When I was in the throes of my divorce, I remember telling my therapist that I thought my soon-to-be ex had hacked into my calendar. It seemed like almost immediately after every appointment, he’d send me a text or email with some new otherworldly level of bullsh*t designed to upset me. It always happened within minutes of my leaving the therapist’s office. My only explanation was that he was tracking my appointments and then, right when he thought I might be feeling good, deliberately did something to destroy my mood again.
I may be wrong — it’s possible he just had supremely bad timing — but to this day, three years later, I still think it’s true. I have good reason to think so, too. He ended our marriage by randomly disappearing overnight to move in with his secret mistress while I was on a work trip.
And then he did everything in his power to make my life a living hell, during the divorce and for more than a year after. As to why I still have no idea; he got the divorce he wanted. But, given his past behavior, it only made sense he would have stooped to that level.
At first, I was really affected by his actions. Everything that happened catapulted me back into despair and mental anguish. He started out strong, too — after he disappeared, he filed for divorce but lied about his address on the paperwork. He lied again about his address on the divorce papers themselves.
He skipped court dates because he just “didn’t feel like coming.” Meanwhile, he was spreading hateful rumors about me online, threatening to steal my house from me, and then turning around to tell me he needed money for some doctor appointment, and maybe we could reconcile if I helped him out. I had never seen so much crap coming from one person. Ever. He could probably win an award for it.
The pinnacle of his achievements came a few months after we were officially divorced. I turned on my phone after therapy to see five or six emails from my health insurance. My ex was trying to change the password on the account, but it apparently didn’t occur to him that the password change request emails were sent to me since I set up the account in the first place.
I called the insurance company to figure out what was going on, and they told me he had been calling and was trying to obtain and change a bunch of information. It was their professional opinion that he was attempting to commit insurance fraud with my information.
They instructed me to call the police and report the incident to the FBI. Never in my life did I imagine I would have to report someone to the FBI, let alone someone I once cared for. I don’t know if anything ever came of that report (the FBI doesn’t follow up with you), but it was a while after that before something happened with my ex again, so I assume it made at least a little bit of difference.
If you’re currently stuck in this same hateful cycle, I can tell you it does get better. Eventually, your ex will tucker themselves out and move on with their life. And on your end, the dying vestiges of attempted mental and emotional torture will start to be funny. You may have to make it funny in order to cope, but it will at some point elicit real laughter.
I did that in the beginning, in an attempt to turn the whole thing into a joke. During those obnoxious times, I started a Facebook post series called “Chronicles of the Ex-Husband.” Every time he did something new and ridiculous, I’d make a new post detailing what happened. Like the time I heard through a friend he had started taking German lessons, and then a week later noticed my email had been used — mysteriously — to sign up for about ten different German dating websites.
After every post I made, my friends and I shared a moment of shock and eventually turned the comments into a thread of jokes and gifs. And let me tell you, it helped. Not only was I able to see how many people were there for me, but I was also able to start seeing these incidents for the ridiculousness they were.
My “Chronicles of the Ex-Husband” episodes started occurring less and less until they eventually petered out with one last post in mid-2020. My dog needed to go to the vet for his heart murmur. I’d moved to a new city during the pandemic, so I had to get the records sent over from the vet my ex and I used for our pets. The vet emailed them to me immediately, and I took a look over them to make sure it was all in order.
Imagine my surprise when I saw at the bottom of the first page, in bold red letters, a note saying not to release the records to me because my ex had called and told them I was a “security risk.” This man — sorry, this child — specifically made a call to the vet to try and screw me over. He abandoned me in the middle of the night, stole a bunch of my stuff, lied on court documents, spread rumors about me … and claimed I was the security risk? The tentacles of his delusion went way deeper than I thought. It was the crowning moment of a relationship and divorce overwhelmed by gaslighting and emotional abuse.
But at that point, after everything I’d been through, I thought it was hysterical. The amount of laughter that burst out when I saw it is still echoing in my house today.
Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer and best-selling author. She’s been published in The New York Times, Smithsonian, Wired, and National Geographic Traveler.