Thought Catalog
May 18, 2017

When My Ex-Boyfriend Put His Hands On Me, I Finally Learned To Love Myself

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Christian Gertenbach

I remember this night so vividly. As a matter of fact, it has turned into a tattoo, inked upon me forever. I can hardly remember what I had to eat for dinner yesterday, but this night has become immortal.

Some memories never seem to evaporate, do they? Before I get into the details of this surreal night, I want to provide a backstory that will set the tone. You wouldn’t really get it if I just jumped into the juiciness without a little foundation, would you? I will call my ex Dominic for our purposes, keeping his identity anonymous.

I met Dominic when I was a vulnerable, rather innocent freshman in college. I had just recently recovered from a two year battle with anorexia, thankfully making it out alive. I was literally fragile, a moving target for anything monstrous and abusive to tip me over and break me. Both literally and figuratively.

Still weighing in at about ninety-five pounds, I was making my way around campus with a great deal of apprehension. My university was huge and overwhelming, while I was ever so small and scared. I had no clue what my college experience would entail, feeling out of place from the very get-go. And my self-worth was as elusive as the moon.

Dominic may have sniffed out all of my vulnerability from the minute I enrolled because it was in the first week that we collided. Call it fate, but I would choose intentional trickery instead. He had found the perfect victim.

In an effort to fit into the happy-go-lucky college girl image, I swiveled my tiny, brittle hips from side to side in a dance club right down the street from my dormitory. Even taking a few shots of tequila, emulating all the other enchanting girls around me. This was during the welcome week festivities, might I add.

Could you blame me for trying to have fun, especially after attempting to live on granola bars for the past two years?

I noticed his eyes from afar, feeling like a real life dartboard, with his eyes being the darts. He had me intrigued from the start, slyly walking over to me in a dreamy, seductive fashion. The way he looked me in the eyes gave me the chills, yet I was so curious to know more about this mysterious man. Ignoring my gut intuition that screamed at me to run, I proceeded to dive deep into the stormy waters that Dominic had laid out before me.

What was the worst that could happened? It was college after all and time for a fresh start, away from the grip of anorexia and mental demons galore. Long story short, the two of us became inseparable from that very night.

He had me in his spell, essentially hypnotizing me from our first moments together and I was not objecting to his manipulative mastery. In fact, I was loving the attention and boy was he a calculated charmer. Unlike the rest of the drunken, seemingly immature college boys around campus, Dominic separated himself from the majority. He exuded worldliness and intellect that captivated me and he had this way with words that left me breathless.

Moving poetry left his lips and I had become addicted to our deep, meaningful conversations. And I can’t forget to mention the rush that overtook me anytime he was around. I lost my own instincts along the way, leaving the red flags to wash over me until they no longer mattered. Our whole relationship became one giant red flag, but I was too blind to see the truth.

Dominic and I formed a dynamic that was centered around deceit, denial, and distress. Being the self-conscious, visibly passive girl that I was, he knew that I wouldn’t question his motives. It wasn’t long before he exhibited his true colors, which were nothing like I had imagined. They were a living nightmare to say the least.

Abusive personalities do not just show up out of thin air and this was the case with my relationship as well. It wasn’t like my boyfriend suddenly woke up one morning and chose the path of a narcissistic abuser. That is not how it works, my friends. Abusive individuals such as my ex boyfriend simply know how to create a pleasant facade for the mere sake of attracting their prospects. They can then proceed to showcase their predatory selves when the coast is clear and they have already established enough bondage with their partners.

Once Dominic realized that he had me sucked into his vortex, he started to become comfortable being his controlling, highly disturbed self.

He lied as if his life depended on it and belittled me in ways that cut deep, essentially creating this domineering reign over me. He made it seem as though I needed him for mere survival purposes and somehow managed to break me down so much that I depended on him to put me back together. Crazy I know! It is so incredibly strange to think about now that I am reflecting upon my past.

Dominic was my all-knowing master, while I had been reduced to his humble servant. My self-worth had been crushed down to the lowest degree and I lost every grain of my confidence with each of our chilled encounters.

There reached a point in which he could cheat on me in front of my own eyes and throw the blame over in my direction. I had no right to question him or I would be met with an outpouring of aggression. And his jealousy led to countless fights in which I was always the one to apologize, even though I knew I wasn’t in the wrong. I was terrified of what would happened to my life if I let Dominic go, truly fearing that he had the cold-blooded brutality to inflict harm upon me if I ever left. And I even believed him when he claimed he loved me, even though his actions proved otherwise.

There was actually one specific night in which we weren’t on speaking terms and I had gathered enough courage to speak out against him, calling him out on his verbal and emotional abuse. I deserved better, right?

He then proceeded to show up at my door with a bouquet of beautiful roses, requesting that I accompany him to dinner. Although I promised both myself and my beloved friends that I was done with my psycho boyfriend for good, I was at a loss for words when he was towering above me that night. The word no left my vocabulary and I was right back where he wanted me, naked and afraid.

I proceeded to walk down the stairs behind him, with an overwhelming influx of uneasiness characterizing my inner world. I tried masking my sheer trepidation with a forced smile before being escorted into the passenger side of his car. There was something particularly dark about this night and I knew that there was much more to the near future than a shared meal between two lovers. Who was I kidding? But I couldn’t turn back now, having placed myself in his full control.

He loved it when I sold myself to him, rendering myself powerless in the process. We went along for a ride in what was meant to lead us towards a restaurant, but the car didn’t stop moving for hours. Dominic locked the doors, driving at full speed on the freeway and I was as helpless as a prisoner on death row. Having forgotten my cell-phone at home, I had no way of notifying anyone about my whereabouts or the nature of my dilemma, which left me gulping for air. Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime of driving, Dominic stopped the car in a rather isolated parking lot.

