Learning To (LWord) After Abuse

Ok, so am I a part of a couple now? Can this happen for me? Is this allowed?

My history of dating and relationships has been tumultuous, to say the least. After so many abusive experiences, I had gotten into the habit of only being attracted to the wrong type of person.  I couldn’t help the fact that I was drawn to the type of man that I was most familiar with. I knew this attraction was because of my deep-seated emotional masochism which was a product of never experiencing a healthy relationship. To me, it appeared as if the world was just full of deceit and betrayal, which became my justification for the fact that I settled for less than what I deserved every time. Why wouldn’t I? I had virtually no idea what it looked or felt like to have what I deserve. 

Unfortunately, these toxic choices led to even more trauma, which made it significantly more difficult for me to form relationships with anyone. With each bad experience, I started to develop a strong lack of trust in people and a crippling fear of getting close to them. When it came to dating, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had the feeling that if something good was happening, something bad must inevitably be around the corner. This had become my expectation for any romantic or potential relationship. I’ve recently come to realize just how difficult it is to unlearn these self-protective patterns that stunted my emotional expression and growth.

In the past, my attempts at emotional articulation have been met only with gaslighting, indignation and sometimes violence.

I’m delighted to confess that, as of right now, I’m undoubtedly at my happiest. I am in a serious relationship with a man named Eric, who I absolutely adore. However, it took me some time to adjust to the feeling of reciprocated affection. As we were getting to know each other as friends, I continued to tell myself that I didn’t deserve this, and my anxiety fabricated some excuses as to why I shouldn’t pursue it, even though I felt so much. 

My initial hesitation about leaping forward into this relationship was due to the fact that my familiarity with abuse and isolation felt more welcoming than the anxiety of the unknown. I remember feeling like I couldn’t believe that I found someone who was willing to be patient and supportive of me and my long list of emotional burdens. The concept still boggles my mind to this day even as its already become clear to me that we are developing into the healthiest relationship I have ever witnessed. It’s crazy because we don’t argue when we are frustrated with each other. We respectfully discuss our concerns and focus on understanding the other’s perspective. This isn’t exactly what I’m used to. In the past, my attempts at emotional articulation have been met only with gaslighting, indignation and sometimes violence.

You can imagine that the lack of turmoil sent my anxiety into a tizzy at first. As we officially began our relationship, I remember often thinking to myself, This can’t be real… he’s going to betray me soon. He couldn’t possibly just want to be with ME. Eventually, I found that once I voiced these concerns to him, he was easily able to squash the little pests of my anxious mind. He did not scrutinize me for my worries. He listened to my words and validated them. This led me to realize that I am with someone who actually wants to hear everything I share, another concept that is completely new to me. His genuine care has helped to shrink my fear of vulnerable expression.

What’s healthiest about all of this is that he is helping to strengthen my self esteem in a way that is not at all dependent on his presence.

Because my partner is so elated to shower me with words of affirmation, I am learning from his point of view that it is completely possible for someone other than myself to value me. What’s healthiest about all of this is that he is helping to strengthen my self esteem in a way this is not at all dependent on his presence. This is not to say that my mental health issues and symptoms of PTSD have at all diminished because of him. That doesn’t happen. Nobody can simply rescue me from my mental illness. Of course, I’m still struggling!

This is why I am so grateful that he is open to learning all about my struggles so that he can better assist me to work through them. He frequently refers to us as a “team” and assures me that these obstacles are all things I’m capable of overcoming. It’s an amazing feeling to know that, for the time being, I am blessed with such an inspirational teammate who’s assurance has helped me to build the confidence I have in my own abilities. His consistent diligence and unbelievable work ethic are enough to get me out of bed in the morning, which is something I’ve often had trouble with.

With his constant encouragement, he has shown me how understanding he is of my frequent ups and downs, which is exactly what I have needed in a partner. I am learning more each day that emotional turmoil isn’t required in a relationship in order for it to be real. Attachment and desperation for a partner’s approval is not necessary. Begging for a partner to make time for me is not acceptable. The feeling of my mental health slowly diminishing into oblivion doesn’t have to be the only way for me. 

It is definitely not the way I feel with him.

Although I do ultimately feel I can trust him, these familiar inklings of uncertainty tend to spontaneously creep back up . Self sabotage is something I’ve grown accustomed to. There have been times when everything seemed to be going so smoothly, but I’d pick up on one little conflict and multiply it into infinite doubts. My rumination in this doubt would lead me to be suspicious of a man who had no idea what’s going on in my mind at any given moment. Clearly, better communication on my part is necessary when these situations arise. This is something I’m getting used to. I’m gradually learning that there’s no need to hold back my genuine feelings in a psychologically safe environment.

As for the (LWord), you bet I was horrified to take this step and reveal my genuinely mushy gushy feelings for him. I remember telling him I didn’t know what the concept of “LWord” even was! It was the truth. I didn’t. But, then again, I kind of did… After about a month of seeing each other, I started to realize these overpowering confessional urges sweeping up inside of me whenever we were together. There were so many times like this when I felt something for him and wanted to express it, but froze up. I hadn’t uttered the (LWord) in years! I kept thinking I was too scared, it was impossible for me to say, it’d never happen, and he’d eventually break up with me! That’s where my mind goes, ladies and gentlemen.

We both agree that love is not equivalent to sacrificing one’s identity or autonomy, so we respect each other’s needs.

Well, I wanted to be extra positive that I, a girl notorious for forming unhealthy attachments, could distinctly define the (LWord) before I went about confessing such emotions. I figured it out, and it’s truly not as complicated as I was making it out to be. To me, love is the feeling I get when I hear his footsteps walking up my porch steps, or when he puts his arms around me in the kitchen as I’m cooking. It’s how I feel when he strokes my hair without even thinking about it or reaches out for my hand because he can’t stand to go a minute not touching me. The proof is in how almost everything he does makes me smile like a total idiot. It’s how I can clearly see evidence of his daily efforts to help me, spoil me and please me. It’s how his presence alone does all three.

On January 15th, I told Eric that I LOVE him. Now we say it every day. I am grateful to him for gifting me with the opportunity to grow in these unfamiliar ways.  Needless to say, I am also aware that, after so much abuse, even the slightest amount of respect and affection can feel like an extreme amount. I won’t let this get in the way of my perspective or allow the supposed “honeymoon phase” to blind me with rose-tinted glasses. My troubling past has taught me to solidify my boundaries, and you better believe I’m going to stick to them. Period. We both agree that love is not equivalent to sacrificing one’s identity or autonomy, so we respect each other’s needs. It’s just so incredible to know that I can talk to him about most of these things without feeling like a liability. All things considered, he feels like acceptance and safety, which are sensations I had yet to experience in love.

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