I have been debating with myself whether I should write this post or not, but have come to the conclusion that it is something I want to talk about, or more correctly, a topic I do not want to be silenced. It is something I find difficult to talk about, as it arises old, uncomfortable memories, and it is a matter I also find difficult to formulate myself around, taken it was a part of my life where I shut myself down and did not talk to people about. I dug it deep inside of me, so it is almost like I do not know the right words for talking about it. But it is also so important to do so, not just for myself, but for other people who have been or are in the same situation to know that they are not alone, and that there is a way out.
The summer I turned sixteen I met up with my childhood friend. We had known each other for ten years, but he had moved away from my hometown, so now we only met during the summer. This summer was, however, going to be different from the previous ones, as at the end of it, he was my boyfriend.
Thinking about it now, I probably did not want more than a summer romance, fast forward three years, I was stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship with him. The signs came early on, one- or two-months in. He started calling me up several times when I was out with my friends, wondered what I was doing, asked me to go home so I could talk to him instead, that should be more important to me, according to him. He was supposed to be my priority, and I should show him that he was. He kept me awake at night before school, calling me, texting me and expecting me to answer him, that is what good girlfriends do, he used to tell me, and if I was to deserve him, that was what I should do as well.
It went as far as I started feeling uncomfortable and not happy anymore, I started losing contact with my friends, and each day I went straight home after school and isolated myself. One day it was simply enough, so I decided it was about time to break up with him. I thought it would be a rather simple affair, meeting up with him, saying that it would not work between us, we were after all just sixteen, no reason to settle for the rest of our life, and we could still be friends. It was not that simple. He was on his knees, crying and begging for me to not break up with him. He said he would change and do everything differently from now on, the way I wanted it to be. I had never seen a someone cry like that before, and it felt like he understood that I was not happy with the way it was, so I decided to give it another chance. Bad idea.
He now knew all my weaknesses, all my inner demons, and he knew how to play with them. He weakened me, drew me away from my friends, my family and even myself. He said, “I know you better than you know yourself” and that was how he made me feel. He told me “Don`t smile with your mouth open, your gum becomes visible, that`s ugly,” I smiled with my mouth shut for years after that.
Afterwards, I find it crazy that it lasted as long as it did. But being there, being in the relationship, I was captured in a merry-go-round of strings being pulled, him knowing exactly what he was doing and how it would make me react. He controlled me, and I shut down.
In the beginning I talked to some friends about not feeling that good about the relationship, I told them about him, and I told them about how I was feeling. They told me to break up, “just do it, it can`t be that difficult!”. But it was difficult. This is where I am struggling to use the right words, as I cannot describe why it was so difficult. It just was. When we got together, it was like he started out with tying a small knot inside of me, inside of my chest. And he knew exactly how to work it. Usually he would build it up, knot after knot, making me feel more and more uncomfortable, controlled and like I could not breathe. Which is where my anxiety began. Then, when it would get too much for me, and when I was at the brink of getting out somehow or exposing him and what he was doing, he would know, and he would loosen up the knots a bit, so I could breathe and feel relieved. And somehow, with him being the one doing that, he was also the one who could make me feel better, and therefore still had control over me.
I guess that is the best I am able to explain it, with metaphors. But I could not back then and it was difficult for my friends and family to understand, so in the end I decided that I did not want to bother them anymore, as I felt stupid for complaining if I could not get out anyway. So I stayed, kept it all inside of me, and became smaller and smaller. I lost contact with most of my friends, developed anxiety and stress related migraine, and missed out on a lot of school.
This kept going for three years, a roller coaster of uncertainty, hopelessness and being afraid. Doubting everything I did, thinking through all my actions and where they would lead me. How would he react if I said this? Would he humiliate me if I did that? I was walking on shattered glass every day, afraid of where each step would take me. I tried several times to break it up, without succeeding. In the end I realised that there was only one escape from it, and that was to get away from him, which was what I ended up doing.
Two months after our three-year anniversary, I moved and started a new school. In Norway we call it a folk high school, which is a school where you live for a year to develop one of your main interests, mine was photography and writing. I had a system around me to protect me and people that did not know anything about me, who I was or my past. One day I sent him a message, saying that after all these years it was now enough, that I would not reply to him anymore and that he should seek help. That was the last communication from my side.
In the next six months he would terrorise me with text messages and phone calls, calling me all sorts of names, threatening me, saying he would turn up to my school. He said he would turn my friends against me, tell my family things about me which would make them never want to talk to me again, he said he would share photos of me, and one day he sent an email to the headmaster at my school, telling her that they should not have me at their school, that I had mental problems. Luckily, she saw through it, and told me he was the one who should seek help, that was the first time I properly opened up about what had happened.
He said I would never find anyone who loved me as he did, treated me as good as he did, that everyone else would see me as trash, worthless and stupid. It took me six years before I was able to get into a proper relationship again, my current boyfriend has made me realise what it is supposed to be like. He treats me like most people deserves to be treated, and he looks into me, not just at me. I do, however, still struggle with my past. Sometimes a situation will come up that reminds me of how I used to feel and it will shut me down, and sometimes make me react in ways I do not like. I also still struggle with anxiety and stress related migraine, which I am getting help for.
Having read through other blogposts on this page, I have found evidence of people who has been in similar situations. There are so many people in similar relationships that do not know that is toxic and not the way it should be or are too afraid to get out of it. And if they have been able to get out of it, they might still struggle with letting it go, and it can be difficult bringing past experiences like that into a new relationship.
My advice is to talk about it. Do not shut down. Then it will be much harder opening up again and being able to talk about it, is what is needed to get that final push to get out or get it off your chest and keep on living. If you know someone who is struggling with something similar, talk to them and do not stop listning, even if they are not able to get out. Having someone there who cares means everything and might eventually lead to them eventually finding the strength to get out.
I have still not reached a stage I am completely satisfied with, but I feel much better now than I did just two years ago. And there are days like today, when I walked barefoot through the grass with the late spring sun in my face and just felt free. That is the way it should be.
This is a podcast about the topic I made with my current boyfriend: