You destroyed my self-esteem ... but now you longer control me.
There are times, usually just before I’m about to sleep, when I can’t escape memories of the abuse you called love. In the dark and silence, I can hear your belittling words. I can see your mocking face. I can feel your unwanted hands force their way onto my skin, even as I shrink away in disgust. In these moments, I am full of anger, but I’m not angry at you.
I feel nothing toward you anymore. It’s myself who I fear I might never forgive.
All my life, I proudly identified as a feminist. I promised myself no man would ever compromise my fierce independence. I thought I had everything in place to prevent someone like you from entering my life, but somehow you slithered through the gaps like the snake you truly are. I was only 17 then, and you, much older you, saw a naive girl you knew you could fool.
For over a year, I allowed you to carve tiny cracks in my self-esteem until it shattered like glass. I allowed you to convince me that if I really loved you, I would “get over it” and perform sexually for you even when I wasn’t ready. I allowed you to call me “crazy” when I expressed anger or sadness. I allowed you to tell me my interests and passions didn’t matter — that I only deserved your “love” when I molded myself into someone you thought was better.
That still wasn’t enough, though. You didn’t want love; you wanted control. And I, in my naivety and inexperience, allowed you to take it from me.
“I own you,” you used to say, pinning me down to the ground and staring into my face as I tried to turn away. “I own you.”
That was the moment when I should have walked out, but didn’t. I convinced myself it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. That you didn’t mean it the way it sounded.
Even after our toxic relationship finally ended, you found another way to haunt me. I had finally begun to realize what you really were underneath all of your lies and gas-lighting, and I refused to give you another chance when you asked for one. Through your pathetic sobs, you said incredulously, “I thought you loved me so much I could do anything to you.”
I forced my face to remain stoic, but deep down I knew you were right. The manipulated need to earn your approval that I believed was love had blinded me, and I hated myself for it.
Years passed and with them came new men. Not always but often, they had good intentions. They showered me with compliments, introduced me to their families, and tried everything they could think of to prove themselves to me. But no matter how attracted to them I felt, all I could ever think was, “What am I missing?”
I swore to myself I would never miss such blatant red flags like I did with you, so I analyzed every word, every touch, every look from these men, always keeping them at arm’s length until finally they fizzled out.
It wasn’t until I met my current boyfriend that things slowly began to change. To this day I don’t know why, but I felt like I could confide in him all of the horrors you had put me through and how difficult it was for me to open myself up to anyone new.
I knew he really wanted to be with me, but all he said was, “When you’re ready, I’ll be here.”
It’s been almost four years now, and he always is. Even though I still have moments when the flashbacks of your abuse seem so real I can’t help but break down, and I still sometimes catch myself over-analyzing every word, looking for red flags when there aren’t any, he is there to remind me that I have the power to shut you out.
And as more time passes, the last remnants of the control you once held over me are dwindling. I refuse to let the rest of my life be defined by your twisted, selfish abuse.
I may need more time to forgive myself, but I’m damn close to forgetting you.