CW: This article contains mentions of emotional abuse from a romantic partner and mentions of threatened suicide. Please proceed accordingly.
One of the most repeated truths that I was told in high school was that I was essentially invincible. None of this would matter in later on in my life, so why would I let it hurt me now? It is classic high school drama, everyone goes through it. I heard all this, absorbed all this, and let it force me into a facade of pretending that I was okay. However, the real truth I would come to learn is that my experiences were real, despite the fact that I was 17. My experiences matter, and continue to do so because I cannot escape them. I thought that because it was a high school relationship it would definitely not follow me to college, and I was very, very wrong.
It was the summer going into my junior year of high school when I started dating the only real long-term boyfriend I’d ever had. I was somewhat of a serial dater before, but never for very long. Alas, I thought I had met my person and someone who really understood me, but looking back I can see that I grasped on to the sole person who would listen to me 24/7 because I needed a lifeboat, not a boyfriend. Regardless, we dated for a year and a half, and though there was an occasional fight here and there, I felt like we were happy.
In the last couple of months of our relationship, I began to notice changes in our relationship dynamic. Suddenly I was becoming too much of a “party girl,” and he did not want to be around me when I was drunk because it was “disgusting.” I had a homecoming after-party that he did not even come to, and openly told people that it was because he “hated me when I had been drinking.” While embarrassing, I told myself it was just a preference and that relationships require sacrifice and understanding. Then we moved into extreme jealousy: “Why are you wearing that if I’m not even going to be there?” “What is the real point of having your boobs out all the time when you have a boyfriend?” It even came to me not being allowed to hug my guy friends anymore because it seemed like I liked them. I began to pick up on all of these things, and through my lens they were small but they began to take a toll on my relationships. I’ve always been strong-minded and independent, so I was not planning on listening to a boy trying to control my life. All it did was lead me to lose feelings for him, which was devastating for me to realize, but forced me to realize I should make a change. When I broke up with my boyfriend, it felt soul-crushing. I mourned the times we had, the confidant I was losing, and overall the friend I was hurting. Little did I know that these emotions would feel inconsequential in the months to come.
The way I was treated in my relationship turned toxic, but it’s child’s play compared to what happened next. When I broke up with my boyfriend, I knew that he would be hurt. I could literally have never predicted the way that would have played out. It started with little jabs at me, calling me heartless and selfish. I swallowed this with a grain of salt, knowing that I blindsided him a little bit, and knew he must be in pain. I even considered taking him back, probably just to shut him up, I realize in retrospect, but I told him I would consider it if he gave me a week of space while I was on vacation. Unfortunately, that was not something he could do, and the space drove him crazy. His insults escalated into calling me a slut, accusing me of cheating on him, and saying that I was easy and that was why he dated me. Every time this happened, he would apologize hours later and say he did not know what came over him.
I was pissed, but I still had a soft spot to the boy who helped me through so much, who I still did love. I begged him for space, just a week for me to clear my head, and said if he could not do that then the door would be closed on us forever. Again, he could not do it, and he continued to call me a dirty whore who would never find love ever again.
Without even realizing, I internalized what he was saying while outwardly telling myself I knew what he was saying was ridiculous. I can vividly remember it all coming to a head on my birthday; he texted me at midnight telling me happy birthday, and that he loved me. When I was resistant, he just attacked me and our entire relationship for hours on end. It was then that the first threat of suicide was thrown at me. He threatened to kill himself and leave a note saying it was my fault if I ignored him. If I didn’t facetime him right at that second. If I blocked his number. I was terrified, desperately calling him, and was about a second away from jumping in my car and going to his house. The next day, he left candy on my car apologizing and again saying it was all because of how much he loved me. I let it go on out of fear. I skipped classes, slept in the nurse’s office for hours, and had random panic attacks throughout the day because I just simply could not handle it anymore. I could not just block him, I was genuinely scared of what he would do. I just existed, a shred of a person, who really felt like I did not have anything to believe in anymore.
A turning point came around for me when I hooked up with one of his friends. I was in a low place, willing to get with just about anyone. Shortly after it happened, I got a text from my ex saying “nice going, you are so easy.” I freaked out and denied it. He told me that he set the whole thing up by egging on his friend to do it just to “see if he could.” I remember feeling dirty, used, and discarded, like an old toy. It felt like the culmination of everything I had been feeling up until that point, and I fell apart. I fell apart, and then I got angry. I cursed them both out, I yelled, and I said once and for all I really never want to talk to you again. And I didn’t. It was horrific and degrading, but it got me to finally exit the cycle of self-hatred and worry and panic that I had been swirling in for upwards of six months. I felt like I had made it through, I felt like I was in the clear. But I really just wasn’t.
My experience with emotional abuse has given me major self-esteem issues, specifically regarding my relationships with men and my body. I feel unworthy most days, and because of my persona, I shovel it away until it all comes rushing back. For a really long time, I did not have an ounce of self-respect. I try every day to be nice to myself, or at least make a plan of action to change what I don’t like, but it’s really hard. It’s really hard to figure out if you hate yourself because of something that’s changeable or because of everything you went through that’s distorted your whole viewpoint. Most days, I just miss the girl I was before everything happened. A girl who was confident in her sexuality, and her body. A girl who did not feel used. I miss her. I miss the “before” of my life.
I write this not to depress. (I really am doing okay.) It’s under the surface, and that takes time. It is okay to be a work in progress, and it is okay to be figuring it out. I’m working on my relationship with men and my relationship with myself. If I could go back in time, I do not know if I could have physically done anything different. I’d like to think with some prompting I could have just cut it off, but I do not think that was how it was supposed to play out. I learned, I’ve grown, I’m still growing. Do I wish it never happened? Yeah definitely. I can’t lie. Would I change it? I really do not think I could.
The power of speaking about things like this, writing about things like this, and telling others around you things like this cannot be underestimated. I write about this shitty, depressing event in my life because maybe it can help someone else. If not to make a change, maybe at least to feel heard and understood. I remember feeling completely alone and belittled, not that anyone intended that but they just did not, and could not understand. So I end with the point: advocate for yourself. Speak out, no matter what. It gets better. Not quickly but it does. I am trying my very best.