When I met him, I was a 15-year-old hopeless romantic who read John Green books and thought love was always beautiful and magical. I didn’t know sometimes love hurts and blinds you. We talked and hung out for about a month before he asked me to be his girlfriend in the JCPenney’s of my local mall on Valentine’s Day, which was a lot more romantic in the moment than when I think about it today. Things were great during the honeymoon phase of our relationship. He would say the sweetest things to me, stay up late talking to me on the phone and go the extra mile just to make me happy. We had about a million inside jokes and spent every waking moment together. A couple months in, I told him I loved him. It was after I expressed my feelings for him that things started to change. He gradually became more possessive and jealous, which I mistook for love and devotion. He began to distance himself emotionally and say things to me like, “sometimes I wish I was single so I could see other people.” He would try to make me jealous by being flirty with other girls for attention, which I mistakenly attributed to being an immature teenage boy.
As time went on, he became more and more distant. One day he would tell me he loved me and the next day he’d say he doesn’t love me anymore. He’d invade my personal privacy by going through and policing my phone and social media. I wasn’t allowed to have male friends or go out with my friends without him and if I did he would make me feel guilty. He would find ways to hold me back, convince me to pass on amazing opportunities – keep me on his level. I always wanted more out of my life and always wanted to become better than who I was yesterday and he didn’t share or appreciate that philosophy. Once he knew he had control over me, the abuse escalated. He would constantly criticize me, telling me I’m not pretty, funny, or smart and pass it off as “joking.” My accomplishments, hopes, and dreams were always trivialized and my thoughts and ideas were always brushed off. He’d ignore me and withhold love and affection from me if I made him upset. When we had arguments over things he had done, he’d always find a way to deflect blame on me and make me apologize. It was always my fault and never his. He was always right and I was always wrong. Finally, whenever I worked up the courage to confront him about his behavior, he’d tell me I’m overreacting, that I’m crazy and that he wasn’t abusing me. He’d tell me I’m making it all up just to start a fight. He’d even tell me I was manipulative and abusive for telling him he wasn’t treating me right. He made me feel insane. He made me distrustful of my own perception and experiences. The negative things he told me about myself became my own thoughts and soon enough I believed them. I felt like I was not worthy of love or attention and that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to achieve the lofty goals I set for myself. I felt like I was alone and I wasn’t good enough for people to care about me. Every time I felt good about myself and thought I was doing well, I heard his voice casually reminding me I’m not.
After months and months of contemplating leaving, it finally happened. The situation I thought I’d never escape was now behind me. Going on my first date after the breakup was the first time in years that I looked in the mirror and felt genuinely attractive. I didn’t hear his voice in the back of my mind telling me that when I smile, my lips are crooked and one eye squints more than the other. I felt good, I felt confident. I would get overwhelmed and overly thankful when dates did the simplest things for me like opening the door for me or paying for my meal. One date got frightened when I profusely thanked him for throwing my trash away for me, because that’s not something that normal people do. One of my very close friends told me that he really enjoyed spending time with me and I didn’t know how to react because I hadn’t heard something that nice in an embarrassingly long time. My period of freedom and happiness started to turn into a period of realization and sadness.
I thought I would feel better right away but I didn’t. I felt almost worse. I started reflecting on the relationship and started to realize more and more of his antics were emotional abuse in hiding. I fell into a deep depression and started experiencing anxiety. I was doubting my own sanity and perception. Was that real? Did that really happen? I experienced extreme denial, thinking to myself that I wasn’t emotionally abused, I’m just imagining everything. I started to blame myself for letting him treat me that way. If I just left when things started getting bad I wouldn’t be in this situation. If I didn’t put so much trust and hope in people, I would’ve been more guarded against his verbal attacks. Everyday situations would trigger memories of bad arguments or put-downs. I did not remember who I was before the relationship. Who am I now? He had become such a huge part of my life; I had become so dependent on him that I had an identity crisis. Who am I now that most of myself is gone?
I started exploring new passions and learning new skills. I tried to do things that made me happy. I spent more time taking care of myself. I set out to make new friends and join new circles. I started taking risks and embracing constructive spontaneity. The more time I spent with my family and friends, the happier I was. I felt support and love. I’m still on the journey of self-discovery after losing myself but I know this: I deserve to be happy. I deserve to be treated well. I don’t feel bad for being myself anymore. I don’t feel bad for being overly empathetic and hopeful. I don’t feel bad for being positive and always wanting to improve myself. I will grow my own roots and blossom. I love myself for who I am at every step of the path to complete self-awareness.
When I first got the idea to write this article I was sitting in the library trying to plan out my day. I opened a word document and just typed everything I felt, everything that happened. I was tearing up in the Starbucks of Strozier Library, frantically typing a three-page long story with absolutely no punctuation or coherent sentences. I’ve written and rewritten this article a hundred times and I almost deleted the whole thing just as much. I felt like publishing this article would come off as a cry for attention and pity. I didn’t want to admit to my entire family and network of friends that I let myself stay in a situation I knew wasn’t good for me. Many a tear were shed during the process of writing this article, but every tear took some of the weight off my shoulders. I don’t usually share deeply personal things like this, but I feel like this is necessary to heal. I need to tell the world that I went through something horrible, but more than that I need to tell the world that I’ll be okay.
In the words of Queen B, “blindly in love I f*cks with you, ‘til I realize I’m just too much for you.”