How I Found Myself In A Toxic Relationship…And How I Found My Way Out Of It

No one ever expects to end up in a toxic, damaging relationship. At least, I would hope not. I definitely never imagined that I would find myself in a horrible relationship with a toxic, manipulative partner.

Then somehow, by some terrible twist of fate, I was forced to face the fact that I was in one.

It Felt Out Of Character For Me

woman looking to the side
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ayo Ogunseinde
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ayo Ogunseinde

I’ve always been a very strong, independent, no B.S. kind of woman; even when I was a young girl, I wasn’t the type to tolerate mistreatment from anyone.

When I reached my teen years and started dating, I was pretty adamant about maintaining my standards and not letting myself get walked all over. I looked at people in toxic relationships in confusion and wonder why they’d ever stay.

Things Started Out Fine

man and woman together while he plays guitar
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Genessa Panainte
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Genessa Panainte

I met the guy through mutual friends, and we initially were just two pals with mutual interests. At the time, I had been playing music at events and he had been doing bar gigs for a while, so we connected over that and started writing music together and playing bar gigs.

Honestly, hanging out with him was a blast for a while, but then he made it clear that he wanted to be more.

That Should Have Been My First Red Flag

man and woman standing near each other both wearing sunglasses
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ana Itonishvilli
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ana Itonishvilli

Even though at the time, I only held friendly feelings toward this guy, he told me that he felt that we clearly had a deeper connection. Over the next weeks of our friendship, he increasingly urged me that we should take our relationship further.

I truly liked spending a lot of time with him, but I still felt a little hesitant about romance.

Then Came The Ultimatum

man looking upset with woman blurry in background
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Damir Spanic
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Damir Spanic

I guess he didn’t say it in exact terms, but eventually (through “hypothetical” discussions and other musings) told me that, unless I decided I wanted to date him, that we shouldn’t talk anymore.

At this point, we had been talking every day and we had been working together on gigs—one of my most important sources of income—for months. Losing his friendship would have been devastating for me. I convinced myself that my feelings of closeness to him were enough.

The Start Was Good

man and woman holding hands while having coffee
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez

I’m not going to lie: the start of our romantic relationship was a lot of fun. Our dates were entertaining (going on day trips together), romantic (stargazing and talking about the future), and all-around promising.

I have a distinct memory of us lying on the ground in his grimy apartment listening to his favorite record and I truly thought that I was happy.

Then, Naturally, Things Got Complicated

man and woman stretching arms out to hold hands
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Pablo Heimplatz
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Pablo Heimplatz

He started a new job in a corporate office and I was really happy for him because he seemed to really like it. Naturally, he had less time and energy to spend on me, and I found other things to spend my time on.

Things got more difficult between us, but I assumed that the problems were just circumstantial more than anything.

The Timeline Is Murky

man and woman sitting together in front of large window
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Alban Martel
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Alban Martel

I wish that I could pinpoint a specific moment or time where things started to go wrong, but it didn’t exist. One moment, I felt secure and safe, and then the next moment I felt like if I didn’t act in the exact way he wanted me to, that he would disappear. I went from walking on solid ground to walking on eggshells, and I didn’t even notice when.

Looking Back On It, I Could See The Downfall

woman looking out over mountains
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez

I guess things really started to get bad when he saw me thriving in the things I was passionate about and his friends started making pointed comments about our relationship—namely, jokes about why we shouldn’t be together because I was “too pretty for him.”

Looking back at it, I can see that his own insecurities started taking the wheel on his decisions, but at the time, I didn’t understand why he was starting to be less consistent and caring toward me.

…And I Tried To Point Out My Struggles

man and woman sitting on bench
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Charlie Foster
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Charlie Foster

I tried to talk about the things I was having trouble with, but he always found a way to shut my views down. He said that I was being dramatic or imagining things. He told me that I was being unfair to him because of how busy he was and that I was asking too much from him. He said that he was hurt by my accusations.

Worst of all, I believed him.

I Was A Shell Of The Person I Used To Be

woman with her hair blowing in front of her face
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Jurica Koletic
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Jurica Koletic

I had always been a confident person, but I found myself second-guessing everything I said and did. I worried that he wasn’t attracted to me anymore based on comments he made about my body, and I lost weight. He constantly said that he wanted to be there for me when I was feeling down but treated me like I was annoying or needy whenever I did.

I found myself spending every moment trying to be as perfect as possible to keep myself in his good books and hating myself when I fell short.

I Didn’t Realize Something Was Really Wrong Until I Did

jack o'lantern
Photo Credit: Unsplash / David Menidrey
Photo Credit: Unsplash / David Menidrey

It was Halloween. After he’d ditched me the night before without warning—we had planned to do a couple’s costume for a party, but he never showed—I went out to a club with him and his friends. Once inside, he ditched me again, leaving me by myself without a second thought.

Standing at the bar and trying to look busy, I was approached by a guy who hit on me and we talked for almost 20 minutes. Getting attention and care felt so alien to me that I was at first shocked, and then (even though I had always been a loyal person) I imagined myself going home with this stranger instead.

And It Sparked Me To Really Think

woman looking down in sad way
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ernest Brillo
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Ernest Brillo

Truly, I’m the type of person who, when in a relationship, doesn’t even really acknowledge other men or have any feelings of attraction for anyone else. I think it took me looking somewhere else to make me realize that I was not happy in my relationship.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to fix things between my boyfriend and me, but every attempt left me feeling smaller and smaller. However, it was hard for me to accept that the man I was with now did not resemble the way he was when we’d started dating—and that he wouldn’t come back.

It Took A Professional Saying It To Really Make It Click

woman in therapy session
Photo Credit: Pexels / cottonbro
Photo Credit: Pexels / cottonbro

At the time, I think it’s important to note, I had been seeing a therapist. I had been going in for weeks and weeks to work through some of my past issues but my current relationship had come up many times.

Sitting down across from her, she looked me in the eyes and told me that, based on everything I had discussed with her in the past couple of months, she had been able to identify seven of the most common signs of emotional abuse when I had been talking about my boyfriend. While she technically couldn’t tell me to break up with him, I could tell she wanted me to.

And I Guess There Was Really No Denying It After That

couple sitting on bench looking in different directions
Photo Credit: Pexels / Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pexels / Pixabay

I left the therapy session crying but resolved to do what I needed to do. I broke up with him a few days later. I was expecting yelling or spite or some sort of response from him, but somehow his nonchalance at the news was worse. He handed me a bag of my things from his house and I quietly left.

It Wasn’t Smooth Sailing

woman leaning on windowsill in melancholy way
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Anthony Tran
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Anthony Tran

I cried in my bed for exactly two days. Afterward, however, I was surprised by how much lighter and more relieved I felt without him in my life within only a couple of weeks.

I’m not going to say that healing was easy—it was a lot of unpacking and reflecting—but the worst was definitely the shame I felt after. How did I ever let a person treat me this way? I would look in the mirror and kind of hate the person I had let myself become through that relationship.

It Took A While To Put Myself Back Together

woman sitting on a chair looking confident
Photo Credit: Pexels / Creative Hussain
Photo Credit: Pexels / Creative Hussain

Through a lot of self-reflection and therapy, I forgave myself and started piecing myself back together. I became confident again. I realized that I was never to be blamed for a toxic person taking advantage of my kindness. I kissed strangers. I cried (a lot). I got drunk, swore off alcohol, and then got drunk again. But then, seemingly out of the blue a few months later, the most magical thing happened: I felt perfectly fine.