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Last night, my subconscious put on an exceptional show.
It has always been outstanding at crafting my experiences into new storylines and letting them run free during the night. I wake up each morning, clearly remembering three or four dreams I had. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
Its latest performance was set in my first serious relationship. A house party, with lots of friends, and the two of us in a room together, talking.
In real life, we had started dating when I was 14 and had been together for 10 years.
To my surprise, my subconscious managed to fabricate how it felt to be with him, 100 percent. How small I felt about myself by having my feelings and concerns dismissed. How I felt like it was all my fault. How I wasn’t aware that I deserved more than that because I had never learned to love myself first. How I didn’t hold myself accountable for expressing what I needed. How I couldn’t end things when I should have out of fear and guilt.
And it made me think of all the ways I found to put myself back together after it finally did end.
Even though I deeply believe that each of us has an individual path to healing, perhaps some of the lessons I learned will resonate with you.
1. Recognizing our patterns.
I remember the moment when I realized that I was unwillingly living my parents’ marriage. I was sitting at their dinner table, visiting after a few months because I was living abroad.
What, in the strangest way, seemed to be working for them felt toxic to me. Instead, I had the deep need to be seen and heard by my partner—with all that I am.
2. Being compassionate toward ourselves.
Finding ways to accept my own shortcomings and own the part I played was a crucial aspect of my path to healing. One morning, about half a year before I ended the relationship, I was on my way to work. I was on my bicycle, and when a car came out of the street I was about to take, I had a scary thought:
“I wouldn’t care if I were to get hit right now.”
The next week, I found a therapist.
Looking back, I realize how much it took for me to accept that I did the best I could with the resources I had during that specific time of my life. There’s a connection between knowing our worth and taking action to stop our own suffering instead of letting things turn as bad as they possibly can.
3. Learning to set boundaries.
Thinking back on the person I was during that relationship, I recognize how I wasn’t only unable to express my needs, I didn’t even recognize them as such. My focus was solely on my partner’s desires and wants.
Anticipating and meeting them made me feel worthy of their love. It made me feel worthy as a person.
It took me years to understand that this had nothing to do with real love at all, but was solely an expression of conditioning and codependency.
4. Realizing that some parts of us only heal around company.
After ending my relationship of 10 years, I needed to learn to be by myself. I went on my first solo trip. I did a yoga teacher training in Thailand, learned to enjoy my own company backpacking through Cambodia and Laos, and went to a Vipassana retreat in Vietnam.
While this helped me forgive myself for many of the things I couldn’t prevent, I had to admit that there were wounds that could only heal in the company of another.
Someone who could be my mirror, call me out on my bullsh*t, and hold space for me in a way I hadn’t yet experienced. The first time my now-husband held me when I was sobbing because I was equally afraid to let him in as I was to let him go, was one of those moments.
5. Accepting that healing is cyclical.
Even though I’ve been out of this relationship for over six years now, in an emotionally healthy relationship for more than four years, and married for half a year, this part of my life resurfaces occasionally. There are still things to learn and let go of.
I will never remove this part of my life, nor should I want to. In the end, it made me who I am today. And I’m proud of that badass.
I’d love to know if you have experienced any of these or other lessons coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship. Let’s connect in the comments.