On Toxic Relationships

Today I woke up from a message from someone who I have been actively trying to leave out of my life for twelve years. On top of everything else that’s been on my mind lately, this message was one that I really, really didn’t need to be dealing with, and unfortunately, no matter how much I fought it, it set the tone for the rest of my day. So in an attempt to sort out my thoughts and hopefully wake up to a tomorrow that I don’t contemplate dying within the first hour of opening my eyes, I’m going to share what’s been on my mind.

Twelve years ago, I broke up with my very first boyfriend after about half a year of what was a very toxic relationship. It’s funny how I’ve never had any problem expressing my disgust for my first relationship, openly calling it toxic, but admitting publicly what happened suddenly chokes me up. But there’s no denying what it was. He threatened to kill himself on multiple occasions as a means to keep me around, flirted openly with my friends and claimed it was my fault since I didn’t put out, and ultimately violated my right to my own body.

So I broke up with him. When I finally had enough time away from him during the summer vacation, I was able to perceive the situation clearly and get out before it got worse. I tried hard to remain friends, but the clarity of the prior relationship became a trigger. I could force a smile and call him my friend, but even if he grew up and changed, the damage was done. The memory of him made him a monster.

My therapist told me something that I’ve kept with me for the twelve years since. “You have the right to choose the people that stay in your life.” And I acted on that right. I cut him out. He fought hard to stay in my life, utilizing our mutual friends against me, telling me he watched me walk to my classes in school. So my family changed our phone numbers so that he couldn’t call us. I altered my normal paths to class when I could. I spent a year of high school in fear of being cornered with this person I couldn’t avoid.

When he graduated, I thought I had nothing to worry about. But every few years, I would receive a message from him in an attempt to apologize and rekindle our lost friendship. At first, I just told him no. But eventually, I just had to continue blocking the accounts he created to get in touch with me. Because it never stopped.

Last year, when Kyrstin died, his friend came to apologize to me for some stuff that he had done in high school at her memorial. I was livid. He told me he wanted closure. But here I was, mourning my best friend, who I had not seen in over a year and failed to say goodbye to. Where was my closure? I snapped. I told him to leave me alone because I was there for Kyrstin and no one else, and he had no right to accost me when that day was supposed to be about her. He apologized again later, but I didn’t offer him forgiveness. I was blunt in telling him that it didn’t matter. I may understand, but I didn’t appreciate it.

And my ex was there, too. I spent my best friend’s memorial on edge in turmoil, between grief and fear, jumping at any single person who tried to offer me condolences. His friend’s failure to speak with me was enough example, though, to keep him away. And I thought that was enough to maybe be the end of this nonsense.

It was not. A year later, I wake up to a message on instagram from him as he once again tries to make amends. And he had the audacity to bring up Kyrstin. And so I have spent all day angry and frustrated and grieving all over again.

There’s so much on my mind. There’s a small voice wondering if I’m being irrational. After twelve years, of course this person is different. After all, I’m not the same person I was then. The person he dated was a meek little Christian girl who was incapable of thinking for herself.

There’s another voice reminding me that my perception of that relationship is skewed by time and emotional, unhealthy co-dependence that I was experiencing at the time. My perspective and my memories are now biased and distorted.

But then there’s that other voice. “You have the right to choose the people that stay in your life.” And no matter how much I may want to be adult, or rational, or mature… that doesn’t change that fact.

Because the memories of that person made him a monster. And I have the right to my safety. While that person is no longer the person of my memories, the memories are still what they are. And if those memories make me uncomfortable or unsafe, if his presence causes those memories to surface in my mind and overwhelm me, then I have the right to choose that he not be in my life anymore.

I guess… what I want to say is, for those who find themselves in toxic relationships… you have that same right. You are not obligated to anyone but yourself. At the end of the day, you and your mind and your body are what you will take with you to the grave. Do right by you and you alone. Your peace of mind is your responsibility, and if letting go of people is what gives you that, you absolutely have that right.

And to those seeking forgiveness and closure for wrongdoings in your past. To Larry. And those like you. Sometimes, we don’t get closure. Sometimes, people die in your life and you don’t get to say goodbye. Sometimes, you aren’t forgiven. Sometimes, not being forgiven isn’t your fault. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of time and needing to accept that your sins are your own, and the only person who can ever forgive you so that you can live with yourself is you.

The person you wronged is no more. So forgive yourself. And move on. I am not obligated to your peace of mind.

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