My journey to self-improvement really took off when I got myself out of a toxic relationship. My first long-term relationship wouldn't have been so long had I listened earlier on to what my gut was telling me the whole time. But sometimes there are actions one must follow through on in order to truly grasp the lesson.
At the tender age of 16, I desired any kind of romantic relationship. I was eager to be kissed, have sex, and love someone, the way I was shown love. I'd been lucky enough to be cared for immensely by my parents. They'd set a superb example for how I should and shouldn't allow people to treat me, how I should treat others, and they taught me how to be a strong, self-sufficient person with the confidence to know I was capable of anything my heart desired. I'd also known that certain assumptions would be made for me about my body, my mind, and my capabilities. They informed me of a world where people take advantage of other people's kindnesses, one where I ought to be careful in the amount of attention I put into certain situations. I had no reason to settle for someone who didn't lift me up to my best self.
I thought I was smart enough to outwit him (which I was, but he had a fantastic way of belittling me), thought I would be able to keep my sense of self through the process of dating him. I was trying to learn from him. Get inside his head and figure out why he was the way he was. He intrigued me, but he blantantly manipulated and used me. Unfortunately I was dating a narcissist that was more concerned with himself than he'd ever be concerned about be. My value was not based on who I was and wanted to be, but rather who he wanted me to be and what/who I wasn't. He was basically a troll. You know, an internet troll? Where they go around talking shit all the time, fat-shaming, womanizing, and generally judging others according to their pathetically small, narrow way of thinking? He would never really love me the way he said he did, nor the way I knew I deserved. After 3 months I knew it wasn't right, but it took four years for me to finally walk out the door.
I thought as long as I kept my head up and stayed positive, I'd be okay. I saw it as a challenge. I saw this person so hopelessly lost and thought I could save them. I know now that is not the job of a lover, friend, or anyone [especially not someone three years younger and still in high school] to save someone that is not seeking salvation. It's even worse when they purposely use and manipulate you to maintain their benefit.
Eventually it felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. I was not thriving. I'd become a shell of who I was- a mold of the kind of person he wanted, regardless of how/who I wanted to be. He was jealous and insecure, leeching to light like a moth in the night. My light didn't burn him though, rather his toxicity poisoned and diminished mine. I could feel the transformation happening- with each decision that didn't feel right, each bond torn between those in my life I cared about- the core of me was shredding. It was always either "them or me" and that was really damaging. I'd gotten good at being what he wanted, but my unhappy inauthenticity still didn't satisfy him.
One day he threatened me and I'd decided that was enough. I was actually leaving the house and not answering my phone. I'd never done something so daring. He got so angry at my retaliation; I returned to my room askew, a hole in my drawing table that he'd taken a hammer to. I knew in that moment that if he could destroy my things, he could destroy me, and my life was worth more than that. Within the next few days I packed my belongings in my car and I drove away from that life. The anxiety of defying One's Master can be intimidating. But I was finally free.
I realized later it was a kind of rebirth. I had to hit the bottom- had to defy myself beyond recognition. By leaving, I could put the person I was to rest and start over. I was no longer obligated to constantly test myself, go against myself.
The kind of life that I allowed to feel normal repulses me. Though the bullshit I see in the media reminds me a lot of that negativity. The womanizing, insensitive mentality. Purposely rude to push people's buttons. No empathy for others. A bit sociopathic, no? It's good to recognize the evil, to be uncomfortably keenly aware of its existence, to be able to recognize it's happening, to have the confidence in what feels right to you to not let it absorb you if you don't approve.
My journey to self-improvement greatly involved getting myself into and then out of a bad situation. People told me for years that it wasn't a good fit but I had to recognize it for myself. At 20, I was ready to start my life over again under my rules. I reclaimed my voice and finally started speaking my mind. That story coming up in Part II: Reclaiming My Voice: Speaking Up.