He was cute. He was charming. He was smooth. He knew all the right things to stay. He made me feel special. He gave me butterflies.
But not long into the relationship, those butterflies quickly went from a puppy-love flutter to a tornado of anxiety, fear, and depression.
We met at freshman orientation at the University of Tennessee. I had just gotten out of a relationship and was ready to take advantage of everything the single life had to offer. So of course, when one of the most attractive guys on campus wanted to walk around with me and get my number, you better believe I said YES!
It was early June and we had two months until we were actually in Knoxville together, but we talked every day and visited each other over the summer. It was the most exciting thing that happened to me in all my 18 years of life. This good ole country boy had me wrapped around his finger. But it didn’t take long for me to realize something wasn’t right.
The first red flag happened one night as I was meeting up with a group of my friends at the park. He and I were talking on the phone on my way there. It got quiet for a moment and then he said, “Are there going to be guys there?” That’s odd. “Yeah!” I replied. “It’s a bunch of my friends from school just hanging out.” He quickly got off the phone and left me wondering what I had done wrong.
Fast forward to September. We were officially dating, and college life was in full swing. One night, I was helping him come up with a funny costume for his mixer (a party where a sorority and fraternity pair up with a theme). We were laughing hysterically at all the ideas being thrown out. However, the laughter came to a screeching halt when I asked him to help me find a costume for mine.
It was then that I realized he had boundaries set for me. And I dare not step outside them.
That first semester was filled with eye-opening scenarios that only got worse. I realized that I had a long list of rules to follow, yet he had no list at all. I was becoming angry that I wasn’t trusted, because up to that point, I’d given him no reason for me not to be. So when my bitterness and his wrath collided, we began fighting. A lot. The arguments went from staying behind closed doors to following us out in public, and our friends were getting really tired of us. In an effort to forget the fighting, I started drinking more. And when that wasn’t working, I turned to pills. I was your typical wasted sorority girl, and it was embarrassing.
No longer was I the happy person I’d been in high school. I went from being surrounded by my friends and having a healthy relationship to losing the majority of my friends and having a possessive, controlling coward in charge of me. I was being manipulated on a daily basis, but the major problem was that it was all a mind game. He knew how to say things that made me feel a certain way, and then I would make my decisions based off those feelings. I was scared to disappoint him and even more terrified to make him mad, so I did everything he told me to. I became so mentally ill that I couldn’t think straight, and everyone around us saw it, except me. I made excuses for the way he treated me and started lying to friends to cover up for him. Before long, I was avoiding everyone because I was tired of hearing the truth: I needed to get out.
We would talk about taking a break from each other, but that never ended well. Despite the multiple apologies and promises to me that “he’ll do better,” the fighting continued, and I saw no other way out. Finally, I’d had enough and told him I was done. That was the same night I stopped him from ending his life. I remember crying out for help, hoping someone would hear me. But by that point, no one was left. My friends were sick and tired of listening to me cry over the same things, and I was completely alone – alone in the most toxic environment I’d ever found myself to be in. And I was terrified.
After that, I stopped threatening to end things. I didn’t want to be held responsible. So we stayed together a little while longer. The next few months were drenched in name-calling, threats, belittlement, and more false accusations. I spent many nights locked in his room while he yelled, threw things at me, and shoved me around. And it was little things that set him off. One time I had everything on his desk hurled at me because I wasn’t explaining his homework to him the correct way… I was exhausted from the constant anticipation of another outrage, and I had come to accept that I was never getting out.
By this point, God was no longer in the picture. Prayers had been traded in for alcohol, Bible study swapped out with fraternity parties, and Sunday mornings were spent treating hangovers. But after enduring so much suffering and fear, I started asking God to help me escape. I pleaded for a “good enough reason” to end things, as if I hadn’t been given hundreds already. I found myself asking for something really bad to happen, specifically for him to hurt me, so that I could leave. Well, one night during a fight, he answered that prayer for me. And I finally got up the courage to go.
I had let it go too far.
Isn’t it sad how we do that to ourselves? We justify the actions of others by convincing ourselves that it could always be worse. We hang on to lies and broken promises while we wait for things to change. But the truth is, they won’t. He wasn’t changing. But I was. If you’re like me, one day, you’ll wake up and won’t recognize yourself anymore.
It’s been more than seven years since then. It took about three years to get over everything and five to feel like myself again. I’m now married to a man that loves me and respects me more than I ever thought I deserved. And he has shown me that the only relationship worth having is one with Christ as its foundation.
I’ve since forgiven him, though it was hard to do. But the truth is, it was even harder to forgive myself. Prior to college, I knew my worth and didn’t give in to pressure. I was always the girl giving everyone else advice. I never thought I’d be the type to allow myself to be treated that way by someone. But it didn’t take long to let myself down.
Please, please don’t stick around long enough to see how bad things can get. If you feel scared or unsure about your safety, whether it be mentally or physically, get out. Run as fast as you can. Seek out the help of trusted mentors, friends, professional counselors and even the police if necessary. And don’t for one second let him convince you that it’s okay to talk down to you. Verbal abuse is just as bad, if not worse, than physical abuse. It didn’t take long for my body to heal, but it took ages for my mind to be healthy again. The habits I formed in that relationship carried over into my next one. But by God’s grace, I was able to find myself again.
Beloveds, you are worth far more than evil tells you you are.
You are beautiful.
You are trustworthy.
You are smart.
You are kind.
You have the power to say no.
You deserve someone who loves and adores you.
Don’t let him tell you otherwise.
If you feel like you may be in a dangerous relationship, please seek help from a family member, friend, or professional.
PC:@betweentheredwoods via #Belovedlife