It didn’t hit me all of a sudden.
I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “You know, this doesn’t feel right.”
The enormous realization of my horrible reality did not hit me like a freight train. It was somewhere inside me, dormant the entire time.
For years I tried my damnedest to push down what I already knew. I left it forgotten in the dark corners of my brain, content on spending the rest of my days in misery. At least in my suffering I knew I couldn’t fail. I was scared of doing anything for myself, afraid of the inevitable failure that I had.
Never, in a million years would have thought that this could have happened to me. Guess we aren’t really sure if we want to swim until we’re thrown in the deep end.
For a long time I had no idea what was happening to me. When he would yell at me, he would always apologize afterward. He’d say, “No, that isn’t what I meant. You are taking it the wrong way.”
I knew in my heart that it felt wrong, but his words were so sweet that I believed him.
He made me feel like the ugliest person on the planet; that it was a good thing he found me because no one else would ever love me like he did. But in my head, it was OK, because he had found me. “No one understands our relationship. It’s ours. Fu*k everyone else,” he’d say to me.
And I started to believe him.
“Don’t let anyone change your mind.” Yeah! Fu*k my friends, they don’t get it. Little by little, my friends, family, everyone fell to the wayside. If my family called me he told me sternly not to answer it, to hang out with him because he only had a few hours before work. I’d sigh deeply and let the call go to voicemail, wishing I could just talk to my Daddy.
I took him to the other side of the world within months of dating. My life had always revolved around the idea of working towards my next country to travel to, taking mediocre, but well paying, jobs to achieve this. The plan was to live and work there for hopefully a year, but the thought of pining for him while trying to live my adventure sounded awful.
So, I bought his plane ticket and held his hand through every step of the way. He was too scared to leave my side, even at the grocery store. I should have recognized this as an undesirable partner trait, a red flag, but I was obsessed with the idea of taking care of him. He hated it there, and his negativity started to invade and overwhelm me.
Where once I thrived and looked out at oceans with overwhelming joy, I saw only the sadness. I wrote in my journal asking myself, What is wrong with me? Why am I not happy? I worked for an entire year for this! I wish I had seen it then, but I did not. His constant anger, his hatred of everything, everyone…The only thing keeping him sane was being able to drink until blackout, scream at, and embarrass me.
I asked him to quit drinking dozens of times. In his drunken stupors he was the meanest. He would tell me that my life was a joke. That I was the worst person on the planet. In a way I believed him. After all, he was the only one who loved me now, who loved me the most. Slowly, my self esteem hit rock bottom after having the hateful words thrown at me so often.
Shortly after the first few months of being together, I found out he was cheating on me. Handfuls of women. He would drink until he’d pass out and I would discover nude text messages between him and them. I received Facebook messages from men I did not know asking me to please have my partner stop harassing their girlfriends.
I would confront him, and of course he’d have an apology ready. But the worst part was he made it my fault. If I asked him about it, he said he didn’t want to talk about it, and why did I have to keep bringing it up all the time? I would ask to see his phone and he would accuse me of not trusting him. He’d tell me he hated himself so much he wanted to commit suicide.
Always, always threats of suicide if I ever left him.
If there wasn’t food in the fridge, he complained that there was nothing to eat. I went to the store and cooked his dinner every single night. In stores he would have epic melt downs where he would say to me:”I need to get the fuck out of here now before I lose my mind.”
I cleaned, I did his laundry. I asked him to please change the toilet paper roll, but of course he never did. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that he’d yell at me for asking him to. I would get upset that he had yelled, but then came the apology. “Do you hear the way you speak to me?” I’d ask him. He’d say, “I’m not yelling at you!!!”
My sweet, fun loving, positive self became slowly engrossed in trying to keep this human being alive. Every single action in my day became taking care of him and keeping him happy. I lost all sense of who I was.
