At first, it happened slowly.
Before I met you, I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. I had my heart broken a couple of times and I promised myself I wouldn't allow myself to even potentially be put in that situation again.
And then we met. Before I knew it, my life would never be the same.
It's almost like one of those things that you hear happens to other people, but you would never expect to happen to you.
I heard about domestic abuse, but I never understood it.
I read about it, heard it on the news and even watched TV shows about it, but I could never comprehend it.
How could anyone stay in a relationship that was so unhealthy, toxic and abusive? How could somebody be mentally or physically abused and consciously choose to stay with that person? And why?
It never made sense to me. It wasn't until I was halfway through my last relationship that I realized I was in an abusive relationship.
When we first started dating, you took me through the grooming stage. You held me on a pedestal and made me feel like the most important and beautiful person in the entire world. Sometimes even like the only person in the world.
That's where the first red flag should've gone up, but it didn't.
You wanted to know everything about me. You wanted to know my dreams, my aspirations and what I wanted out of life. You wanted to know the type of life I saw myself living, down to the husband, house and family I wanted. You conveniently wanted the same exact things -- a mirror to what I desired.
Everything was perfect throughout the first couple of months. I felt that our connection was deeper than any connection I'd had with anyone else, ever. I had always heard the saying "When you know, you know" and I was positive I finally knew.
But I also felt like it was too good to be true. Looking back on the relationship now, I know that feeling was my gut telling me to run for the hills.
About two months into the relationship I saw you peel off a layer of your mask for the first time. While we were hanging out with a group of friends, another guy friend of mine contacted me and, not thinking twice about it, I replied. As the night went on though, I could feel you growing distant. I brushed it off because I couldn't think of anything I did wrong, but as soon as everyone left you made sure to punish me for my "mistake."
I had never once been yelled at, put down or abused before. That night was my first glimpse of it as I watched you punch walls, flip over the couch, scream at me at the top of your lungs and call me anything but my name. I remember bawling my eyes out, praying that when I woke up it would all be nothing but a nightmare.
What I didn't realize at the time was that that was just the beginning.
As the months went on and you grew more comfortable with me, the mask began to shed, layer by layer. I was fighting to hold on to the person I knew I loved deeply with my entire being, but it was difficult to do so when that same person was destroying me.
The name calling, door slamming, throwing my personal belongings out of the house, belittling and disrespecting me continued to get worse and worse. For months, I put up with it.
I didn't tell a single soul about it. I would just pray to God that one day I would wake up and things would go back to normal. I felt like I was walking through my own nightmare and I didn't know what I would get yelled at for next. Would I say something wrong? Would the wrong person contact me? Would I not be affectionate enough?
For a long time, I was scared to admit the truth. I protected you in any and every way I could.
Any time my friends or family would ask how we were (especially because I hardly ever saw them) I would have the same response, “Good as always." I'm not a liar, but I almost felt like I had to so I didn't have to face reality.
I didn't see it as a lie though, because I wanted so badly to believe things were good. And I think part of me felt like if I could convince myself they were “good," that maybe someday they would be again. But that didn't happen. What did happen was that things continued to get worse and worse, until I mentally and physically couldn't take it anymore.
I think when we go through a traumatizing and life-altering experience, our brains tend to shut down in order to block off trauma from the body, so it can heal and move on. There was a lot that I've blocked my brain from retaining because it was too painful to hold on to.
As the relationship rapidly moved from mental abuse to physical, I couldn't hold my secrets in any longer. My mom was the first person I told, and she was the first person to tell me that I was in an abusive relationship.
I remember lying in my bed, crying, wondering how my “perfect relationship” turned into this. Was it me? Did I do something wrong? I must have. I laid there for hours, searching phrases on Google like “signs of an abusive relationship" and “what to do if you're in an abusive relationship."
And there it was in black and white, all along. Almost every website I visited confirmed the same thing my mom told me. But what next? How do you just walk away from the person you love with all of your being?
I knew I wasn't perfect and I made mistakes too, so how could I give up on somebody that I was supposed to be there for, through any and every thing?
That's the problem in an abusive relationship. You can't see the way out of it.
I was holding on to something that was never really real. Being out of the situation now, I can see that a lot more clearly. I couldn't see then what I see now, because I never wanted to let go. I didn't want to let myself see all of the flaws. I just wanted things to be better.
At first, it was hard to let go. It was something I had to continually do, day in and day out, over and over, until I finally had the strength to let go completely.
I started to try and rebuild my life, piece by piece. Although I felt myself slipping into a depression, I tried to pull myself out of it by surrounding myself with the people I knew loved and cared about me. While I was still super upset, I knew this was the only way to escape.
I finally felt real freedom when I blocked you from everything and there was no way for you to contact me. Of course, you tried to turn everything around on me -- but that's what abuse is. The abuser blames the victim, and makes them feel like they deserved (even earned) the abuse. My life had started to fall back into place and you'd stolen too much happiness for me to keep letting you steal more.
Now, for the first time in a long time, I truly don't care what anybody thinks of me. For a long time I kept everything a secret because I was scared of what people would think. I was scared they would judge me for staying, and scared that maybe some wouldn't believe me. But the truth is what the truth is, and it always comes out eventually.
You once called me weak, but I want to thank you once again for making me strong. Had I never been through this experience, I could never relate to anyone who is (or has been) in an abusive relationship. I could never share my story so that others could know they're not alone, and that there is a way out.
So thank you, for making me a survivor and not a victim.