was a boyfriend who cheated on me every time I left town but was so stealth in his ways that I could never quite prove it. This boyfriend hurt.

Every summer, I devoted five days to being a camp counselor for high school students—my favorite part of the year. I was sitting in my bottom bunk in a messy cabin shared by five other women and scrolling through Snapchat when I noticed Daniel (name changed to spare his probably already damaged reputation) had a new number-one on Snapchat, back when that was a thing.

After recognizing the screen name from somewhere, I dug a little deeper on Instagram and connected the dots to a girl I’d gone to high school with. Kate. We weren’t close friends, but we definitely didn’t hate each other. She was just someone whose shoes I’d compliment when we walked into English class together.

I struggled to find words in this moment—I just knew it was a defining one. I could finally catch Daniel in his lies.

I’d have a good enough reason to finally walk away.

It’s painful to admit it, but I once rarely felt sympathy for women who stayed in abusive relationships—until I was in one. The days and nights when things became violent were such a blur. When I think of how little I remember from that time, I’m not surprised that I didn’t tell anyone what was happening.

Daniel was addicted to steroids. I was so naïve that I didn’t even know what steroids could do to a person until I found myself poking him with a needle every night after his workouts. When things around the house would break or holes would form in the walls, I always blamed the “Roid Rage,” and never the person. I begged for Daniel to stop taking this disturbing substance, hoping that once it was out of his system, he would be a better human.

But that day never came. Every morning, I’d wake up and willingly try again.

I built up enough courage to contact the woman who’d worked her way up to number-one in my boyfriend’s Snapchat.

I sent her a message on Facebook. I asked how she knew Daniel and if something was going on between them. I told her I’d appreciate knowing so that I could remove myself from the situation. My intent was not to force Kate to tell me anything—I already knew Daniel was dishonest, and I wasn’t going to bring another human down to rock bottom with me. But Kate’s response was actually the best I could have hoped for in a situation like this. She explained to me that Daniel was not faithful and that I could do better. She sent screenshots of every message he had ever sent her. She described the date he had taken her on and how she invited him in.

When we both messaged Daniel and called out his cheating, he nearly lost it. He called us both over 20 times back-to-back so he could lie his way out of the situation and save himself. When I eventually answered, I told him to never to speak to me again.

I didn’t need to see Daniel in person or look for closure—I just needed an out. I admit it was difficult; every bone in my body wanted to unblock his number and hear his side of the story. But what would that story be? That I was on vacation and he was bored and needed another woman to occupy his time until I came back home? I was barely in my 20s. I was studying in an amazing program at my college. I had so many opportunities at my feet. I didn’t need this setback.

Not even 48 hours after we both ditched Daniel, Kate and I ended up meeting for dinner. We talked about the infidelity, how we’d both recently had to put our dogs down, and our brief conversations during high school. After dinner, she she invited me over to her place down the street. I didn’t have any other plans so I decided to hang out for a bit.

When I walked into her room, I complimented a shirt that had been tossed onto her bed. Kate immediately told me to take it home with me so I could borrow it. It was as if I was already a trustworthy friend to her. Throughout the night, we went through more of the clothes in her closet and laughed about the wild situation we had found ourselves in.

For over a year and a half, I’d pictured myself ending the relationship. But the ending seemed so dark and impossible. I couldn’t grasp onto it.

I didn’t have many friends left. The relationship had isolated me; I devoted all of my attention to trying to help Daniel get clean. When I met Kate, it was as if I knew she was my actual soulmate and our lives were better spent with each other. With her friendship, I could see myself cutting Daniel out of the picture.

About four months after breaking up with Daniel, Kate’s lease was ending and I was looking for a new place to live. We moved in together on a hot summer day and lived together for two years until I had to move to Seattle. Living my early-20s life with Kate was one of my greatest experiences. I had a right-hand woman who was down for anything—early morning wake-up calls to start our day before the sunrise, bi-weekly (okay, weekly) trips to Nordstrom’s, fast food binges that would fuel my spirit and make leaving our home together so difficult.

We talk constantly, and she just visited me in Seattle. We spent the weekend falling in love with the seasons and the colors in my new city. The start of our story wasn’t the easiest, but it sure is a story to tell.

Whenever Kate and I are together it’s only a matter of time before she smiles and says, “Shelby and I met because we dated the same guy. Go ahead Shelby, you tell it better.”

I look back on the five years that have since passed, and I think Kate saved me. She saved me from the danger that was Daniel and she saved me from being a danger to myself. Developing my friendship with Kate helped me revive old friendships that I’d avoided during the abuse. I know I’m lucky—there are so many women who can’t turn to a Kate when dark times grow unfathomably darker because abusive partners have separated them from support systems. It’s important to know your options in situations like these. Even if you haven’t found your Kate yet, you can still pick up the phone, call for help, and finally get out.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, check out these resources from The Center For Relationship Abuse Awareness or The National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or chat with a counselor online here.

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