It was the night before Valentine’s Day, freshman year of college and I lay in my dorm room watching the clock. With every breath I took, my heart sank deeper. He should be back by now, 10:34 PM…11:27PM…2:05AM. Then around 3:30 AM, Matt busted in the room, laughing to himself. He hopped into bed next to me. “Baby, you have no idea, this night was crazyyyyy!” His breath reeked of beer so I turned my back to him. “I wish you had been back by now,” I said disappointed, “I thought we were going to spend Valentine’s night together.” I held my breath, waiting for him to say something. I counted my pictures of my friends and family I had hung on the wall. “You always do this,” he slurred, his tone becoming more serious. “I can never have a good time with you, you ruined my night, you always do!” By now he was screaming.
I just missed you. Please don’t get mad, forget what I just said, please don’t get mad.
“You hung out with the guys last night, I thought this night would be reserved for me,” I pleaded with him as he sat on the edge of the bed putting his dirty running shoes, his “drinking shoes” back on. He then got up, and grabbed the red bin he stored under my twin bed. It was full of various things of his, shirts, shorts, love notes I wrote to him. As he opened the door to leave, he also grabbed an envelope off of my dresser. It was full of cut up slips of paper I made him for Valentine’s Day. Each slip contained a reason why I loved him. I spent an hour making it for him: cutting out each slip, typing up the reasons, and even colored an elephant out of hearts which I taped to the front.
Please don’t leave. I don’t want to be alone.
Tears started falling down my face. Their warmth comforted me. I followed him out to the hallway where he stood waiting by the elevator. “You’re such an idiot; I can never have a good time,” he slurred again. “I’m sorry!” I pleaded, trying to embrace him, but he kept pushing me away like I was some sort of beggar, pleading for his riches. “That’s why your ex before me left you and that’s why you dad is never around. You can’t have fun and you’re annoying.” He snatched the Valentine’s Day envelope off of the top of his bin. He grabbed a handful of the slips, ripped them to pieces and threw some in my face saving the rest for the top of my head.
I numbly watched “I love you because you make me laugh” flutter to the ground.
Nights like that happened all the time. Our arguments differed from night to night, weekend to weekend, but the premise of the emotional abuse was still the same. Putting me down, name calling, belittling, and mind games all made up the emotional abuse I endured my freshman and sophomore year of college. Most of the time he was drunk, but there were times we would fight and he’d call me an idiot or tell me how annoying I was. He made me believe that I was the one causing the problems in the relationship. He would threaten to leave me and call me in the middle of the night screaming for no reason, telling me how ugly and dumb I was. Once when I cried in bed next to him after a fight he told me I was “weak”. Most of the time, he would yell in private, but as the relationship went on, people would frequently hear us arguing (dorm walls are paper thin) and there was only so much I could do to hide my constant tears. Surprisingly, only my close friends and family told me to leave. Because everyone else at the time was mostly friends with both of us, no one really said anything.
But things weren’t always bad. In fact, they started off great. He was sweet and romantic and my family loved him. Unfortunately, when he found his independence and as we became more comfortable around each other, he started to become hurtful. It started with him getting upset for no reason when he was drunk, but then the name calling escalated with each fight. It seems like the red flags were obvious, but I think the fact that he wasn’t always hurtful made leaving him harder for me than the abuse itself. I was attached, and I had seen a person in him that was capable of being a wonderful boyfriend. I couldn’t let go of that person who was clearly gone. When my friends and family started to see how unhappy I was, I began to pull away from them. They’d tell me that I needed to leave the relationship, but I didn’t have the strength. Instead, I even hid the relationship from some people, including my parents. My self-worth was so low, that at that point in my life, I’d rather endure abuse than be alone.
Unfortunately, every time he would break up with me or when I tried to leave him, he always came back. One moment he would call and say he didn’t love me anymore and a week later he would be begging for my forgiveness because he “made a mistake.” He would call me crying, buy me jewelry, write love letters, and even beg at my feet for me to take him back. Each time, he swore he would change, and I believed him. A part of me felt that he would wake up one day and be the person he used to be. Sadly, every time he promised to change, he’d be nice for a week or a month– kind, funny, sweet- but then he was back to his same hurtful self. When I asked him to go to counseling, he refused. I also begged him to stop drinking thinking that would help, but he didn’t.
