I’m going to start a conversation.
I’m no stranger to toxic relationships. I’ve witnessed them, experienced them, and in some instances, I have, regrettably, caused them. I’ve seen abuse take many different forms in my life, from the physical to emotional, and I’ve seen first-hand just how devastating these actions can be on the mind, physical bruising aside. Until recently, topics of mental and emotional abuse have rarely been discussed in the prevalent conversations of the world at large. Now, we’re seeing the symptoms of such silence, and we’re hearing people from every walk of life share their stories of dealing with these issues.
I had a girlfriend once, I thought she was absolutely amazing. She was beautiful, brilliant, fun to be around, we could talk for hours, and we had connection on multiple levels. We seemed to have a great thing going in the beginning, and I was pretty smitten. I’ve had relationships like this before, and for various reasons or another, they’ve never quite worked out. “This time,” I thought to myself, “this time will be different.” I was hopeful. I haven’t always been the best partner in life, hell, I’m still figuring out how to navigate relationships, but I thought I could make it work. I had read and received all the advice I could, and I knew that I had to do things right. I had to be there, be considerate, control my emotions, and just generally be a person that someone might want to continue to date. Unfortunately, good intentions can only carry you so far.
The first time she angrily lashed out at me, I let it slide, I made excuses for why she might have let her emotions get the best of her. She was going through her own things after all, and I’m an understanding guy. No big deal. The second time she did, it made me pause with concern, this wasn’t necessarily the ideal situation I thought it was. Nevertheless, I realized some people just get angry, I used to do it myself. Not everyone can remain calm all the time like me, no big deal. Throughout the course of our relationship, I told myself a lot of things to that effect. It was no big deal, she’s just going through her problems in life, I’m an understanding person. I had hope.
It is here I’d like to point out that I have been struggling with my mental health for awhile now, and I have been dealing with how those issues effect my life. I don’t want to say that she preyed upon my illness, that would imply bad intent, and remember, I was hopeful. She did, however, utilize my confusion about my mental health to great effect. When you’re in a place where you question what is going on inside your head, it makes it easier for others to interject with their own ideas. They do this often enough and with enough conviction, and they can shape the way in which you perceive things, your reality.
As time went on, the bouts of anger progressed and became more frequent, and I became the firing target upon which she could unload. Early on, we had agreed that communication was important, and I tried to hold true to that. However, it seemed that whenever I tried to bring up a problem that was bothering me, it was perceived as an attack on her character. Sometimes, I mix my thoughts up. I confuse what I’m saying in my head. Sometimes, I just can’t verbally convey the meaning that I want. For these reasons, my words were viewed as attacks on her, and ferocious conflict would ensue. I held my temper as much as I could in these moments, but as much as I held back, she would unleash in equal amounts for the both of us. I won’t say I never got mad and raised my voice, but even I am impressed with how I handled those instances. We fought quite a lot for the amount of time we were together. Still, I had hope.
While I was expected to soundly argue my point in a calm and logical manner, her expectations for herself were significantly less. Through a barrage of f-bombs and insults lobbed in my direction as if grenades meant to dismantle my self-esteem, I would desperately try to rectify whatever it was that I had done. What started as me expressing my concerns about her emotional outbursts or lack of respect for me, ended with me profusely apologizing for my malfeasance of making her upset. This would manifest itself in numerous ways based on whatever particular she took offense to at the time, and there seemed to be a lot of them.
In some instances, it wasn’t my words that caused tremors, but rather, my lack thereof. I’m a quiet person, and I have trouble engaging people that I don’t know. When pressed in unfamiliar situations, I tend to sit intently and observe. I was made to feel less because of this propensity for reservation. Never mind my heart anxiously pounding in my chest, I should have worked harder to make an impression, or so her thinking went. I embarrassed her by choking on my own adrenaline as I determined whether to run away from kind strangers or stand paralyzed as I wonder what to say, this was my fault. Sadly, I believed her at the time.
One time, I was told that my mental health issues were the reason that my past relationships ended as quickly as they did, that my craziness drove away the people I loved. I had never fully told her about my past relationships, so the audacity of that statement pierced my skin like the poisoned needle of my own insecurity that it was. If this were true, I was determined not to push her away as well. Another time, I was told that I was too high all the time to pay attention to the hints and subtleties that she was flashing before me, and that was why she was verbally thrashing her frustration on me. Yet, I stuck through, undeterred by the jabs and the knives digging into my gut, and soon, I began to question my own reality. Was I crazy?
