#520: Getting your stuff back from a Darth Vader ex

Dear Captain & Co.,

I’m in a wonderful relationship, but we’ve got a Darth Vader ex-girlfriend lurking on the sidelines. When we first started dating she behaved horribly: showing up on his lawn screaming suicide threats when she found out I was over, harassing him for months, hacking his email to get my phone number to send me threatening messages, etc. She backed off after he threatened to get a restraining order.

BF left a lot of his things at their apartment. He couldn’t face making a second trip to get everything when he initially left, and then was too afraid to ask her to send it to him. He was also just trying to get his life back together, as you do after escaping an abusive relationship. Then the whole mess above happened.

He’s joked that losing that stuff was a fair price to pay to get away from her. But lately it’s clear he wants it back. (He also has a narcissistic mother who’s gotten rid of a lot of his belongings without his permission, so I think a lot of it is about gaining control over his property and life.) The stuff in Darth’s possession is mostly memorabilia and collector’s items. We’re pretty sure she still has them because she latched on to his interests during their long-term relationship. But we are both at a loss about how to approach her about it.

Their relationship was extremely toxic. Darth has Borderline Personality Disorder. I hope she’s gotten help, but the Darth my BF knew was volatile, argumentative, irrational, manipulative, and occasionally violent. He is extremely wary about contacting her. We don’t want to trigger her or become a renewed target, especially since we’ll be at the same smallish convention in a few months. Because of her BPD, she probably still views herself as the abandoned victim. Six months ago we saw her at a concert and the way she reacted made it clear she wasn’t over him. According to the grapevine, her current boyfriend is an emotional prop she openly resents, so it’s possible she’s not over him even now. Contacting her might end up being fine… or it might make her act out in any number of ways.

What should we do? Any scripts or advice on enforcing boundaries, minimizing contact, and controlling possible fallout when attempting something like this would be really appreciated. BF doesn’t want trouble … he just wants his things back.

Is the value of the stuff such that it would be worth hiring a lawyer to deal with the entire thing from beginning to end, from sending the request to potentially taking her to court if she doesn’t comply to actually picking up the stuff? Like, it’s $50,000 worth of stuff and you think it would take $10,000 of lawyering to get it back, and you have the $10,000 lying around and you also have a free year of your life to spend on this problem?

Because my recommendation is: Buy new stuff.

You already know all the reasonable scripts. They go like this: “Hello, Ex, I hope you are doing well. Can I Paypal you some $ and have you ship me my stuff that’s still at your house? Send it to work, here’s the address. Great, thanks.

But you have ample, AMPLE proof that reasonable requests do not get reasonable responses.  You have successfully gotten this person out of your lives after a long and harrowing nightmare. To quote Gavin De Becker:

 “Any time you reward harassing or stalking with attention — even negative attention — you buy yourself six more weeks of stalking.” – The Gift of Fear

The stuff your boyfriend’s mother got rid of is gone (and is not really his ex’s fault or problem – recovering one won’t make up for the loss of the other). My honest recommendation, for the sake of everyone’s safety, treat the stuff that’s still at the ex’s house as if it is gone forever too.

It is completely unfair. Your boyfriend should be able to ask for his stuff back and have the expectation of receiving it. He also should have been able to end the relationship without months of stalking behavior. I don’t think we talk about the financial burdens of ending abusive relationships or evading stalker behavior enough, especially in the “But you could just leave!” rhetoric around abusive situations. “Leave that person! In exchange, become homeless and lose everything you own, forever. Come on, what are you waiting for?” I wish renter’s insurance policies covered the eventuality, or there were some apparatus for recovering funds & property lost to abusers.

And yet, you guys have enough information to know that “fair” and “reality” are incongruent here. You’re the one writing the letter, and you were also a victim of the stalking, so you get a say here, even if that say is “I am so sorry that you lost your stuff, but I am not willing to risk further contact with Darth to get it back.

Boyfriend, if you’re reading this, I don’t want to trivialize the trauma of losing stuff…twice…to abusive people. I totally get the temptation to get your things back from her and to win. Unfortunately, in her mind, she wins anytime you pay any attention to her. Coming after her now shows her she’s still on your mind, and that she still has power over you. It is 100% unfair and wrong, and I am so, so sorry. I hope you have a safe place you can work out some of these feelings. The Gift of Fear might be a good read for you right now.

96 thoughts on “#520: Getting your stuff back from a Darth Vader ex

  1. ”Any time you reward harassing or stalking with attention — even negative attention – you buy yourself six more weeks of stalking.”

    Wow, sooo true (going back to question #518). The best thing you can do is not give them the satisfaction of a response.

    Captain, would you recommend “The Gift of Fear” when dealing with abuse that’s not primarily physical?

    1. I find the book EXTREMELY useful for thinking about dating/stalking situations, employment/workplace stuff, teasing out manipulative behavior, trusting intuition (if you feel like something is off, trust that – you don’t need an airtight logic case), and is a fascinating read. I wish de Becker would update the DV chapter, or someone else would do what he does so well in the rest of the book without the “the first time someone hits you, you are a victim; the second time, you are a volunteer” stuff. I feel like he’s trying to scare people straight, like, once someone hits you, they aren’t de-escalating from here – this is your new reality, so don’t put your head in the sand and hope it will improve. The author grew up in a violent home where his mother did not leave her abuser, and has a very “YOU MUST GET OUT OR ELSE YOU ARE SIGNING UP FOR YOUR OWN ABUSE” stance on things that is in contrast to the rest of the book. Even with those issues, the book has been life-changing for me and very influential on how I think about creepy situations and people who won’t let go.

      1. Yeah, the DV chapter is definitely iffy. I actually know people who are DV survivors who the chapter spoke to and helped immensely, but there are also many DV survivors who it won’t help. I really wish the chapter was presented a little differently, because I actually do agree with the basic message: the vast majority of people escalate, not de-escalate. What he’s wrapped it in? Not so much.

      2. The victim blaming he engages in in that chapter is enough to sour the entire book for me. I realize that he’s bringing a lot of his own baggage to the table there, but still.

        1. I know you’re not alone. I think it’s rock solid in so many other ways, and it has been super influential for me, so I don’t want to plagiarize by pretending these are my personal ideas when I quote from it.

          Just like…Dan Savage sucks, but the Campsite Rule is solid.

          1. Hi Jennifer, I hear you say that Dan Savage sucks but he’s also on your Blogroll… I really hope I’m not being rude because I love your site and I’m just really curious why you say he sucks but at the same time link to him

          2. I haven’t updated or sorted the blog roll much since the beginning of the blog, and it’s definitely due for some reorganization. However, I link to many people who are part of the world of advice-giving, for good or ill, and a link does not mean uncritical recommendation or engagement. Example #1. Example #2. Savage comes up in conversation enough that he’s relevant to my interests and I like to be at least ambiently aware of him, and we get enough readers here who follow links from his page, or Prudence, or Rambly McFlowerypants over at Salon and then decide to stay here, that it’s worth it to me to keep links up. Maybe if I steal enough of their readers I can take over their gig.

          3. Omfg someone who agrees with me on that! There’s stuff about his column I think is good–Campsite Rule, oral sex is standard, etc.–but a lot of the stuff, especially anything Sex at Dawn-related, drives me up a wall. “All women are bisexual, just like in mainstream porn!” “We hooked up electrodes to ladies’ junk and the equipment said that they get turned on by chimps doin’ it even though they said they didn’t. Silly ladies, you are not to be trusted when answering questions about your sexual preferences.” >___<

          4. Miss Conduct and Carolyn Hax come the closest, I think, among mainstream, paid folks, but there is no perfect advice source that everyone will love all the time and will be useful to everyone all the time, this one included.

