“You’re a fucking slut.”
“You disgust me.”
“You’re honestly pathetic.”
Read them. Then read them again. Now imagine hearing those things from a person you believe you love. Imagine hearing those things from a person whose opinion you value more than almost anyone else’s because you’ve placed them on the highest pedestal in your life. Even worse, imagine that you hear these things so often that you start believing them.
And as hard as it might be for you to imagine any of these scenarios, it’s probably even harder to accept the fact that this is someone’s reality. Because it was mine.
There’s an African proverb that says that “until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” Well, guess what? The lion finally learned how to write. So for all of my lions out there, this story, my story, is for you.
Picture perfect. Or at least, that’s what everyone else thought. And for a long time, it was. It was easy and effortless. It was fun and playful. The good days far outweighed the bad. The arguments were few and far between. I was happy. Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.
I wish I could say that there was one big moment when everything changed, but that wasn’t the case. It was a series of red flags that appeared so subtly at first that I almost didn’t notice them. Except the problem was that I did notice and I simply chose to ignore them. And the problem with choosing to ignore them was that by doing so, I was inadvertently giving my permission to allow them to continue.
Now, when I talk about red flags, I don’t mean miniscule things like leaving the toilet seat up or chewing with your mouth open. No, those might be annoying, but by definition, they’re not really red flags. I’m talking about throwing things on the floor or across the room. I’m talking about slamming doors. I’m talking about raising their voice to try to silence yours. I’m talking about name calling. Gaslighting. Making you feel crazy for being upset. Walking out after any argument or conversation that didn’t go the way they wanted and then ignoring you for hours afterwards.
And then I realized that these things weren’t just red flags. They were abuse. I think we like to think of abuse as this loud and visible thing. And it is. But unfortunately, it can also be very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that you don’t even recognize that it’s happening. Abuse isn’t just about the scars someone leaves on the outside of your body. It’s about the scars that are left on your heart, too.
And let me tell you, there’s a lot of them.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want pity. I don’t want sympathy. And I certainly don’t want attention. However, what I do want is to show up and be seen. To share my story, no matter how personal, vulnerable, and difficult it may be with the hope that this reaches at least one other person who might be experiencing or have experienced the same thing. Because the odds that someone else has gone through something similar is very high. Both men and women have a 48% chance of experiencing some version of emotional abuse in a relationship. And that percentage is way too fucking high, if you ask me.
I wish that I could say that I left as soon as these things started happening, but ultimately I didn’t. I stayed. I stayed because I thought I was in love. I stayed because I thought I was happy. I stayed because I was convinced that I would be nothing if I didn’t. I stayed because I felt guilty for everything that was happening in the relationship because I had been lead to believe that everything was my fault. And some of it was. But showing someone sympathy for the mistakes that you have made is not an excuse to tolerate repeated exposure to toxic behavior.
So for weeks I stayed knowing it wasn’t right. For weeks I cried almost every single day and somehow convinced myself that this was normal, that this was just a rough patch and that things would eventually get better. But things never did.
So I did what I had to do: I left. I walked away from every horrible thing that was said about me and to me. I walked away from every lie I had convinced myself was true because I had heard it so many times. I walked away from control, manipulation, and deceit. And it was the longest, hardest walk of my entire life. Hell, I don’t even know that I walked away so much as stumbled and crawled my way out of it. But the important thing is that I made it out.
Was it hard? I think that’s a pretty dumb question, but for the sake of answering it: yes, it was one of (if not) the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. But the more important question is: was it worth it? And if I had to make that walk 100 times to get to where I am now, I would do it every time.
I’m still healing. Some days are still hard. Some lies are still in my head and my heart, and I think they will be for a long time. But that’s okay, because I know I’m getting better. And I know that I’m not in a place where I’m allowing myself to be exposed to those things anymore. And I know that I’m going to be so much better healed than I ever was unbroken.
So for anyone who may have experienced anything like this, please know that my heart is with you and I am rooting for you. Know that my arms and my ears are always open if you need a safe place to land, cry, or talk. And please know that you are never, ever alone. There is not a single emotion that you could have that someone else hasn’t experienced. And most importantly, know that you can make it to the other side if you believe in yourself enough to start doing the walking.
Leaving is the hardest thing to do until you do it.
And if you can do that, I’m so proud of you. Because that is a story that will glorify the lion. Every single time.