Healing From Toxic Romantic Relationships

Healing From Toxic Romantic Relationships
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If you’ve been around for a while then you’ve probably read about my relationship with an alcoholic. Holy trauma batman. I don’t know how I survived with my sanity intact. There were many times I didn’t think I would. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression that relationship, all three years of it, nearly broke me.

To be perfectly honest I’m not sure that there was any aspect of my life not affected by the trauma of it.

And I am starting to realize that it is trauma. We’ve all been in bad relationships, it’s a rite of passage, but then there are the relationships that cause severe damage that continues to affect your everyday life and relationships. Doctors have started to call it post-traumatic relationship syndrome.

It’s a real thing.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to learn that. I’m not just overly sensitive, it’s not just that I have trouble moving on or letting go, I’m not just dramatic.

I am now in an amazing relationship that is everything that I’ve ever wanted. Believe me, at 33 years old and with the relationships I’ve had – I’m pretty particular. I’m still amazed at how easy it was to fall in love after such a bad experience. My heart just met her and knew that it would be safe and happy and it is. I am.

And yet, I still struggle with the damage.

Love, as amazing and wonderful and healing as it can be, does not instantly fix things. And I have been struggling. So I do what I always do. I pay attention to my thoughts and my actions (self-awareness is my superpower). And then I try to figure out how to heal. That’s what started this blog – my desire to understand myself and heal the parts of myself that needed it.

So right now I’m going to talk a little bit about the things I’m struggling with and how I’m dealing with them. Note the tense struggling, not struggled. I’m still knee-deep in it, figuring it out. If you’re going through it too, we can deal together.

Trust

In spite of the fact that I was cheated on in my last relationship, trusting my current partner isn’t an issue. I thought it might be, that’s a very common thing that so many people end up struggling with.

In my early 20s I was overly untrusting and I was jealous to an extremely unhealthy degree. I’ve been happy to see that it’s one thing I’ve managed to conquer in my life. I learned how to process my unhealthy jealousy by reasoning with my brain and working on my personal insecurities (self-love, heeeeeey!). I can not stop someone from cheating. If someone wants to cheat they will and it has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. Jealousy and possessiveness do absolutely nothing in that situation.

I’m so glad that I learned that lesson half a decade ago, it makes life easier.

No, the trust that I have an issue with is trusting in the stability of my relationship. Trusting that the rug won’t be randomly swept out from under me for no reason. Trusting that one tiny thing that I do or say won’t trigger abandonment. I’m learning to re-trust my intuition because for so long I silenced it in an effort to make things work.

My traumatic relationship was always very back and forth and was often controlled by alcohol. I could literally be doing nothing and it was a reason to break up with me. I could put all of my attention, energy, and love into it and still be told that it wasn’t enough.

Which makes it really difficult to just sink into my current relationship without subconsciously feeling like I’m going to be let down.

What I’m Doing: I’m focusing on the fact that I have no reason to doubt the stability or the security of my current relationship. It’s been so steady and grounding. It’s kinda like when you’ve been really stressed and you realize all of your muscles are tensed up? My emotional muscles are like that. I have to keep reminding myself to relax into it. So for this one lots of reassuring myself or asking my partner for reassurance because, can you believe it, some people actually don’t mind reassuring you!

Independence

I’ve always been fiercely independent and I’ve been single for long stretches of time. I bought a house by myself and have lived by myself since I first moved away from home. I never had a roommate or anyone to share my space with or rely on. Everything was on me.

I used to say that if I ever got married they’d have to move in next door because I didn’t want to share my space with anyone. Relying on someone has never been something that I find easy.

In my last relationship, I was put in the position that when I needed something it was too stressful or too much. I constantly heard “You’re stressing me out. I can’t deal with you right now.” Over so many things, most of them little, some of them not so little. Both of them hurt. 

For someone who was already pre-disposed to independence and was then shown how unreliable someone who “loves” you can be,

I struggle with letting go of control.

This was one of the first issues my current partner and I had. I was getting a tooth pulled and she wanted to be there for me and I just wanted to walk to the dentist’s office and back by myself and be left alone. Crazy, right? It was so hard to let her just be there for me.

What I’m Doing: I am learning to ask. At first, it was so hard, even something as simple as asking her to bring me something from the kitchen or doing a load of laundry. It almost gave me an anxiety attack to ask because I kept waiting for the complaints.

Things I remind myself: It’s okay to ask for things. It’s okay to allow someone to take care of you. I have needs and that’s okay too. Letting someone take care of me is a good thing. I also realized that allowing her to do things for me makes her happy, and that was a revelation in itself. People can be happy to take care of you without resentment or anger or belittling.

Openness

I have a blog. I write a lot. It’s something I love. I am, at this very moment, writing about intimate details of my relationship. Aaaaaand I have a problem being open about my feelings in the context of a relationship because see above.

My feelings were always brushed aside or attacked or trumped by the other person. I was never allowed to have feelings because my feelings made them have feelings and then their feelings were the only thing that mattered. If I cried I was mocked for it.

Just talking about how I felt became this huge traumatic experience every time. 

What I’m Doing:  I’m actively working on it by trying to face the discomfort of talking about how I feel. I usually have to wait a few days and mentally work up to talking about my feelings because I have to feel like it’s safe, and wouldn’t you know – I’m always met with love, listening, and understanding.