          5. Zillah, Deleting your comment as I’ve gone as far down the “who do we link/refer to here” discussion as I have energy for. There are entire Tumblrs devoted to following the dude and calling him to order, though.

      3. I remember that he acknowledged the controversy and defended his view in the book. I have trouble faulting his logic to be honest, but perhaps it seems like it glosses over the fact that abusers deliberately set things up so that leaving seems more impossible and dangerous than putting up with (technically hypothetical, but in reality 100% guaranteed) abuse that hasn’t happened yet.

      4. Uhm, I appreciate that you want to acknowledge a book that has been a positive influence in your life, but….. the truth is that I’m starting to get triggered by you mentioning the book.

        I am a survivor of emotional/verbal DV and I have firsthand experience with people telling me that I was at least half responsible for my abuse because I didn’t leave after I realized he was abusive. I was not just victimized by my abuser; I was victimized by the countless people afterwards who downplayed my abuse (because it wasn’t physical) and blamed me for not being smart/strong/whatever enough to successfully dump him. I struggled for YEARS afterwards with feeling responsible for my abuse, in no small part because in the end he was the one who ended things.

        Every time I see The Gift of Fear mentioned in a positive light, even with the caveats about the DV chapter, I have to think about not just the abuse I went through, but the aftermath where I was told over and over again that I had been complicit in my abuse. It doesn’t help that discussions of the DV chapter often involve people like botias saying shit like, “I have trouble faulting his logic to be honest” which lets me know that even in awesome communities like these I can’t escape people who think it’s okay (and not just okay, but LOGICAL) to blame victims of DV for not doing things “right”.

        I mean, maybe I’m the only one who feels this way but… is the book so great that it’s worth the cost of possibly re-victimizing survivors of DV when you recommend it?

        1. I can’t reply privately to a fake email address, but I wanted to you to know that I saw your comment.

          I am sorry, I don’t have anything to say that will make you feel happy right now. I don’t know how to balance “a book that saved me from some extremely hairy situations and that I wish I had found much sooner because I would have been equipped to deal with others before they escalated, including a roommate with a gun who hurt my pet and destroyed my stuff” and “a book that makes you feel like crap.” I don’t want to hurt you or minimize your experiences, but I have my reasons just as you do for feeling the way you do. I am open about the book’s influence, I tag/categorize the posts that mention or draw from the book, and I use a template that puts the categories at the top so there are hopefully no surprises. I’m explicitly not promising to never mention it again, especially in the context of stalking behaviors, so please make the decision that is right for you about how & whether you engage with content.

          I would love to see alternative recs for resources that do what the book does right without the stuff it does wrong, but that sounds like a good discussions for the forums. A rec is an opinion, counter-opinions/caveats have been registered, the LWs have enough info to make an informed decision. This Gift of Fear subthread is closed.

        2. I’m sorry that you had this experience. I’ve read The Gift of Fear and though I see its merit, I also agree that the DV chapter is poorly done. No one signs up for abuse. If you’re looking for better DV literature alternatives, I highly suggest “Men Who Batter Women” by Neil Jacobson and John Gottman because it has a FAR more sympathetic tone towards women in abusive relationships and it focuses on the strength and courage it takes to get out of an abusive relationship. Given the nature of its content, it’s highly triggering but it does focus on both emotional/verbal abuse and physical. It gives a very in depth and rich view of people’s lives before, during, and after abusive relationships, what leads up to them, what starts them, and how they end. Personally, I think The Gift of Fear is very useful in understanding the dynamics between potentially dangerous people and you when they are strangers and acquaintances and just starting to push your boundaries but John Gottman’s work is entirely focused on people you have a long standing relationship with which is a very different ball game. It really captures the reasons why women can’t leave right away and how the abuser can make them incredibly confused about what is even going on and turn their world upside down.

          @Captain Just wanted to point out that in John Gottman’s marriage research abuse almost never entirely ends. Physical abuse usually stops but emotional abuse takes it place. Out of the hundreds of couples they followed who were in an abusive relationship, one couple stopped the abuse entirely and it was probably due to the strange nature of how the abuse started in their case and a bunch of other unlikely factors compared to the others. I think it’s a sad fact that needs to be more common place considering a lot of people hold on to the hope that an abusive partner can just stop treating them badly if they wait it out.

      5. I’m reading The Gift of Fear now and yeah, a lot of the stuff he says about women gets on my nerves a little. I have not yet gotten to the DV chapter but am glad for the warning! Also, man, the second time my abusive ex hit me was in pretty quick succession from the first time, I was thinking more about curling up around the soft parts than trying to get away. His version of volunteering must look a lot different from mine.

    2. “The Gift of Fear” is about protecting yourself from assault. It’s about determining when something is dangerous so you can FLEE.

      So if you are okay with the response to “this person is being crappy at me” being “pull up stakes and go”, it might help.

      if you want to hold your own and de-escalate toxic emotional relationships, it might help more to get something like Suzette Hayden-Elgin’s The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.

  2. My mom lost most of her stuff, including some heirlooms, when she left my dad. I lost most of my stuff when I moved out and was unwilling to deal with his stalking. We call it the “freedom tax.” So you have my sympathy.

    It isn’t fair, but it’s kind of the price of admission to a world where this person doesn’t have control over you.

  3. Ugh, I was in a relationship for five years that ended in 2007, and my ex basically demanded all his stuff back. I’d kind of felt that it was implied he’d give me my stuff back too, but at the time I don’t think it was explicit. I can’t remember. Anyway, I got all the books, DVDs and stuff he’d loaned me and whatnot and put them all in a box, and he came over and picked them up.

    Did he give me any of my stuff back? Did he? Nope. Not at thing. There was a period where we weren’t talking and then when we were back talking he glibly informed me he’d thrown it out, except my Firefly box set. Which he wouldn’t give back. You know who you are…. that was a gift.

    1. Ii really like it that you removed all his stuff from your life. No nasty remnants or vibes to pollute your space. All good. sorry you didn’t get your stuff back, but the end message is that you’re DONE; he was still involved enough to want to effect you in some form or fashion. And yeah, you took the high road, too; good karma for you.

    2. Way to go being the better person Suzy! I’m sorry your ex was such a jerk 😦 My partner pretty much did the same with his ex. Gave her everything she asked for that he had that she wanted or used, but she wouldn’t budge on his stuff, only occasionally letting him have the odd personal item throughout the year. She still has a huge amount of valuable items that are either clearly his and she has no use for (beyond selling them), or were his from before they cohabited. There were kids involved so partner didn’t want to rock the boat and has resigned himself to never getting those things back but she’s stopped him seeing them too so he’s out his belongings that he needs and more importantly time with kids.

      Some people are just awful.

  4. It’s not quite an equivalent to losing ‘stuff’, but my sister has just left a partnership with her partner owing her a fair amount of cash she’s unlikely to ever see because he’s so unreliable and deceptive. He owes her a car and a buttload of basic, everyday-life money. Despite all that, if it weren’t for the fact that they owned a house and have a child together, she would probably just outright cut contact. She doesn’t ~want~ anything from him at this point. It would only bind her back to him again for a while, however superficially.

