For the past 12 years, I have put these thoughts and emotions in a sealed box to never try to feel the shame, humiliation or guilt I went through when I was in my teen/early 20s. Relationships can really change you, mess with your head and have the ability to turn your entire world upside down. But abuse, that stays with you forever.
When I was 19, I met a charming, good looking colleague while working at a restaurant. I had gotten out of my first great love relationship in high school and was determined to never have a heartbreak like the one I was finally getting over. I was ready for a new adventure but I had no idea this adventure would bring me own one of the darkest paths I ever had to face.
You never think it will happen to you. He was, as I said, extremely charming and a romantic at heart but looking back that’s how he was grooming me to want and love only him. He knew I had a passion for writing and would leave me some of the most profound love letters anyone could write on my windshield after a long night at work. These letters are what had me excited for our future, our relationship and how I was helping him become the best version of himself.
For months, I loved him blindly, assured that I was the only one that could fix him, his problems and he pretended to let me. It wasn’t until I was about to leave for my first year of college, after only three months of dating, that things took a turn for the worst. Somehow I wasn’t able to experience anything that being away from home allows you to do; freedom.
I went out to a party with girlfriends but when I called him 3 minutes after I said I would be back in my dorm room, I was called a ‘slut’ and ‘who are you sleeping with’ accusations even though we both know I was loyal. The mental abuse was a whirlwind of going from I am strong to suddenly believing that you are the loser, the stupid girl, the one who nobody likes because you hear it minute after hour after week after month.
My friends attempted to have interventions with me week after week telling me to get out but when you are in over your head, you aren’t thinking clearly. You aren’t yourself. I pushed everyone away. I pushed my friends away, my family and worse of all, I pushed myself to someone who was just a shell but no soul. I was truly blank with no expression of the storm I had surrounding me every single moment of every single day. I masked it with friends in class, with professors and people I worked with on campus. I hide it with a smile, throwing myself into one of my five part time jobs I had on campus, or all the endless amounts of homework and studying I had to do for class.
4 months later, my abuser proposed, knowing that I was probably going to leave him. It worked and we set a secret date to get married two years later. I know what you’re thinking. How on earth could she have wanted to marry him? I still don’t have that answer to that but only thinking I wanted to be the one to change him because he still had me assuming I could. My sister was the one my abuser had asked permission to marry me and she immediately said it wasn’t a good idea but he decided to propose anyways with a ‘promise ring’ that we also attributed as an engagement ring.
Throughout the next few months, we secretly planned a wedding that I knew my family would never want to attend and it was such a strange feeling to be doing something that was so significant but also having a lingering feeling if anyone would even come? I wanted my friend and family there celebrating, excited for our big moment, congratulating us and it was the exact opposite when I told people I was engaged.
One night, I had gotten into another argument with my fiance, always threatening to end the wedding, knowing I was and felt worthless to find anyone who could be as great him and feeling like the loser I thought I was. While signing up for housing with a few of my girlfriends and waiting our turn to sign our names, I was texting my fiance to let him know I’d call him in a few minutes. He kept arguing over the phone saying I kept him waiting- he didn’t have time for me and everything just clicked in one moment. Instead of feeling defeated like I usually did, I felt a whirl of strength and better yet, anger.
How dare he?! I’m in the middle of something exciting to do with my friends and you’re making me feel horrible. It was as if everything came at me at once saying this was actually it and I would be free if I just ended it myself right then and now. My girlfriends and I finished our sign up and I told them I’d meet up with them in a few minutes because I had to take care of something. I ran outside away from the sea of students and found a small corner bench to sit at.
I dialed his number and after him yelling over and over about how I don’t give him enough time I calmly said “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore and the wedding is off.” My voice and tone must have gotten through to him because he immediately got quiet and then laughed saying we would be back together again tomorrow. I told them that this was it and I was going to hang up the phone. On my way back to walking to my dorm room, I ran into a sorority sister and immediately burst into snot nose tears. We sat in her car and she let me cry and talk for over 45 minutes about everything that had been going on and how, free I finally felt because I knew it was over.
The next few days were a blur. My fiance tried calling me 52 times in 20 minutes until a friend took my cell phone and turned it off. He tried emailing me, Facebook stalking me and I even was nervous he would drive up to my college to try and talk. My friends and family were relieved we had broken up but never knew the extent of the relationship until now.
Even though it’s been 12 years, there are still moments I have PTSD over that relationship. My husband knows my trigger signs. He knows that there are certain moments if I have too much to drink I start to hallucinate and think I see my ex stalking me. In the beginning of our relationship, there were several times I said we should end it because I never thought I was good enough but he always stood next to me and said we’d get through it together. I’ve seen a therapist several times to talk about how to handle anger issues, trigger moments and when I start to go down that dark tunnel again. There are times my anxiety can still put me in a tunnel vision.
I’m sharing this because I had all the warning signs, I knew I was in a toxic relationship and despite all of it- I stayed. The reason? It’s so hard to feel like you can get out. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you’re thinking your going crazy and you feel as if you amount to nothing. Your pride, your worth, your identity is all warped. Honestly if it weren’t for some amazing friends and family members who listened to me cry, vent and just explode at times, I’m sure it would have ended a lot differently.
If you think you need help- I urge you to call someone, talk to a trusted friend or family member and just let them listen to you and your feeling. Reach out to me if you need someone to talk too. I’m always here. IF there is one thing to take away from all of this, it’s that it is NOT your fault that you got down this rabbit hole. It’s your abusers twisted mind to pray on someone like you. But guess what- this does NOT define who you are. You are more. You are worthy. You are strong. You can get out of this relationship with a strength you never thought possible and although it’s work every day to not go back into the rabbit hole, you’ve always got me in your corner, your friends and family to be there every step of the way.