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From Broken to Brave: Bouncing Back from a Toxic Relationship

By: Erika Lewis

If you would have asked me 5 years ago would I have been here, I would have told you “no”. From failed relationships with my family, boyfriend, and in some instances friends; I was broken and at the point of suicide. I had no reason to live. I felt unloved by others and myself. At that point in my life I had accomplished so much and I had no idea why I was feeling this way. At 26 years old, I had 4 degrees and two licenses in two different states, and I was being vested by the top employment companies in my field. One would think that I had it all but it was quite the opposite. As I share my story with you all, I’m hoping that it will help another person who is dealing with a toxic relationship to heal. 

All of my friends were in relationships or married with kids. It seemed like they all had someone to love them, unlike me, who had none of the above. I was single, no kids, lonely, and looking for love. I entered into a relationship in 2014 vulnerable and willing to do anything because I was tired of being alone. I got with this guy who I knew was not ready to be in a relationship but, in a way, I forced him.

I remember inviting him over after our first date went horribly wrong to watch a movie. He kissed me and I was nervous and afraid. I was unsure of what would happen but I knew that I did not want to have sex with him. Keeping in mind that we’d only known each other for three weeks. After brushing off the kiss, he walked to the kitchen upset. I attempted to talk to him and he brushed me off angrily. I didn’t want to mess this up, so i began to  apologize for not wanting to have sex. After all I was 26 , and that’s what women my age do, right? 

I attempted to hug him and he gave me the cold shoulder. It wasn’t until I asked him what did I do wrong that he talked to me. He told me that he was very attracted to me and that he wanted to have sex but he could see that I was not ready for the type of relationship that he wanted. In my mind I thought that meant he wanted a relationship with me, so I agreed. I laid there with a heart heavy with regrets, mind racing, feeling as though I was making the worst decision of my life.

His presence was commanding and forceful and I gave in to exactly what he wanted.  At that moment I had lost my virginity and allowed pandora's box open. He did just enough to get me to feel like he loved me beyond limits, because I didn’t know what love looked like for me. This relationship went on for 4 daunting years. He did everything under the sun to make me feel less than, like I was unworthy... and I stayed. I’ll admit that I allowed most of the things that he did to happen; I could have stopped it at any moment but I didn’t. He was what I like to call a master manipulator. 

He treated me so bad that I began to treat myself the exact same way. I didn’t care about anything. In fact, I think the only thing I really did was work and continue school. I was 1 year in and had been cheated on twice, financially manipulated, and emotionally abused. I felt like the bottom of the barrel type of chick. I would give him money, pay for dates, do his homework, and I got nothing in return. I remember one year I had to beg him to make dinner reservations for valentine’s day only for him to make them last minute with no thought whatsoever. 

He had a strange way of making me feel less than a woman, like trash. He always did less than the bare minimum, just enough to keep a broken girl like myself around. I remember him buying me a $20 Mac gift card for my birthday and for Christmas, after I spent over $200 dollars for gifts for him for every occasion. I would feel like shit every time I would receive one of those damn $20 gift cards. I didn’t mind spending money on him, but I knew I was being used. I felt stuck but I didn’t want to leave and be alone again. I knew money was the way to his heart. I caught myself at one point in my life sending him money through Cash App and Zelle just so he would to talk to me. He would go days without communicating and would only reach out when I sent money. I knew money was the way to his heart and he knew that he was my heart; he could manipulate me by removing himself.

I continued in this relationship for another year until I started to get fed up. Another woman had entered our relationship and she wasn’t going anywhere. I had gone from main chick to side chick and I stayed. I allowed him to see this other woman and me. That went on for a year until she had gotten pregnant... then I snapped. At that very moment he took my last breath from me, or so I thought. I was ready to die. The following morning, after staying awake all night, I called the other woman to ask if she was pregnant, she confirmed and a few choice words flew out of my mouth.  I had no idea that one phone call would cause me to almost lose my career. I had been served with papers to show up to court for a restraining order. I thought, “I am a therapist, how will I ever be able to work again?” My career was in jeopardy, my friends weren’t really talking to me, and I had isolated myself from my family.  

I didn’t write a suicide note, but I was for damn sure ready to leave this earth. I would pray to God and repeat, “I am ready to go, God just take me, this is too painful to bare.” I had never felt that way before and often told people this felt worse than me being placed in foster care. I had no reason to live. He was my reason. I made a man who gave me nothing my everything and in the end lost everything about me. I didn’t know what life was like without him and I didn’t want to keep moving forward. But I didn’t want to leave either. I did not have the guts to hurt myself but I was praying to leave this earth. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, I just knew I was tired. 

