“What the f*ck did you do with it? I will f*cking kill you, b*tch!”
These were the unpleasant words my ex-boyfriend yelled as he tried to strangle me against one of the walls in my apartment.
It was a cold December evening and my ex and I had plans to hang out. Both of my roommates were out of town for the weekend, so I thought it would be fun to order pizza and spend the night watching movies together. We had decided that I would pick him up after work and take him back to my place. When I didn’t hear from him by 5:30 p.m., I became a little concerned and tried calling him several times, with no success.
I didn’t hear from him until much later that night. He told me that he was at a friend’s house, and asked me to pick him up. I was pretty upset, not only because he was getting back to me super late, but also because of who he was hanging out with.
You see, my ex is a drug addict, and this friend he was hanging out with is an addict as well. Because they spent time in the past using drugs together, I knew that they probably weren’t doing productive things that evening. It made me nervous to know they were hanging out.
At that point my ex-boyfriend had been clean, as far as I could tell, for about a year or so. During his sobriety, he had accomplished some great things; he got a new job and was starting to pay off some of his debt. He cut off old friends and seemed really focused on changing his life. Despite our many issues, I was proud of him. The thought of him slipping back into old habits made me nervous.
I drove to his friend’s house and waited in the driveway for nearly twenty minutes before he came outside. As soon as I saw him, I knew that he was high. Really high. My heart dropped.
My ex got into the car and we drove to my place in silence. I was furious, but of course, he was completely out of it. When we got to my apartment, he immediately passed out on my bed and I got to work, searching for whatever drugs he may have brought inside with him. I ended up finding a handful of pills in his coat pocket and flushed them down the toilet right away.
Shortly after, I tried waking him up so that I could take him to his mother’s house for the night. He was pretty groggy, but coherent enough to remember the pills—he needed to make sure he had them before we left. When he realized they were gone, he began destroying my apartment—knocking over my bed, dresser and bookcase, and trashing the living room too. It was nearly midnight, but he went from 0 to 60 before I could even blink. I had seen this level of anger from him before, but it’s still scary every time—I had no idea what he was planning on doing next.
When he realized that I had probably done something with the pills, he directed all his anger towards me. That’s when he started strangling me, threatening to kill me.
I struggled to get from his grip and when I finally succeeded, I snatched my keys, ran out and into my car. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I needed to get away from him. I drove around aimlessly, thinking about our last four years together. I had done so much to help this man turn his life around, despite all the ways he had controlled, manipulated, and intimidated me.
I thought of all the times he had attempted to strangle me before that night—and yes, there were many. I thought about the way he would ignore me in public if he felt I was being too friendly with other men. I thought of all the money I had lent him and the rides I had given him. I thought about how he pressured me to delete all my male friends on Facebook, and about that time he threw my work laptop down a flight of stairs because he was angry with me. I thought of how I never told any of my friends how mean he could get and how I knew deep down he wasn’t a good man for me to be with.
Since meeting him when I was 21, I often doubted our relationship and whether it was a good fit for me. He was my first serious boyfriend and I desperately wanted it to work out between us—enough that I put up with more than I should have. But after he tried strangling me for the first time about three months into our relationship, I wondered if my situation was a little more toxic than I wanted to admit. Over the years, numerous arguments turned physical and I felt overcome with shame and embarrassment, never telling my loved ones what I was going through. This cold December evening was just one of many violent nights—one too many—and I knew that after four years of abuse, this incident needed to be the last.
After I’d been gone for some time, I started to head back home and check on the damage he’d done. I figured that if things were still unsafe, I could call the police. Thankfully when I got home, he was calm. I asked him a second time to get into my car so I could take him to his mother’s house. To my relief, he agreed.
After dropping him off, I drove back home, called off work, and cleaned my apartment. Then, I finally lost it and cried for hours.
Over the next couple of days, I began to really think about whether this relationship was what I actually wanted. Though leaving our familiar relationship terrified me, I ended it. The night I did, we talked in my car about why we needed to stay away from each other. He apologized and thanked me for being there for him. Then we said our goodbyes and he left.
Before driving home, I tried to compose myself. Though I finally accepted how abusive he was, I was still really upset. Instead of putting the key into the ignition, I reached down to take a look at my Blackberry. On it, there was an email with a subject that said:
“Hey! Are you going to claim your prize?”
In hindsight, I can acknowledge this sounds like spam, but I ended up opening the email anyway. And it’s a good thing I did; right after breaking up with my boyfriend of four years, I won a free vacation to Las Vegas. I remembered that I’d entered a sweepstakes two weeks ago; and I couldn’t believe I had actually won.
As silly as it may sound, it was at that moment I knew I had made the right decision. Even though I was terrified of figuring out how to live life without him, I knew that the Universe was nudging me down a different path, one far away from my ex-boyfriend.
My trip to Las Vegas was the start of a fabulous year for me… a fabulous, yet difficult year. But it was also the beginning of my healing. There were moments I doubted my decision and times he would try to get me back. Being single for the first time in four years was really hard, especially when many close friends were beginning to get engaged. I also dealt with a lot of regret—I hadn’t fully enjoyed my last year of college or first years of my new career because of the stress of that relationship. Yes, the pain was overwhelming, but with the help of a support group and counselor, I healed.
For the first time in years, I was single. I lived alone in my own apartment and I started graduate school, too. I trained and ran my first 10K and got a promotion at work. I discovered a lot about myself, including my passion for helping women seek healthy relationships that support their well-being. I also found a love for writing, and realized I was a darn good social worker, too.
Five years ago, I would have never imagined myself living this life—one where I’m writing and teaching and connecting with women all over the world. Writing a book has been a lifelong goal of mine and I am proud to say I’ve done just that. And today, I’m married to a wonderful man who treats me with respect every single day. Though my life is not perfect, it’s healthy. And now I get to encourage women leaving toxic relationships to build healthy lives as well.
Cheryl Strayed once said: “Be brave enough to break your own heart.” Yes, sometimes in life, we have to break our own hearts—a choice that requires the utmost bravery. Whatever you are going through right now, if you know in your gut it’s time to walk down a different path, please don’t ignore that feeling. Yes, your life may turn into something you would have never imagined for yourself—but if you think about it long enough, you just might realize that’s probably a good thing.
A. Robinson is a writer and breakup coach living in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s the author of Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life and writes for Glamour.com, Bustle.com, and xoJane.com. Learn more about her work here.
Do you have a story to share? Submit your story to Her Story!