My hands shivering uncontrollably, I truly thought he was going to hurt me in a way that I would never recover from. Instead, he said nothing verbally but gave me a demonic look I can’t describe.

Even to this day, I am gripped with terror whenever I recall his face that night. It was essentially his way of regaining dominance over me, but on a level that spelled out impending danger if I was to ever consider leaving again. His eyes did all the talking and by the time he stopped looking at me with his bone-chilling glare, I knew that I was dealing with a monster. Someone who was capable of a lot more damage than I had thought.

If you were to ask me how I let this happened, I would have no words, as the brainwashing and abuse were progressive and in no way something I had expected. I had mistaken his twisted behavior for a form of adoration, totally clueless about how genuine, heartfelt relationships felt. I equated love to fear and the constant sensation of walking on splinters or being perpetually sick to my stomach.

My body, mind, and soul were trying so hard to wake me up from my delusional reality, but I didn’t listen. What began as an addictive fairytale romance rapidly blossomed into terror and tears. There were so many lows, but I lived for the occasional highs and that is what made our relationship last for three soul-crushing years.

Abuse doesn’t necessarily need to be physical in order to be validated and that is what I didn’t quite realize until Dominic laid his hands on me for the first time. The wounds were now going to go beyond my insides and actually leave behind physical proof. Sure, there was constant emotional and psychological abuse leading up until this point, but I didn’t realize that I was in an abusive relationship until I was literally pushed to the ground.

Suddenly, everything I had hidden from for so long came to light and I gathered up the strength to leave and never come back. Let’s flashback to the night of the physical assault, shall we?

I had attended a party with a few of my girlfriends one Friday night, in total anticipation of much-needed, carefree fun. I was only twenty years old for crying out loud, but had grown so accustomed to restlessness and fear that I nearly forgot how to be a young, lively college girl.

Dominic made it clear that he was going to be away with family and would thereby be busy. I was elated, as I would finally have some time with myself and my lovely girlfriends, without his intimidating presence to kill the buzz.

I didn’t mention the party to Dominic because I knew he would go crazy on me, so I thought it would be easier to conceal it from him. Boy was I wrong! Fast-forward to the middle of the night and I lock eyes with Dominic, totally caught off-guard. And he looked anything but happy to see me. In fact, he was fuming and seething with fire.

I knew I was in major trouble and my whole body turned into mush. He was on the second floor of the nightclub, with a total view of the whole establishment. I thought I was going to vomit buckets even though I only had one girly cocktail, apprehensive about what Dominic would do once he got a hold of me. I had no other choice but to play it cool and figured I was safe in a crowded place with my friends beside me. That had to be some form of armor, but nothing could stop Dominic from doing what he wanted.

The second he had me at arm’s length, he spewed profanities my way and accused me of cheating on him. Calling me a slut and a disgrace, my night turned upside down. Doing everything he could to guilt me, his words stabbed me and left my insides bleeding.

When I couldn’t take anymore insults, he told me to inch closer to him. I did as I was told, having no idea what would happened next. This is when he pushed me down to the floor with all of his might, leaving me behind in a pile of my own tears.

The whole altercation is one big blur to me as it all happened so fast. He ran off before security personnel could locate him, knowing full well that he had assaulted me in front of hundreds.

I was hysterical. The tears wouldn’t subside no matter what I did and no one could console me. It was as if all of the years of abuse and torment had joined together in that exact period, resulting in an overwhelming emotional reaction.

Or perhaps it was the universe’s way of shaking the nonsense out of me, even empowering me in an indirect fashion. I needed that final straw to realize who I was dealing with. A blessing in disguise! Although I was in extreme pain in the duration and aftermath of that assault, it was precisely what needed to happen in order for me to save myself.

I have never felt as defenseless as I did in that wretched moment, yet it was a wake-up call to leave behind the toxicity that had encompassed my relationship.

In the aftermath of that stormy night, my entire perspective on both myself and my choices shifted. Dominic tried to contact me a couple times, serving up myriad excuses for his unacceptable behavior, but I had had enough. There was no way I was going to submit to his dominance any longer. In fact, once he shoved me to the floor, I actually became inundated with deep-seated strength.

Don’t ask me how, but once I composed myself, feelings of disgust overtook my being. I proceeded to despise Dominic for the abusive, manipulative man he was and my love for him turned to ash. Our relationship was never centered around love, as it was all one big sham meant to boost Dominic’s ego. And I had been his ultimate source of satiation.

After that incident, I never spoke to him again and avoided him at all costs, essentially erasing him from my livelihood. I left that toxic relationship and many other things that weren’t serving me behind, with the intention of letting self-love guide the way. I had always envisioned a peaceful, happy life for myself and the longer I submerged myself in self-loathing and toxicity, the harder it would be to change.

If I didn’t love and respect myself, then I couldn’t possibly expect the same from my potential partners. I would always attract individuals and circumstances that wouldn’t genuinely serve my best interest.

Ultimately, it was up to me to play on my own team, rooting for my personal well-being first and foremost, rather than sacrificing it for the satisfaction of a disturbed man or anything else that disempowered me. It took such darkness for the light to show forth and guide me to make sounder decisions. Had it not been for the extreme rage on the part of Dominic, I may have still been with him or in an abusive relationship of some form. What a shame that would be! The cycle of self-sabotage had to end and in my case, it took this particular agonizing night to really shake me to the core.

Ironically enough, the temporary pain was exactly what had to happen in that moment and I am actually happy it did. Was I going to live a life characterized by fear and abuse or was I going to break free of those chains and fly? The universe gave me another chance to start again and I listened with every fiber of my being. And it was so worth it! TC mark

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