The first time I ever saw him was behind hazy eyes. He was intoxicated, falling over himself on the dance floor of a grimy club I used to frequent. I didn’t know it then, but this boy would eventually become someone I’d fall so hard for, not even the fact that he would punch me in the face could drive me out of his embrace.
It’s been three years since I’ve shut the lock on that chapter of my life, but I struggle, to this day, to find a story I can truly resonate with. Yes, I triumphed. Yes, I found my happy ending. But abuse can change you in ways that people bury. I’m writing this piece not to diminish the well-earned successes of fellow survivors, but to break the invincible armor those very stories demand you have.
1. You will miss him.
You’ll go home that very last night expecting to hate him the second your packed bags hit the floor—but you won’t. Night after night, you’ll bury your head under covers expecting to feel different. You’ll wake up every morning hating yourself for being so weak. Every movie you’ve ever seen and every piece of advice that hugs your trembling shoulders will be brimming with will power you feel you’ll never have. Speak a word about your masochistic pining, and your pain will be met by pitying eyes that offer no solace. You’ll learn that heroines don’t become that way overnight. As the sleepless nights pile up, so will the guilt of not being strong enough. Flashbacks of smiles and forehead kisses will blind you until you decide to allow the echoes of all the names he used to call you glaze over your senses instead. Even then, you’ll still hear him taunting you for still loving him. The emotional or physical abuse may end at the breakup, but the real war is the one that comes after…the war only you can put a stop to…the war against yourself.
2. You’ll be surprised by hard it’ll be to find your voice again.
Like a dog, you were trained to obey every command and speak only when allowed to for years. Every action you ever did was scrutinized, weighed, and punished or rewarded according to invisible rules. You were trained to bury all feelings and mute every opinion. All that won’t change the second, minute, week, or month you’re set free. Breakups with people your world revolve around are hard enough. But breaking up with someone who literally dictated your world leaves you lost. You will forget how to speak up when spoken to in public the same way you’ll forget how to sleep alone. You’ll still enter rooms with your eyes cast low, avoiding contact to avoid starting a fight. Stripped of your self-worth, it’ll take you a while to stop apologizing for who you are. But once you’ve taped yourself back together, your voice and beliefs will become unshakeable. You’ll watch sunsets alone smiling, cross streets bravely, and fight harder than ever to achieve all the dreams you weren’t allowed to have before.
3. You’ll learn the hard way to never wait for an apology or explanation.
Not every abuse story ends with your partner stalking you or threatening to kill you if you don’t return. Being completely severed from their lives will leave you dazed and spinning with unanswered questions. You’ll wait, furious, to be beckoned back to hell. But when that call never comes, you’ll learn to stop questioning why. You’ll stop second-guessing your worth or the value of your love. Every relationship or friendship that ends after will be left without hesitation or regret. You’ll learn that pain isn’t an excuse to halt moving on and no one in the world owes you an explanation. As a default, you’ll subconsciously detach yourself from everything and everyone thereafter in the most bittersweet way. But you’ll be all the better for it, because you’ll go through every challenge life throws at you with a fearless heart.
Life after giving your all to someone who used your love against you is a lot like being left alone in the middle of a skating rink in rusty skates after years of being supported by the waist. You don’t magically exit the rink or do perfect pirouettes. You’ll bruise your shins or chip your teeth a hundred times over—but you do make it out eventually. When you do, scars become battle wounds you display like trophies. You won’t thank anyone for the “lessons” or “experience.” You’ll know, from that day forward, to thank no one else but yourself for learning to walk on ice with broken ankles.