Rebecca Norris
February 14, 2020 9:00 am
Rebecca Norris for HelloGiggles

Trigger warning: This article discusses relationship abuse and emotional abuse.

Two years after moving to New York City, the long-distance relationship that put me through extreme ups and downs and defined much of my existence here fell apart in 2017. As a result, life became extremely difficult—I gained 40 pounds from the Xanax and Lexapro I was prescribed towards the end of our relationship to help manage the severe anxiety I developed, and after the heartbreak, I struggled to move forward from the aftermath of it all. Despite learning, as a child of divorce, the importance of being self-reliant when I was a kid, I had a 10-year history of jumping from long-term relationship to long-term relationship up until that point. And once I committed to my most recent relationship, I was all in. As a result, I found myself turning a blind eye toward my partner’s unhealthy traits, as well as my own. 

When I turned 25 that year, my decade-long string of romances came to an end, culminating in my aforementioned long-distance partnership that defined 2017 for me. While I won’t say that relationship was all bad, the highs were high and the lows were lower than I ever imagined. Certain fights would get out of hand, and situations would become volatile, especially when there was alcohol involved. I remember after questioning him about a girl he was talking to, just hours after giving him his custom Will Smith Bel-Air Prep jersery for his birthday, he cut it off his body with scissors and told me he was done with me—the next morning he apologized and asked how we could make it work. And it became hard to resist forgiving him because every time he visited me he’d bring flowers or some trinket that reminded me of him, while saying sweet things. But every time I wore anything above mid-thigh or showed off even the slightest cleavage he’d question whose attention I was trying to grasp.

This was particularly difficult, because it was hard to trust that his attention wasn’t elsewhere. He constantly reassured me he wasn’t cheating on me, but when I looked through his apps and texts, I saw messages from women who looked like everything he said he didn’t want, wearing everything he told me I couldn’t wear. This was a pattern with him—he’d tell me I was beautiful, but make rude remarks if I decided to wear something like a crop top or short shorts. 

It was damaging to say the least. So many people have asked me why I allowed it. Many people even thought I was exaggerating when I first started to vent about the mental warfare (because, even now, it’s hard to admit the real word for it: abuse). My only answer is that, at the time, my view of myself, the love I deserved, and my definition of loyalty were severely skewed, and it was hard not to internalize his perceptions of me. 

He even tried to control my career and the projects I worked on at my job. Since I worked at a men’s publication, he often assumed that I was around half-naked men every day (completely false), so I didn’t want to anger him by pitching stories that were the least bit sexual. Of course, even if I stuck to stories based solely on beauty, he criticized me and asked me why I was being so superficial. 

Overall, he made me believe that I was problematic and that I was too much of a handful—someone that no one else would put up with. He constantly checked up on me, asking me to send pictures of where I was so he could tell if I was being honest about my location. He made me believe that sticking by someone, even when they lie to you, call you vulgar names, and try to tear you down, was the definition of loyalty. 

Finally, after breaking up more times than I could count, I was nearly at my wits end. I felt like I had no control. And in living like that, I became the very worst version of myself: I questioned my judgment, analyzed his every move, and downplayed his negative behavior to my friends. I felt triggered by the situation and stopped eating. I had panic attacks so severe (and so public) that I questioned my place in the world. I lost hope. Eventually, things ended for good. After visiting him for a concert, I never saw him or got a full conversation from him again. I was never able to get closure.

Soon after I had first met him, I had came across a passage by Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love on the true meaning of a soul mate. Thinking about it after we broke up, it sparked my journey to take care of myself. 

“A soulmate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life…”

While this definition of a soulmate was far from a person you’re meant to be with forever, it explained my situation, because even from the very beginning, I felt him tugging at my ideals, making me step back and question my thought processes. While I hoped the relationship would last, I think I knew deep down that it shouldn’t. And while accepting its end was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, it forced me to make a change.

While it wasn’t my choice to break things off, it was my choice thereafter to commit to 365 uninterrupted days of focusing on myself—challenging long-held beliefs, cultivating self-care, and championing my mental health—no love interests attached. Following a destructive relationship that made me question every aspect of myself, being single felt like the only option. I needed to rediscover myself. And so, in 2018, I made a resolution to transform my life by focusing inward. While I hoped it would heal my heart, little did I know, it would change my life, opening doors to professional opportunities I only ever dreamed about, and personal experiences I neglected for years. 

The first major change I noticed was in my career. Up until that point, I largely played it safe—both out of fear of rejection and fear of upsetting my partner. But I was done feeling bad about dreaming of boundary-pushing bylines, avoiding job interviews in fear of a fight sabotaging it right beforehand, and feeling like I had to explain why I was writing about certain topics. So I read through all my favorite sites, allowed myself to be ballsy, and submitted my first cold pitch at the start of January. It was accepted, and performed so well that I was given the opportunity to write another one of my off-the-wall pitches that same month. These two stories, which were so different from anything I’d ever written, put me on the map. Before I knew it, great opportunities and offers started rolling in—it was surreal then and continues to be now. Every time I start writing for a new publication or am reminded by Facebook memories of my first dream bylines in 2018, I stop in my tracks and focus on being grateful—for these opportunities and the wherewithal to keep moving forward.

But it wasn’t just my career that catapulted; my non-romantic relationships did too. I no longer had to bail on plans or make up excuses for family and friends about why I couldn’t hang out, or why I started to gain weight. At the time I internalized it all and blamed myself, when really he was the root cause of these issues. But once I put that behind me, I felt strong enough to open up about my experiences, let go of excuses, intently focus on who and what I wanted to spend my energy on, and learn to trust myself again. 

In harnessing my newfound clarity and refocusing my love and loyalty onto myself and those close to me, I was able to strengthen my community, expand my travels, hone my self-worth, and learn the importance of intentionality. By focusing on what I’m grateful for every single day, I’m intently aware of how blessed I am and how much I bring into the world.

Hopefully one day, when the time is right and my person appears, I’ll be so steadfast in my own world that I won’t lose myself in theirs.

Without a doubt, one of the most important things I learned during my year of self-love was how to focus on myself. I learned to constantly check in and reassess my week-to-week mood to navigate my own emotions before immediately worrying about someone else’s. I did this by recognizing triggers and setting boundaries (some of which I’m still laying the groundwork for). I used to neglect my own feelings and needs in favor of trying to please my partner. As an anxious people-pleaser, setting boundaries can be incredibly difficult for me, but now, after putting them in place, I believe that it’s essential for stressing less and enjoying life more. After all, if my focus is forever centered on someone else, I won’t have the time to work on my own mental health and development.

By really focusing on this idea, I learned how to not only walk away from people, places, and situations that don’t serve me either personally or professionally but how to not enter them in the first place. I now know how to pinpoint triggering traits and encounters that make me realize it no longer benefits me to pursue someone or something. As such, what I intended to be one solo year has turned into two and counting. Developing this skill has been empowering, but I’d be lying if I said I always know what to do in the process of taking action toward what’s best for my own mental health, but at least I’m learning how to see myself out—and, more importantly, through. 

If you are a victim of domestic abuse and need help, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to speak to a trained counselor.

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