    I’m a terribly materialistic person, so it would kill me to leave anything behind after a toxic relationship. But at the same time, I know that sometimes it’s a whole lot easier to cut your losses and move on. You can always buy new stuff, eventually; it’s a lot harder to get the dust to settle on debris you keep poking with a stick, however in the right you might be.

  5. LW, this is terrible for your boyfriend, and for you. I think the Captain is probably right about what to do here, but I’m not sure.

    One thing that I thought of, though, was that now you know how much your boyfriend needs you to respect his things. He may not act like it, because if he pretends he doesn’t care about stuff, it won’t matter if (when) it gets taken away again. He may or may not be able to articulate feelings surrounding this. How much of his emotional security related to stuff, and access to and control of it? How much does sharing his stuff with you freak him out?

    I don’t know, that stuff is all pretty hard. But I was just thinking, if I were in your place, I would make sure to never ever lose anything of his.

    Practically speaking, if you do go forward, you might be able to hire a mediator for less money than a lawyer to get a neutral party present and involved.

    I wish you both all the luck in the world, whatever you decide to do.

  6. If “The stuff in Darth’s possession is mostly memorabilia and collector’s items.” is the extent of it, is it possible to make a list of what was there, and just start collecting those items again? I know for me, some of the collecting of memorabilia, and collector stuff is in the hunting for it. I can’t say for him.

    If it wasn’t a priceless family heirloom, I would not go back for it. That sucks, and I’m really sorry. This woman does not sound like someone you want to engage with further.

    If my spouse was in that situation, I’d probably make a gift of the little things I find to replace his lost items. If I knew it would go over well, and it would be welcome. It’s not fair to replace items this person has taken, but perhaps the damage could be mitigated by a kind gesture of replacing the stuff.

  7. I totally feel for you, LW, and though it’s a tiny point of your letter I would like to point out that BPD doesn’t wholly account for her behaviour. I and several of my best friends have BPD and it is the most horrible painful monstrosity of a condition (I ended up on a psych ward lately after a break up because the pain is just immense) but it doesn’t account for her behaviour because no matter how terrible she feels, BPD does not *make* her physically act out like this. She feels terrible, but she *chooses* to behave like this.

    Maybe she sees herself as a victim, maybe she doesn’t, but saying “she probably does because she has BPD” is enforcing a negative stereotype which really hinders people with BPD from getting help. She is behaving terribly. But her hurt is genuine whether it is from a condition or not, and similarly, her actions are her own and not irrevocable symptoms of BPD.

    Hope I’m not derailing the conversation, sorry, but BPD really doesn’t need any more stigma.

    1. Thanks for saying this. I think the relationship between something like BPD and abusive behaviour is really complex, and probably something the Darth Vader ex will need to spend a lot of time working out with her therapist, if/when she gets one. But the LW seemed to be referring to it as if it explained / proved that her behaviour was and will continue to be abusive, which sat wrongly with me.

      LW, I can totally understand finding it difficult, exhausting and stressful contemplating engaging with someone who has BPD and isn’t managing it well, and I think you are absolutely right to be wary of it. But maybe try and find a way of thinking about her that isn’t “she has BPD, so of course she’s a nightmare”? It is really difficult to do, though, especially when thinking about someone to whom you have no reason to bear good will.

    2. Seconded. “So and so does _________ because of their BPD (according to me, person who is not their therapist)” seems like the other side of the coin of online-internet-diagnoses-to-explain-behavior.

    3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to generalize. I know BPD doesn’t define a person and can be managed–the problem is she wasn’t being treated for it or trying to control it. The victim thing: another piece of info we’ve gotten through the grapevine; the shit she claims BF did to her is absurd (and mostly includes things she did to him). I’m sure the reason she showed up on his lawn that one night was because the reality of BF moving on from her triggered the abandonment fears BPD suffers experience. And I sympathize, I really do. That’s why I genuinely hope she is getting help. But I felt it needed mentioning because it was a big factor in how she acted when she harassed us, and is something we both need to think about when we know we might run into her because it complicates the ways she might react.

      For the record, though: BPD is -not- what makes her Darth Vader and I never meant to imply that. She’s just a crappy person.

      1. I think part of the point people are trying to make is that her BPD didn’t even need mentioning. For one, her horrifying awful behavior stands on its own, for another, that’s her medical info you’ve just shared on a public forum.

        1. Yeah, this. I can understand why the LW thought it was worth mentioning, but there are people who act that way without a diagnosable condition, too, you know?

        2. Her horrifying behavior stands on its own, for sure. But in terms of sharing medical info on a public forum, I don’t think that’s a relevant issue here. The LW didn’t provide any identifying details that would allow anyone here to know who this woman is–no names, no locations, etc. You can’t violate someone’s privacy if no one can figure out who is being talked about.

    4. I agree, and I think this is a really important point. Unfortunately, BPD is one of those disorders that’s gotten a lot of bad press, and assuming that everyone who has it will act a certain way is just as bad as assuming that everyone who has ADHD is bouncing out of their seat.

      O/T, but at some point I really hope they integrate it into the bipolar disorder family. I’m not sure that would help the stigma at all, but IMO that’s where it belongs.

      1. I think I follow you on Tumblr? Because the taxonomy of BPD thing would be such a derail, but is also a massively fascinating question. I’d like to bounce the conversation over somewhere we wouldn’t be derailing a different discussion.

        1. I actually don’t have a tumblr (though I’ve been thinking I ought to get one), but I would love the link if you have it! I would also be totally up for continuing the discussion elsewhere – I’m on the forums under the same name, if you are and want to PM or something?

        2. This is super interesting to me, given my personal/family history — if you’re interested in having a public discussion somewhere it would be great to read.

        3. The forums might be a great place for that, as other people are likely to be interested, too.

          1. Did the forums discussion happen and I’m not finding it? I’d be interested in following along as well, as someone who was once sorta-diagnosed with BPD and who has been through group therapy with BPD people.

    5. Yeah, thanks very much for bringing this up. This also sat badly with me, as someone with a tentative diagnosis of the same. I feel like when someone says “all this person’s irrational reactions are due to BPD!” it reinforces the climate where *all* reactions of someone with BPD are discredited because they are tied up with unbearable and upsetting emotions.

    6. I literally came here to say this! Thanks for getting their first.

      LW, I feel for you and your partner. I too have paid the Freedom Tax of losing half my stuff to escape a bad situation. But Vadar isn’t abusive because they have BPD, they are abusive AND they have BPD, and I’d really like it if you could stop saying that, because it contributes to a culture where people with mental illnesses are considered dangerous or violent, despite overwhelming evidence that they are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

      TL;DR; BPD *and* abusive, not BPD *thus* abusive.

  8. Yeah, I wish the financial costs of leaving an abuser were more acknowledged. When I left my darth (who I was living with) they insisted on taking ALL the stuff we had bought together over the previous 2 years. They promised to pay me back as well as to pay their share of the utility bills etc. Did I believe them? No. Did I ever see a penny of that money? Nope.
    Most of the time I view it as the price of freedom but it still really stings sometimes, especially as I was basically expected to just suck it up.

  9. Just got out of a 3 year toxic abusive relationship, mostly thanks to this blog and I left behind a bunch of my stuff including a whole bed, a couch and “our” cat. A**hat probably owes me $1000+ in borrowed money, not to mention all other costs of a live-in BF who did not like to spend money on unnecessary stuff like, you know, rent or food.

    The price of freedom is high but the way I look at it, is, this Christmas, as a gift from myself to myself, I will buy a super-duper-comfy-makes-you-feel-like-you-are-sleeping-on-a-cloud mattress. And all these nights starfishing by myself will be even sweeter than they are now.

