People always ask why someone didn’t leave their abusive relationship sooner than they did. I used to be one of those people who always thought, “Well I would never get stuck in one of those relationships because after the first time they hurt me, I would just leave.” But it wasn’t that easy. I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten until one particularly bad weekend. February 26, 2021 was one of the worst nights of my life, and going home afterwards felt like I had been in a deep sleep and someone finally came to wake me up. I was confused, disoriented, and I didn’t know what to do. Realistically I knew I had to leave before he could do anything worse, but I was terrified. Terrified that he would retaliate with more violence, but also terrified that I would be alone again.
See, he had come back into my life right at a time where I felt like I had no one – friends, teachers, family – that I could truly rely on. But he was always there for me, even when no one else was. I felt that if I left I was betraying someone who had cared for me when no one else wanted to. I spent months after that night trying to figure out how to leave without putting myself in more danger, but also how I planned to cope afterwards when I not only lost a relationship, but one of my closest friends. The right place and time for the breakup didn’t come until July 12, 2021, and those first few days after were the most free I had ever felt. It sounds cliché, but it felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of my chest, and all of my concerns about leaving him went away.
What I didn’t anticipate about ending an abusive relationship is how much it lingers with you. Directly after the breakup, I kept telling myself that it wasn’t that bad, that there are people who have experienced so much worse, and that I made it worse for myself by not leaving at the start. It wasn’t until after we went back to classes in-person in the fall and I finally started to build a support system again that I actually came to terms with how much what he did affected me. I can’t walk down the street and pass someone wearing his cologne or driving that same car without feeling nauseous. Trying to imagine being that vulnerable and intimate with another person again sends me into a panic attack. I still get tense if I’m left alone in a room with a man.
He took away so much of what I used to love about myself, and I’m still trying to get all of those pieces of myself back. And honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. Because every day I’m reminded that because of a choice he made to disregard every single time I said ‘no’ I now have to live with the consequences. He can go about his day without a second thought, meanwhile I have to put in the effort to heal in order to feel whole again.
But I’m still hoping that someday soon, I can feel like I did before he came along.
– Rory (she/her)