An abusive relationship can change your life forever; the flashbacks, the fear, the PTSD. It’s all so real. You live in constant fear, not only of your abuser, but of falling into another abusive relationship.
I’ve written about my first boyfriend several times before, which makes perfect sense. He marks the point in my life when I became a woman, in more ways than one. But yes, also in that way. In all of the times I’ve talked about him, I don’t think I’ve done myself justice. I talk about him as a controlling boyfriend, the lack of respect he showed me, and I even talk about how into him I was when I met him. In none of the pieces I’ve written about him before do I call him what he is – my abuser. I never conceded that I was abused, and he was my abuser, and that it still really fucking hurts.
At the core of any abusive relationship is control. It’s about the things he made me do that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I was told that I couldn’t spend time with my best friends anymore, because he felt like they were bad influences on me. I understand now that what he meant was, he thought they would convince me to leave him. So, without much argument, I told the girls that had been there for me for years that I thought we shouldn’t be friends anymore. “Please don’t text me. Don’t call. We’re done.”
I spend a lot of time talking shit about this guy, and to be fair, it’s completely deserved. But what I don’t like to admit is that a lot of our relationship was good. Or at least, it felt good at the time. It was the first boyfriend I had ever had, and I was an insecure 16-year-old thrilled to have someone who loved me. He thought I was beautiful, and he wanted me to be his. I gladly agreed. At that point in my life, I probably would have dated anyone who had asked, because I was so convinced I was repulsive to boys. I can’t help but think of how different my life would have been if it had been literally anyone else who was interested in me.
The abuse wasn’t instantaneous. It was progressive, as was his control over me. At first, we spent time with my friends on occasion. Then it became only his friends. Eventually, he wanted to be the only person I ever saw, so we spent time with no one but each other. At its worst, the relationship had such a strong hold on me that I lied to everyone I loved, including myself. My mom, who had also been a victim of abuse in the past, saw all of the signs. She knew exactly what was happening, and I hated her for it. We fought and I told her she was wrong – that she was only saying those things because she didn’t like him. I remember the tears in my dad’s eyes when he asked me not to go see my boyfriend and I hurled some insults at him, and got in my car anyway.
I remember when everything changed. I knew I had to get out, and he knew I wanted out. He knew he had to do something quick to keep me, so he started using a new tactic. He worked tirelessly to convince me that no one would ever find me attractive besides him. He talked about all of my flaws and what a selfless person he was for looking past them. He was just being nice because no one else could ever overlook all the things that were wrong with me. I believed him. It was just as I feared; I really was repulsive. And if I left him, I would be alone forever. The fact that strong, intelligent women can be victims like this is really a testament to the psychological torture these men can put you through. They break you down mentally until you think that you actually deserve what’s happening to you. Once you think that, it’s over. They’ve won. And what a fucking victory that is for them.
Once after we had broken up, he showed up at the restaurant where I was working. I hadn’t even told him where I was working and I still don’t know how he found out. He sat at one of my tables until we closed and then he waited for me outside as I was leaving. It was in that moment that I truly understood the depth of the abuse. Despite how psychotic it was that he was there and waiting for me like I was in a horror movie, I got in his car and let him take me home.
I was so lucky that my abusive relationship happened when I was sixteen. I was young enough to be able to recover properly and also young enough to have my family around. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live alone after an experience like that. To watch every car drive by your house knowing he could be in it. To obsessively lock every window and door the second you’re alone.
As much as I hate him, I am also so thankful for him. Without him, I don’t think I would understand the concept of self love. It took someone completely demolishing my sense of self worth before I understood how fucking awesome I actually am. He made me feel as though love was something I should feel privileged to have, instead of something that I deserved. Not only do I deserve the love of another person, I deserve to fall madly in love with myself. I deserve to indulge in self-love! And you know what? I have. The idea that I am the only person I have to please would never have occurred to me before him. Self love is important. One of my favourite forms of self care is spending two hours in the tub rocking out to Mariah Carey.
Before, my purpose in life was to serve him at the expense of my mental health. Never again, motherfucker. Never again.