Abuse in Hindsight

Before falling in love, like for real love, I had several notions of what it’d be like. I imagined how happy we’d be, how much we’d enjoy talking with each other throughout the day and how fun our dates would be. Love would find me and usher me into a realm of perfect, blissful living. Naïve, yes, and a bit fanciful, but it was my dream. I was looking forward to escaping the pain and difficulty of my life by diving into a relationship and finding solace in someone’s love for me. I knew true love existed and I was confident it’d bring me my happily ever after.

My love story didn’t play out the way I had hoped. I fell in love with and agreed to marry a man who didn’t really love me. Instead of solace there were constant insecurities. Instead of bliss, I lived in distress. Conversations became accusations and a source for mental and emotional torment that left me questioning myself as a person, woman and potential wife. The things I loved most about life lost their appeal. I cried more than I laughed. I made decisions based on trying to please my fiancé. My friends weren’t good enough for him, and over time, most of my actions, thoughts and opinions were scrutinized. I lived a life of secrecy, unable to talk to anyone about the details of our relationship, because I was afraid of the consequences – afraid of what he’d say or of what I’d be accused. I know what it’s like to go from feeling like you’re the most beautiful, perfect woman ever to feeling like you’re a complete failure and disappointment. Trying to say and do everything perfectly so he finds no fault, just to “fall short” anyway. Not every moment was horrible – we had some really great times! Some memories still make me smile. He wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t the devil. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one, either. Together, we were toxic and I ended up shattered.

My experience changed me. I developed distrust of others and became convinced that experiencing true love would be impossible. At one point, I didn’t want to seek, receive or think about romantic love. Actually, for a long time, I lost faith in love, or at least its ability to reach me. I still find myself feeling afraid to be vulnerable, give my heart and allow someone else in my life – afraid to let down my guard. Love isn’t designed to be complicated and stressful – it shouldn’t harm you. It won’t leave you empty, but rather, it fills. There’s something about it that brings a sense of security, confidence and an overall sense of well-being. An unhealthy relationship is the exact opposite and an abuser will use emotions influenced by the happy moments, or should I say the calm in the storm, to manipulate, control, confine, disrespect or neglect.

I must admit, I don’t completely blame my fiancé – I played a role in our dysfunction. I allowed him to lift me up when it consistently led to a low. I chose to commit to a vision I had of our relationship instead of accepting its reality. I allowed him to dictate my decisions – I gave him control. It was I who covered and made excuses for him. I put his needs and feelings before my own. I depended on his validation and approval. I was looking for someone to rescue me from my life and its heartbreak. I dare not suggest I deserved an abusive relationship – neither do you. I realize that looking for a man to fill my voids made me the perfect prey. The quote by Michael Murdock is true: “Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” Our relationships feed our needs, whether healthy or unhealthy. Whether it’s to be needed, rescued, in control, validated or made to feel beautiful, there will be a relationship to nurture it.

Eventually, I got tired of crying and being confused. I couldn’t take any more interrogations and the aftermath of dates that felt like recovery from dental surgery. I didn’t want to give any more time, money, love or energy to someone incapable and unwilling to return it. I felt lost and was literally near a mental breakdown. I was blessed to have several interventions from close loved ones that knew something wasn’t right with me. As it is in many cases of mental and emotional abuse, I didn’t realize how manipulated and controlled I was. I knew something was off in my life, my mind and spirit but I was clueless about the source and specifics. When I became aware that it was my relationship that was draining my life, I was stunned, hurt and even more confused. I don’t know if I was too exhausted to fight the truth or if it was the clarity alone that released me, but I found strength to acknowledge where I was and walk away. I almost went back to him but after prayer, support and more intervention, I decided I had enough. When threatened with a breakup, my fiancé promised to fix everything he’d been doing wrong and had refused to change previously. He even admitted some of his faults. That’s when I hurt the most. He was only willing to change his ways because I was about to walk away. He didn’t love me. He loved himself and his image. Walking away from the man I loved has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, while releasing the negativity and painfulness of the relationship has been one of my greatest. I have cried. I have questioned. I have gone through so much pain, but I have survived.

Today, I am so grateful to be happy and free. It feels good to live an intentional, healthy and purposeful life. I didn’t begin my healing process until I learned to forgive and love myself (through respecting my wishes and facilitating an emotionally nourishing environment). I didn’t initially comprehend what self-love was until I reached my lowest point of despair. I searched for love and found it in a reflection of myself. I saw the fighter that I was. I saw my inner beauty that refused to be tainted by the ugliness of the circumstances surrounding my life. So I began to build myself up with affirmations. I had to literally tell myself, “Melissa, you are worth it, you deserve it, and this is your right.” I didn’t wait for other people to do it for me because I was in a state of emergency. I knew I had to spend time working on me so I could heal emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I had to look away from everything and everyone and focus on myself. I’m still learning and growing in love and wisdom. I still get afraid and sometimes get stuck in the emotions and memories of my past. My journey isn’t complete; but what matters most is that I’m at peace with myself and with God. I’m no longer in abusive and unhealthy relationships and I am dedicated to living my best life.

You too can heal, grow and fall more in love with you and your well-being. Take as much time as you need. Never settle and never give up. Take time to reflect on your relationships and make sure they are nurturing, supportive and free of any manipulation. It’s also important that you pour positivity into the lives of others. Make necessary adjustments and deletions, if needed, to surround yourself with people who promote wellness. Spend time alone, in reflection, and get to know who you are. Identify your weaknesses while celebrating your strengths. Life is meant to be enjoyed – take time to laugh and do the things you love. I’m rooting for you.