    It sucks for the collector’s item. It really does. But honestly, time to start a new collection. Just imagine all that stuff is currently burning in the fire of her hatred and picture it as now irretrievable unless you want to get burned.

    1. I left with almost nothing to show from a twenty-year abusive marriage–crawled off home to recover at my parents’, basically broke and broken in every way a person can be. I took my personal documents, linens, clothes, and a tiny fraction of money (which was exceeded by more than triple the debt I was left saddled with to pay off). Left with literally nothing but pain as my reward for 20 years of misery. Worth every cent, and now just a few years later, I scraped myself back together and bought a small home where *I* make all of the decisions. Your BF can and will recover from the loss of his stuff–you can always replace stuff. You CAN’T replace peace of mind and intact boundaries.

      1. Well done to you for getting out of that, as I have seen how hard it can be. My mom left an abusive marriage of a similar length, and is just now coming out of the financial burden my dad left her in (compounded by a job that wouldn’t promote her, banks acting like assholes, and two kids in school). I am incredibly proud of her, and even when times were really hard, was happy that she was free of him. I wouldn’t trade her freedom for all the money in the world, and I’m sure the people who love you feel the same about you. Well done again to you, and I hope the future is full of good things for you.

        1. Thanks, and solidarity fistbumps to you and your mom for making it out, too. The road goes on, and I wouldn’t consider myself ‘over it’ like people seem to want me to be, but it’s much, MUCH better. I think sometimes maybe we don’t recognize the presence of peace in our new lives because we are so unfamiliar with it? In Bizarro-Abuser World, everything is always DramaDramaDrama all the time, so it’s weird to have it be so….calm. But good weird 🙂

  10. I’m so sorry.You know how people who’s houses have burned down often talk about how if they could have rescued one thing, they would have chosen a photo album? I’ve been in a similar situation. For me it was a lot about the Meaning Behind the Stuff. There were a lot of memories attached to them and it really hurt to let go of them forever.

    But the memories behind the stuff really never left me. And you make new memories. In the end, they are just things. Freedom is worth so much more.

    For a practical tip, if you have the option, maybe look at places like eBay to replace some things?

  11. When I left my abusive ex, we were long distance, but he was more settled and better off financially than me, so he had a lot of my crap in his apartment… we treated it as “our” place, and the place I had in my own city was like, just some place I stayed for awhile when I couldn’t be with him. I love to cook, and when we moved in together my family helped us stock a pretty nice kitchen, and he had more than half of that so that it would be there for me to cook for him on the weekends I visited. He also had a lot of my craft materials, as he had the backyard/garage space to do some of the messier crafts and I did not.

    The last time I saw him was actually the second time I had tried to leave. He had begged me into coming up to visit after a huge fight. I knew from the minute I got there that I had made a mistake. He was desperate to keep me and was acting insane. I was very upset at him and needed to talk things out if there was any chance in hell of me saying, but he had planned a magical romantic weekend getaway, as if making the right romantic gestures would smooth everything over. The morning after I had flown in, I started packing and planning my escape.

    When he realized I was really going, he got violent… not towards me, but generally… he destroyed his apartment, sweeping shit off the shelves, throwing things at walls… you get the picture. I darted around him and grabbed what I could, but I was literally running away in a taxi to the airport. I had exactly as long as it took the taxi to arrive and no longer–despite the fact that after destroying things he crumpled into a wailing ball on the floor, he was acting crazy and I didn’t feel safe. I left a lot behind, but three hours later I was home in my own apartment in a different city, and I was free.

    I don’t miss any of our relationship memorabilia, obviously, but for literally months afterwards I was still discovering that things were missing, and then realizing that HE had them. I spent a lot of money I didn’t really have as a poor graduate student replacing things on impulse buys, because it would suddenly become overwhelming for me that I did not own item X any more, and fixing that would temporarily make me feel whole and safe again. In the early days, I would occasionally go to cook or make something and realize a key item was missing, and I would crumple to the floor and dissolve into tears.

    It was hard to articulate at the time, but it wasn’t REALLY about the stuff. I wasn’t actually that emotionally attached to the $10 metal spatula or the random bucket of cheap craft paint. The stuff was just a symbol of just how much of my life had been with him, and realizing how many THINGS were missing made me aware of how much rebuilding I still had to do, and that would get overwhelming.

    So I get it. I do. But at the same time, I’m so glad I didn’t try to get any of the stuff back. He already made me pay for leaving with a year of phone (until I changed numbers… twice) and email stalking. And even if I had the stuff back, the underlying pain that I had regarding how much of my LIFE I had given him would have still been there.

    Above, some other commenters mentioned replacing some of the lost items as gifts. That may work great and be a way to participate in your partner’s healing, but one word of advice: ask first.

    Like I said, I replaced a lot of the stuff myself, but there were a few large items that I wasn’t financially irresponsible enough to splurge on, including a specific very fancy enameled cast iron pot I’d been given as a gift by my parents the previous christmas. This was a $200+ pot. It wasn’t a family heirloom yet, but it was meant to be the kind of item that you could keep in the family for decades. It was an extravagant gift, my “big” present that year. We always get one big gift along with assorted smaller ones from my parents, and the big present is always the big exciting surprise.

    I broke up with my boyfriend in February, so by the time xmas rolled around again I had recovered a great deal from the breakup. I didn’t think about him every day anymore. And when I unwrapped my “big present” that year… it was the same.goddamn.pot. My parents thought they were doing the right thing, and in the end I did keep the pot (though in a different color) and I love it… but when I unwrapped it that morning, I started sobbing. I hadn’t wanted to think about my ex that day. I was trying so hard not to think of him… and there it was. I also felt weirdly like I’d been robbed of my big surprise by just having a repeat of the previous year, even though I knew that was selfish and stupid. Like I said, I stopped my sobbing and got over it, but it was a weird christmas morning.

    So basically… replacing the stuff may be very meaningful. It might also open old wounds. Tread carefully.

    1. ” And when I unwrapped my “big present” that year… it was the same.goddamn.pot. My parents thought they were doing the right thing, and in the end I did keep the pot (though in a different color) and I love it… but when I unwrapped it that morning, I started sobbing. I hadn’t wanted to think about my ex that day. I was trying so hard not to think of him… and there it was. I also felt weirdly like I’d been robbed of my big surprise ”

      Reading this my heart just broke for you. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t selfish to want to be happy for a bit. Hugging you with my mind.

      1. Aww, thanks. It was a long time ago now, but thinking about it still makes me tear up a bit. My parents were so heartbroken, they tried so hard! I tried to hide being upset but I was totally unable to contain myself.

        It was an emotional year, the year after the breakup. Some day I really have to write a book, there are so many stories and lessons from those months. So far, I haven’t felt strong enough to tackle engaging with those painful memories for the extended period that would be necessary for such a project… but someday.

  12. I think the Captain’s right, but there is one possibility where social pressures might work in your favor. My guess is that ex-Darth will approach one or both of you at the upcoming smallish convention; if she does, that would be an excellent safe space at which to say pleasant polite nothings PLUS make public arrangements.

    “Hi, Darth, isn’t this smallish convention great, listen, what time in the next three days would be convenient for me to come by and pick up my things? I just happen to have handy an itemized list right here, by the way, you aren’t selling my things on your table here, are you? Ha ha, I’ll just take these models with me right now! How handy that you brought them with you!”

    Do this in a totally polite but not at all private way – you want witnesses, people in the community listening both to forestall a dramatic freak-out and to pressure her to behave about it. Have an itemized list at the ready. You might want to consider (even if you decide not to approach her about the stuff) talking to the convention organizers, as I could definitely see ‘selling off BF’s belongings’ or ‘making huge scene’ as possibilities, and having tipped them off before makes it much more likely that disputes will be resolved in your favor. Having said that, if she has your stuff at a table, call the cops, not the organizers, particularly if BF has any evidence that he owns things (insurance, receipts, emails with the buyer, etc.).

    Most likely, though, his stuff is gone already, and your safety/freedom are worth it.

    1. I’m sorry, but I disagree. Given the LW’s expectation of a highly audible and visible dramatic response to such an interaction, planning a confrontation, however politely *you* intend it to proceed, at the small convention would be unfair both to con-goers and con-organizers. They did not sign on to be your witnesses and security staff. They paid money to have an enjoyable weekend.

      But a mention to con organizers that there may be a problematic situation and asking after the proper procedures for handling any problems that do arise would be appropriate, I think.

  13. I’ll suggest that the holidays are coming so maybe start saving so you can buy replacements for some of the stuff. It would make a nice gift and might be a good way to help sever the bond with the ex.

  14. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but at least in my state, when you get a restraining order, there is a box you can check on the form that says something like “I need assistance from the police in retrieving the following items from this person”. Restraining orders are usually designed to be easier for you to get on your own without the help of a lawyer. It is not that much money or time.

    1. I think part of the issue is that engaging at all is likely to lead to more harassment, which it seems like they’ve finally started to escape from. Going through the process of getting a restraining order and taking his stuff back might pull the ex back in, which is not ideal.

    2. It sounds like the ex hasn’t done anything in a while, which would probably make getting a restraining order tricky, at best.

    3. Maybe even just going to your local station and talking the situation over will give you a better understanding of what the most likely scenario is with regard to getting stuff back and protecting yourselves from possible retaliation. There might be avenues to go down to getting the stuff back, and maybe hearing “Sorry, but it’s just not going to happen” from a third party who knows the law will help lay the dream of getting the stuff back to rest.

      1. A friend of mine called our local PD to ask for help with exploring options for dealing with an ex who was harassing her. The police officer actually called said dude during that meeting and said “hey… can you please knock it off? We’re getting complaints you aren’t respecting her desire to be left alone.” Missing Stair Ex seemed to think that was some kind of official step towards something, even though it totally wasn’t legally anything in any way at all. (except maybe documentation in case she wanted a restraining order later.)

        Anyway, involvement of Meaningless Authority can be useful sometimes.

        The problem is with trying a route like that is, your local PD would have to want to show up at Ex-Haus to retrieve said items, which they may not want to do. And, of course, do you want to risk having Missing Stair take that opportunity to be involved in contacting your BF again.

        1. The trouble with Meaningless Authority is that while sometimes the situation follows along the lines that you’re describing, sometimes when the stalker/harasser realizes that all the police can do is talk to them, they feel even more empowered. It’s a tricky line to walk.

        2. This was useful to me as well. When I stopped talking to my mother, she stalked me until one night when I called the cops on her because she sat outside my apartment and wouldn’t leave, and I was just sick of waiting for her to give up on stalking me. All they did was talk to her, but she stopped after that.

          I can absolutely see situations where ANY contact, even the cops, is just going to set stuff in motion again though. If it’s worth the further enduring of Darth Ex awfulness doing it will bring to LW’s boyfriend to get the stuff back, it could be worth it to see if police help can be invoked.

  15. Leaving my cat behind was the hardest thing I did when I left my abusive dad. She was MY cat, my companion for over a decade, and there was no way to take her with me. My situation was better than many people’s – I knew she’d be well cared for and loved, since my parents were good with animals. But years later I still regret not being there for my cat when she died.

    LW, your boyfriend is the only one who can know how much these things are worth to him. If I could go back in time, I’d do anything it took to get Smokey back. Some people might feel the same way about a particularly precious belonging – that blanket grandma made for them, a wedding ring, a gift from someone very special, etc. He should be aware of what Darth may do if he tries to get the stuff back. And if he thinks it’s worth it to try anyway, that’s his choice to make.

    1. I agree that it’s his choice to make, but LW since you’re being affected by the Darth too, it’s worth thinking how invested YOU are in getting his stuff back. Is the return of his stuff important enough to you for you to go through abusive/threatening phone calls and yelling on the lawn and horrible scenes in public again? Maybe, if he does decide to pursue getting his stuff back, you might want to have somewhere else to stay lined up in case she turns up and you feel unsafe. You might want to think about whether you would put a restraining order on her if she threatens and harasses you again.

      1. That’s a good point. LW gets to have boundaries that are different from BF’s. And it’s perfectly fine if the LW doesn’t want to deal with any abuse from the ex even if LW’s partner is willing to cope with it.

    2. I’m so sorry about your cat. My cats were the one thing I would have gone tooth and claw for when my ex broke up with me, but thankfully he was moving somewhere he couldn’t take them so it wasn’t an issue. You’re right though – some things are more precious than others. If we’re talking about the stuff that you would grab first from a burning building it might be worth it.

    3. Baytree, this brought me to tears, I am so sorry that happened to you, I know the pain of it. I had similar experience when getting away from abusive mother’s husband at 14 years. He told her I had to go, it was him or me so she let me go live with my Dad, it was what I wanted. But of course my ‘stepfather’ had to punish me, he said, “dog” is a family dog, she stays here. Stepfather put that dog in my lap at 11 years old and said she was mine, that if I didn’t train her and take care of her perfectly she would go back to the pound. She was my first dog and I loved her so much, she was with me always. My Mom didn’t stand up for me, in fact she never understood at all. For years when we talked she would tell me how my dog had never forgotten me, that when she said my name the dog would run around the house looking for me. I told her over and over to stop tormenting my dog, never say my name. I had to make a choice to save me and in so doing sacrificed my dog’s happiness and part of my own, it wasn’t fair to her – she could never understand why I left her. and all these years later I still wish there had been another choice. I thought that hurt was far behind me but here it is, decades later, your post brought it back vividly. My pain, the dog’s pain, the vicious, vindictiveness and utter lack of empathy abusive people are capable of.

      1. I’m so sorry to you and Baytree for the losses of your beloved pets. My mother and stepfather took my dogs from me as well, in different scenarios, and I’ve never quite forgiven them. First when I moved out they wouldn’t let me take my dog because she was the “family dog,” then a few years later when I stayed with them for a month with my two dogs, they gave one away while I was at work, and kept the other and kicked me out. I was absolutely devastated and I miss them horribly.

        1. They gave your dog away while you were at work?! That’s just… astoundingly awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

        2. I sometimes wonder if something like this happened to one of my rabbits. He was dumped at a pet shop by an adult man. I wish I knew if someone missed him and wondered how he was, then I could tell them that he is incredibly loved and cared for, and the most wonderful friend I ever could have hoped for.

    4. Baytree, I was in the same situation, except with an abusive ex who kept the cats – I had to move to a place where they could not be and I left them with him. I had to cut contact with him for my own well-being, but I still feel guilty for abandoning my babies, and not knowing what has happened to them. It is my major life regret, but I still can’t see any other option I could have had. But I wonder if he abandoned them, or killed them, or how their lives have been. Even typing this up still makes me cry.

  16. Ha I like the term “freedom tax”… Several years ago, I parted ways with my abusive family for good, and left my parents with a bunch of memorabilia. After that, an abusive ex stole what I did have. When I left him, at 2am, I took only my bird and what I could fit in a duffel bag. Re-buying stuff, especially necessities like coats, dresses, and shoes, really sucks. I didn’t want NEW stuff, I wanted MY stuff!! It’s humbling to ask friends for basics like that. But I muddled through it all somehow.
    Almost 5 years later, what I miss the most are my old photographs and backup drives that were thrown in the trash that weekend I went out of town.
    Fortunately, or not, with so much being on “the cloud” and online, you can go through a fire or flood and not lose your pictures and videos forever. I wish I had put all my photos online, if only in a private FaceBook album, and digitized the printed pictures, if only with my cell phone.
    I understand the hurt that you go through, the injustice, anger, grief… and it can take years to fully get over…. and even then, I still have my moments.
    What helped me on the logical-mental side, was to get comprehensive renter’s insurance (which probably doesn’t cover abusive situations, but they would at least have looked into the faked apartment break-in more seriously than the police)… and a generous web-storage plan.

  17. I think your BF has to let that stuff go.

    I’d add that after I left my own Darth Vader (ten year marriage), I really struggled with issues around material stuff. I am not a very materialistic person and I’m lucky that I didn’t leave anything of great personal significance (TBH, I had very few things of that nature) but it still stung for a long while.

    I had to move in with my folks, and my Mum would see me washing a skirt with holes in and say, “Why don’t you throw that away and I’ll buy you a new one?” and I would get extremely defensive about my threadbare skirt, like it was something I’d run back into a burning building to rescue before carrying on my back half way around the world, and now it was being suggested it should be all for nothing!

    It was also a source of great anger, frustration and for a while, regret. I had been married and I kept replaying the months around the split, imagining what I should have done – hired a lawyer, got him kicked out of the house instead of leaving myself, split everything down the middle (because in my case, I was mostly – though not exclusively – pissed about all the stuff I’d paid for which I could have sold on for very useful cash).

    But at the time, I wasn’t the person who could have done any of of those things. I’m not sure I could have done any of those things and remained physically safe. It just couldn’t have happened. I like the idea of Freedom Tax mentioned above..

    A few compensations:it’s nice to buy new things. I gather half the joy of collecting is tracking the stuff down and finding a bargain in the first place & maybe that’s something you and BF can do together. It’s also nice to have new stuff that represents the new person you’ve become, as opposed to carrying around things which could be symbols of the old relationship – especially if there was to be a fight over them.

    1. I understand the regret, just letting you know; I refused to loose my home when I divorced after 17 years and my abuser refused to move out. The result was very bad, he almost shot me. Don’t ever feel you were less than because you didn’t have the ability to do what you *think* you should have done vs what you actually did. You can have no idea what would have played out if you had done that “woulda, coulda, shoulda” thing. I went through massive therapy for PTSD and I have hard won the ability to realize that what happened was OK, that I did the best thing I could have done given the circumstances. That if I’d gone a different road it might have been worse, rather than better. I still have some “woulda, coulda, shoulda” syndrome in small things. But, I now trust myself and I see that hindsight shit as highly over rated.

      1. Thank you Datdamwuf,

        Although I know this rationally, it is good to hear – I really appreciate that. In my case, I think my ex didn’t really believe I was going to go until I went, and it was within a few day of my leaving when the fireworks began. Fortunately, I was literally the opposite end of the country, so I got it by phone and e-mail, and there was nothing more he could do. So I think, had I stood my ground but remained accessible, it could have ended very badly…

        Congratulations for leaving. Glad that you’re safe and on the mend now. And thanks again.

  18. My mother is an emotionally abusive hoarder, who believes she owns everything she or my dad ever gave me, or anything my grandparents ever gave me. I have grown up with some really weird beliefs about possessions, and this desire to a) know exactly what is and isn’t mine, and b) defend that stuff from attempts to take it. Notice that the criteria above mean that my mother thinks all of my childhood possessions are actually hers. She is also prone to suicide threats when she doesn’t get what she wants. I am still learning how to set boundaries with her. Anyway – I think I get some of where Boyfriend is coming from on the possessions front.

    I suppose this advice is really more for him than you LW. It is possible to get better about possessions, and it’s worth pursuing. Boyfriend might find therapy useful on this front (I certainly did) – you don’t have to have a really serious TV-documentary-worthy problem with stuff to benefit from talking to someone about how your parents were screwy and now you have screwy beliefs about owning things. Even if you don’t act crazy about it, but just feel a lot of anxiety about it. It’s not irrational to want to get stuff back from your Darth ex – but it’s harder to let go for those of us who have pre-existing issues when it comes to ownership.

    I don’t have experience with stalkers, but lots of smart people are advising to let this go and never contact Darth again. If you do go that route, Boyfriend needs to actually accept that the stuff is gone. Like burned in a fire gone. Because I’d wager that right now he thinks of it as stuff he owns but temporarily can’t access because of the inconvenient Darth problem (which might one day be solvable). From personal experience inner peace here will come from making some conscious choices. That Darth must never be contacted again. That anything of yours that Darth had is now gone forever. Feel free to be sad and angry about it, but *let it go*. I guarantee that if Boyfriend can perform these mental gymnastics he will feel better about the whole thing. Let go of Darth and the possibility of ever contacting Darth again. Don’t decide to “leave it for now but maybe one day”, if you’re not going to try to get stuff back decide that you’re *never* going to get the stuff back.

    1. Actually I should probably also add, that if he’s reeling from his mother trying to hurt and control him through his possessions, getting his stuff back from another abusive person in his life might mean a hell of a lot more to him than just the value of the items themselves (sentimental or otherwise). I can really understand why he might want to go through with it anyway, because if he can get it back he will have shown that he *does* have power in these situations, and can protect himself and his things despite the terrible behaviour of other people. That’s not worthless, or even irrational. I suppose it depends on how far you think she’ll escalate, and what you’re willing to risk to be supportive of your boyfriend’s need to draw this line in the sand.

    2. “My mother is an emotionally abusive hoarder, who believes she owns everything she or my dad ever gave me, or anything my grandparents ever gave me.”

      Oh, my gosh, this sentence explains so much to me! I have a close friend who has hoarding OCD and who fights the impulse to hoard all the time. If she finds out I’m donating something to Goodwill, she often acts as if it’s *her* stuff I’m giving away without her permission. I never understood it until I read your post.

      One Christmas, I asked her to come over and help me go through some Christmas ornaments I’d collected over the years with an ex. She’d helped me through my very painful breakup after a 10-year relationship with him, so she really understood how hard it was for me to decide which ornaments to keep and which ones to stop crying over every year. Well, in fact, I explained it to her when I called to ask her to come over. I’d kept them for about 4 years and they broke my heart every Christmas, and I needed someone with me to help me let them go.

      My wonderful, wonderful friend came over, helped me go through all the ornaments, was super, super supportive… and then, when everything was wrapped up for Goodwill, she wanted to take the ornaments home with her. I was stunned. I said, “No, you don’t understand. It’s really hard to let them go and now I don’t ever want to see them again. I have to give them away to someone I don’t know.” She then argued that I should let her give them to her next door neighbors (a young couple without a lot of stuff). This was after Christmas, so it didn’t make sense to me to give them something they might not want and wouldn’t use for at least a year anyway. I said as much, and she said she’d keep them at her house until next year. Of course, she didn’t have room, she might not remember to give them to her neighbors, and I’d probably stumble across them again — not to mention that even if everything went right, I’d probably have the pain of seeing them on her neighbors’ tree. I told her no and explained why. She got visibly upset and then called me “selfish.”