I felt ashamed that I couldn’t leave. My mother raised me to be an independent woman. A woman that would never let someone treat her poorly. Yet I still couldn’t leave. I felt that I had let everyone down, including myself. After months of being called names and yelled at or ignored, told I would never find anyone else, the abuse did turn physical when my boyfriend started to push and slap.
I still didn’t tell anyone.
I stayed with him, because once again, he cried and said that would never happen again. The month after was actually not bad. He didn’t call me any names and never laid a hand on me. He was nice when he drank and told me he loved me every day. But when I invited him to reconcile with my parents, something in him changed. The week he was supposed to come, he called me to tell me that he had been seeing a counselor since the incident and that he wanted to do his own thing. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be with me anymore. I was absolutely taken off guard and devastated, but I didn’t want to force someone to be with me. I told him to do what he wanted, that I deserved better, and then hung up the phone. I was just mentally and emotionally exhausted.
The months after the final break up (it was June when it happened) were hard and easy at the same time. It may not make sense, but there were times that I was completely drained from the relationship that I was happy to finally be able to start new. Other times, I felt lonely and worthless. After everything I put up with, I was still thrown away. Other times, I was just angry. Angry at him for treating me bad, but mostly angry at myself to not listening to people that loved me and not leaving sooner.
Luckily for me, I have family and friends that kept me busy and happy. I even donated my hair to Locks of Love and it made me feel important and special again. When school started it was hard as I thought about the good times we had, but I tried my best to remember the bad times, not because I wanted to get sad, but because I needed a reminder to stay positive. As time went on, it got easier. I didn’t cry anymore. In October, I began talking to one of my best guy friends on a daily basis. He was one of the close friends that were there for me throughout this ordeal, every step of the way. And I began to see him in a new light. He was funny, nice, and thoughtful. If I was having a bad day, he’d ask me what’s wrong. He truly cared about my feelings and I wasn’t used to that.
After a couple more months, my best guy friend and I started dating. I never expected to love anyone as much as I loved my ex, but I was wrong. I tell people that it took some getting used to be treated properly, but I honestly couldn’t believe what I used to put up with now. When my new boyfriend and I fight, we talk things out, and he never says anything mean. I have moments where I feel that I don’t deserve him because I’m “damaged,” but he’s been helping me feel better about myself by telling me that any guy would be lucky to have me and telling me that I’m beautiful.
It’s been exactly a year since my ex and I spoke. Although he’s tried to contact me many times, I’ve made sure to ignore him. He even called me three times once and threatened to hurt himself if I didn’t answer. I stayed strong. One of my friends told me that I don’t need that poison in my life, and she’s right. I make sure to cut him out completely. It’s helped me heal as well. And I can truly say that I don’t want him anymore. Not only because I have someone new, but because being away from the hurt has allowed me to see that there is so much better out there. Some friends have also told me that he’s still angry and mean when drunk.
Emotional abuse gets pushed under the rug because no one really sees the effects. And it’s easier to justify words than bruises, but they both hurt equally, and they’re both unhealthy. No one deserves to be degraded or to have someone put them down. As far as being a victim goes, it can happen to anyone. I used to be the girl that pitied abused women because I thought I was better than that. But abuse isn’t always obvious. Because my boyfriend wasn’t always abusive, I was already in love with him when the abuse began. You can be the strongest person, but sometimes you love someone too much to notice that they’re hurting you – or admit it.
There are times that I feel embarrassed for letting myself go through emotional abuse, but I remember to tell myself that I’m stronger because of it. If you find people to help you take steps to get out of it or take positive steps to regain your self-esteem, breaking the cycle of abuse will be easier. When I was with my ex, I’d give anything for someone to understand why I stayed. And I do understand. But I also understand now that it’s more important to put yourself first. You are a person worthy of more than put downs and abuse. It’s going to take some time and you’re going to be hurting for a little, but I guarantee you something. You will come out stronger. You will be okay.