When you’re 17, you think you have the world figured out like who you are, where you see yourself in 5 years, and if you’re dating someone you may even think that it will be like the movies and that you’ll stay together. Well, reality comes along eventually and shakes you. You have no idea who you are yet because nobody ever does. As people, we are constantly changing. I’m not the person I was yesterday, and I’m not the person today that I will be tomorrow. So much can happen in 5 years and with the way the universe works, everything is constantly in a state of unpredictability. And as far as relationships go, unfortunately (but fortunately for me) most won’t survive outside of the halls when graduation comes.
Now, I don’t mean to say this to tell people that high school sweethearts don’t exist. My best friend is married to her high school sweetheart and they are happily married with a 1 year old. However, my “high school relationship” wasn’t the type they display on a silver screen or write about in romance novels. Mine was the type that would be included in a warning or a study about relationship abuse. Yes, that’s right. Relationship abuse.
Relationship abuse isn’t always physical, it can be psychological or verbal. Mine happened to be the last two. In high school things were pretty average, but after graduation was a different story. The signs became more obvious to those around me and I was still oblivious. I wasn’t allowed to have any guy friends, I couldn’t protest his bad decisions but he could criticize my every move, I was ridiculed for wearing makeup, made to feel ashamed of my body, accused of cheating, called every name in the book, and my depression was written off because “he had it worse.” Friends pointed out that this wasn’t normal, but to me it was. I didn’t see that it was abuse. That’s the thing, in verbal and psychologically abusive relationships, the person may not always see it.
When mine finally imploded I felt free. I didn’t expect to feel free… or happy. I expected to feel sad and lost. But, when I began dating Nick… I wasn’t used to the kind gestures of the door being held open, being kissed goodbye in a genuine way, being told that I was beautiful, or hanging out together with a group of people around too. I wasn’t sick of him after spending a week with him, in fact I found myself wishing there was more time in the day to be able to spend with him because for once I was happy. I felt like I had been stripped down to nothing, like I had to relearn what love was supposed to be. I had to remind myself that I didn’t need to offer a constant appology or worry that he was leaving.
The thing about abuse is it doesn’t always stop after the relationship is over. I remember Nick having to hold me as I tried to catch my breath after panic attacks. I remember my counselor using the word PTSD to describe how I was feeling when I told her I was having nightmares and couldn’t go certain places anymore. I remember the sinking feeling as he tried to tell me that we were still together, even after he broke up with me. I remember feeling scared because his relative showed up to my new place of employment. I remember feeling angry when I got anonymous texts a year after it was over saying that he still loved me. I remember feeling scared of what he would do when I had to get a restraining order because I received texts from 6 different numbers telling me that my marriage would fail and how I was a bitch.
But then… I remember… that I’m not in that place anymore. This person is merely a blip on my timeline and that they have no control. They have no control because I’m loved by someone that has taught me that I need to love myself more. I am loved by someone that understands that I’m not okay sometimes. I am loved for my flaws and imperfections. I am loved endlessly.
Love is not tearing the other down to make yourself feel better; love is building each other to reach new heights. Love is not trying to change and pick at who they are; love is learning to love their quirks and for them to love yours. Love is not lying or sneaking around; love is honesty and trust. Love isn’t making excuses to not see them, its surprising them after work with dinner or a movie on Netflix. Love is not fear; love is feeling safe.
If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, please get out and seek help. Resources are available nationally and locally. 1-800-799-7233: National Domestic Violence Hotline