Frog Freed From Boiling Water
After spending a year being single on purpose, I had decided that I was finally ready to invest myself in a relationship. The very next morning, I opened my phone to see a message from someone on Facebook asking me out on a date. Apparently they were following my photography page on Instagram and we had a mutual Facebook friend, and they decided they would shoot their shot. From the very beginning they were extremely funny, our sense of humor seemed to mesh really well, and they were easy to chat with. We met at a pub, and it seemed to go pretty well for a first date. It ended up getting crashed by their coworkers, so it turned into some drinks and karaoke. My cheeks hurt from laughing, they seemed really outgoing which I appreciated and their coworkers said really great things about them. On the second date we talked for hours - I felt like I had known them my entire life. No nervousness, I felt seen and accepted right away for who I was, and it was comfortable. It was a dream come true, which is how it felt for the first few months of the relationship. They appeared to check all of my boxes: self aware, empathetic, honest, open-minded. We fell in love quite quickly. The early signs of psychological and emotional abuse started within the first 6 months, but I didn't recognize it as abuse at the time. They were extremely jealous and would often say very hurtful and derogatory things about me. I'd catch them in lies and then they would break up with me stating indifferences in morals, but then would return the next day with heartfelt apologies and promises to work on their insecurities. I believed them. Of course I did, because I excused this behavior as a result of their trauma, the stress they were enduring at work, they were drunk, etc. I thought I could love them through it, so we made plans to move in with each other. That was when the insults, gaslighting, stonewalling worsened - and new aspects developed. Now I was being criticized daily, punished if I didn't tell them where I was going before leaving the house, threatened to send emails to my boss or intimate photos to my family, and my things would be written on with permanent marker or urinated on. That was when the violence started. I didn't feel safe in my own home because my things would get smashed and broken regularly. Police came to the house twice and told me if they came a 3rd time, they would make an arrest, so I ensured they never got called again. However, if I tried to call someone else for support I would get chased, held down, grabbed so I couldn't make the call. I locked myself in the bathroom once and the door was kicked down. I didn't see that as abuse at the time though, because they never hit me. I was so lost in this disillusionment of "love" that I thought they just needed my support, I needed to be more compassionate, I needed to love them better, that's what they told me anyways. This was my fault and I had to fix it. All areas of my life had been threatened: my home, my job, my relationships with my family, my pets, my safety, my health. I became extremely depressed and lost in a state of dissociation. My family became aware of some things (I kept most of it secret until near the end of the relationship, but there was much I wasn't able to hide), and they told me they feared for my life. I didn't respond, as that thought had crossed my mind already many times before and it no longer evoked a reaction in me. I was completely dissociated by this time and I had accepted the possibility. One night while I was driving, they grabbed the steering wheel and steered us into the ditch. That was when the fears became a reality for me. I started safety planning with the hopes that we could still make the relationship work. The trauma bond was strong. One night they started drinking and things were escalating, so I left the house and went to my sister's. In the past I would stay to ensure the things I loved most didn't get destroyed, or I would leave and sleep in my car - but this time I chose to see my family. I started getting text after text all hours throughout the night with horrible things being said. They hinted that my new kitten had "escaped" from the house, and my family had me back at the house, kitten and bags packed, and out the door in 20 minutes. At this point my family had seen everything and there was no turning back. Ending the relationship was confusing, because I didn't feel like I consciously made the choice myself. My family drafted my messages to kick them out of the house. I accepted it, because I just felt so drained and defeated by that point, I had absolutely nothing left to give. We continued to talk for a few months and both discussed how we missed each other and wished things could work, but I knew I could never go back to that, I didn't have the strength. My heart hurt and I definitely grieved - on the floor sobbing - for months on end because I truly felt as though this was my person, this was someone who I thought knew me and saw me for who I truly was. But the truth was, they didn't know me. They didn't even know the color of my eyes after 2 years together. I eventually realized I was grieving a version of them that didn't exist. I was grieving the life I thought we could have, the future family, the relationship that I thought we could work towards. I also realized I was grieving myself. My self esteem was diminished, I felt a huge loss of identity, I couldn't make a decision to save my life, I was exhausted and irritable and angry. I didn't recognize myself for a very, very long time. I felt betrayed and manipulated, and there was a lot of shame towards myself as I felt it was my fault for not seeing the signs or for somehow finding a way to make it work, or for staying as long as I did. I felt like I couldn't trust my judgment anymore. It's been two years now, and I am finally feeling closer to my old self. I struggled for a year and a half with my grief and learning that what I had gone through was abuse. I experienced survivor's guilt, hypervigilance, nightmares, depression, and panic attacks for months. I would start to feel better with the support of my therapist and the domestic violence specialist that I was working with, and a new trigger would happen or another development in my story would occur and I would be back at square one. I felt like I had no hope in finding myself again. I missed the person I used to be and it seemed impossible to ever shake these feelings. But even when I felt the most stuck, I still pressed forward. Even if that meant just making it to work that day, then staying in bed for the rest of the weekend. Or eating a piece of toast before bed if nothing else. Or attending the therapy appointment even if I didn't have the words. There would be weeks of darkness, but then I would have one day where I would cry and felt a little bit lighter. I would visit my family and a genuine laugh would escape my lips. It took very, very small steps, but I do believe I am finally at a place where I am surrounded by the light. I know there is still so much more work to be done, but once I started allowing myself to feel the anger, feel the hurt, feel the pain without shaming myself for it, things started getting better. Keep going - after everything you have survived, I know you can survive this.