For most of my high school years, I’ve spent a lot of my time in an emotionally abusive relationship. Until a couple weeks ago, I thought I was the worst kind of damaged goods; a girl who could only love men who hurt her.
I know there are multiple sides to every story, and in this article, you only get my biased opinion. However, I don’t write this out of regret or for revenge, as the man I was with was very handsome, smart, charming and talented. There were definitely good times, but the bad times outweighed them.
Most people don’t know I’ve been in emotionally abusive relationships. I don’t like talking about my personal life with really anyone. From the outside, I’d bet my life looks pretty great. Some parts of it always were, and some were right out of a horror movie. This is one of those.
To begin, let me first explain that I never imagined myself as a victim of abuse because I didn’t realize I was one until recently. Prior to this relationship, I had been through hell. Desmoid breast tumors (which is basically sarcoma breast cancer), being diagnosed with a neurological disfunction called Dysautonomia (affects the automatic functions of the body i.e breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) and always being a loner. I think that’s what set me up perfectly to fall into his trap because I was willing to do anything to have a person that I called mine. I was alone and craving the attention of another person so badly.
When he first came into my life, my world turned upside down. Life was grand. He was a freshman at the Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, CO and was so unbelievably handsome it was like he stepped out of a magazine. I remember thinking there wasn’t anyone else in the world who was so much like myself. And to a certain extent, that has remained true. But his wickedness started showing about 5 weeks after we started dating.
When he went back to Colorado after winter break, things were hard. He was all the way out there and I was in Philadelphia, alone again. We were literally 1,000 miles apart. However, that didn’t stop me from trying to force this to work.
I remember him texting me one day and he bluntly confessed that he cheated on me after only 4 weeks and I didn’t know what to think. I was really upset, but then there was something in the back of my mind saying that it was okay, as we were so far apart. And that’s when it started.
That’s when I started making excuses for him and his behavior. Excuses that prevented me from seeing reality and what a monster he truly was because I was so scared to be alone again.
I never talked about my experiences because I thought that my kind of pain was self-inflicted.If I was stupid enough to stay, I deserved it.
This only made me feel more alienated. I felt there was no escaping him, so I wanted to make the best of my situation. I fell more and more under his spell until I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t recognize the girl that was staring back at me.
I’m writing this for multiple reasons, one being that abusive relationships are an epidemic in society. This could help someone understand their friend, their sister, their daughter who keeps going back. It could help someone who keeps going back. Because articles like this helped me.
Because all trauma wants is a voice. You think you’re crazy. You think you’re alone and that no one understands you. And when you try to talk to your friends about it, they think you’re insane for staying with him. They don’t understand why you can’t just end it.
You think there is no escaping. You’re anxious all the time and you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing to him making him angry. There area lot of questions you want to ask your boyfriend that you can’t because you feel he will punish you.
You’re paranoid about cheating. And you’re paranoid you’re always being lied to. You apologize constantly. When you explain your fights to anyone who will listen, no one understands why you’re apologizing. You are always confused.
You get high off him giving you the tiniest bit of attention. A simple “Hey baby,” has the power to make your day and erase all the reasons in your mind of why you should break it off.
Then he explains all the parts of you that are “wrong” and “need to be fixed.” For me, it was my breasts. After having a partial mastectomy, I wasn’t left with much of a right breast. And he thought that was ugly. He would always explain to me how he could never love me if I didn’t get plastic surgery to “correct” the issue.
Then he’d explain how grateful I should be that he’s staying with me while I wait for my surgery. That made me feel like there was no other man on the planet who would love and be patient with me like him.
And all of this makes you cry, a lot. Sometimes you know why and sometimes you don’t. Other times you’re just so broken. You don’t have the energy left to cry, so you sit there staring at the wall wondering how on earth you got here.
You are not crazy.There will be good days with your boyfriend. There will be miraculous days of exquisite beauty between you two. On these days, you will feel like all the problems of the past have been worked out and you are turning a new page in your relationship.
You can look back at the other times and see how it was you that messed everything up and prompted him to get angry. You will believe that the chaos has made you stronger; that he loves you more than anything. You feel grateful that he stays with you despite all your “mess ups.” These days are bright spots in the darkness that has descended upon you. They are the moments of hope that you’ll cling to, your proof that everything is okay.
But moments aren’t a life. Moments aren’t enough. You deserve weeks, months and years of feeling like everything is okay. When your relationship ends, you will drown in the confusing, competing narratives in your head, just like you did while in the relationship. You see everything as being your fault and that you need to apologize for everything you’ve done. Grief is a delusional state.
We really loved each other. I could’ve helped him if I’d tried harder.This was a major debate that I had with myself all the time. And I still sometimes do. My ex confessed to me (and only me) that he was sexually abused as a child. That made me feel like it was then “okay” how he treated me because his abusive past is the reason why he is the way he is. I thought I could fix him. I thought that if I just tried a little harder, I could straighten him out and we would have a perfect relationship.
But that is not true. That is not your responsibility. You do not deserve to carry his baggage along with yours. You deserve happiness. However, some days you will think you left the most beautiful relationship and the truest love in the world. Some days you will think you are just hysterical and that you weren’t being abused at all.
