It was a cold December evening and my ex-boyfriend and I had plans to hang out. Both of my roommates were away for the weekend, so I thought ordering pizza and watching a few movies would be a great way to spend our Friday night. The plan was that he'd call me after work and I'd pick him up.
But when 5:30 rolled around and I still hadn't heard from him, I started to worry. As each of my calls went straight to voicemail, my mind could not stop wandering.
At around 9:00 PM, my ex finally called me and told me what I was most afraid of: He was hanging out with Rick*, a friend he used to get high with. Though my ex was an addict, at this point he was celebrating a year of sobriety.
When he told me he was with Rick, however, I knew something was probably up. To my knowledge, my ex stopped hanging out with Rick when he decided to get clean. Up to that point, he had been adamant that Rick was a bad influence on him.
I picked my ex up at Rick's house and the second he got into the car, I knew. I knew he was high, I knew we were in for a LONG night, and I knew our relationship needed to end.
Addiction wasn't the only issue plaguing our relationship, by the way. In addition to drugs, my ex abused me as well. For him, I ended friendships and put up with his temper -- all in the name of "love." But on that cold December evening, it felt like everything I had done to alleviate his insecurities, comply with his attempts at control, and subsequently, make our relationship work, was all for naught.
Though his sobriety didn't fix our relationship or stop the abuse, it did make it a little better. Little did my younger self know that being involved with an addict means accepting the risk of relapse.
When we got back to my apartment, he crashed on my couch. I looked for his drugs, found six small pills in his coat, and flushed them down the toilet. In my mind, I'd simply wake him up, drive him home, and deal with the aftermath later.
Boy, was I wrong.
My ex could barely hold a conversation, but he was coherent enough to make sure he had his pills before we left. When he couldn't find them, he stumbled around, frantically searching. As he got more and more frustrated, he began destroying my apartment and knocking down furniture. Eventually he realized I probably took the pills, and quickly turned his anger towards me:
"WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO WITH THEM? I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU, BITCH!”
It's impossible to forget how terrified I was in that moment. I had no doubt that he really could kill me. We were alone, in the middle of the night, after all.
For the rest of my life I'll remember him strangling me against the wall. I'll remember trying to get from within his grip with all my strength. I'll remember finally succeeding and fleeing the apartment, in tears. I’ll remember my cautious return one hour later and dragging him to my car to take him home. I'll remember dropping him off at his mother's house and the look on her face when I told her what happened. I'll remember calling off work and crying my eyes out as I tried to clean up my apartment. I’ll remember not telling a soul because the shame was so overwhelming.
I officially broke up with him a week later. Just minutes after doing so, I found out that I won a free trip to Las Vegas. I couldn’t stop wondering if maybe that was a sign from the Universe.
(It most certainly was, by the way.)
In my life, the end of that relationship was one of the saddest, disappointing, frustrating failures I’ve ever experienced. I had given this person -- a person who wasn’t very nice to me -- four years of my life.
Sure, I probably shouldn’t have given him so much of me. I shouldn’t have ignored my intuition for four years, as it pleaded with me to leave. But he shouldn’t have done what he did either. He shouldn’t have tried to control me, asked me to end close friendships, physically abused me, or threatened my life. To say that he hurt me is an understatement. He essentially ripped my self-esteem to shreds.
I’m one of those girls who thought she could change her boyfriend, if she just worked hard at her relationship. But after four years of hard work, I had absolutely nothing to show for any of it.
Or so I thought.
Of course the abuse sucked, but it gave me the opportunity to do the best thing I’ve ever done in my life: end that relationship.
After mustering up the strength to do so, I partied it up in Vegas, ran a 10K, began grad school, started going a support group for survivors of domestic violence, moved into my own apartment, and got promoted at work – all within one year of leaving. Some of the biggest blessings of my life thus far came into my life because leaving my ex freed up the space and energy I needed to accept them.
The work I do with women tops this list. Though my experience of abuse was horrible, it didn’t end in death, nor did I marry my abuser or have a child with him. This is why I can be eternally grateful for its silver lining. Slowly healing from abuse helped me discover my passion for helping women, particularly women whose hearts are hurting.
Years ago, when I was I arguing with my ex, giving in to his demands, and trying to internally justify our toxic relationship, I would’ve never guessed that I’d one day write a book about healthy relationships and become a therapist. But as they say, life is full of all kinds of surprises.
Being a woman in today’s world can be pretty darn painful at times, but I’ve learned the importance of leaning in to my painful experiences as I heal. So I encourage women to do just that, standing right by their side while they do. I guess it’s my small way of paying it forward.
Because I couldn’t have survived all that pain if it weren’t for the amazing women who stood in my corner and cheered me on every step of the way. Without them, there’s absolutely no way I could have healed and become the woman I am today.