I often find the worst experiences are the ones that make us grow the most.
I spent a long time (around eight years) in a relationship that was going nowhere. I wouldn’t go as far as to classify the relationship as abusive; he was an alcoholic, but not a violent one. It was a case of coming second best to the bottle, and being embarrassed in public on every occasion. I lost count of the times we went out and he was already drunk when he came to pick me up – and I don’t mean tipsy, I mean all out smashed.
What made this even worse was that most of the time we would go to the club that I worked in, that being where most our friends hung out. He would be stumbling about, knocking drinks over, barging into people, and generally being someone others wanted to avoid. I would trail along behind him like an idiot, apologising for his behaviour.
I would catch people giving me pitying looks. I was suddenly THAT girl – the one they felt sorry for, the one they laughed about for being too stupid to walk away. And I couldn’t argue the point because even back then, deep down, I knew they were right.
I’m not going to dwell on the relationship too much, as this post is more about what I learned from this going forward, but if you want to know a little more I did write a post on my blog which you can read here.
So why did I stick around so long? As hard as it is to admit now, I felt if I walked away I was somehow the one who had failed; the quitter; the one who wasn’t good enough. I would like to tell you I was blinded by love, but that wouldn’t be true, because any love was long gone. I stayed because to walk away was to admit that all those whispers were right.
I learned a lot about myself during that time, and I grew up a lot. I learned I am emotionally stronger than I ever believed myself to be. I grew a skin thick enough to walk into a room where you feel everyone is laughing at you behind your back, hold my head up high and never let them see I had noticed the looks or heard the whispers. I learned that if you allow someone to treat you badly, regardless of the words you say, you are still telling them that it’s okay the treat you that way.
I learned that walking away from that relationship didn’t make me a failure – it made me someone who had finally realised I deserved to be treated better and that I deserved to be happy. I learned that it doesn’t matter how much you want to help someone, if they don’t want to be helped, you are wasting your time.
I learned that no one but me is responsible for my happiness. My ex wasn’t making me miserable, I was making me miserable for staying in a largely dysfunctional relationship.
Most importantly, I learned to stop caring what other people think. I refused to stay in the relationship on the grounds that people would all say I told you so. I decided to let them say it, and then rise above it. They had told me so, but that’s not enough: I had to see it for myself.
The day I ended it was the day I felt like I grew up. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s true. It was the day I said to the world “I deserve more than this and I’m damn well going to get it”.
On that day, I also made a few promises to myself:
I will not be made to feel second best.
I will not be made to feel like a failure for not being able to change something that is out of my control.
I will not help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
As a result of this experience, I think I am emotionally stronger, and a lot less likely to let anyone take me for granted. I’ve been there and done that, and the only good that has come from it is learning to respect myself a little more. I am perhaps a little more cynical, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I still believe in love, I just no longer think I have to accept being treated badly in order to find it. I have learned that my relationship certainly wasn’t love, and for that I suppose I should really thank my ex.
I went into that relationship a dewy eyed naïve kid who believed in the fairy tale ending. I turned into someone I didn’t like – someone willing to be used, someone pathetic, someone I would pity. I came out of it a woman who may not have all the answers, but certainly knows the questions, and that’s half the battle. I still believe in the fairy tale ending, I’m just not going to waste my time on the frogs anymore.