This time a year ago I was in the middle of a two month battle that saved my sanity. The guy I had been in a relationship with for 16 months had finally crossed the line in a way I would never forgive. The relationship was toxic from the start and friends and family warned me left and right that they felt something was off with the guy I claimed I loved. I want to thank everyone who helped pull me from the fire, but first I need to tell you what exactly you pulled me from since most of you have no idea how bad it actually was.
We met in late August 2013. I had broken off my engagement with my high school sweetheart 3 months prior. I had just spent several weeks dating a guy I had allowed myself to open up to for him to stomp on my heart. I was broken. We had met online, however as far as my family is concerned he passed me his number while in line at Starbucks on the way home from class my sophomore year of college. I was a girl from the midwest trying to rebel against my liberal family by partaking in all things southern. He was a guy from a conservative southern family trying to rebel against them with a quest to find “the meaning of life”. We were everything our parents warned us against and we were attracted to each other like magnets.
Despite our age we both lived at home with protective parents. I rebelled against mine by joining his family for church on Sundays. He rebelled against his by going downtown with me on weeknights. Around a month into our relationship I got the warning that should have sent me running for the hills. I had been with my mother getting my hair done when he texted me asking for a lunch date. I told him I was busy and asked to reschedule for that evening. When I saw him that night I knew something was different.
He came over to my house to pick me up for dinner that evening and we began talking. In our short time together we had begun to discuss some of the heavier topics of life, particularly religion. I was baptized Catholic, born into a non-practicing family. He was baptized Pentecostal sometime during high school. My family despised the thought of me partaking in religious life, his family was terrified of the atheist propaganda they kept finding in his bedroom. When we returned for dinner we sat down outside by the pool to avoid my parents. He confided in me that he hadn’t been feeling well the past several days and as a result has spent a great deal of time bonding with alcohol. I asked what he had done that day while I was with my mom and he told me he had purchased a gun. I was terrified. Growing up in a liberal family guns were not something I had any experience with, nor did I have any understanding as to why he would have wanted one.
Without his knowledge I texted his parents and asked they search his room, where they found the gun and several water bottles filled with alcohol. When he left my house that evening I called his parents and asked they confront him about what they had found and find a way to keep him from running away when he arrived home. The plan had been for his father to take his keys or slash his tires, but it never happened. I didn’t sleep that night. I spent the evening playing phone tag between him, his parents, and the local police who were trying to track him down. I snuck out of my parents house at 5 am to help the police lure him back across the county line where he was detained and put in a 72 hour psychiatric hold.
When he was released from psychiatric he was put on medications he never took. He was referred to a government outpatient facility to which he never visited. He was placed in a group at his parents church similar to AA which I attended with him every Thursday night for support. Six weeks later he left the church and in turn his parents kicked him out of the house. Homeless and jobless my parents (who had no idea of his mental condition) invited him to move in with us. He lived in my parents guest bedroom for 8 months.
My parents have never been big drinkers and so when I discovered he was our relationship began to get rocky. He would sneak 12 packs of beer into the house and finish them in a single sitting. He would sneak out of the house at 1 or 2 am to get food when he was far too drunk to drive. Eventually he convinced me to drink with him and our relationship began to crumble. Small fights turned into physical altercations. Sex went from something enjoyable and rarely attainable to something expected and often painful. My limits were often tested and my emotions were unpredictable to say the least.
In early July of 2014 we had our largest fight to date. Earlier that week he had been driving drunk with me in the car. I said something off color as a way to shake him, trying to get him to show me some affection, when he reached over and hit me. I told my parents I had fallen while we were out, but the bruise on my eye lasted nearly a week and to this day I question if they knew the truth all along. I don’t remember what triggered the fight, but I do remember asking him to leave and never return. He went to Texas to visit his mom for a week. When he returned we got back together. I asked my parents to let him move back in and thankfully my father stood his ground. He ended up getting an apartment across town and our relationship continued to spiral.
