You’ve read article after article about abusive relationships.

You’ve sipped your wine, late at night, thinking, “these poor, dumb women, how could they fall for this?” Meanwhile, you’re wondering why your boyfriend, who swore he would spend time with you tonight, hasn’t even bothered to text you, and it is now almost midnight…. sound familiar? Have you ever wondered why you seek these kinds of stories out? Read on for a cautionary tale.

Four years ago, I had finally sloughed off the closure period of a breakup from a relationship that had lasted ten years. It was imperfect, as all relationships are, but it was more than that. He was emotionally unavailable, selfish, and I had long since decided upon my own worth and gone through the motions of the grieving process. I was going out with my girls, and I was ready to be single, flirty, unattached. Then I met Ben.

Ben caught me off guard. He was charming, sweet, attentive, and could keep up with my wit.

For the first time in ten years, I didn’t have to wonder where I stood with him. I didn’t have to second-guess his motives. He would text me just to tell me he thought I was beautiful. He reached out on a Sunday night to “carve time out of our schedules for each other.” He would ask me about anything and really listen, like he genuinely wanted to know everything going on inside my head. His sheer focus on me was nothing short of an aphrodisiac. The next few months were a blissful blur until suddenly things shifted.

In hindsight, the shift from textbook romance to textbook emotional abuse was gradual.

A drunken, misogynistic outburst followed by a heartfelt apology and overwhelming romantic gesture here, crossing a boundary, then swearing I was his soulmate there… you give yourself away in pieces. He convinced you that what you have is special, written by fate, how could you throw all of that away over a “little” fight? And yet, you wake up one day and realize that he constantly wants to know where you are in spite of the fact that he is rarely available to you.

He picks a fight when you don’t feel like having sex, or when you try to talk about your feelings.

He calls you every degrading name you swore you would never tolerate hearing, he slaps you for your disrespect, throws you to the ground for defending yourself and your dignity…and somehow, you end up feeling like it’s your fault. He had a hard week at work. He’s been stressed, how dare you try to discuss your feelings when he has so much on his plate? How selfish you are. I spent a year and a half in this hell, thinking I was going crazy…. and then it happened.

One night, he threw me up against a wall and choked me within an inch of my life in the middle of the street, on the way home from dinner, all because a waiter had complimented my dress. Then he called the police on me and said that I had attacked him. He told me, “this will put you in your place.” 

I live in a state where, in assault cases, an arrest is mandatory.

Twenty-four hours after the fact, I found myself in the county jail, in an orange jumpsuit and shackles, and with hand-shaped bruises around my neck that nobody seemed to notice. I was charged with assault, given a restraining order, and humiliated beyond belief.

A good, mid-western girl, sitting in lockup. I was also sentenced to, among other things, mandatory domestic violence counseling, little did I know that this treatment would save my life.

As soon as I walked into my assigned therapist’s office, she took one look at me after reviewing my case file and said, “oh, honey… we’re going to break you free of this abuse.” It was the first time I had felt seen or heard in nearly four years. Through treatment, I learned about the emotional abuse cycle, and just how textbook my toxic dynamic with Ben had been. I wasn’t some harlot, I wasn’t a terrible person, I was groomed to take the abuse, and to stay in that hell of a relationship. I wasn’t stupid, weak, worthless, or any of the other negative beliefs I had integrated into my self-image. I was groomed and preyed upon by a highly adept predator.

A year later, and I am more whole than I have felt in a long time, and not only free of my predator, but free of the limiting beliefs that kept me in a relationship with a man like that. I am now in a place where I am so thankful for the entire experience because it forced me to rediscover my self-worth, and to learn that nobody is worth giving that up for, ever. 

Ultimately my biggest, most humbling lesson from all of it though, was that anyone can fall prey to an abusive relationship.

I used to sit on my high horse, and read horror stories about women in abusive relationships and think, “how could these women fall for such awful men?” But I AM those women… and so are you. The thing about abusers is that they are predators, highly skilled at attracting the women they want, and then chipping away at their confidence, isolating them, and breaking them down until they are malleable and under control.

The more intelligent and confident the better… a much more worthy conquest to validate the abuser and compensate for his insecurities. I’m just like all of them, and I’m just like you. Remember your self-worth, never let anyone make you question it, and never hesitate to walk away from any relationship, romantic or otherwise, that makes you question your value or your sanity. You deserve to be appreciated for everything that you are.