Coming back to myself was the hardest part. The gaslighting, constant blame, and heartache during the darkest days of our relationship couldn't even come close to the pain I felt once it was all over and I looked in the mirror to realize I didn't recognize myself at all . . .
I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship for nearly a year with the first man I ever loved. From the moment we met, he showered me with so much attention — oozing honey and sweetness into every interaction. Any red flags that popped up in the beginning were ignored, because how could a guy who was so devoted to me have any ill intentions?
My ex never had the power to break me. Fighting for myself has given me the ability to love others more deeply than I thought was possible.
I met him while I was visiting my mother for the holidays when I was 19, and our relationship skipped all natural progression and charged full speed into a serious commitment within the first month of us knowing each other. I saw his obsession and jealousy as adoration and his prying as wanting to know the real me. When he spoke badly about my parents and my friends, he had me fooled thinking that he had my best interest at heart and simply saw some evil in them I had failed to notice. He was cunning, charismatic, and really good at covering his own ass whenever he thought I was starting to catch on to his tricks.
My family and friends saw the abuse long before I was able to. I used to be angry with myself for ignoring the signs of toxicity, but now I realize he was displaying narcissistic traits and knew exactly how to play games only he could win. It wasn't until my anxiety ravaged me, ate up my appetite, and twisted my stomach into impossible knots that kept me up for all hours of the day and night that I began to see what he was doing to me for what it was — abuse.
After months of excruciating breakups and short-lived reunions, I felt entirely defeated by the time I ended it for good. I was the weakest I had ever been, both physically and mentally. I spent weeks being unable to do anything but cry because I believed all of the lies he fed to me about how awful I was. When I realized how far gone I was from myself, I knew that no matter how much I was suffering, I had to start fighting to be me again.
I started small, leaning heavily on friends, meeting with a therapist, and getting out of the house as much as possible. One of my closest friends taught me how to embroider, and that became a soothing tool for me in times of anxiety. I also went to church every Sunday by myself to pray for strength and attended support groups within my church community for depression and anxiety. Yoga helped me find peace within my body and mind, and I credit the calming practice for helping me put the pieces of myself back together again.
Through trial and error, I began to rediscover the things that brought me joy. In the early days of healing, my feelings of self-worth were nonexistent, and I feared I'd never recover. It took me many painful months to work through my emotions, but I eventually began to feel secure again. The love and support of the people around me was invaluable, and through their support, I realized my own resilience and strength.
I've since learned how to sniff out unhealthy behaviors in any relationship, platonic or romantic. I'm also able to speak up when I feel I'm not being treated properly, and I know how to leave a situation that's no longer serving me. Leaving an emotionally abusive relationship was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do, but I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten out when I did. After doing a full reconstruction internally, I was able to find a true partner who has only ever treated me with respect and love, and I now know that my ex never had the power to break me. Fighting for myself has given me the ability to love others more deeply than I thought was possible and has shown me how to accept love on the same level.