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College is one of the most confusing, exciting, and mentally challenging experiences that I have ever endured. I thrived my freshman year as a student-athlete, member of the honors program, student worker, and active volunteer for planned parenthood in my community. I felt stability, satisfaction, and comfort with myself, my wonderful friends and teammates, and the life that I had established in Burlington. However, during the beginning of my sophomore year I felt as if my bubble of comfort and ease was disrupted by something I never expected that I would endure; an abusive relationship.


     I had always been secure in myself as a person and was confident that I would never stay with a person who did not see my value or worth. I had never really given abusive relationships too much thought, and had even made several offhand comments in the past in conversations with my friends that indicated that I could not understand why a person would stay with their abuser. In high school, one of my cross country teammates was in a long term relationship where her partner emotionally abused and gaslighted her, and I was always in disbelief at her inability to leave the relationship. I was completely guilty of perpetuating the harmful stigma that those unable to leave abusive relationships are weak. 


    I met my abuser at the end of August. I was immediately drawn towards her. I had recently left a relationship and was in an incredibly vulnerable state, when this new girl I met constantly complimented me, provided me with validation, and knew exactly what to say in order to rope me in and make our bond seem legitimate and deep. My friends were extremely skeptical of our relationship because of her troubled past, and gave me constant warnings, referred to her in demeaning names, and flat out told me to end the relationship before it progressed any further. I ignored every single red flag, and my friends’ opinions because I was blinded by infatuation and temptation to be with her. Our relationship seemed harmless and fun at first. She revealed that she was involved with another person, but they were far from serious, and the other person was aware of me. However, as our relationship progressed I learned that she and the other girl had met each others’ families, claimed to be in love with each other, and had even planned vacations together. I was hurt. I made my first of several attempts to leave. My abuser seemed to be understanding, but guilted and gaslighted me claiming that I was aware of the significance of her other relationship from the beginning, and that it was my fault for becoming attached. She and I were constantly arguing and engaging in screaming matches over her other relationship and whether I was allowed to talk to other people or not. She would watch my location and attempt to end things with me when I feigned interest in other people. She claimed that it was not fair for me to be with other people because it hurt her. She would tell me that she was falling in love with me, and that she was going to break it off with the other girl for me, because our bond was much stronger and important. However, this narrative that she had true feelings for me was a consistent lie that she told me throughout our time together. I knew that this relationship was unhealthy, but I was attached to the person I thought she was because I truly believed it was not her desire to hurt me. Whenever I brought up feelings of uncertainty or called her out for her toxic behaviors, she would convince me that I was the perpetrator of these abusive behaviors, and gaslight me to the point where I was convinced that I was an awful person, unable to treat my partner with the love and respect that she deserved. I was put down by her demeaning remarks about how I talked, how I dressed, and the way I acted, but I was convinced the constant criticism was normal and she was not meaning to hurt me. I constantly faced mental turmoil and feelings of extreme confusion because our relationship developed to the point where I was unsure of whether I was being manipulated or it was all in my head.


    In the span of several weeks, my friends began to notice a complete change in my demeanor. I stopped eating or leaving my room to hang out. I was completely consumed by this relationship and had difficulty focusing on school, my sport, and even maintaining relationships with my friends. One particular event that confirmed their suspicions that my relationship was out of my control occured when my partner came over to talk to me in my room. When she entered the suite, there was an aura of tension and discomfort among my roommates. One of my friends said hi to her to break some of the tension, and my abuser walked past her and into my room, while I followed her in. Immediately after the door was shut, we engaged in one of our usual arguments, this time the topic was why my friends thought she was crazy. The yelling got to the point where my friends exchanged texts along the lines of “She’s psycho dude.” While she was there, my suitemates gathered in a room and discussed the harmful nature of my relationship with her. Unbeknownst to me, my friends were strategizing ways to protect me from my abuser and had even discussed sitting me down and telling me as a group to break it off. Unfortunately, I was convinced that there was still hope for me and my partner, and that my friends could not understand the depth and nature of our relationship. I was completely lost and consumed in this relationship, I had withdrawn from my significant friendships and was in a hole that felt unescapable. Despite the mental turmoil I was enduring, I still could not admit that this was an abusive relationship. I made excuses, claiming that because I was happy and willing to stay in the relationship, I was not being abused. I was wrong. Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, sexuality, or preference. Similar to how I was, you can undergo an abusive relationship without realizing that it is happening. If you are involved in an abusive relationship, you are not weak, you do not deserve what is happening, and you can get help.


    Eventually, I was released from the hold of this relationship. While sometimes I still feel like I have unresolved feelings and have days where I can not process the harmful effects of this relationship, I am making progress every day. I spent months after the relationship in one of the deepest depressive episodes of my life, convinced I was weak and stupid for submitting to an emotionally abusive relationship. I had suicidal thoughts, was unable to perform routine daily tasks, and had daily thoughts of self harm because of my inability to process my emotions towards the situation. Eventually, I started going to therapy and opening up to friends and family about my feelings regarding the relationship and how I did not feel okay. Now, I am working on my individual feelings and happiness, and I am starting to reach the point where I can look back at the abuse and recognize that it is not something anyone deserves, especially myself. I am currently involved in the best relationship of my life where my partner and I have established open and honest communication about our past relationships, as well as how to ensure that we treat each other with the most amount of love and respect possible. I would not be where I am now without the support of my friends and family. While I am not happy that I endured my abusive relationship, it taught me to see my true self worth, and how to rebound from the most difficult and dark times of my life. Instead of breaking down others in abusive relationships, I want to help foster the conversation around how to help those in similar situations, and share some of the lessons that I have learned from my individual experience.


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