I was always told that love is beautiful. Love is kind, caring, gentle, and warm. And for many, for so many lucky people, that’s exactly what love is. But I was never warned—I was never warned about the possibility of finding a love that would leave me broken both mentally and emotionally for years after it ended. Maybe because it’s one of those things that no one wants to talk about or wants to consciously admit happens. Maybe because it’s often easier to blame the victim for not leaving or standing up for his or herself, walking away. But this other side of love, the one I unfortunately know all too well, is real and evil and scary. And it needs to be talked about. Because not many people recognize how difficult it is to separate yourself from a toxic relationship, to piece yourself back together once you are finally “free.” And that sometimes, staying seems better than leaving. Sometimes, the fear far outweighs the desire to find happiness.
When you love someone, you want to believe that they love you back. You want to believe that what you have is true and pure and kind. But that isn’t how it always is. It is very scary placing your heart in someone else’s hands. They have the ability to do whatever they please with it. Six years ago I gave my heart to a boy, and it was handed back so broken and fragmented I am not sure it is even recognizable anymore. I am so scarred and bruised I have trouble remembering who I was before I started my fight for survival.
I do not know why we forgive those who make us feel so weak. To this day I could not tell you why I clung to a boy who devalued me in so many ways, making up excuses for his actions and trying to justify the fact that he left me in shambles at the end of each and every day.
You should never allow someone to blame you for their poor decisions, but I did. In his mind I was crazy, I was the problem—and I didn’t deserve respect or to be treated right. And in turn, as these things usually go, I started to believe it. This love, this was the only kind I had ever known—he was all I had ever known. And when people ask, “Why did you stay?,” the answer is never what they want to hear—and it’s never something I want to say out loud.
We stay because it’s comfortable. We stay because we fear the alternative. It isn’t a matter that is black and white. It is shades of grey, a world of grey. I loved him. I did not want to lose that comfort, I did not want to lose that hand to hold.
But those same hands that held me were also what I feared most in this world.
Life does not always work out the way you want it to.
Love does not always work out the way you hope it will.
People do not always turn out the way you wish.
Name-calling, threats, screaming, pushing, grabbing. None of this was ever OK, but I thought it was. I thought it was normal. I thought if I tried harder or looked better, it would stop. But the truth is, it never was going to stop. I was fighting a battle against a boy who could not win his own internal battle against himself.
I wanted to save him. But what I sadly learned is that not everyone wants to be saved. But I couldn’t let go—I couldn’t detach myself. I needed that consistency in my life because that was something I never had before. I needed to be needed; it was the only thing holding my tiny threads together. I loved him, and I wanted so badly for love—more specifically, the love I had to give—to be enough. And I don’t know what hurt more: coming to the realization that I could not fix our relationship or the consistent feeling of failure that traveled with me wherever I went.
What I have come to accept now is that it wasn’t my fault. Years of being told that I was not enough led me to believe that I was impossible to love—I was crazy—I was the beginning and end of everything. But that was not the issue. I was not the problem. He was. There is something to be said about a person who breaks you and does not help glue the pieces back together. There is something to be said about a person who walks out the door leaving you gasping for air on the floor because you never learned how to breathe without them.
I don’t know why we blame ourselves when others hurt us—why we feel it is our fault, why we feel the need to apologize. I don’t know why we choose people who make us feel like we are nothing. Maybe it is the fear. Maybe it is our lack of confidence, clinging to anything and anybody who can temporarily make us feel whole.
What many don’t realize is the pain of a relationship like this sticks with you. For four years, I was led to believe that I was not worth anything by the boy I loved more than I ever knew was possible. And every day since, no matter how far I distance myself, the feeling still lingers with me. It has almost been three years without him and I still tiptoe around the idea that I will never find happiness again. I distance myself from anyone who tries to get too close, finding flaws in flawless people.
There is nothing sadder than a person who does not realize just how wonderful they are. There is nothing more tragic than a person who wakes up every morning wishing that they had not.
It is so important to love yourself, but it’s nearly impossible when you spend years trying to prove to someone that you are worth something.
You should never have to beg someone to love you, or to care, or to appreciate you. But unfortunately, we do it anyways. But if I have learned anything in all of this it’s that you can’t let them win. The words they spit at you in anger, that is all they are. And when you find the strength in yourself to run, and you think that the heartbreak might kill you, look back at the days you have already lived through. Every day that you are free is a victory. Every time the sound of their name no longer feels like knives all over your body, you are winning. And if you are not at that point yet, if some days are harder than others—because believe me, my body still aches and I get short of breath at the thought of him from time to time—you need to keep reminding yourself to keep going, keep moving, keep searching for better days.
Because they are out there.