Didn’t I used to be funny? Charismatic? Wasn’t there something that I wanted to do with my life? I was lost in my depression. This is how he wanted it. If I was too distracted with him, then I’d forget about the epic life that I had planned for myself. I’d forget about traveling, and would resign myself to just taking care of him forever. In a way it was his own insecurity that caused him to be so cruel.
I’m not sure why I held on for so long. Fear of embarrassment, maybe. Wanting to prove everyone wrong. That there really was something good in him that no one else could see. On the outside, everyone I knew hated him. He was so mean to me in public that my friends would pull me aside afterward concerned.
I was always cowering in fear of something he’d do, constantly embarrassed that he was having a bad time. I probably acted out in ways I shouldn’t have. I drank too much, fought back. But it was in those moments of fighting back that I discovered that the fire inside me wasn’t extinguished… just very, very low.
I left him one cold, gray morning and it was the strongest thing I’ve ever done.
He took my car and my dog, and drove away saying, “I wish we could have talked about this,” in one last attempt to guilt me into staying. I waited for my friend to pick me up, sobbing uncontrollably.
It took a week or two to open my eyes. For the first straight week I drank and begged my sweet friend, whom I was staying with, to take me home. I didn’t belong here anymore. I missed the solitude and simplicity of my old life. Completely overwhelmed by my new freedom, every day was scary for me. It was like I had all this new room in my brain because it wasn’t full of his needs.
She firmly denied my requests, and gently reminded me, “You love people, your friends missed you, and you belong here.” She told me that although I had been locked in a metaphorical basement, that my friends were still there for me. I’ll be forever in her debt for loving and taking care of me when I needed it most. She gave me the gift of remembering who I was.
Eventually I could walk for longer each day without crying so much. It felt like being reborn. I did not realize it but I was being held captive in my own life. I thought that isolation was normal in relationships, when in fact I was a naive prisoner. Everything and everyone that I had cared about was lost to me, including myself, and the only thing that mattered was him.
I found out not one week after I left he started sleeping with someone else. You know when I found this out? After I had slept with him again. It was like being kicked in the chest, the wind knocked out of me. I asked if he had worn protection.
He just looked at the ground sullenly and responded, “I don’t want to talk about it.” After all the begging to get me back, he had the audacity to put my health at risk. I immediately got a doctor’s appointment. Everything ended up being fine, but it could have been so, so much worse. Fu*king asshole.
Still grasping for some sort of hope that we could make it work, I wrote out lists of all the things I wanted him to change.
He begged me to come home and reassured me constantly that he would change, that he would stop drinking in the mornings. I wanted to go home. I wanted to believe him, telling myself everything was going to be OK because we’d be together soon.
So when we moved back in together, I had myself completely convinced that he was in fact going to make all the changes I had asked. But you know what did change? Absolutely nothing. The yelling, the snapping, the drunken meanness….It hit me then.
My life is not this person.
He can make all the promises in the world, but he will never do the work to make them a reality. I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than to spend it taking care of him.
I never thought I would be here. Growing up I knew that if a man ever cheated on me he would be out of my life in a heartbeat. But you know what? I got cheated on, a lot. And I did not leave after any of them. Why? Because I had been brain washed and manipulated into thinking it was somehow my fault.
I never thought I would be here, but I am. I am firmly standing on the other side of it a stronger person than ever before, heart full of regret and loneliness. Yet, I’d rather it be full of lessons learned than have the hatred and misery of those years continue in my life forever.
For a while afterward, my relationship personality was that of a scared deer in the woods. I was afraid of my own emotions, constantly assuming I was unworthy of love and that everyone was trying to hurt me. I had to remember that it was OK that it happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault.
It was not because I wasn’t strong enough, but in fact it proved just how strong I was. Eventually, we learn to trust again. But first we must learn to trust ourselves. My fire is growing, and the light in the tunnel is getting brighter. For the first time in years, I am excited about experiencing life.
“I’m worried after all the time we spent apart you’re going to be all independent now,” he told me. And he was right.
Author: Maggie McCombs
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: Carlos Silva / Flickr