Instead of red flags, I saw someone who needed help

We met at University. In the beginning, things were never good. I had just moved to a new town with my high school sweetheart so that we could study and start living the rest of our happy lives together. I had been through a horrible time in high school and my then boyfriend was the one had picked me up and with his help, I had finally found it in me to be happy and to look forward into my future. That’s when I met him. He was in my program at uni and at first, we became friends. Doing assignments together and so on. For the first time in my life, I had a group of friends that I thought I could count on and he was part of this friend group. However, over time it became clear that he wanted more from me but I told him over and over that I was committed.

Instead of stopping and moving on, his professions of love became more and more severe. It went from I like you to “You are the only one who can save me, you are my only chance at loving again and rebuilding myself.” And I had just come from a place where I had felt similar to this and 18 years old me felt that I had been saved so how could I deny this to someone else. I failed to notice the manipulativeness, I failed to notice that I would have never in a million year put this burden willingly on some else’s shoulders. I failed to notice that this was all part of a charade. For the longest time, I kept refusing him but my relationship was falling apart and these daily love proclamations were starting to weigh on me and I kept on asking myself if I didn’t maybe have feelings for him?

It came to a point where I thought I also had developed feelings for him and spoke to my boyfriend about it because I wanted to save our relationship rather than leave for someone new. But instead of working on our relationship my boyfriend distanced himself from me (and honestly who can blame him?) while I saw this other guy want me so much and fight for me.

To this day, I still think I wouldn’t have left my boyfriend had it not been for something terrible happening in the guy’s life. His mother had killed herself and through a horrible coincidence, he was the one to find her. I felt like I needed to be there for him. He kept on telling me that I was his only lifeline and if only he could be with me everything would be okay otherwise he wouldn’t know if he could go on living.
Instead of red flags, I saw someone who needed help and I was the only one who he would listen to, the only one who could reach him and help him get better. So I left what I had and we started a relationship. The blissful period held on for maybe a week.

When I try to remember this time, everything is still a blur. A string of things happened from here on, but I can’t tell the particular order because I have tried so hard to forget. I don’t know how it happened but suddenly I found myself isolated. I remember knowing that if I met someone, anyone, a friend or I just stopped to talk to someone else for too long, there would just be fights afterwards and it really wasn’t worth it, was it?

I remember there maybe being a week where I enjoyed the sex but that it quickly turned ugly. I mostly remember “just letting him do his thing” while I lay there thinking of better times, escaping in my mind because for once there was no screaming, no belittling and I knew that for a short time afterwards he might even be friendly. I remember vividly that there was a day where he was being shitty and I didn’t want it to turn worse so I gave him a blowjob and he would just hold my head down because he was nearly coming. It was so bad that I threw up on him. This one time he didn’t get angry, no, he was actually proud and called it commitment. I remember little things, waking up to his masturbating and taking pictures of me while I sleep. I will never forget the disgusting look he would have in these moments like I was simply an object he desired. And I remember him looking at other girls in the same way.

I remember day to day interactions and that nothing I did was ever right in his eyes. It went from the smallest, most mundane tasks to things like my intelligence. HE would always know better and god help me if I didn’t do things his way. If I wasn’t studying I wasn’t working hard and just like one of these slackers. IF I studied more than him or started knowing more he would find something wrong about my personality. And there were so many things but I can’t seem to remember anything concrete. I remember so much screaming, so much breaking down until I’m curled up on his floor crying and shaking and him then trying to pick me up after HE had put me in this position.
His one most prominent accusation was that I was fat and I. WAS. NOT. I barely scraped normal weight, I was almost underweight. He would shame me every. day. He would shame me into running with him. When we were out, he would not say anything but I could see the disgust in his face whenever I ate something. And I was so determined not to break, not to go on a ridiculous diet or start being anorexic (even though I can’t say I didn’t consider it, but that would have been giving in to him). One of the worst instances of this was right on my birthday morning. He had bought me this corsett dress in the smallest available size and while it did fit, I had to squeeze in a bit. When he saw this he was utterly disgusted. He SHIVERED IN DISGUST when looking at me and couldn’t touch me.

He would smoke weed all the time and if he couldn’t get his fix he would turn angry. He never laid a hand on me because he knew exactly that this was my line in the sand, if he ever crossed it I would be gone in an instance. But he made up for it plenty because it isn’t abuse when you can’t see a scar. Because he just needed help and couldn’t see what he was doing. Because how could I leave him alone in that time of his life? My whole mind would revolve around him and how to make him happy or at least not angry. Through this all I still felt like I could maybe still help him, still be the one that he needed to get better. Because victims are weak but how could I be weak if I was withstanding this day to day and still being by his side? That took strength, didn’t it? Because our worst fights happened because I talked back at him trying to defend that I wasn’t worthless, that I wasn’t fat. So, see I’m not weak so it can’t be abuse, can it? (even when I say that in my head I can hear the desperation, a gnawing knowledge that I would never let surface).

