It felt like I was having the same conversation with my therapist for the thousandth time: “I just don’t know how to function anymore. I feel like I’m watching my life go by, just going through the actions, but I don’t feel anything.”
For the first nine hundred and ninety-nine times, I failed to mention this struggle may have been (okay, definitely was) directly related to the abusive relationship I’d been living in. But this time, I took a leap of faith and decided to talk about it.
Abusive relationships are insidious, so if you’ve never experienced one firsthand, it’s almost impossible to understand. You probably think, “Just leave. Just get out. You know you deserve better.” But even without marriage or children complicating things further, it’s never as simple as “just leaving.” In fact, according to The Hotline.org, people will try to leave an abusive relationship seven times before they leave for good.
I felt ashamed, and I felt embarrassed. But this time, I was completely and totally honest with my therapist about everything I had been living through. And her response was eye-opening and exactly what I needed to hear.
What starts off as subtle guilting turns into gaslighting. Small disagreements turn into knock-down-drag-out fights. And unfortunately, you start to become acclimated. It all starts to feel normal. That this is just how things are. But honestly, it’s not normal at all.
You deserve basic humanity and respect, or at least that’s what my therapist told me. And it’s not that I didn’t believe it, because I did. But I just didn’t have the energy. I couldn’t find it within myself to still make it through each and every day and liberate myself from this relationship.
During that one-thousandth conversation we had, she listened. She asked a few more questions and then gave me the ultimatum. I could give you coping techniques to get through this season, but I can’t in good conscience. Because I’m afraid if I do, it won’t be a season. It will be the rest of your life until he ends it.
Had I become so acclimated to the toxicity and abuse that I failed to see what kind of danger I was in? I reflected on the phrase “Do no harm.” Did my therapist really think that it would do more harm to give me ways to cope than to allow me to continue suffering in the relationship?
I had to decide. Was I going to spend the rest of my life living this way? Or would I finally live the life I deserved?
The Lightbulb Moment
I won’t say that it never occurred to me that I wasn’t living life fully when I was in an abusive relationship. But getting out felt impossible. Not because I didn’t want to be happy, but because I didn’t know if the struggle to get out would be harder than what I was struggling through at the moment. I didn’t have the resources, financial independence, or a plan B.
I went home that day, irritated that my therapist wouldn’t help me. But after journaling and reflecting, the lightbulb went off. She was helping. In fact, she was saving me from a life full of pain, abuse, and potential danger. Either I would get out, and she would help me cope through the aftermath, or I’d continue to stay, and things wouldn’t get any better. I had to find myself as worthy of happiness, safety, and love as much as my therapist did. The ultimatum wasn’t about helping or not helping. It was about realizing my self-worth.
I share my therapist’s ultimatum with you because I truly believe it saved my life. If she hadn’t encouraged me to choose myself, I don’t know if I ever would have.
To all the people out there who are supporting someone — a friend or a loved one — who is in an abusive, toxic, or downright awful relationship, lead with empathy and grace. It’s not that they don’t want a better life; they may have just forgotten what it feels like. Or they’ve been put down for so long that they don’t think they deserve any better.
And to everyone who has lived, or is living with an abusive partner, don’t ever stop fighting for yourself. I know sometimes it feels impossible. Sometimes, you might feel like you don’t deserve anything more. But you deserve respect, happiness, and everything you desire for your life, and nothing less. Take it from someone who made it to the other side after years of feeling stuck. You are stronger than you know, and this world is a better place because you’re here.