Everyone has their own reasons why they stay in toxic, narcissistic, or abusive relationships, but for me … it was the love. Not the love I thought he had for me but the love I had for him—the love I really had to carry over both our heads to keep things together. The reason I told myself why I didn’t want to be the one to leave was this: I knew he would eventually leave me, so I wanted to enjoy that feeling of powerful, magnetic, and passionate love for as long as I could. In the end, I left on my own anyway but only when it got to be too bad to keep going on that way.
It took my own substance abuse and his arrest to push me toward seeing things clearly. But still, I didn’t see that I was being abused right away. After all, I truly believed he would never have physically hurt me, and in his own twisted way, all the gaslighting made sense to me. (It didn’t make sense that he was trying to manipulate me into seeing myself as toxic, but his flawed logic started to feel like the truth. Maybe I was needy. Maybe I was crazy. Technically, I suppose both of those things were true to a certain degree, but they certainly weren’t true in the way he meant.) It took people telling me over and over that what he was doing to me was abusive and that I needed to figure out a way to leave and to stay as far away from him as possible.
Fear immediately pierced through my heart, because when he finally got out of jail a few months later, I waited for him to show up to attack me physically. And I waited. And I waited. Yet somehow, I still loved the monster that would have killed me eventually if I had let him. (I suppose I might have if he’d never gotten arrested. Thank God I never had to find out.)
Yet despite all that fear I felt, I still loved him. I still remembered with great passion the first time I met him and how amazing the man I met felt to me. Today, I still remember that day, but it took me a long time to separate that image from the man he really was underneath all that deception.
It takes time to wake up from the nightmare.
I met my abuser five years ago, and I am now able to say that I no longer confuse him with my happy memories of that time in my life. Those memories no longer deceive me into thinking he was the love of my life. On some level, I had that amount of love for him, but when it’s not returned, it’s a painful unrequited love that does a lot of damage to your heart.
Remind yourself of the truth.
When you feel taken over by how much you loved your abuser, try to remember what the reality of your relationship was. It’s not easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but remembering the truth will eventually set you free from the nightmare your abuser created out of your love, trust, and respect.
Yes, you are worthy.
After being abused for so long, sometimes we start to believe the lies our abusers tried to tell us about ourselves. They are right there in our heads telling us how crazy, manipulative, needy, and untrusting we were; however, those are labels they refuse to take on themselves. They are the manipulative ones, and they are the ones who aren’t worthy of our unconditional love. No matter how much love you felt for your partner, it can’t erase all the ways they deliberately hurt you. Power and strength will come to you when you realize you already knew the truth about yourself—that you’re beautiful, amazing, intelligent, kind, loving … and, yes, you are worthy. Don’t ever forget that.
Pain is a gift.
I don’t say that because we should seek out painful situations but because we can only do one thing about the pain others have caused us. All we can do is use it to fuel our growth and our future happiness. Of course, our emotional pain has damaged us in some ways … it’s changed us … but if we let the pain win, we have no hope for survival. Let the screams become your voice for healing. Let your tears move you to remember who you are. Let the night terrors remind you what could happen if you only focus on your love for your abuser. Your pain can push you to enlightenment if you let it flow through you with a purpose.
You will love again …
… and be loved the way you deserve it. So, if you need to focus on love to move forward, focus on your future love. Focus on what lessons you can take from your abuse to shape what you want your next relationship to be. Let that guide you through realizing that there will be a relationship in your future that’s full of honesty, trust, passion, respect, equality, and a shared commitment to build a real future together.