Until very recently, I still had days like that.
After you break up with him, you might not feel an immediate sense of relief, empowerment or really anything that resembles “I know this is the right thing.” You will likely feel very alone. Unfortunately, coming out of the fog with your eyes open is more painful than slipping into one without noticing. That delusion you painted for yourself to help you grieve with what you were going through is fading away, and you’re left with those raw emotions. And you don’t know how to deal with them.
But remember, feelings aren’t the truth. Feelings are just feelings. And feelings can be replaced with new feelings.
Expect the sadness and welcome it. That sadness is going to live in you for a long time and it will teach you a lot. I know you don’t believe me, but that sadness is your friend. That sadness is your becoming.
Not everyone you lose is a loss.
Tell your story no matter how uncomfortable you may seem at first. Read every article you can find on abuse until you feel an intellectual understanding of what happened to you. Realizing that you are, indeed, a victim of abuse is a major first step.
Talk to your friends and your family. You know someone who has lived through this. For me, I felt awkward talking about this with my friends and family because they shamed me for staying with him. Therefore, I reached out to his ex girlfriends on social media and told them my story. They’d respond and tell me theirs. I ended up making great relationships with other girls who went through exactly the same thing I did, and that made me feel like I wasn’t alone after all.
When getting help, you will have to reflect on your relationship. Don’t blame yourself for not leaving sooner, and don’t let anyone else blame you, either. In moments of trauma and shock, the brain has a funny way of protecting itself. It’s called disassociating. You’ve done a lot of this over the course of your relationship.
You will remember very early in your relationship that your ex-boyfriend did something and it was like a mask was lifted. He showed you a person you had never met before. For me, it was when he cheated on me. I mention this because statistically an abusive person will do something that throws you completely off balance within the first three months. Then, they will be really sorry. And then you feel responsible for causing him pain, as if you “forced” him to cheat on you.
You will come to learn that real love is not a cycle of cruelty, effusive apologies, a honeymoon period, then a dreaded waiting for the other shoe to drop. Abusive relationships are defined by this pattern.
When you do leave, you will realize that the emotional space your relationship took up was enormous. When it’s gone, the emptiness left in its wake will feel like an ocean around you. It will take way longer than you want to “get over it,” and you will think you will never reach the shore.
To distract myself from wanting to go back to him, I busied myself by going out on meaningless Tinder dates. I was attracted to guys who were like all my ex-boyfriends, physically and emotionally. Then, I started dating people who were completely different but I wasn’t ready to love. Like a scientist, I observed how they treated me with a confusing detachment and thought, “Oh, so this is what it should be like.” “So, this is what kindness is like.”
All of this made me just miss my ex-boyfriend more. Because no one “compares” to him at all. You will want to get back together. Abusive relationships fuck your brain chemistry up. They’re addictive, and the withdrawal is not fun.
Don’t worry, with time, your brain will even out. In a while, you won’t want to be with him anymore. Crying helps you detox, so do a lot of it. So does sleeping, exercise, therapy, eating healthy, seeing your friends and laughing.
When you’re in the withdrawal phase, you’ll begin to understand why you thought being in an abusive relationship was meant for you. You will look and study your past and your inherited patterns. It can get heavy, but you will get through it. And it will be rewarding.
You will tell people that know your ex-boyfriend about what happened and how he treated you. Likely, no one will be surprised by his behavior. Likely, no one will confront him. This is one of the saddest parts. You will feel like the last one in on a sick joke. In my case, during one of the conversations with one of his ex-girlfriends, she mentioned how his mother found out about his abusive behavior. And instead of confronting him, she just apologized for him and swept it under the rug.
Your ex-boyfriend will probably never apologize to you. If you do hear from him or see him, he will make you feel crazy. He’s really good at that. The way he frames you and your relationship will be distorted.
If you leave your boyfriend for someone else, beware. Until you truly understand why you were in the situation you were, emotionally and intellectually, your subconscious will have a sad way of attracting an identical relationship that looks completely different from the outside. This is not always true, but has been my experience.
At first, you will look at your past with shock and disgust and wonder how on earth you ever allowed yourself to get in that position. Then, later, you will look at your past with sadness. And finally, with understanding you feel the most pride for yourself in the moment you left, even if you didn’t want to. Because you did that on the blind faith that life might be better on the other side. You did that on hope alone. That’s so brave.
I know how scared you are and I still get scared. My year of recovery has been the most challenging and rewarding of my life. I live with feelings of the past that sneak up on me. Actually, I try to understand them.
Finally, (I know you’re worried about this) you will meet someone else. You will fall in love again and this time, it will be about more than your wounds matching up with someone else’s. It will be different and it will be better.
But something becomes more important to you than romantic love and it’s called self-worth. You will grow to love the person you are and you should.
You fought hard to become her.
NOTE: If you have a friend or a family member that you suspect is the victim of emotional abuse, tell them you are there for them. Tell someone. Help them in ways you wish you could’ve helped yourself. And finally, send them articles like this.
Do you have an experience or story about overcoming an abusive relationship? Share in the comments below!
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