In September or October I told my parents I was spending the night with a friend and went to his apartment instead. He told me he had planned a romantic night for just the two of us. He was drunk when I arrived. I came close to leaving, going and staying with the friend I had told my parents I was with, I wish I had. At this point all of our fights had become physical altercations, however after the black eye he had given me over the summer he had begun to take care to not leave me with any visible bruises. Despite how betrayed I felt when I stayed with him that night I continued to do it several more times, each time feeling worse and worse when I left in the morning. I had never spent the night with a guy before and as a result I began to convince myself this was normal.
In November he came to visit me at my parents house. I don’t remember why my parents were gone that day but I know they were gone for several hours. I don’t remember what started our fight, but I know that at one point he spilled a soda on my mother’s white carpet. I had my first panic attack as I stood there unable to discern if I should clean up the mess or continue the fight. With me standing in the living room crying and hyperventilating to the point of eventually throwing up, he walked out the door telling me to “grow up, and handled it yourself”. I stayed in the state of panic for 5 hours, eventually ending up in the emergency room. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and referred to a psychologist who spent months trying to remedy the situation using only medication.
Throughout the duration of our relationship I became the best lier I had ever met. “I’m fine” was repeated hundreds if not thousands of times when talking to my family. I told dozens of people how “in love” with him I was and in turn he did the same. Perhaps one of us was telling the truth. I began attaching my self worth to whether or not he felt I had earned the right for him to be sober around me that night, if we managed to go a day without a physical altercation, or if I finally managed to do something to please him in bed. I had reached the point where I didn’t know what a functional relationship was, nor did I desire one. I didn’t believe in love despite the hundreds of times I had told others we were soulmates, and I assumed that a life spent with him would be no better or worse than a life spent with anyone else. So to the following people, I say thank you for showing me the light.
To My Family,
I’m sorry I lied to you about who he was. I’m sorry you had to see me on the days I didn’t want to get out of bed either because I was too depressed or too sore to move. I’m sorry you had to watch as that screaming match broke out between us in July. I’m sorry you had to watch me take him back. I’m sorry you had to drive me to the hospital. I’m sorry you had to pay for therapy when I was discharged. I’m sorry I don’t have a better way to repay you for what you did for me, so thank you.
To the Sisters I Already Had,
I’m sorry I allowed a relationship as painful as this to tear us apart. I’m sorry I neglected you for a person who ultimately ended up being far from worth my time. I love all of you with my whole heart and I am glad we have begun to heal the wounds my distance caused. I’m sorry for not telling you what I was struggling with, but thank you for salvaging me from the wreckage when I needed it most.
To the Sisters I Gained Since,
I can’t begin to explain to you all the place I was in when we first met. There are not words to describe the devastation in my heart when I decided to begin opening myself up to friendships again. I didn’t know that I was capable of fighting for myself the way I have, and because of you I didn’t even realize I was fighting at all. You made recovering from something so awful feel so easy and I can’t thank you enough.
To My Best Friend,
Thank you for making sure I was safe. You knew I was never going to leave him unless it was on my own terms, but you stayed at my side despite the pain you must have felt watching me suffer. Thank you for giving me the courage to leave him when I needed to. Thank you for listening to the crazy details of the fights I never fully revealed to you until long after he was gone. Thank you for being my anchor.
To the First Guy I Met After,
Thank you for not tearing me apart. I know you could tell when you met me that I was in shreds, it wasn’t that hard to see. Thank you for never pressuring me to do anything I wasn’t ready for. Thank you for encouraging me to be safe. Thank you for showing me that sometimes it is possible for two people to be attracted to each other yet recognize they are both at a place where a friendship would work better.
To My Best Guy Friend,
You met me long after the smoke had cleared but the damage clearly remained. Thank you for being my rock when you were under no obligation to even be my friend. Thank you for speaking words of encouragement to me when I needed it most. Thank you for never pressuring me to do anything I wasn’t ready to do, and being my cheerleader when I decided it was time to put myself back out there. Thank you for watching over me when I decided to make stupid decisions as a way of drowning my emotions. Thank you for protecting me from other men when I got scared.