I still vividly remember the moment when I first met him, it felt as if the ground shifted beneath my feet and everything finally made sense. I remember feeling that sense of deep belonging as the butterflies and excitement took over, and I remember feeling as if I had found home in his arms thinking that I never ever wanted to let him go.
He embodied everything that I was looking for and so much more, he mirrored back everything that I wanted to be and everything I wanted a partner to be. I remember looking over at him in complete awe and wondering how someone as incredible and beautiful as he was would be interested in me — and I guess that was my very first mistake, placing him so elegantly upon the towering pedestal. But for the first time in my entire life someone made me feel so beautiful, so wanted and so special; but most of all, so worthy. It felt almost too good to be true, which I guess it turns out it was; but instead of my usual move of turning and running out of fear, I silenced the inner cynic and I ran straight into his trap and straight into his arms.
Those first weeks were a marathon and even when I found myself frightened by the intensity and speed at which we were moving, I kept reminding myself that this was the fairytale that dreams are made of and that this is what happens when you meet the right person. With the gift of clarity, I can now see the holes in the perfect fantasy; I can see the red flags of the love bombs that were dropped upon me — the dangling carrot of a future together — marriage, kids, the white picket fence, and all. The fantasy swept me up and although my better judgment shouted that it was too much too soon, I instead chose to believe him when he said that I was special and that I was the only one that he had ever felt this way about. My need to be chosen and my need to be worthy of love overrode every niggling feeling within me, and left in the ecstasy of feeling safe and seen, I revealed every aspect of myself to him, bearing my entire soul not knowing that those spoken truths would eventually be used against me in a world where nothing was too sacred to be left untouched.
The blissful haze didn’t stick around for too long though, the fantasy bubble that I had entrenched myself in being very abruptly popped as piece by piece his mask fell away until the well-mannered, charismatic, charming, and thoughtful prince that I thought I had met evaporated into the abyss, only to ever again be seen when around other people, always leaving me desperately craving more. I still remember those early moments too vividly, the frustration and confusion that I felt as he found little holes in which to poke, stirring up the settled insecurity that lived deep within me as I pleaded my case against the foundation that he had begun to lay — one that was built upon the premise that I just wasn’t good enough. With that, the red flags began to multiply but I found my way around each and every single one. It wasn’t as if I were perfect either, void of fault or imperfection — I had my fair share of baggage which I carried around, I had my own moments of disconnection, of behavior that some may have chosen to see as red flags as well, but he seemingly accepted me and stuck by me and with that, I chose to stick by him.
The thing about red flags is that when they are blatantly ignored they tend to become louder and bigger and more difficult to avoid.
The subtle warning signs eventually grew into flashing neon lights, but at that point, it was far too late because I was entangled in his web of love, and as much as it hurt I didn’t even want to escape. I chose him every single time too concerned about letting him down, but not concerned enough about letting myself down.
The days that were meant to be cast in the magnificent hue of the honeymoon stage were instead soiled by a power struggle that I didn’t even care to win. I tiptoed around on broken eggshells too afraid to breathe as I dodged the many landmines that surrounded us, fearing that one wrong move would cause this fantasy world that I had become so invested in to disappear. As I became an extension of him he broke every boundary, the lines becoming overwhelmingly blurry as I felt him constantly leering over my shoulder, his need to control driven by his deeply ingrained insecurity leaving me feeling more and more suffocated by his dominating presence.
I found myself living in a world of insecurity and self-doubt as every aspect of my being was criticized — from the most intimate to the most superficial. Every moment of his dissatisfaction or discomfort, whether imagined or real, were burdens thrust heavily upon my shoulders as I soon came to learn that I could do no right — every problem started and ended squarely with me.
Eventually, life had started to turn grey and as I sought out the light I realized that I no longer knew reality from fiction. Reality seemed to elude me as I found myself wrapped up in his web which constricted every fiber of my being. I started to be the fear that resided within, watching and waiting for the moment that the short-lived bliss would implode into tyranny as if it had never existed. The pattern excruciatingly predictable yet increasingly more painful as hope became the noose firmly tightened around my neck.
I felt every piece of me fade into dull nothingness as the words that escaped his lips left me questioning exactly who I was. Fear paralyzed me as I started to doubt myself, carefully considering every word that crossed my mind — would it be enough for him? Would it be too much for him? I was never too certain and even when I thought I was bound to get it right, I very seldom did.
I started to feel as if I were going crazy as I found myself repeatedly put on trial, the executioner out for blood.
I started to question my sanity when every conversation left me coming to my own defense, the anxiety and frustration rapidly boiling beneath the surface as I desperately tried to reason with an unreasonable person. I would pinch myself in the moments of insanity as a reminder that I was still alive, but the world kept spinning faster and faster around me as the truth continued to rapidly slip from my fingers.
I started to believe him when he said that I was the problem, that I was lacking and dysfunctional, and that the nuclear state of our relationship was purely my doing.
My self-worth became tied up in the need for his approval with the fear that everything that he had said was the truth, and if that happened to be the case, I couldn’t risk losing the only person who would ever accept and tolerate me regardless of whether I was dying a miserable death inside. I began to strategize as I rationalized not only with myself but with every person in my life on how I could improve and how I could make it work — excuse after excuse, reason after reason until eventually, I saw the look of defeat and despondency engulf everyone around me as they saw me heading straight toward my demise.
I grew weaker and weaker under his scrutiny and as I fought to keep my strength, I ended up losing a lot more — my dignity.