      It was so confusing. No one really *wanted* the ornaments, and I was giving them to charity. But she thought I was selfish for controlling how to dispose of my own things. She later apologized, but I’ve seen her struggle not to do it again. It’s like she only believes I own the items until I want to discard them — then I have no right to choose who to give them to or what to do with them.

      I always thought she didn’t fully understand that I owned them, so I also owned my decisions about who to give them to. It makes more sense to realize that she just has an impulse to control *all the things!* and it freaks her out whenever that control is usurped.

      1. Yep. Hoarders have massive issues with ownership of things (obviously) and if it’s any help I know exactly what you’re talking about there. My mother once came over during hard rubbish week (a week where you put all your really big, not fit for the bin rubbish on the curb and the council collects it – broken furniture and appliances and stuff) and she wanted to take home so much of what I’d thrown away. Dad stopped her, but yeah. Also as a teenager when I tried to throw away or donate stuff I no longer wanted she would take it all, and then eventually put it all back in my cupboards…

        You did the right thing by drawing a line with your friend – those ornaments would have come back to haunt you. It’s sometimes extremely stressful but if you want to interact with a hoarder you have to defend firm boundaries to avoid having their stuff problem bleed over into your own life. I would strongly advise against involving her in any decisions about possessions in the future, unless you’re happy for her to take all the things you’re disposing of.

        I should point out, my mother has other issues aside from hoarding, not all hoarders are abusive. You can be friends with them, just don’t offer to store their excess stuff (did that once – had to tell them I was moving house to get them to shift it) and try not to add to their problem by giving them all your junk. :-/

  19. This post couldn’t have been timed better. I just found out that an ex-friend of mine was using my university to facilitate stalking and monitoring me… rereading Gavin De Becker’s ‘Gift of Fear’ was such a godsend. It’s definitely not fair that victims are not usually afforded reasonable responses to reasonable requests – but it’s also very true that every time the abuser is given some attention, it buys at least 6 more weeks of contact.

  20. Having left a Darth & left possessions behind, I know how hard it is to miss something that means alot to you. But I’d like to sound a note of caution. There’s no way of guaranteeing that, even if the collectables are able to be returned, they’ll still be in good condition.

    One of the things I asked for from my Darth was a series of photo albums I’d made from our trip to Europe. There were three of them, with photos filed in date order and captioned, a process that had taken me months.

    I got them back alright. Wife Two had removed every photo with me in it from the albums, cut the photos up so that the part with me in it was separate from the other part, and mailed me “my” photos in an envelope. One of the pieces was a centimetre wide.

    Opening the envelope was a shock to the system and it took me ages to get over it. I sent the envelope to my solicitor with a cover letter (he was appalled, I think it was a new one even for him), and he unleashed the dogs of hell onto Darth and Mrs Darth , so I did get the albums and negatives back. But the albums were ruined, and I didn’t have the heart to put them back together again.

    TL:DR You might not get your things back intact. I’d recommend that you and your BF not make the attempt.

      1. Thanks for that :). I wish I could say it was the only nasty thing she did but sadly not.

  21. I have to say that I don’t see why the BPD diagnosis was relevant to the story – it obviously doesn’t excuse the ex’s actions, and there’s plenty of evidence out there that people without a mental illness diagnosis can be just as unreasonable and abusive as she was, and it felt like it was being mentioned in a sort of “causation/explanation” context. Which felt weird because I’m a person with mental health issues and there’s so much stigma out there that we’re just worthless as partners *because* of being mentally ill…I don’t even know, this is one of the only times I’ve de-lurked here and I hate that it’s for something negative/a complaint. It’s not even something that anyone did wrong per se, just some minor phrasing quibble.

    1. “Which felt weird because I’m a person with mental health issues and there’s so much stigma out there that we’re just worthless as partners *because* of being mentally ill…”

      Which many of us – I’m not sure if you’re included in this, but I certainly am – proceed to internalize. It’s not good.

    2. I am not using her BPD as an explanation — she is just a crappy person. I mentioned it only because I feel it complicated things on both ends… both in terms of how she might act out to me and BF, AND how contacting her would affect her own health. Staranise’s comment below is why I thought it was worth mentioning. As I said in my letter, I do NOT want to trigger her.

      I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder myself so I am very, very sympathetic to how difficult it is to live with a mental illness and to deal with the stigma. As much as I’m convinced Darth is just a crappy person, I still hope she gets help… and if she is doing better, I don’t want to be the cause of making her relapse. It’s been a really difficult struggle, internally… BF is the most important person in my life, and I’m constantly astonished at the things I find out Darth put him through during their relationship. She derailed his life and nearly drove him to suicide. I want to hate her, part of me wishes she’d be miserable forever… but I see myself in her a little, and I need to believe we all can recover one day. She won’t necessarily be a better person if she learns to live with her disorder, but she doesn’t deserve to be at the mercy of it. I hope I’m making sense. My feelings about it all are very complicated.

  22. Okay, LW, here’s a take on why the BPD matters. NB: I don’t have BPD, I’m just a trauma therapist, so I don’t know this stuff from the inside out. But.

    Borderline Personality Disorder is a longstanding, deeply-rooted disorder that is very difficult to change, even when the person tries very hard and has all the professional and social support in the world. Every disorder has something specific it functions–if somebody’s got a mobility impairment, they’ve got trouble walking. If they’ve got a vision impairment, they have trouble seeing. And if they have BPD, they have enormous challenges in keeping emotionally regulated, especially when it comes to relationships. That’s where we see problems, that’s the thing they have to focus on to improve. A huge feature of the disorder is when people with it are terrified of abandonment and rejection and find these things really, really frelling hard to deal with.

    So basically: asking this ex to remember that she’s been broken up with, interact with people who are going “we want nothing more to do with you”, disrupt her personal living space, and give up items that she’s associated with an ex who obviously has huge significance to her to this day, is like asking somebody with a mobility impairment to climb a mountain. It’s not impossible, especially if she agrees that it’s a good goal and really wants to try–see also: there are many successful mountaineers with mobility impairments! But no matter what, it is going to be really hard for her; it will throw her off her game and make her use a lot of whatever supports she had; and it would be fucking astonishing if she managed all of it flawlessly.

    Some people can calm down after a bad breakup and then get some emotional distance. But if her BPD is like you say it is? What you want to ask of her is one of the most difficult things she could ever try right now. Even if she agrees, she may not succeed in complying without an enormous amount of emotional turmoil, and she might not be able to control that turning into behaviours you won’t like.

    So really, take that under advisement, and ask how much your SO’s stuff is really worth to you.

  23. LW, I just wanted to express my sympathy for you and your partner. But I am afraid I agree with the Captain that you are unlikely to get the things back, and it might well be best to let them go.

    That can be a really painful process, and it can take a long time.

    When I left my abusive family (I truncate there — it is a long story), I had to leave almost everything behind. I had no photos, none of my childhood things, only three boxes of papers and a few precious (and battered) books. One of the things that killed me to leave behind was a collection of model horses that I had built a huge imaginative world around. There were 33 of them. (Here is where you pick up on the fact that I had a rather pampered childhood in material things!) There was no way to rescue them. I had to run.

