If I could talk to my 16-year-old self, what would I say to her? I’d tell her that she eventually escapes that toxic relationship, but it sadly takes her years to leave. I’d tell her this to give her hope and motivate her to say something sooner. I’d tell her to speak up, to find her voice. I’d tell her to talk to somebody about what she is experiencing. I’d tell her that it’s okay to put herself first, to put her safety first. I’d tell her that there are many adults that would’ve helped her get out of that situation if she had trusted herself enough to say something. I’d tell her that I understand the fear she felt about the “what if’s”. I’d tell her that in time, she will learn what a healthy relationship looks like. I’d tell her that she will find love and belonging within herself, without the assistance of another.
Looking back now, my heart hurts thinking of the pain I quietly endured for so long and knowing that so many others, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender identity, stay trapped in abusive relationships due to fear, manipulation, and attachment. When you suffer from abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional, your own reality becomes skewed. This chaos and toxicity is your “normal.” You feel utterly powerless in a relationship that you have felt conditioned to worship. With abuse comes manipulation. Manipulation can look like many things, such as:
“I’ll kill myself if you leave me.”
“Nobody will even want you if you leave.”
“I promise I won’t hurt you again. I was just angry.”
“I will change. You know me. You know I’d never want to hurt you.”
The damage that abusive relationships cause can be everlasting if left untreated. It took me years to even identify that what I was experiencing was abuse. I remember convincing myself that it wasn’t “too serious” or “it could be so much worse.” Even then, I knew I had to fool myself into believing that this was what love looked like. It has taken me 10 years to work through the effects that this abusive relationship had on me, because it impacted my self-worth so deeply, and I share this in hopes that someone who relates to this situation (or knows someone in a similar situation) knows that you can overcome abuse and grow from it, but it’s a damn hard fight. Just know that you’re worth that fight, even when it feels like you’re nothing at all.