I stared blankly at the screen. The silver reflection from the message lit up my face. It took a moment, and then I gave in to panic. My abusive relationship was following me.
No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I began to hyperventilate, and my chest felt like it was being crushed. This time, the panic attack was brought on by Mike. No surprise there.
By the time summer had started, I finally understood what he was doing to me. When he said if I stopped talking to him he wouldn’t love me anymore, I was rattled.
The funny thing about being in an abusive relationship is you begin to accept the dysfunction. Soon you thrive off it. When he’s mad at you, your life ends and the only way to resuscitate it is to get back in his good graces, no matter what that entails.
When he mocks you until you cry, on some level you’re satisfied because you know you deserved it. When he grips your wrists so hard you can trace the shape of his hand days later, it thrills you. When he hits you for not wanting to kiss him, you understand.
I was defined by the toxicity of my relationship with him. He became the nucleus of my life. The moment I put my guard down for him, he became the puppeteer and I begged for him to take the strings.
We didn’t speak for the entire day. I had a panic attack because he didn’t talk to me for the first day in months, but was using social media.
I had to claw at my arms until I calmed down, which was documented by the sharp red lines that graced my forearms the next day. In that moment I was aware I was getting myself into something I wouldn’t be able to handle.
But even before the first kiss, the first violation, or the first tear he had me in the palm of his hands. He was my first kiss and, in that same week he convinced me to go to third base with him, even though I begged for us to take it slow.
He convinced me if he didn’t finish, it wasn’t sex, it was just testing how it felt. After it was over, I sat in his bed shaking so hard I couldn’t re-hook my bra. Three weeks later, he took my virginity. I didn’t want to have sex.
I said ‘no’ multiple times, and he just told me to close my eyes until it was over. I was crying the whole time. I don’t remember the rest of what happened, it was blurry from that point on. After it was over, I went upstairs to throw up.
I knew it was rape. I looked up rape laws and different religious views and various cultural definitions of rape. It met every single definition. I didn’t even consider leaving him.
The next time it happened, I made it stop halfway through, and curled up in a corner across the room, chest heaving with despair. It happened countless occasions after, but after a while they all blended together. It would take too long to document the games and manipulation and psychological wars he waged.
Every problem I had with myself, with life, and with people he promised to rectify. And it seemed he did. I was depressed, so he made me happy beyond belief. I had no self-esteem, so he made me feel like I deserved to be on top of the world. I had trust issues, so he proved he could be dependable.
Then he drained me for all I was worth, and I became an extension of him. He hurt me but it felt like true love. I was an easy target.
I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember, having panic attacks that would engulf me since I was in kindergarten. I’m not sure when the depression started. I was always a serious, sensitive person. I had a habit of looking at things from a jaded perspective and feeling things too intensely, even if the situation didn’t command such a response.
The world always affected me too much and life was out of my control. I didn’t understand why I was wired the way I was, why my mind didn’t work the same as everyone else’s. Somewhere around sixth grade I went numb emotionally.
I opted for hanging, it seemed the least complicated. The idea flew out of my head quick enough. Seventh grade is also when I started getting harassed by my classmates for two years over my looks. That’s what led to the eating disorder.
I eventually got better, but only because I replaced binging and purging with only binging. And also because I started cutting. There was a certain addictive quality to mutilation of self. Every time I stuck my fingers down my throat, cut myself, and refused to eat for days I felt something.
For someone who was numb and drained and cold, being a masochist was the greatest thing that could ever happen. Every laugh was hollow, every conversation meaningless, every day spent in bed, physically moving was difficult beyond words, my body had a ten-ton weight on it perpetually.
It was dangerous and harmful and I didn’t care because that was the only time I felt something. And that lasted for years.
Every time I thought I might get better, I got worse again. I never asked for help; I was comfortable. My shell of anxiety and depression was my home. I knew how it worked. I was familiar with it. I was scared.
If I tried to get better and I failed, then that meant I couldn’t be better, and the prospect of that revelation was worse than living with my demons. And if I got better, if I knew what it was like to be happy and stable and normal, but got worse again… Well, that would make it all the more devastating. To know what it’s like to be on the other side, but to be stuck in the same place is a unique hell.
Insecure, depressed, jaded, anxious, empty, desperate to feel something, to be something. He had his perfect doll to play with.
He once told me how his mother bought him a collection of amethyst, but, on the way to the car, he dropped them and all that was left were the shattered remains. Our relationship was like that, he said. Once it broke it could never be brought to the original state of beauty again.
I disagree about the beauty, but he was right about it breaking. Some relationships are not like that. Some are living and breathing and mold themselves as time and circumstance change into something strong and beautiful and resilient.
That wasn’t us. When he dropped me, he shattered me and us. It could not be repaired, nor would it ever be. That is because when he met me I wasn’t living.
Mike controlled me with haphazard effort at that point. I was off the deep end. I slept two hours a night, maybe. I stopped eating. I mentally broke myself, using every opportunity to make myself feel as worthless as I knew I was, as he reminded me I was. I took breaks at work in my car, where I would have panic attacks that were building up throughout my shift.
Whenever someone touched me I jumped, so I stopped letting people touch me. My stability rested on a house of cards. My parents watched me crumble. They begged me to tell them what was wrong. I didn’t tell them about Mike, but I finally began to acknowledge to myself that he raped me and was emotionally and physically abusive.
And with that came another wave of trouble. One day was particularly bad, as I hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before.
I had to drive my sister somewhere, and as I began to back out of the driveway, she yelled for me to stop because a car was coming. I put the car in park and proceeded to sob and feel my throat constrict. I repeated “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over. She told me to go inside, and that she would drive herself.
