“Even the most fucked-up love can feel better than the thought of being utterly alone.”
By the time I left my ex-girlfriend, I had stopped being able to eat around her.
I would force down a few mouthfuls and throw up. At 5’4, I weighed 46 kilos. She did not beat me, but my body was weak, sleep-deprived, and permanently on edge, because that is what daily experience of being treated like I was not a person – but rather an object to fulfill another person’s needs – did to me. It was the cumulative impact of the playful jibes that became unrelenting criticism. The protracted silent treatment whenever I did or said anything she disliked. The constant jealousy and accusations no matter what I did. The other women and the men, the ones she strenuously denied, the endless text messages and emails that I found. The way that it was always, somehow, my fault. That I had driven her to it. Was imagining it. The lying, and the lying, and the lying.
But I couldn’t leave.
I could tell you that I stayed because childhood trauma has broken my fight or flight mechanisms. I am desensitised to red flags. I attach myself to dangerous people, and when I realise that I am in danger I become both terrified and paralysed. I could explain that you can dux your school, earn three university degrees, do therapy, do your job well, surround yourself with wonderful people, and still recreate those patterns. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s hard, hard work to break them.
I could tell you that I stayed because, during the months when I woke drenched from head to toe, the nights when my body seemed to create its own amphetamines to pump, pump, pump through my heart, to flood my lungs with, that she would come. That she had done this to me, was continuing to do this, and yet, when she came, I could breathe again. I could sob.
I could tell you that there was no one else. That all of my friends and loved ones had become unreal to me, apparitions whose love I did not trust. That even the most fucked up love can feel better than the thought of being utterly alone.
I could tell you that I stayed because giving up on someone you love is bloody hard. And I loved her. I loved her because she is captivating, smart and funny. I loved her because I got it. Well, some of it. I got the distrust, the dissociation, the emptiness. The way that an intelligent mind can turn those things into fuel, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish and never stop, never stop moving because it hurts too much. The reasons why people need to regain control.
I could tell you that I stayed because the thing I didn’t get was that it was possible for a person to lie that much. I ultimately had to change my understanding of humans, and of the world, to fathom what the reality had been.