“You work too much.”
“You’re always going out of your way to help other people.”
“You never make time for me or for this relationship.”
I didn’t understand. His words were like venom. They stung horribly. They hurt me, but I knew saying them aloud hurt him, too. I wanted to find the antidote. The cure. I needed to fix what I had broken.
I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe he’s right. Might I am overextended. Maybe my priorities are wrong.”
So, I compromised. I cut back my hours at work and school. I spent less time with friends and family. I pulled back at the gym. I tried to focus on him and “us” more. I stopped pouring into my own cup and tried to pour everything I had left into his.
It drained me, but somehow it still wasn’t enough. He wasn’t fulfilled, and I was miserable. So, I coped the only way I know how: by working more.
I knew it would make things worse, but I didn’t know what else to do. I put in more hours at the office. I studied more. Volunteered more. Read more. Wrote more. I did whatever I could to start feeling better. But it still wasn’t enough. That’s when I knew something about this wasn’t right for me.
The voices in my head went crazy. I felt like I was racing against some internal clock. While I was trying to distract myself from acknowledging how terrible I felt, I was constantly worried that I was making him hate and resent me. I worried that if I didn’t fix the problem fast enough, things would continue to decline. He would either keep hurting me, or he’d leave me. Either way, I knew I was facing an inevitably bad outcome, and it scared me.
Having those conversations over and over again chipped away at me. I lost a piece of myself with every fight, argument, and blowout, until finally, I had nothing left to give.
He became angrier and more aggressive. He tried to manipulate me more. But it didn’t work because I was already empty. My battery was dead, and so was my love for him.
I drifted into a sea at night, hoping to forget all the damage he had inflicted. Eventually, I was so far from shore that I lost myself completely. I constantly felt uneasy and unbalanced. Like I was out of touch with reality. I was a stranger living in a foreign body, and I suddenly had no idea who I was or what I liked or what made my cup full.
It wasn’t until I got away that I started to feel at home again. And even that wasn’t immediate. It’s been a process.
I still doubt myself though. I still hone in on my insecurities. And from time to time I still hear the words he used to say. The ones that threatened my already-shaken confidence. The words that broke me down more and more each time they left his lips.
After living without him for a while, everything began to make sense. His loss of control correlated with the cruelty of his words. And that cruelty affected my thoughts and behavior in both a negative and positive way.
Negative. I became bitter, and it showed. I was passive aggressive and sometimes just outright aggressive. I was spiteful and vindictive. There were times when I caught myself thinking about what I could do to make him feel the pain that plagued my spirit every day. I starved myself – not just of food, but of ideas and compassion and pleasure, too. I criticized my body and my mind more harshly than ever before. And I constantly wondered why I wasn’t enough, why I couldn’t make him happy by just being who I was.
Positive. I began understanding power, control, manipulation. I learned how to recognize gaslighting and all the tactics people use to get what they want from someone else. Toward the end, I rekindled my relationships with the people around me. I began sharing my situation with my friends and parents and mentors. I sought help and guidance from others. And when I got it, even if I didn’t follow their advice, it allowed me to feel hopeful. To know that this wasn’t permanent. To recognize that it was a phase I unfortunately needed to pass in order to achieve something greater.
At one point, I realized I beat myself down more than his words ever could, and it nearly broke me. That’s when I chose not to weather the storm any longer. I recognized my own toxic traits just as much as I recognized his, and it was my constant state of discomfort/worry/fear/panic that ultimately made me leave that situation. That was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made.
It was a combination of his evil and my good, my evil and his good, and our evil together that made us a bad match. We brought out the worst in each other. And as much as I believe most of his actions were intentional, I don’t think he deserved to fed. He didn’t deserve to control my energy, nor did he deserve to dominate my life. But he also didn’t deserve the see the ugliest side of me or to be treated poorly, whether my actions were a consequence of his or not.
No one deserves to feel hated or despised. No one deserves to face heartbreak every day. No one deserves to be damaged like that. And I certainly didn’t want to be the source of anyone’s pain, not even his.
I’ve been navigating this darkness slowly to regain a sense of who I am and where I want to be. I have been working more, spending more time with people who contribute positively to my wellbeing, volunteering, and doing everything else I love. Because that’s what keeps my cup full. I know that now.
In every hard situation, there’s an important lesson. In this one, the lesson is that real love requires sacrifice, but that sacrifice doesn’t come in the form of losing yourself or pieces of yourself to the person you care for most. Love shouldn’t hurt. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to accommodate your person. And if you do, maybe that person isn’t the right one for you.
Hold onto your core values, personify everything that makes you unique, and find someone who embraces you for all of that. Because even with your flaws and quirks and bad habits, to the right person, you are perfect exactly as you are.