It felt like drowning while trying desperately to tread water. It felt like exhaustion. It felt like screaming at the top of my lungs, but all that would come out was silence. It felt like fire in my gut. It felt like an elephant on my chest. It felt like a river of sickness; a river that flowed through my core and tried to engulf me. It felt like numbness. It felt like silence. It felt like the world was spinning out of control and I was helplessly sitting in the middle watching it all. It felt like striving. It felt like failing. It felt like I was mute, and even if I screamed, or cried, or spoke loudly, no one would hear. It felt like banging my head against a wall. It felt like being alone in a blank room, with no windows, and no doors. It felt lonely. It felt guilty, like somehow, some way, I could do something to make it better; I could do something differently. I could love enough, or hold back enough, or give enough, to make it ok, to make it work, to make it better, but there was nothing. Nothing I could do, no amount of love I could give, no change that I would make that would make it right. I couldn’t love him well, I couldn’t make him better.
I was never hit. I was never told I wasn’t good enough, or that I was stupid, and I was never directly torn down. It took me years to even realize that what I had gone through was abuse, because emotional and psychological abuse is subtle; it’s manipulative, and it’s covert. It doesn’t always rage in huge fights. It doesn’t always lash out. It’s the little things, day by day, that seem unimportant or insignificant at the time. It’s the moment where what you want is put aside for what they want, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Love and relationships are built on compromise right? But how many times did I agree to things I didn’t like, didn’t want, or agree to not have what I truly desired? It was the times I was unhappy, or sad, or angry, and my emotions got pushed to the wayside, minimized, or I was told to buck up; or, worst of all, shunned for having an emotional reaction at all. My feelings, my hurts, they were used against me. Instead of open discussions, it was guilt. It’s the times I brought up challenges we had, and was told I was overreacting, or crazy for getting upset, or told “what do you want me to do about it?” as if it was a threat, that if we even discussed my needs, I would be left, or hurt. It was the “jokes;” the sarcastic, condescending “jokes” that I was supposed to know were meant to be funny. Jokes that played on my emotions and worked on my fear. It was the subtle comments to hook me or guilt me. We’d been apart for a day, and I’d get a call saying “I miss you, it sucks missing you.” It was subtle comments about how other boyfriends got to cook their girlfriends dinner, but I had band practice, and he couldn’t. I only had band practice once a week at the time. It was comments like “That guy was staring at you during the whole party. It’s nice to have something that everyone else wants.” Something. Little comments that sounded sweet, or loving at the time, but stuck out in strange ways in my mind, because I’m not something that everyone wants. I’m not an object; I’m a person, not a possession. But that’s what abusers do. They don’t desire to love you; they desire to possess you. They desire to control you. Their “Love” is not real; it’s about ownership. Real love wants to protect its loved one; it wants to build them up, and encourage them. It desires to do things for the other, to give, share, and learn their heart. When he would actually lash out in a big way, which was rare, he would always apologize within a couple of days and explain away why he had lashed out, and call himself an a-hole. Then he would go back to being the sweet as pie guy I fell for. But it was those little things, the small digs, the icky “jokes” the minimizing of my feelings that tore me down over time. You can’t ignore your feelings or desires, without them being somewhat crushed. You can’t say no to your heart and soul, without simultaneously hardening and numbing them out. You can’t stop yourself from sharing your desires and feelings without slowly turning off your voice, and making yourself mute. That is the sickness of abuse. It tears you apart from the inside out before you even realize what’s going on. One morning you wake up with an elephant on your chest, a pit in your stomach, and you don’t know what happened. You don’t know how you got there.
In the beginning it seemed great. He showered me with affection, told me how special I was, and spent all his free time with me. He gave me gifts, and helped me learn lines. We’d stay up counting stars together and talking about our future. He talked about marriage in the first two weeks we were together. Sounds romantic right? It was, it felt weird and amazing all at the same time. It was fast, and swept up, and intoxicating. But when I say it felt weird, I mean, there was a part of me, a small feeling in my gut that said, this is a lot really fast. I’m not used to spending this much time with someone and not having any independence, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But I was being “love bombed.” When you are being showered with affection, attention, and compliments and you have chemistry with the person, it’s hard to think straight. Hard to listen to that gut sense saying maybe pull back a little and take things slowly because there’s a part of it that feels really good too. It’s easy to rationalize giving in to it. Any time he knew he’d crossed a line and pushed me away, or almost to my breaking point, he’d turn that charm back on, and we’d go through the whole cycle all over again. That is the way of abuse. It’s like a rollercoaster ride. It gets your blood pumping, it gets your adrenaline racing, and just went you think you’re at a smooth coast, you go racing down a steep hill, and end up at the bottom again, feeling confused, unhappy, and like someone has punched you in the gut. It’s easy to become almost obsessed with trying to bring back the good parts, trying to make things better, just to feel the high of things being good again. But you can’t do anything to change or control another person’s behavior. You can’t love someone enough to love them well, and make them better. No matter how hard you try, there is nothing that you can do to make it work. This is a truth that it took me a long time to learn. It didn’t take away the wounds, but it did stop the exhaustion of trying. Trying, and exhausting myself, because trying to control abuse is like banging your head against a wall, and running a marathon with no finish line.
Not all abuse is physical. Not all abuse leaves bruises, scars, or marks. Most abuse is not obvious; it’s hidden. People who abuse put on a really good show, especially for the outside world. They tend to be charming. They don’t just manipulate their victims; they manipulate the people around them. They isolate, they manipulate, and they tear down, little by little. They make you feel crazy. You shrink when you are with an abuser. You tone yourself down. You don’t mean to. You may not even realize you are doing it, but when you are with an abuser, you have to tone yourself down. It’s what happens automatically when you walk on eggshells, never knowing what you’re going to get. But we weren’t made to be toned down, for anyone. We were made to be fully ourselves, to shine our unique light into the world and make it a brighter place. If you feel like your light is being put out by the person you are with, love yourself enough to leave. And love them enough, to make them face themselves. When we stay with someone who is abusive, we enable them to continue their behavior. No one wins. If they have any desire to get better, any desire to change, they will not do it by getting what they want. They won’t change if they are being appeased or loved. They will choose to change, because it hurts too much to remain the same. It won’t hurt until they face true consequences. That’s what accountability truly is. Facing consequences of our behavior. In Al Anon, they say you have to hit a rock bottom before you decide to get better and make the changes. This is true for everyone. Tony Robbins said “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” This is the absolute truth. When you are an empathetic person, it is easy to feel bad for someone who’s hurting, and get dragged right back into an unhealthy situation. But the truth about real love, is that it is based on truth, and truth involves consequences and pain sometimes. When we try to cover pain or make things better, we deny people their rock bottom, and the ability to change. Whether they ever do change, well, that is up to them, but there is nothing we can do to make it happen.
If you are going through abuse, know that you are not alone. Please know, that there is nothing wrong with you. You didn’t cause this; you didn’t attract this. Most abusive people are actually drawn to people who are really strong, amazing, and empathetic. They exploit our empathy, and take joy making themselves look good with someone they can put on a pedestal. You weren’t chosen as a victim because you are weak, or bad. You were chosen because you are a caring and empathetic person who is vibrant and amazing. You have nothing to be ashamed of. There are resources; there is support. Please feel free to reach out to me. If someone you love is going through abuse, don’t give up on them. Don’t stay silent; speak up. But don’t push them either. Show them you care, show them you are their for them. Express concern for their unhappiness. Remind them who they are, and how much they deserve to be happy. Do research on abuse so you can better help them.
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