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I never thought that I’d end up in an abusive relationship. Not me. No way.
I was strong, outspoken, and independent. I would never allow myself to be treated that way. It’s so much easier to say these things from an outside perspective. Everything is more complicated when you’re in the middle of it.
It wasn’t until years later that I was even able to admit that it was abuse. There were good moments, and happy memories intertwined with all the bad times. There were exhilarating highs and devastating lows. As humans, we have a hard time letting go of the people we become attached to; even when it’s in our own best interest.
It started out the way any other relationship does. We met and there was an attraction, a connection, a spark. At first, I thought he was shy: a quiet, romantic, and sweet guy. He was older and more mature, and he gave the appearance of a hard-working family man. I was not deterred by the fact that he had children. If anything, that only added to the appeal. I had no idea that all those first impressions were just a façade. I was young and naïve, and my pure heart always focused on the good in people.
Everything moved pretty quickly. Too quickly. Looking back, I wasn’t in a good place when we met. I was already on my own self-destructive path.
Perhaps he had been drawn to the damage in my eyes; like a moth to a flame.
I was lonely, and desperate to fill the void in my heart. I ignored all the red flags and made excuses for everything. Maybe, he was just a little broken too? Maybe, I could help him; change him, fix him? Surely my love would be enough to do that.
I gave pieces of myself away, a little at a time.
In the beginning, I was motivated by love, but in the end there was only fear. I played right into all the mind games, and allowed him to be in control.
I told myself that the extremely jealous behavior and possessiveness were signs of love. I convinced myself that if I could just prove to him that he could trust me, it would get better. Every time I gave an inch; he needed a mile. I allowed him free reign of my life. Unlimited access to my phone, email, and social media accounts. I kept my clock-out slips to prove what time I got off work. As someone who already had a tendency to self-blame, I accepted that everything was my fault. It’s hard to explain, but his manipulation had a seductive quality. He would speak softly, and hold me while he told me the things that I needed to change about myself. He was just trying to help me be a better person, he would say. I could be so amazing—if only I did this, or didn’t do that. So, I tried to be who he wanted me to be.
It was never enough. He would constantly lie to me, and do things to ignite jealousy in me, on purpose. It was a sick and twisted game; and I didn’t want to play anymore. I was emotionally exhausted, and finally ready to move on.
This is the point where things started to escalate, but I felt trapped. He attacked my relationships with family and friends; convinced me that they didn’t really care about me. He was the only one who did. I allowed myself to disconnect from all the people who really loved me. I was isolated. He made me think that I was crazy. He convinced me that I needed to be on medication; which only numbed me to the horrible situation I was truly in. If I was depressed or anxious, it was because of him. He told me I was worthless in so many ways, and I believed him.
I felt like I was nothing.
People often only think of the physical aspect of abuse, but it’s the complete mental and emotional break down of a person that leaves the biggest scars. The endless name calling. The consistent attacks on my personality and appearance. The destruction of everything I thought I was. I was already a shadow of the person I used to be.
If he knew he went too far, he’d show up with flowers and gifts. He’d put on a big show with real tears, and beg me not to leave him. He was sorry, he would get help, he would be better. He knew just what to say. He would pull at my heartstrings, and I’d take him back. Things would be good again for a while. I’d think I was happy.
Until the next time.
I was holding onto who we were in the beginning, and constantly trying to get back to that. It never occurred to me that I loved him for who I wanted him to be, and not who he truly was. The person I thought I loved didn’t exist. Every morning, I’d wake up and wonder what he was going to get mad at me for that day. I was constantly walking around on egg shells; carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. It got to the point where he was driving me to and from work, and would show up randomly and demand to see my phone.
I couldn’t breathe.
I think I finally realized that none of this was love. How could someone hate everything about me, but claim to love me? Ultimately, it was my daughter who gave me the strength to leave. I couldn’t handle the thought of her growing up thinking that the way he treated me was okay. I needed to break the cycle—for her.
As if sent from the heavens, I was offered a lifeline. An old flame had heard about my situation from a friend. He reached out, and slowly became my confidant. He told me all the things that I needed to hear. That I was beautiful, smart, funny, and kind. That I was perfect, just the way I was. That I deserved better, and that he wanted to be that for me. He offered me safety, and helped me escape. His love was almost enough to mend my broken spirit. Unfortunately, after what I had been through, it was all too much, too soon. I didn’t have it in me to give him the love he deserved and I ended up breaking his heart.
Hurt people hurt people. It still tears me up inside the way I treated that wonderful man. I will forever be thankful, and I hope he knows I’m sorry.
I’ll never know if I would have eventually mustered up the strength to leave on my own, but that isn’t the point. I finally left for good, and never looked back. I’ve let this experience make me better, stronger, and wiser. Pressure will either turn you into dust, or into a diamond. The choice is yours.