I would walk straight into the elegantly set traps, my back pressed firmly against the wall, his finger poking and provoking me until it would feel as if I were trapped in a maze with no escape in sight. I would talk around in circles, feeling as if I were losing my mind. I would feel the panic set in, I would feel the sadness rise up and I would feel the frustration and anxiety completely take over as I fought a losing fight. Those moments were my weakest and in those moments of complete exasperation, I would feel myself recoil into a helpless child, unable to manage under the pressure I would gasp for air feeling as if the last bit of life within me was being squeezed out of my lungs.
Sometimes the maze would feel like the end of me and those darkest days were my worst. Those days when I struggled against his reign of terror, finding myself walked into a corner with my back pressed firmly against the wall, every fighting instinct in me would take over control — I would scream, I would cry, I would stomp my feet and fall to the floor begging for it all to stop — the physical release being far better than the toxic suffocation which had become my existence. But in those moments where I lost the last of my dignity, I would give him all the ammunition that he needed. While I would sit in a puddle of weakness and shame and cry over my loss of self-control, I would find myself in the twilight zone with the tables flipped around on me, labeled as the crazy, toxic and abusive one; he would look down on me with that look of disgust that will be forever seared into my memory, and tell me to stop crying like a little girl.
But what goes up must eventually come down. The push-pull dynamic of what could only be described as a rollercoaster from hell would always come to a screeching halt as he would sit and shed his crocodile tears, once again promising me the world as he swore that he would change, as he professed his love for me, as he built me up with affirmations of my worth and how I was too good for him. He would drop love bomb after love bomb which my craving heart absorbed like a porous sponge. As broken as I was, as broken as our relationship was when I would look into those beautiful eyes of his, I would see the little boy so desperate for love and I would see that prince that I first met; and I would remember the feeling I had when I first held him so tight and thought I would never let him go. In those moments no matter how strong I wanted to be, I was putty in his hands, and even when I tried to leave, I could never get myself to truly go as his presence lingered like shackles bound to my every limb.
I needed to believe his promises; I needed to believe that he could change — that there was redemption, and that there was salvation because I couldn’t bring myself to accept that I deserved the pain. I got myself deeper and deeper into a pit of emptiness as disappointment and fear became my norm. I started to hate myself as all I could see was the weakness that allowed me to stay. I lost every aspect of reality because I lived in the haze of reactivity.
But there was never any salvation, there was never any redemption; and each time the rollercoaster would set off for another round, the ride would get more and more terrifying leaving marks both seen and unseen that I would all too casually just explain away.
. . .
I don’t know at what point I realized and accepted that he didn’t really feel for me what he claimed to. I don’t know at what point I realized that I was living within a dream that never existed. I don’t know if it was the uncovered lies and betrayal that put the final nail in the coffin, pulling off the rose-colored glasses of delusion leaving me staring into the terrifying reality of what truly is, rather than what I had spent a year convincing myself to see. I don’t know if it was the night that I slept on the couch with my bag around my body to keep him from taking it away from me — the first night that I felt as if I was watching the horror from the outside in, fully aware of the toxicity that I was encased in as he casually ashed his cigarette on me while all I did was cry.
I don’t know where the exact turning point was, or if it was a culmination of all the horrors that finally pushed me over the edge — but I finally saw that what we had was never sacred, I finally saw I was no more to him than a pawn, I finally saw that as much as I had taken the burden upon my shoulders, it wasn’t my burden to bear.
At first, I wanted to do nothing but label him, the confines of the labels giving me a sense of safety and peace of mind. The reasons behind his abusive behavior allowing me the freedom to know it was less about me and more about him. I needed the comfort knowing that I wasn’t the cause for the mistreatment, that it wasn’t exclusive to me, and that I didn’t deserve the scorching hell that I had lived in for a year. I needed to relinquish responsibility but I also needed to know that I wasn’t broken.
I guess it’s easy to label myself as the victim at the hands of an abuser, but what I have had to come to terms with is that I am neither a victim nor a survivor — I am just as broken if not more broken than the abuser I submitted myself to.
We can turn away from these situations and we can cocoon ourselves up in the comfort of our sad story about our victimization, but what I did instead was question the role that I have played. I had to come face to face with my own terrifying demons acknowledging that I am just as much to blame for the co-created hell as he was. I had to acknowledge the broken parts of myself because the reality is that a broken person stays because they don’t know their worth. A broken person accepts abuse because they believe that they deserve it. I had every chance to get off the rollercoaster but I kept on getting back on — at the time I felt as if I had no choice, I felt enslaved to his will but I now can see that isn’t the truth, there is always another choice, there is always a way out — I just didn’t want to get out.
I wasn’t a victim of another person and I wasn’t enslaved to another person’s control, I was a victim and a slave to my own faulty belief system where the cycle of abuse validated and reaffirmed a set of beliefs that have never served me any good. I had become a victim and a slave to the highs and the lows that kept me addicted to the adrenaline of the rollercoaster ride that I kept choosing to stay on.
The beauty of awareness is that it brings so much light. The light illuminates all the little cracks, all the broken parts but it also shows all the truths. Once you see the truth, it takes a fool to turn back to a lie. It is so easy to point fingers and assign blame but taking responsibility is the hard part. What I have had to accept is that there is no one else responsible for me and how my life plays out other than me. I have choices and the choices I make for my life determine the quality of it. This past year brought to my knees and it has broken so many little pieces within me, but it has also given me the best gift of all which is the light and all the opportunities that come with it.
Walking away was the easiest but also the most difficult decision I had to make. Walking away felt like a failure, and giving up hope felt like I was giving up on myself. I still have moments where I feel my heart stop when I think about how it is truly over. I sometimes find myself replaying on a loop in my mind the handful of the sweetest moments which kept me addicted to hope, wishing I could just be in his arms again. I still miss him and I still love him and I think it will take a while for that to fade, but in the moments where I feel as if I want to turn back around, I force myself to keep looking into the light, to keep looking into the truth and to keep moving forward.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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