How Did This Happen?

I was reflecting the other day on a scenario I thought would never apply to me: being in, and then being out, of a toxic, abusive relationship.

The funny thing is I knew it was happening. I knew, almost from the very start, that nothing about this was ever going to end well. I knew. But even so early on, I also knew I couldn’t leave. And just like the millions of stories, cautionary tales to which we listen with concerned looks on our faces while quietly thanking God that’s not us, I stayed there knowingly, acknowledging the red flags but doing nothing except continuing to show up, rage, and then be destroyed as wave upon wave of contempt and loathing hit me. Why did I not leave?

I don’t know.

I mean, I always had an answer I thought was legitimate: I could see the potential, I could eventually be convincing that I was worthy, ”if you would just listen to me, this could work.”

Oh no. No, no, no. This was never, ever going to work. That writing was on the wall, plain as day, from almost the beginning. Which leads me back to, ”I don’t know.” I don’t know why I held on to the promise for so long when, now, looking back, I don’t know that it was ever there.

What did I think I was looking at? Why did I think, even after the abuse started—the lying, the sabotage, the demeaning comments, the condescension—that it was some- how worth continuing? I would never, ever put up with this. I would never stand idly by while I watched someone else treated this way. Why did I do it this time?

I don’t know.

The good news for me is that it’s finally over. I can wake up without that sinking pit in my stomach, welcoming me to whatever damage to my confidence and sense of purpose was to come. It’s been almost two weeks without even a hint of a panic at- tack. I can actually wake up at a normal hour and get out of bed. I’ve been told I look 1) healthy 2) rested 3) and great, to name just a few descriptors I haven’t heard in…I don’t remember how long.

This newfound ease, though, is punctuated for me, complicated for me, by the fact that I, even up to the end, didn’t leave. I was left. With a fucking smile on that fucking face, I was sent on my way. I don’t know a time I’ve ever felt this small, not because I got left but because, in that moment when I could have, I did not protect that little girl in here who is my charge to keep safe. Not once. I gambled away her security and for what?

I don’t know.

I know now it wasn’t worth it. Not at all. So, I’m dealing okay with the rejection itself, compiled over years and years of disgusting behavior constantly hurled in my direction. I welcome the rejection. I anticipated it. I was ready for it. What I’m having a hard time shouldering is the shame. In allowing this to happen to us, I hurt her. I hope not irreparably.

But I do know now: never again.

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