1. I went back. Twice. I got so comfortable with the familiarity of the chaos that I couldn't stand to let it go. I believed that no one else would ever want me, so I felt like my choice was between this unhealthy relationship or being alone forever. And when I felt backed into a corner, being alone didn't feel like an option at all. I couldn't stand the idea of being lonely because I wasn't confident enough with myself to appreciate time alone as an opportunity to grow.
2. I grieved. The death of a toxic, manipulative relationship is stronger than you think. I went through the whole process of loss and felt it all as if I'd buried a part of myself six feet under ground in a coffin.
3. I blamed myself. Once I got past the denial and sadness, all I had left was anger. And because of the guilt I felt about being in that situation in the first place, all the anger I'd accumulated was expressed in self destructive behaviors of every shape and size.
4. I realized that I'd isolated myself. I took a good, hard look at my surroundings to find that I'd burned every bridge I'd ever built. My support system was exhausted - my family was drained and hurt, my friends felt unimportant and scared for me, and I discovered that I had no hobbies, outlets, or self care behaviors to get me through the day.
5. I reevaluated how I defined "abuse". I was never physically harmed. I was never kicked, punched, bruised, or marked, and I felt like I had "nothing to show" for it to be considered abuse. I was extremely fortunate in the sense that I was never physically injured, but I didn't see it that way. With a word as heavy and loaded as "abuse" comes such heavy scrutiny, and I didn't think my experience "counted" because it wasn't "bad enough" in my eyes.
6. I struggled to find myself. For so long I'd defined who I was by who I was with. I wasn't my own person, I was "his". So when he was gone, I felt like my personality was, too. Who was I without him? I couldn't even remember what I was before the relationship. What did I actually enjoy doing? How would I spend my time now that I'm not focused on keeping someone else happy?
7. I shut people out. I knew I'd hurt everyone around me. I felt stupid for ever being vulnerable enough to let someone into my life. I felt like a failure of a daughter, friend, sister, student, and human being. I felt like I'd caused them enough pain as it was, and that they deserved to be free of my drama. So, I didn't speak. I isolated myself to the most extreme extent because I didn't feel like I deserved their forgiveness, help, or time.
8. I had an epiphany. I realized that when all was said and done, I was always left with myself. No matter what choice I made, no matter who left my life or entered it, I was the only constant. And I figured that if I had to be around myself regardless of the world around me, I should probably try and not despise my entire being. So I started the slow, painful journey of self love.
9. I accepted. Help, advice, the past, everything. I accepted the fact that things had happened which I could not change. I got used to the idea of listening to people when they offered me kind words or suggestions. I let the people I love take my hand and walk with me, even though I thought I didn't deserve it. I accepted that my body was just a shell for my soul, and that I should treat it with love and kindness instead of hatred and judgement.
10. I forgave myself. It took me quite awhile to get to a place that put me square in front of myself. Even though I had accepted that I'd been through such an experience, it took even more time to reach self acceptance. I had to build my self confidence bit by bit. Practice self care on a daily basis. Consciously decide to maintain my health and listen to my body. It took every ounce of motivation I had to choose myself and my future every day, and I still fight to do that even after all this time.