All of this eventually exploded in the fieriest of blazes and potential for physical abuse as late one night, she infuriatedly held my face in her hands as she sharply bellowed at me. With my sense of self and relationship fractured, I drove far away from that house in the in the early morning, anything to fill the air between me and her with safety. Later, she would tell me that she was only trying to get through to me. Later, she would scoff at my description of the event as, ‘abuse.’ She belittled my understanding of what domestic violence was, ignoring the fact that I have a fair amount of knowledge on the subject, and she tried to diminish her actions as though her assault had nothing to with my immediate apprehension of physical harm. Though all the damage that she could impose had already shattered me, I still held on to some idea of hope. That despite all the things I knew to be wrong about this relationship, that some way, some how, it could get better. I continued to fight.
Not long after that night, I was standing in my kitchen building a playlist to croon along to as I washed the dishes. I had just made plans to go visit her later, and I stood there indecisively staring at my music when something inside me broke. It was a tiny pinprick at first, a notion that I wasn’t okay, that this wasn’t right. Then that notion began growing, it swelled inside of me to an idea that swallowed me into the depths of my experiences up until that point. Everything I knew about love and healthy relationships was falling at the wayside because of my hope, and here I was making excuses as to why it happened. I had spent more time compromising my ideals of love than I had spent actually feeling like I was in love.
That pinprick turned to a gaping wound, and every bit of hurt and regret about myself came bleeding to the surface, and I thought to myself, “why?” I broke up with her shortly thereafter, and I’ll never forget what solidified that choice inside my head: her telling me that my concerns about her treatment and respect of me was nothing but my perceived reality. In that instant, a bulb went off in my brain as if to say, “unknown feeling, I name you Gaslighting,” and I told her this much, she didn’t sound as enlightened. When she came to my house to talk things out, I couldn’t look her in the eyes, and I ashamedly stared at the ground as we argued for the last time. All the love and attraction I had felt for this person, gone. All the heartache and the ordeal that I had stuck with, for not. All that remained was this deep pit of self-loathing for having not been smart or strong enough to see this for what it was. If only I hadn’t had hope.
Now, you’re probably thinking, that’s a sad story, but why are you sharing it right now, what’s the point? Yesterday, I watched the news as a certain executive office-holder told lie after lie to a room full of reporters, to which few objected. I watched as this man blamed the media and his opponents for his own vitriol. I watched as dozens of people sat there and didn’t press when he insisted that racism wasn’t an issue with his administration. I sat there, and I watched, horrified, angry. After that appearance, NBC ungraciously aired Nancy Pelosi’s response to this conference. If I was angry before then, her completely un-animated and dry speech of bipartisanship brought my furiosity to an apogee.
See, after my experience with that girlfriend, I feel like I have a stronger understanding of what mental and emotional abuse look like, and watching those two people speak on television made me angry because they clearly have an abusive relationship, but nobody wants to say anything. I don’t doubt Pelosi has good intentions deep down, I don’t think she actively hates this country at least, but her good intentions, as well as a lot of those in the Democratic Party’s leadership, are not doing us any favors. Despite all the lies, all the rhetoric, all the talk of enemies and opponents, Democrats still have hope that they can work with the Right.
In her speech, Pelosi mentions bipartisanship multiple times, and it would be a nice thing to hear if the people that she was wanting to join across the aisle had mutual respect for the process. They don’t. For the past few years, the platform for the Right has been based off of hatred for liberals and sticking it to them anyway possible, and we all know this. We see it with our eyes, and we hear it echoed from every news anchor with a pulse. It would almost be delusional to think that we could reach out and work with these people, but with a delusion you don’t perceive your beliefs as being wrong, they just are. We know exactly what the problem is: the lies, the attacks, the vile hate spilling out from the conservative sewers. We see it every day, and there is still a portion of Democrats who think that this is just a minor set back, that if only they can change some aspect of themselves, the other side will love them again. They are like I was, they have hope.
As much as I wanted to make things work with that woman, all of my efforts didn’t matter in the end because it was her attitude and her reactions that ultimately made me decide to end things. It wasn’t easy either. I was caught in the middle of relishing in the aspects where her love shined apparent, and realizing that love wouldn’t do half the things she did to me. This tore me up inside. We can’t separate the good part of someone from all of the negativity that they have subjected us to just to hold on to them a little longer. People are not severable like that, especially in a relationship. You take them as a whole or not at all.
Like it or not, the Democrats and Republicans are in a relationship of sorts, and right now, that relationship is so toxic it exudes noxious gasses of incivility and virulence. A party with temper issues is violently screaming at the Democrats, and the Democrats are apologizing for making them lose a bit of breath. We’re being gaslit by the highest offices in the land, and all we can do is think about how to work within the reality that’s been created for us. We can’t continue courting abuse like this, it isn’t healthy. We need to let go of that hope. We need to break up.