I’m coming a week or so late to this conversation, but I still think my story needs to be shared. When I first started reading the #WhyIStayed tweets, I was moved by the bravery those women had to share such intimate details about the trauma they’d been through. I thought I was lucky to have never been in a relationship in which my partner was physically violent towards me, especially considering how many women I knew in real life who weren’t as fortunate.
But it wasn’t until I started reading my own friends’ “Why I Stayed” stories that I realized–much to my surprise and horror–that I was a survivor too.
Recently, a few of my friends wrote posts on Facebook about how they had previously been stuck in emotionally abusive relationships. They wrote all the painful details about how their former partners had controlled them, manipulated them, and isolated them from their other friends.
The more I read, the deeper my heart sank–I realized that I had gone through the exact same experience a few years ago, only I didn’t know it could be considered abuse. I never thought about it that way; I thought my ex was just a jerk and a compulsive liar–he never hit me, but there were times in the relationship when I was really scared. I didn’t know that even if your partner doesn’t physically harm you, it can still be abuse; psychological and emotional harm can be just as damaging.
When I realized that I was a survivor of an abusive relationship, I almost couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, it felt so true, and I felt foolish for not realizing it earlier. It makes me feel better knowing now that my trauma with him is validated, that what I went through was horrible and that it wasn’t my fault. How he treated me was not okay.
So, why did I stay?
Because he kept telling me that we were soul mates.
Because he insisted he would take care of me and be there for me forever.
Because he said it was “us against the world,” and that my family and friends just couldn’t understand why we wanted to get married so young and quickly, because they couldn’t feel the love we felt for each other.
Because everyone else in my family got divorced and I wanted to beat the statistics.
Because he needed me to be there for him while he was in basic training.
Because he made me feel like I owed it to him to be better to him than he was to me because I was the only girl he’d ever been with, and he made me feel guilty for having been with someone else before our relationship.
Because he gave me his Facebook password “to show how much he trusted me” (but he also told me that if I didn’t give him my password and let him read my messages, I didn’t trust him back).
Because I made a big deal about us being in love and engaged on Facebook and I didn’t want everyone to know how wrong I had been.
Because he isolated me from my best friend (because he was jealous of how much I loved her) so I had nobody to turn to when things went badly with him.
Because he convinced me that my dreams of becoming a screenwriter were stupid and that I would be a better wife and mother than I would be at writing.
Because when he punched the hood of his truck when he was jealous about another man flirting with me, he told me it was because he just loved me too much.
Because he told me that he yelled and cussed at me because he was so in love with me that he couldn’t think straight; he told me it was my fault because I drove him crazy.
Because after he yelled at me on the phone and made me cry in the hallway of my freshman dorm every night, he would apologize and tell me that he loved me and he needed me.
Because Disney movies and romantic comedies (and society in general) taught me that true love was more important that anything, and that I needed to stick to my man no matter what (even if it meant battling constant anxiety and painful stress hives all over my body).
I stayed because nobody ever told me that it could be abuse, even if he never hit me.
I was scared to leave him. It’s still scary to think about what it what my life would have been like if I hadn’t. He made it incredibly difficult for me to cut him out of my life, but I slowly brought my close friends back into my life and made a bigger support system for myself. I blocked him on all my social media websites and ignored his calls, but I was constantly afraid of running into him again even though he lived on the other side of the world. I’m still afraid I’ll run into him when I visit family back home. It gets easier, but I’m not sure if the fear or pain will ever go away completely.
It still hurts. And this is most likely the most personal, triggering piece I’ve ever written. But my story is one that needs to be shared so that other women (or anyone, really) can see what I went through and know that it’s not okay, and if you are going through something similar, it is not okay. I’d like to think that people see me as a strong person who doesn’t take shit from men, but it took the process of fighting my way out of this relationship for me to become the person I am today. This can happen to anybody, even the people you’d least suspect. So if you are going through this too, know that it gets better. And if anyone you know is a survivor of an abusive relationship, show some compassion. It’s easy to say that you’d never stay in an abusive relationship, but you never know how hard it is to leave until you’re the one living through it. Especially when you have no idea that you’re going through it.
Related: How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship, Lovescrewed