I went inside and the anxiety began to control me. I was out of my body; my emotions were a tsunami that extended beyond my control. The waves of adrenaline, emotion, and hate hit me relentlessly and I wanted to die, I wanted it to stop.
I sat in my bathroom and took a pair of nail clippers and went to work on my forearm. It hurt more than I expected it to, and took off distinct rectangular patches of skin. My arm was a dizzying mix of scarlet and flushed flesh. I went into my kitchen and picked the sharpest knife I could find.
I saw the blood, I felt the release that would come, and how much better everyone would be without me. I was scared about how it would hurt, and how much pressure I would need to get it done on the first try.
I tested part of my leg, and winced at the dull searing. Lots of pressure would be needed. I spent minutes trying to work up the courage, but it never came, since my sister came home.
Later that day I was driving alone on a winding road, with no traffic around. I was tired, so tired. I wanted to sleep forever. Just sleep and never wake up. So, I closed my eyes and doubled the speed limit. Finally, this was it. But, I got scared and at the last moment opened my eyes, just in time to avoid colliding head on with a bridge.
Matt had feelings for me for over a year, and waited for me through Mike. Matt was respectful, kind, understood me and my depression, and tried to help me.
He valued me for myself, and made me believe that I was really worthy of self-respect, love, and happiness. I’d never known that. Before we began dating I tried to fix myself, because I finally realized someone should not make you feel unworthy of life.
He convinced me to talk to my parents about my problems and to see a therapist. I started eating on a regular pattern, I went for runs, I slept for a healthy seven hours instead of alternating between sleepless nights and not leaving my room for days.
I forced myself to stop talking down to myself. I didn’t cut. I stopped talking to Mike. I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do that were harmful to me, and started doing good things because I deserved it. I stopped drowning in my thoughts and anxieties and worthlessness.
While we dated I was the most stable I’d been in my entire life up to that point, and I really wish that was an exaggeration. For the first time in years I went for months without hurting myself in some way. I saw life as a good thing.
I felt emotions, I finally wasn’t numb. I stopped flinching when people touched me, and began to trust people’s intentions again. I stopped hating myself. My body was no longer heavy, no longer a prison, and I felt free, I felt light. I was lifted.
I started loving myself because of me, not because he loved me. He saw me as this beautiful, exquisite person, who was more precious than anything. He worked so hard, so so hard to make me believe it was true.
It has been said that when a man violates a woman, he cuts off her wings, robs her of the ability to fly. The woman is grounded, trapped from the world she knows and loves by this horrible offense done to her. It begins to define how she lives.
The core of abuse is that the abused has a very free, very real choice of either remaining grounded and wingless, and abusing others, continuing the hate that was injected in her the first time he hurt her, or she can build her own wings and choose to overcome and learn to be open, loving and self-respecting.
I was dead and numb and Mike was dangerous and exciting and I felt adrenaline and fear and excitement. When you’ve been dehumanized, the world has a surreal quality, it’s as though you’re there but you don’t belong. Being scarred, dead, and barren in a thriving, breathing, growing environment is an extraordinarily twisted torture.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. My chest was a hollow cave of crushed ribs and a numb heart. And my best friend gave me the tools to heal myself.
He was the first person who took the time to unravel the intricate nature of my darkness, understanding me and why I am the way I am, and how my past affected me. He taught me how to illuminate every crevice and corner, dusting the dirtiest parts of me and making them whole again.
I was damaged at best before I met Mike, but after him I was deflated, left hollow and empty and dead. When someone teaches you how to love yourself, there is no way to repay them. The greatest lesson to learn is how to live with yourself.
I always felt dirty in my own skin, like somehow I tarnished my body simply by housing my soul in it. I treated myself like such and Mike only confirmed this belief I held.
I may never be a bright, cheery person. I am serious and dark and lovely, and I am still learning. I’m still learning how to respect myself, and I’ve made mistakes learning. Because of this I’ve hurt Matt. And when you can’t love someone the way he deserves to be loved, you have to let him go.
So, when my third suicidal episode rolled around, I was surprised that he was the one to save me. This time it was cold and dark and the three a.m. sky was dull and lifeless. My hands shook as I unscrewed the screw holding the window screen to the frame.
When I finally got it loose I watched as the screen fell five stories, landing calmly on the frozen ground. That doesn’t look so bad, I thought. I sat on the windowsill, my legs dangling outside. I pictured myself falling, I wondered which way would make it hurt the least.
It wasn’t as scary as my other ideas. It was quick, easy, clean, guaranteed to work. It was probably a forty-foot freefall. I’m scared of heights, but the adrenaline rush of dread that came with being up high wasn’t there that night. Instead, there was only curiosity of what would happen next.
We were talking while this was happening, and Matt realized that something was wrong, so he called me. I was in such a frenzy I don’t remember most of our conversation, but he stayed on the phone with me for hours, and I fell asleep and woke up with him still on the line.
Every day is hard, and some days it still takes time for me to be able to get out of bed. I still am learning to manage my anxiety, fight my depression, and understand how to live with myself. Including all of this, and my past, I love myself, I love the skin I’m in, I’m happy and I really believe life is a good thing.
Matt is one of those rare people, the kind who never loses respect for someone, even after he stops loving them. The kind that cares for everyone, the kind that will do things just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s this gentle, sensitive nature which understands life isn’t always gentle which made him the perfect person to teach me how to be okay.
Letting go of someone you love just for them to be happy is never a light ordeal. We don’t talk anymore, and that’s okay. Because he taught me how to live, and when people you love leave, you have to hold them to all the good they’ve done for you.
I’m delicate, yet strong, I’m dark, but lovely. Sometimes, no matter what has tortured you in the past, or how dark life seems, all you need is a single person to teach you how to see the good in you.
That is was he taught me, because for the time we were together, he was the first that saw a light in me I didn’t know was there.