“I say these things because I love you.”
My stomach churned.
I laid wide-eyed in my bed, staring at the shadows of trees on my ceiling. I was awakened by an old, yet familiar friend. A tightening in my chest, an accelerated heart rate.
My toes were curled and my hands were clenched, bracing myself for the physical impact of the painful emotions I thought I had healed.
My anxiety was here, and she had something to say.
My mind was a loud whirlpool of ruminating thoughts trying to decipher what she needed me to hear. My mind threatened, how dare they keep doing this to me. My mind blamed, it’s their fault that I’m feeling this way. My mind pleaded, this can’t keep happening to me.
I sat quietly and slowly, yet consciously fell out of my mind and into my body. And my heart whispered, I’m scared.
I was in a new relationship, the first one I’ve experienced in a year and a half, and the first one since those stomach-churning words were uttered to me.
I consciously chose to take a hiatus from the beautifully complicated world of dating. First and foremost, to heal from the weight of shame that I have internalized for so many years, and second, because I refused to settle for anything less than I deserved like I have so many times before.
And I was finally ready to open myself up again to find real, healthy love.
My heart wasn’t scared of the new love seeping into my life; it was scared of experiencing the old pain. My last relationship started off euphoric, a high I didn’t want to come down from.
We come across certain people in our lives, and we just know that our paths were supposed to cross. We have this intuitive knowing that we were meant to be. I knew that he was “meant to be” in my life.
But with every high comes a crash, and our relationship quickly shifted from merriment to manipulation. From glee to gaslighting. From bliss to toxicity.
He did not need to lay a hand on me to feel a physical impact.
His words were jabs to my body and soul, each one hitting a little harder on my tender skin:
“I say these things because I love you.” My stomach churned.
“We’ve had this conversation already, and I am not having it again.” My heart crumpled.
“I saved our relationship, we’d be broken up if it weren’t for me.” My throat contracted.
I tried to fight back, meeting his jabs with hooks. Instead of throwing in the towel, I became the appreciative punching bag:
“I am so grateful for a love that truly sees me and my flaws. Thank you for bringing light to them.”
“I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’m sorry for burdening you with my feelings.”
“You’re so right our relationship did need to be saved. I am so thankful.”
I wish I could say that I’ve woken up one day filled with empowerment, ready to take my power back. That I walked away with my head held high, knowing that I deserved better.
But I stayed because I didn’t think that I deserved better.
We have all heard about how we need to feel worthy and deserving of love in order to avoid these types of relationships, and I do agree, but even the most worthy of people can get caught in this type of toxic cycle. Because that is the point of these kinds of relationships. They are supposed to make us feel unworthy. They are supposed to tear us down. They are supposed to make us feel unlovable so we stay.
The good news is that healing from this type of dynamic is possible.
Here are a few things that have helped me:
Going to therapy.
Not only did my therapist give me applicable tools to process my anxiety, but she was able to shed light on the reasons why people—including ourselves—behave the way we do. It brought me a whole new level of awareness, understanding, and compassion. A complete game-changer for me.
Taking my power back in little ways.
Saying no more often, expressing my opinion, and speaking up in conversations. These seem small, but each consistent small moment has rebuilt my confidence.
Engaging in my passions.
Mine are ballroom dancing, reading, running, and yoga. By rekindling my love for my passions, I no longer needed to rely on others as my sole source of happiness.
Finding your people.
I consciously sought out new platonic relationships with those who have been in similar situations and who are committed to their healing. Having that support and empathy was crucial for me.
They don’t teach us how to engage in healthy relationships in school, so I’m committed to learning on my own. I read books, attended workshops, and took courses so I could show up in my relationships in a healthy way.
My intuition about my last relationship was not wrong, but just because a relationship feels as if it’s “meant to be,” does not always equate to happily ever after.
Sometimes “meant to be” means “meant to be your teacher,” and your catalyst for growth and healing.
And for that, I am genuinely thankful.