How To Stop Being In Toxic Relationships: 3 Steps To Quit Bad Men For GOOD

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how to stop being in toxic relationships
Love, Self

It's not too late to have a healthy relationship.

Being addicted to a toxic relationship is no different than addiction to a substance. And I should know because I’ve been there.

All of the same symptoms can appear:

  • Descent into a shame-spiral about the addiction. (i.e., I’m a grown-ass woman, why do I let him treat me this way?”)
  • An inability to control your own behavior, often participating in self-destructive and furtive activities. (Including stalking him while wearing a sad clown mask)
  • The loss of positive relationships with family and friends. (Everyone you love hates your guy!)
  • Poor performance at school or work. (Sobbing in the toilet being just one.)

So, is there a way to learn how to stop being in toxic relationships for good? Beating your addiction to your toxic guy isn’t just mind over matter, but the first and most essential step does come from your mind; which is admitting to yourself that you have a problem.

Once you hit bottom, get humble and do what the next 3 steps, with actionable tasks, will help you get out there. Print this out as it’s my Addiction Recovery Bible, despite my Agnosticism.

Step A: Decide to quit.

1. Write down all the ways your addiction is turning you into a shell of yourself.

How has it affected your work?

How has your toxic man and his Asshattery affected you physically? 

  • Are you so upset you’re forgetting to eat? (Skinny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.)
  • Or eating too much? (Quietly raises hand)
  • Are you drinking more than you should? (Hand still raised)
  • Are you forgetting to exercise?
  • Have you given up on self-care?

How has your addiction affected your other relationships

  • Have you lost friends because you never learned how to stop being in toxic relationships? (They are so sick of hearing about him!)
  • Are there rifts with family members?
  • Does your social world seem to keep getting smaller and smaller because of your soul-sucking relationship?

How has your addiction affected you emotionally? 

  • Are you depressed?
  • Ashamed?
  • Anxious?
  • Do you feel disconnected from the things you used to love to do? Like dancing with your grandfather at the Elk’s Lodge? I gave that up, people. It was a sad time.

2. Make a list of positive changes you want in your life.

Imagine what it might be like if you knew how to stop being in toxic relationships and were no longer addicted to them? Imagine not worrying anymore about what (or who) he’s doing. What would that look like? Write it down.

  • Would you sleep better? Feel freer?
  • Would you start taking dance lessons again? Would you start traveling again?
  • Would you spend more time with friends and family who support you?
  • Would that sickening feeling of dread that sits in the center of your chest when your guy is out of your sight go away?
  • Would you like yourself better and even feel proud of yourself?

3. Write down your quitting commitment.

Writing a list of important reasons to quit your addiction can help you when you’re feeling tempted to call the Asshat and get sucked back into his life. Your reasons for quitting have to be stronger than your reasons for staying with your guy. And when we’re in the throes of our addiction it’s necessary to have a list we can actually look at, hold and read aloud to strengthen our resolve.

Here are some examples of solid reasons to quit your addiction:

  • Decide you’re quitting because you want to have children one day who can count on a stable loving home.
  • Decide you’re quitting because you don’t want to feel isolated anymore and want to see more of the people who treat you well.
  • Decide you’re quitting because you want to be more effective in finding a career or growing the one you already have.
  • Decide to quit because you want to feel good about yourself and you want to love yourself again.

Step B: Make a plan to quit.

Be real with yourself about what quitting your addiction to your guy looks like. Don’t try to rip the Band-Aid off instantly. This usually leads to relapse. I had to get out of my toxic relationship in stages.

For me, the first stage included doing things to build my self-esteem so I could finally leave. I did this by starting the Al-Anon 12-step program and abstaining from embarrassing behavior. I stopped spying on my guy in the aforementioned clown mask. I stopped rifling through his things to find evidence of his cheating. And finally, I forced myself to make plans with other people, instead of waiting around for him. Even if you plan to move slowly, it’s a good idea to do the next task.

1. Set a concrete date to quit your addiction.

You don’t have to set the date for tomorrow, or for next week or next month. I set the date for six months after I began my recovery so I could step into it. But setting a date is crucial, as is holding yourself to it.

Sometimes giving yourself a special deadline can be powerful. It could be a birthday. For me, turning 30 and knowing I wanted to have children and didn’t have forever to achieve that, was a real motivator. Pick a special date that will motivate you.

2. Seek personal and professional support.

That could be a therapist, a sponsor in a recovery program, or a life coach. And tell them the truth because we’re only as sick as our secrets.

3. Identify your triggers.

When it comes to addiction we all have triggers that can sabotage our recovery. When I was attempting to leave my final toxic relationship I had to make a promise to myself not to see, text, email or speak to my guy for at least one month, because any contact with him triggered my addiction.

I also had to:

  • Avoid places he and I frequented, like restaurants, movie theaters, and shops.
  • Rid my apartment of all evidence of my toxic Asshat, storing or throwing away gifts he’d given me, letters he’d written, articles of his clothing that were still there.

One great tool to use when it comes to triggers is not just to get rid of them, but also to replace them with something else. While staying away from your guy, make plans with other people. Go to restaurants and theaters and shops you’ve never been to.

Replace his items in the house with other things you love, like plants, books, framed photos that don’t include your former man. Change the layout of your home and bedroom to make it feel fresh and new.

Step C: Quitting and handling withdrawal.

Stop the addictive behavior as planned when your quitting date arrives. Just assume the first month or so is going to suck. Coming down off of an emotional addiction can feel like dying.

I spent practically the entire first month sobbing with my mouth hanging open. But I kept myself as busy as I possibly could and I suggest you do the same.

  • Read articles from my Asshat Recovery Program.
  • Exercise.
  • Throw yourself into work.
  • Renew friendships.
  • See family.
  • Do a mini-makeover. 
  • See your therapist, go frequently to your support group, and commit to a sponsor to keep you busy and moving forward in your recovery.
  • Surround yourself with people who know what you’re doing and who will be supportive and encouraging.
  • Steer clear of your triggers.

When I asked my man-drug not to contact me for one month I was able to stick to it because my Al-Anon sponsor called me every morning at 8 AM to pep talk me into just one more day of abstinence.

I took it one day at a time which is an incredibly practical, helpful slogan to adopt. And don’t give in to rationalizations! Addiction lies. It comes to us in the dead of night when we’re loneliest and whispers in our ear.

Things like this:

“He wasn’t so bad. He says he loves me, maybe he’ll mean it this time. He’s so distraught by our break-up, this could change him. Who says there’s anyone better out there? Maybe all men lie, cheat and don’t commit. If I don’t marry this Asshat who knows how long it will be before I meet someone else? By then I may be too old to start a family.”

These are all lies. This is addiction lying to you. Do NOT give in. When you feel yourself beginning to cave: Go back to your list of reasons to quit your addiction. Think about why quitting is more important than staying addicted.

If you relapse, don't give up. As anyone who has worked a 12-step program for addiction will tell you, relapses are bound to happen. There’s no point in beating yourself up and heading into a shame-spiral that will only keep you further stuck in the addiction.

Be kind to yourself and encouraging, as you would be to a friend or even a little child. Give yourself a break. Empathize with yourself and give yourself credit for fighting the good fight.

Then look into why you relapsed:

  • Did you have a particularly stressful day that caused the relapse?
  • Did you encounter and engage in one of your triggers?
  • How can you learn from this and use that knowledge to recommit to recovery, having more experience to draw from?

That’s it for now. I’m so glad you’ve read to here. Because this is a safe place to do the brave things that need to be done.

This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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