    I dreamed about those horses for fifteen goddamn years. Vivid realistic dreams of being in my parents’ house and trying to get them out. I would wake up crying. I would remember the dreams later and not be sure whether I was remembering a dream or something that had happened.

    Then I found out, indirectly, that my mother had given them away.

    Shortly after finding this out, I was working on my Ph.D., and I wrote a novel at the same time (this is… probably not unusual). The horses worked their way into the novel, as the possessions of a pair of little girls who were threatened by a murderous insane family ghost. And the ghost started destroying the toy horses as part of the plot. (And then, you know, the story ended the way most horror stories do, with the defeat of the horrible thing.) (I don’t claim that this is a good novel or publishable in any way.)

    I don’t dream about them any more.

    But it took a lot of work to get here. I know it can be really painful to leave things behind, perhaps not really because of the things (plastic horses! I mean really). But because they represent parts of our lives we will never get back. Not even in a symbolic way. It sucks to be helpless and to have to acknowledge that all we can do is leave a part of ourselves behind, and hope that eventually, someday, the hurt will heal over.

  24. I’ve never lost stuff to an abusive relationship. But I did lose lots of stuff to a major house fire, and one thing that helped me was making lots of lists. Lists of stuff that was gone, stuff I wanted to replace eventually, stuff I needed to replace immediately, stuff I *didn’t* ever want to replace, stuff I wanted to look for when we were able to go back in, etc. Putting it down in writing really helped getting it to all stop swirling around in my head over and over again. Some things I was upset about, it’s turned out I don’t actually need to own right now, I just need to have written down so that I remember that I did own them and I could own them again if/when I need to.

    The stuff you can’t buy again is harder. We haven’t actually pursued this too much, being bogged down in day-to-day life, but we’ve thought about asking college friends if they still have copies of certain kinds of shared-experience memorabilia (flyers for plays, things like that) that they could scan for us. Maybe someday we’ll find time and put together a digital scrapbook of that kind of stuff. (Or maybe we’ll move further on and decide we don’t care any more and want to live less-cluttered lives, or maybe, most realistically, we’ll still be vaguely meaning to do this in twenty years.) Sorry, my point was, I think people are generally pretty eager to help with situations like this, if you can make specific requests of what you’re looking for.

    1. psocoptera, this ” I just need to have written down so that I remember that I did own them and I could own them again if/when I need to. ” really just resonated with me and I think you just helped me get rid of a bunch of stuff!!

    2. Same. I lost most everything I had to a house fire when I was 22. Furniture, old favorite books, photographs, letters, keepsakes from travels, many, many gifts… in addition to the basic necessities like clothes and shoes. It’s not easy, and there are things you’ll fixate on. For me, I miss the ring I wore every day, my tshirt for my favorite band as a teenager that broke up years ago, and my dog eared set of Harry Potter books that I’d read over and over and over.

      But at least in my experience, some of the wanting and anger is about the stuff, but it’s mostly about what happened. Sure, you can get some of the stuff back. I DID get some stuff back–my friends got me a new set of Harry Potter books, I bought a new ring–but it wasn’t quite the same, and it didn’t fix my sadness about the fire. Even with some new stuff, there’s still the sadness and fear and disruption.

      I think in your case, I mean this is projecting, but I bet you’re upset about the way things went down and how unfair it is, about what you lost and about what the ex is going through, the way you were treated. Those are real things to be upset over. I think for you the stuff might be a way to try and take something back, to reclaim it for you so that you can move on, more intact and whole. It’s a way for you to win.

      Let it go. Treat the stuff like it burned and is in ashes. Deal with the feelings you’re having. Closure is something you give yourself, like the Captain says. Let it close. You don’t need the stuff to prove that this old relationship isn’t hurting you anymore.

  25. Perhaps it would help to think of these things as hopelessly contaminated. I lived in a house in the woods once, and right before I was going to be moving away anyway, the kitchen cabinetry became infested with rats. When I moved, I left a lot of the kitchen things behind, because, CONTAMINATED BY RATS! I know I could have boiled them or scrubbed them (which I did for a few items) but mostly, too gross to think about keeping.

    1. That’s a really good idea, Deborah. Technically, they *are* contaminated-by unhappy association with an abusive person. I left some things behind that could have fit in my car when I left, because they were directly associated with places we had gone when I thought we were ‘happy’, before the massive betrayals that revealed everything as lies. Either way, thinking of ‘happy’ memories or the destruction of them wasn’t something I wanted to do, or had the energy to do. Contaminated is right. Now I look around, and I craft a different story from the things that I replaced them with. Like the time I stood in Target for a full 25 minutes, staring at china which I wanted and trying to tell myself I deserved them, they were inexpensive, and no one was going to read me the riot act for daring to spend $25.00 on necessary items. I bought them, dammit-they symbolize freedom to choose and the return of autonomy 🙂 Also, they’re just cute, haha.

      1. [quote]contaminated-by unhappy association with an abusive person[/quote]

        I’ve recently started to throw out things associated with my emotionally abusive ex. Things I wanted at the time, things I paid $$$ for – but even though I’d loved them and wanted them and paid for them myself, they were tainted. And my life is so much *better* for it.

        For a while, keeping those things felt like a way of not letting my ex win; but in the end it didn’t work; I *couldn’t* make them happy things, because I’d had such a lousy time. And now I want to build new memories with my current partner, and have new things, things that are about us and not about the person I was so many years ago.

        1. Oh, boy, do I *totally* understand the feeling of not wanting to let your ex ‘win’! Because they have basically robbed you of so many things, especially intangibles like trust in your own judgment and faith in the goodness and transparency of people, you feel like you desperately need to get some of your own back. But it is great that you are at the place where you are truly ready to let go of all traces of that life, that is a huge deal, and I hope you celebrate yourself and your new life with your new partner as often as possible. Get new things with happy stories attached to them. I can’t tell you how much hope it brings me to hear another abuse survivor has not only lived to tell the tale, but they are now thriving and joyful again.

  26. LW, I assume by “hacking” you meant “she knew some of his passwords and/or secret phrases and she used them.” Please tell your boyfriend to change his passwords on all his accounts and review/update the authentication stuff (secret questions, phone numbers, etc.) so she doesn’t get a second chance to do any serious damage.

  27. whoah lotta comments, so this has almost certainly already been covered, but.

    I lost pretty much all my treasured youthful heirlooms (yearbooks, photo albums, autographs from people who have since died, things I made myself that had vast contextual meaning to me) when I trusted the first person I ever moved in with to “take care of them for me.” he didn’t. I’m pretty sure those two boxes ended up in the garbage, decades ago. I still think about some of those things, too; some of them would be worth real money now, and most of them are things that I would still love to have, to show to others, and be proud to display. but he was abusive, and leaving them with him was part of the price I paid to get away. I miss those things, but *I do not regret having lost them to get away from him*.

    between that and a few later experiences of whittling down my belongings until they could fit in a carload or less (most of which was books and clothes, and I don’t have that many clothes), I have gradually learned not to become attached to material things. I like having them; there are many things I have now that have meaning to me. it doesn’t prevent me from getting things, or making them, or caring about the things I have. but it does mean that if I had to leave them all, I know I can do it and be okay. I would be sad, and there’s stuff I would miss, but the most important things are in my head. preserving my self is far more important than preserving any object of sentimental value.

    much empathy to you and your mate, and I hope that the two of you are able to build many good, solid, lasting things together, physical and–much more importantly–mental and emotional structures that will help to heal.

Comments are closed.