After realizing through prayer that I was not going to die, I grew sick. I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t get dressed, I would just sit there filled with emptiness, stare at the walls, and cry. I had allowed a man to come into my life and disrupt everything that I had worked hard for. I struggled my entire life to break the stigma of being a foster child, an at risk youth, and a throwaway. I obtained 4 degrees, kept steady employment, and was a fully functioning adult all while going through some of my rough patches. I did not like myself, nor know who I was anymore. He broke me, so it was time to break him. 

Ladies and gents, if you all know anything about karma, always know what you put out is what you get back. Vengeance is not for me. I was still hurting and trying to get him back. If he asked for money, instead of giving him all of it, I would give him half or nothing at all. I wouldn’t help with his homework or if I did I would only do half. I would argue with him every chance that I got. I would slowly drinking poison and waiting for him to die. I was thinking that I was hurting him, but instead I was further hurting myself.

I thought I was winning. I thought not answering the phone, calling less often, snapping more frequently, being more demanding was helping. But it wasn’t. I didn’t feel good after being mean or hurtful. I asked myself one day, Why are you doing this, this isn’t you. I slowly had to recognize my behavior and change it. I started to get honest about what was really happening here and what I really wanted out of a relationship and for myself. This wasn’t it. I slowly stopped blaming him for all his wrongdoings and started to get real honest with myself and began looking at my behavior. 

 

If you’re ever in a toxic relationship and need to get out, here are some tools to guide you toward healing:

  1. Identify a support system

  2. Identify your faults and what is broken

  3. Understand and identify how you want to be loved

  4. Be honest with yourself and clear about your healing

  5. Love yourself exactly how you want others to love you

 
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I know that it is easier said than done and not everyone can change without assistance. I had to be willing to take accountability for my actions and the role I played in the relationship, I had to get clear, and I had to heal. I started going to therapy, even though I was a therapist. I needed someone to help me get my thoughts together without judgment and to help me filter through my trauma. I literally had to rebuild myself and my life because I had allowed a man to come into my life and FUCK SHIT UP. I started journaling and began to examine my relationship with him and what I was doing. Each day was getting better. I went to my friends and asked for their support and not their judgement, as I was judging myself enough. I started to get out more and enjoy things around me. I had to learn to get comfortable with the feeling of being alone and occupy my time. 

If you’re feeling alone, adding another person to the equation won’t make you feel less lonely. Being alone and feeling lonely are two different things. It’s okay to be alone sometimes, in fact I welcome it. But feeling lonely is a feeling that no one can fill but you. You have to be willing to identify ways to fill that void. For me, I had to get honest about where my loneliness came from. I also had to identify my love language and what I wanted out of love and relationship and be exactly that for me. I can’t receive what I can’t give and that is where we go wrong; expecting others to give us what we can’t give ourselves. We can’t blame others for things that we allow to happen.

After a few months of doing the work, I was beginning to heal. I loved myself in the sense that I had cared for me but I didn’t love myself enough to know that I didn’t deserve emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can at times be way worse than physical abuse. I didn’t spend quality time with myself, which  I craved. I also didn’t tell myself positive things enough, which I craved as well. I had to love me way better than anyone loved me. I had to pour into me before I could expect any man to pour into me. I have to love myself with the same intensity that I wanted to be loved. I had to do this and so that when the next relationship presented itself, I would be ready. 

We have to understand that we set the standards for how we are treated. I set my standard and I got treated exactly how I treated myself; less than worthy. We can’t expect anyone to give us anything that we can’t give ourselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, my ex is a piece of shit, but that is not for me to make him see. He’ll have to recognize this on his own. I can’t change his behavior, however, I can choose not to be in that relationship anymore. I got out. I survived and I was lucky. The best revenge is moving on, choosing you, and not looking back. Healing starts with you. 

Heal thyself so that you can be your healthy self,

Erika

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About the author…

Erika Lewis is a Mental Health Therapist with a Private Practice, Heal Thyself Counseling Services, in Homewood, IL. Erika has served as a therapist for the past 8 years and has extensive experience in helping children, adolescents, adults, and elderly individuals to overcome trauma. At an early age, Erika experienced her own adversity growing up in foster care. After dealing with physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse she did the work to overcome those events and paid it forward by training to help others. Most recently, she has focused on dealing with the trauma of a toxic relationships and how that impacts people's day to day lives. Erika’s mantra: heal thyself so that you can be your healthy self. Follow Erika’s practice on instagram @heal.thyselfcounseling or contact her for booking and consultation through the Psychology Today directory.