How lovely it is to talk about your feelings and have someone sit with that and listen without immediately jumping in about how they feel and that it’s your fault that they feel that way.

I am being listened to without judgment or reaction and it’s a special kind of bliss.

Even knowing that – it doesn’t take the fear away. I can still feel my blood pressure rise when I do it and that anxiety sitting heavy in my chest. It’s like I’m transported back to the times when I was yelled at or ignored or mocked and my body remembers it even when my mind tries to reassure it that I’m in a different place now.

Relationship Issues

My love and I were having a conversation the other day and she said that it bothers her that I don’t voice (or have?) issues with her, as it’s normal for people to have hurt feelings occasionally and she feels like I always keep it inside (re: openness).

I told her that my problems over the last few years were always so painful and incendiary it was like someone chopping off limbs. With her it’s an occasional stubbed toe – something that’s really not worth mentioning.

You’d think would be a plus, and in a lot of ways, it is. We get along so well that those little blips on the radar when she’s cranky or short-tempered are so small to me because I know how terribly bad things can be.

It was in that conversation that I realized, again, how the trauma is still stuck with me.

What I’m Doing: Reminding myself that it’s normal to talk out those issues so they don’t snowball or build resentment, and the reason I don’t is that there’s that voice in my head that says “It could be worse.” Combined with the fear of my feelings being met with anger – what’s really happening is that I’m emotionally shutting down and that’s the last thing I want to do.

Reassurance that it’s safe. Reassurance that my feelings matter and are important and that if my feelings are hurt my partner wants to know so that they can make it better and avoid doing it in the future. Safe, I am safe. My feelings are safe.

Intimacy

Okay, so I have some issues in this department and I’ll try not to make it TMI. My ex would get drunk and would say some pretty terrible things about my body and our sex life. Eventually, we stopped being intimate altogether, which was her choice. For two years I was completely celibate while when we would argue and break up, she would be with other people. 

If I expressed my want of affection or tried to talk about it I was just made to feel guilty. I just ended up feeling really disgusted with myself on an extreme level because I felt like I wasn’t good enough but other people were.

The guilt for wanting any sort of intimacy, even kisses, was beaten into me hardcore. 

On top of having this guilt for wanting affection, I also developed some pretty extreme self-worth issues. It’s weird because I think I’m awesome and the bee’s knees most of the time, but it became really hard to believe that anyone else would see me the way I see myself.

What I’m Doing: Before my traumatic relationship I would say I was super affectionate. After that relationship, I felt like I was fine and not overly affected by it. It’s one of those things where you don’t see the damage until you’re put in certain situations. 

Now that I am in a relationship I have discovered that I am affected by it. I find it hard to initiate intimacy because again it’s like my body remembers that overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame, you know? I panic. I’ve noticed that I’m not a very affectionate person anymore and that makes me really sad because I know it’s a result of constantly shutting down.

I’m trying not to overthink everything. That’s my problem, I am so much in my head that if I think about it too much it’ll make me shut down even more because of stress and anxiety. I’m trying to move forward one step at a time and not force it or worse, guilt trip myself.

Anger

I am so angry. It didn’t really hit me fully until I was completely out of the situation and could really look back and see the whole thing for what it was. For the first few months, I thought I had escaped unscathed. I felt okay and like I was ready to start living my life again after years of it revolving around someone else.

What I know now is that I had just become numb to it.  Looking back I am sometimes furious, I am often enraged. How could I put myself through all of that? How could I have let all of those things be okay for so long? I feel like so much was stolen from me and the worst part was my complacency.

I let it happen.

What I’m Doing: Trying to practice forgiveness for myself. When we know better, we do better and I know better now. I’m still really struggling with this one to be honest. Forgiveness comes easily to me most of the time, but I’ve found that I resent forgiveness because it was one of the things that kept me in that toxic situation for so long. Anger is easier to hold in front of myself like a shield.

I’m letting myself feel my feelings. Trying not to force them down, but acknowledge them and just let myself be with them. I think this one might fall into the time heals all wounds category.

Flashbacks + Triggers

My life is pretty amazing right now. Seriously, it’s good, and in that wonderfulness that is the warm glow of ‘how things are now’ I find myself being pulled back to ‘how things were then’. I can be having the best time of my life when something triggers a thought or memory from my past relationship and it makes me sad and angry and frustrated.

Why can’t I just block it out? Don’t ‘normal’ people get past these things? Why can’t I? Why am I still remembering?

Because I experienced so many bad moments on almost a daily basis.

Because there was no time to process one bad thing before another bad thing happened. It’s like a bone that was broken so many times and barely had time to heal. It’s achy and sore and sometimes keeps me up at night.

What I’m Doing: Practicing mindfulness, being in the moment, enjoying the moment, bringing my mind back to what’s right in front of me and if that’s not working, venting and talking about it. Writing it out. Remembering to move forward and not stay in the past.

It’s so apparent that writing helps and this is what I needed, to let it out. I’ve been working on this post for the past two days and even now I feel so much lighter.

I’d love to hear how you struggled after a toxic romantic relationship and what helped you heal.

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