There’s no doubt setting boundaries within your relationships is crucial to maintaining a healthy sense of dignity, and to protect your own mental health. But often, doing what is right for yourself can cost you dearly. Many people opt to take the hit to their pride and personal health rather than risk the loss that may come when they draw that thick, un-crossable line in the sand.
This is one woman’s journey to mental health safety and the restoration of her own human, valuable, worthy dignity.
My relationship made me very happy, but it wasn’t perfect. I don’t know why I kept my eyes closed for so long, but I think it was mostly because I loved the company, the laughter, the daily moments that made me feel safe and loved — until they didn’t anymore.
If I’d been completely honest with myself, I may have realized I was in a very loving but not necessarily committed situation-ship. There was love, a lot of it, so I thought that was enough. I thought I could sail through to the end of my days on the sea of that love, and I’d be fine.
But a long-lasting relationship is about more than love:
- Mutual respect
- Balance of “power” within the relationship
- Shared goals
- And a whole lot of other things.
We had the love, the joy of spending time with each other, but somewhere along the way, those other things started to disappear within our relationship, and I ignored it. Until I couldn’t anymore.
When the house of cards fell, I had a decision to make. I could stay, forgive all that had been done even though all of my personal deal-breakers had been obliterated, or, I could say — No. I will not be treated this way. I must leave and find personal safety, dignity, and healing for myself. I can say in his defense, that his behavior toward me was not done with any kind of malicious intent. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. But his patterns of behavior, once they came to light, I realized was intolerable and mentally unsafe for me. I had to make a decision.
I chose the latter. The costs nearly killed me. I had to leave the man I loved — as much as I love myself. I mean that. I felt as if a part of my soul was removed and my body struggled to breathe, to move around in the world with a part of it missing. I had to remind myself every day, sometimes every minute, that the love I felt was unhealthy for me. The relationship was no longer healthy for me. I trusted that my body would eventually learn this, adjust, and begin to function better than it had within the confines of a toxic environment.
I lost most of my possessions. I didn’t have a car or a cell phone. I didn’t have a job or any source of income. I had three pairs of shoes, a few bags of clothes, and my craft stuff — it’s funny the things you grab when you know you’re not coming back. Yes, I got my bibles and the family photos. But I left the dog and the cat — a decision I had to make but agonized over for months.
I lost many relationships when I left, and severely damaged others. I felt alone. More alone than I’d ever felt in my life. There were days when the best I could do was lean against a tree and pour my tears into it. If you’ve never mourned with your face to the bark of a tree, I can’t say I recommend that pain, but it did help me to move forward. In the isolation, I began to feel something new — myself. This person who had been so intertwined with others, there was no longer a clear understanding of where she stopped and they started. The fog and weight of the truths I’d been ignoring for a long time, the indignities of believing in a relationship that wasn’t growing and wasn’t a safe space anymore, were lifting. With that came clarity.
If you’ve never taken a long hard look at yourself through pain-born clarity, it is a growth experience unlike any other. You begin to make choices differently. You begin to see the world as you fit in it — not just the situation and how you fit in it. Your world and your heart expand. Somehow, I found my voice, my breath, and a really good friend in that oak tree. I found healing.
Today, my life looks so completely different, it is hard to recognize that person I used to be, hanging on by the threads of love and forgetting myself in the process. I now have my own apartment in a new town — fresh start. I have my own freelance writing business and I work full time from home — my safe space, that I control, where my boundaries are now firmer than ever. And I have my dog and my cat back. They are a daily source of joy and comfort. I talk to them a lot.
I still love what that person and that relationship taught me about myself. But it took losing it to learn. I am still walking around with this bizarre feeling of freedom, while holding to the belief that this person is still my soulmate, only he’s out there, somewhere, doing the same self-seeking and healing that I have been doing. That the timing is right for us to be apart and there’s this lovely future ahead of us when two healed people are better for each other. I don’t know how long it will take for that sentiment to loosen its root in my heart. I don’t know if I want to give up that dream or not, only that the love I have found within my own heart is so much bigger than I ever knew it was. I have found that my capacity for self-strength is immeasurable. I am alone, yes, but this is no longer frightening to me.
I have discovered that self-respect, boundaries, my own mental wellness and safety, are all firm deal-breakers — meaning, I will never lose them again in a relationship. I will not tolerate those things coming under fire. I can set gentle, kind, and firm boundaries that will guide my decisions moving forward. It really is true that you teach people how to treat you by what you put up with.
I look back on those days of emotional agony and feel a sense of love and empathy for myself; something I had always looked to others to provide for me, and I have learned I owe this to myself. Each and every day. A lesson I had to lose everything to learn.
And I’d do it all over again.
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