I’ve spent the last 5 years walking around with a whole ton of guilt and shame from the abuse of a previous relationship.
The guy I was with was a master manipulator. Everything, of course, was my fault.
And every single day since, I’ve doubted my own pain and perceptions in some moments and felt like a pathetic victim in others. In other moments, I tell myself that it could have been a lot worse, and that because it wasn’t worse, I don’t deserve to be upset or hurt.
Like I said – guilt. Shame. Lots of self-blame and disgust and many other not-so-pleasant emotions.
Yesterday, I was talking a lot of stuff out with Diane (as one does with your best friends) and she asked me something that made my head spin.
“Did you ever stand up for yourself?”
Once I’d managed to pick my brain up off the ground, where it had dribbled, I sat and thought about it. I mean, really thought about it.
And the answer was yes.
In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment when the relationship really ended. Oh, we dragged it out for a few painful months after, but the moment that it was really lost – it was the first time I stood up for myself.
We were at Easter dinner with some of his family. He’d been making fun of me, telling me I was too skinny and too fat to really be attractive. (I don’t even know how he did that….)
I don’t remember what I said. But I remember my attitude – I was very polite, and very firm. The gist was, “Fuck off.”
He stopped speaking to me right then and there.
For the rest of the dinner party, the entire ride home, nothing. He was very distant for the next week. Things were never quite the same after that. Because he was a master manipulator, I blamed myself and felt horrible for the way I’d stood up for myself (being a bitch was how he’d phrased it.)
But what I’d actually done was break the spell. He wasn’t in control anymore. I no longer just accepted it when he treated me like dirt.
The reason things never got worse were not because he was actually a nice person and I was just misinterpreting things because I was a lying, manipulative bitch.
Things never got worse because after less than a year, I walked away.
The sexual abuse never got worse because after months of pain, I told him no. I told him he couldn’t do those things to me anymore. Mind you, at the time, I blamed myself – I thought that there was something wrong with me. But that’s not important.
I said no. I left. I walked away. I stood up for myself.
Looking back now, I was so much stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for.
I was terrified. He had me convinced that no one but him would ever love a girl with a chronic illness and that I’d die alone. But I decided that dying alone was better than the misery I currently felt.
Officially, he left me first. For him though, that was part of the game. It was supposed to make me wildly grateful when he decided to take me back.
But what he didn’t take into account that after he left me, I took back control of my life. I spent weeks walking, and healing. I decided that I was never giving away my power ever again. I spent several weeks in England, far away from him (and possibly flirting with cute English boys…)
He called me out of the blue the day I got back. He insisted we go for lunch. He spent the whole time insulting me. (Worst pick up line ever, boys? “So, I see you decided to dress like a whore today.”)
Then he drove me to an empty parking lot and tried to convince me to get back together with him. I said no. I got him to drive me home. I burst into tears the second I stepped inside my house. I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing – it took me a while to know that for sure.
A lightness of being
Reframing the experience – realizing that I wasn’t a victim, that I was smart and strong and got myself out of a dangerous situation all by myself (no one really knew what was going on) – so much of the guilt, shame and blame have melted away.
I woke up this morning feeling lighter than I have in weeks.
I am so much stronger than I realize.
And so are you.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe there’s a situation of your own where you’re still feeling ashamed and like a victim.
But what if you weren’t? What if you could give yourself credit for trying as hard as you did? What if there is so much more to the situation than meets the eye?
And is there anyway that, in some small part, you can forgive yourself?
This week, I’m sending out an extra-large, extra-squishy, extra-loving hug. Because this shit is hard.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Have you ever had this kind of experience? Have you ever realized your own strength?
And as always, this is the Sunday Hug, so we use our nicest, gentlest voices and give everyone big ol’ hugs.