So how did I get out? At one point we went out to eat and we had our worst fight yet. We had just finished eating at a restaurant and had to leave early because he kept on making a fuzz because I was actually eating the food and I should really look at my weight some more. So we went to a park in the middle of the city and it started escalating fully, he would scream at me and say the worst insults one of them being that my previous boyfriend didn’t care enough to fight for me because I was fat and worthless. We continued on to fight and scream with passerbys doing absolutely nothing to intervene. It resolved when I told him to go home or I would tell all our friends what he was doing as we were to meet with them straight after. So he went and I went alone to go see our friends. I was so shaken that I felt like I had to talk to someone so I for the first time reached out to one of the people I still felt like I could trust and I told him everything.

But to my biggest shock he told me to stay with him. Obviously, he was going through a hard time with his mother dead and he needed someone by his side, and yes what he was doing was not right but it was just a phase and once he was better he would not act like this anymore. I was shocked because in my head I knew exactly what I had hoped he would say and it went nothing like this.

So I stayed with my “friends” a bit, drinking some until I was fairly tipsy and went home to cry myself to sleep. Once alone in my room my tipsiness made me reach out to my ex and ask him if he really didn’t fight for me because I was getting too fat. This statement had utterly devasted me earlier because whenever things got too bad I would flee in my head to the good moments I had with my ex as they were some of the best moments of my life at that point and he had managed to intrude that fantasy with his words coming dangerously close to kicking me out of my only safe heaven. But my ex was never a bad person and he was so baffled by my question that he even replied to me and I ended up pouring my heart and soul out over texts that would last throughout the night. He said all the right things and this was the first time in months that I felt like someone was there for me and it felt like a curtain was lifted from my eyes. The next morning I packed up all the things he had at my place and broke up with him telling him that I couldn’t take this anymore and that he should really look for help if he honestly wanted to be better.

The immediate aftermath wasn’t nice. We were still in the same circle of friends and he would spread all sorts of lies about me portraying him as the victim and would try to get me alone to throw more insults at me. I would keep quiet and tell only one person, just waiting for the storm to pass and after half a year he finally moved away because he couldn’t continue his studies (which was obviously also my fault). I got back together with my ex but even though he is a great person there was too much history between us. He could never truly get over the fact that I had left him once and I had too many issues that I would have needed to work through first before I could start a healthy relationship.

All that time, I felt hopeless. Alone. Completely isolated. Like I could scream all the time. I held everything in during the relationship so that it came crashing down afterwards. When I was free of him I absolutely fell apart. I was hollow and angry. Before I was the person that would listen to everyone, always compassionate, but after I just had nothing left. I would give practical advice and push people away when they would get even the slightest bit emotional because I couldn’t take even that even if they had absolutely valid problems. Most people are sad when they get out of this,I think but I was mostly angry. At the world, at him and most of all at me that I had been so so so stupid.

It has been about 6 years since this relationship and I can proudly say that it helped me grow and I have overcome it (mostly). My hands were shaking when I began writing this, my stomach twisting, but at least I can feel again! I only learned about emotional abuse after the relationship and it took me a long time to accept that this is what happened to me. To this day, I still hate that I needed someone else to pull me out of there. But one thing that came from this insight is that I learned that I have a voice, that even though he helped me leave the relationship, it wasn’t until after my relationship with my ex had ended as well that I began processing everything. And for the first time, I realised how important I am to myself. That I can be my biggest advocate. I saw all the badass things I could achieve when I put my focus inwards instead of on another person. I went from a small college to one of the top 20 universities in the world where I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. I learnt that I am smart and that I can achieve many things if I put my head to them. I have been to therapy (for this and other issues) which helped greatly on the second try and I’m currently still on anti-depressants for over a year but will be stepping off of them soon.

To anyone experiencing abuse… First, never forget how amazing YOU are. You are here, you are reading this, that means you have already gotten so so far and you should be immensely proud of yourself! 

If you are in a bad relationship, I know how that feels. You don’t see a way out. You might think that you have no one because you might be completely isolated but you can get out. You can make this step. Tell people what is happening. And tell the right people, you will often have a feeling that you can’t tell THAT person what’s happening to you because you know what their advice will be. You don’t want to seem weak in their eyes and don’t want to make your partner seem bad but you should tell exactly that person! Talk to people you can trust and make plans. You might have lost perspective but others haven’t. If you feel like you are caught in this life tell them, they will help you to see ways out when you are too caught up to think of them. But that is just the beginning. The hard part is all on you. You will have to be the one to make that step out of the door and it will be damn hard. It will take a lot but you have already survived a lot and you can take that step.

If you are trying to process what happened to you, don’t think you have to do this on your own. For the longest time I have held this inside me, telling almost no one I know that something like this ever happened to me. If you are in a situation like me where he has never hit you you might feel like your case isn’t severe enough. I have always felt like I was just whining, like it wasn’t justified that I was grieving and hurt. Like it wasn’t “that bad” so why couldn’t I simply get over myself? But your feelings are valid. This person did bad things to you and for them to do horrible things they don’t need to physically strike you. It is okay to be broken by this, it does not make you weak. You have survived the worst and it will only get better. Once you open up you will see that the harshest judge upon your situation is yourself, so don’t let that be the only voice that you hear!

Stefanie S.