My ex was my sister's landlord, older and supposedly more mature, we shared similar interests. I was not instantly attracted to him; in fact he had a certain reptilian quality. Nevertheless, I was lost and confused after a recent break up and relocation. I was wooed by the image of myself I saw reflected in those reptilian eyes. We stated dating intensely; seeing each other regularly, he asked me to "be his girl", and gave me the keys to his house.
Slowly I realised I was not being myself around him. I began to feel nervous in his presence, I had a dry mouth constantly, I felt I had to psyche myself up before seeing him in presenting this happy, fun girlfriend persona. I lost weight and had no energy. I ignored the warning signs that presented themselves throughout our relationship: his gestures of a controlling nature, subtle knocks of my confidence, even his sisters warned me off him. He was very devious, and would copycat "good boyfriend" behaviour that I would placate myself with when I had doubts about him. I had an innate sense that something wasn't right, but yet I silenced this inner voice, telling myself I was being too sensitive, too emotional. I cried a lot. I was in a job that I hated and felt displaced. I clung to him and detested myself for it, knowing that it wasn't me and told him so frequently. I confessed to feeling vulnerable, an admonition that truly pained the bones of me. He would reassure me in displays of the 'good boyfriend' behaviour, usually resulting with me feeling like an irrational, emotional wreck.
After months of this I cracked.
I decided to end it. I knocked on his door one day to no reply, I turned and walked a few paces and something intensely intuitive compelled me to turn around and look up at the bedroom window. The curtain twitched. I saw red. I hammered on his door like a crazed bailiff until he opened it, threw the keys at him and ran upstairs to collect my things. I found a sleepy naked red head in his bed.
What ensued after this was the darkest and lowest period of my life. Not because I mourned the loss of my ex and that relationship, but because I mourned the loss of myself. What I had allowed myself to become - my lack of identity. That I had known right down in the cells of my being that he was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, and I ignored it. I ignored my powers of perception and what my body was telling me, my GUT INSTINCT. I felt I had betrayed myself and allowed him with his clever subtle controlling tactics to facilitate this.
My family intervened after a while. My poor mum received so many hysterical phone calls from me, and I suffered panic attacks if I saw something that reminded me of him. A cloud started to hover over my vision and I couldn't see beyond it, I couldn't predict any future of happiness. My family worried that I was on the brink of depression so I moved back to my family's rural home and painstakingly slowly with the love and support of my family I recuperated a sense of myself. I went on walks, I gorged myself on welsh cakes, I spoke in depth about my emotions to my parents. I still cried A LOT, but slowly the cloud above my vision lessened and I cancelled my appointment to see the Doctor about my possible depression.
I reflected back on my relationship with my ex and found that I could laugh about things-how the things that had initially appealed to me about him were hollow and pure posing on his part. How his house was a show home for the girls he met on dating websites which he used to portray this deep, arty, edgy character that he simply wasn't. He had no insights into the artwork displayed in his house, and he claimed to love Ernest Hemmingway but had nothing perceptive to say about him or his books. I realised that I was perhaps a more interesting and intelligent character than he was, and he had attempted to subdue these qualities in me in order to feel better about himself.
Sure, I made mistakes, like rekindling an old relationship and got hurt again, but knew it was nothing in comparison to what I had previously endured, I felt stronger. I found work in an environment of female kindness and companionship; I got into a short-lived relationship with an endearing guy who helped me with my confidence and self-esteem. I started to enjoy simple things like making myself egg and soldiers for breakfast and watching Jeremy Kyle.
I experienced highs and lows, but knew I was a survivor.
Now I've started again in a new city, I have no job or friends here but know I will be alright. Yes, I experienced cruelty that murdered a certain trusting part of me, but following that I got to appreciate how truly lovely and kind people can be too. From my constantly supportive friends and family, to the kindly taxi driver who drove me miles home sobbing one night for just £20. I am starting to rediscover who I am again, what things I like, what gives me pleasure. It's not easy, and being single is a foreign territory to me. Simple things like seeing an affectionate couple in the street make my chest ache, yet I am not actively looking for a relationship. As the poet Warsan Shire said "you can't make homes out of human beings", and I've realised that I need to make a comfortable living space for myself in my head before inviting anyone in.
I'm glad that I caught my ex-boyfriend in bed with another woman, because that event and my emotional annihilation proceeding it was so grotesque, that it meant there was no going back, and I am better off for it.
A few months ago I received a message of apology from him, I braced myself for the sensation of tingly fingers, the onset of an approaching panic attack upon seeing his name, but none came.