Contributor Bianca Brabant opens up about learning how to separate love from control and manipulation after leaving a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.
I spent 15 years in a relationship with my high school sweetheart, during which I had learned how to smile through the pain and use the pain to motivate me. I had become codependent on it. The more it hurt, the harder I fought to prove I wouldn’t let it stop me. Like many women, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. And the only way I knew how to cope was to compartmentalize my feelings, which often meant not feeling at all and becoming emotionally numb upon the spin of the cycle. I had conditioned myself to accept the abuse under the false belief that he could change and that if he stopped, the wounds would heal.
I eventually learned abuse just doesn’t simply stop without massive self-work, and it can take on new forms. Even if it isn’t physical, the vitriolic sting of hurtful words can leave profound scars on the psyche. Despite the levels of torture I endured, I didn’t want to leave. But, I had to leave. My life depended on it.
The challenge wasn’t learning how to love again; it was learning how to accept a healthy love.
And then I met him.
I was broken but faithful. I remember praying for relief. I didn’t care if I had to be single or for how long, “Just release me from the hold this man has on me, dear Lord,” I often prayed. The next day, I packed a bag, like I’ve done so many times before, and made the decision that this time was the last time. I got down on my knees and I prayed for my ex in his presence. And then I left and refused to come back to my own apartment until he left.
It took a long week, but he finally gave in, and I reclaimed my personal space. During that time, God sent me a knight to help me transition out of the relationship I had known so long. During the week I ran away from my own home, we talked, connected on deep levels, and hung out. He would go on to help nurse me back to health over the next few weeks.
All seemed well as it often does in the honeymoon phase until I found myself craving the abuse from which I had escaped. I had developed PTSD and would wait until my new boyfriend wasn’t looking, to cry my eyes out. I would watch movies with women being abused to remind myself of the pain I once felt because it’s the only way I could intake love. I was hiding in plain sight again. The emotions I had learned to shut off would spontaneously erupt and I, being a pro at living a double life, would wipe away the tears and continue on.
I wasn’t giving my new relationship what it deserved because I was stuck in the pain of my past. I came to realize, I associated the toxic stuff with love, and I had been overlooking every kind gesture from Mr. Right. I had to retrain my thoughts. But how?
Self-reflection was a major part of my journey. Why did I allow myself to accept all the abuse I had endured? It was something I learned from a young age and internalized. I didn’t see my parents violently fight, but the verbal abuse was there. And because my parents are still together, I had inadvertently learned that working through it all was ok. My “all” just happened to be detrimental to my life.
Once I educated myself about the cycle of abuse, I was able to separate love from control and manipulation.
Once I educated myself about the cycle of abuse, I was able to separate love from control and manipulation. What was happening to me had nothing to do with me and absolutely nothing to do with love. Like I had learned abuse was tolerable, my abuser had learned abuse was acceptable behavior in a relationship. And, knowing how our adolescent years influence who we become, I began to forgive him for never having a chance. I reckoned with the difficult fact that I could not help him. He needed professional help.
I mourned a lot. I shed tears for all the years I had given, all that I had given, and all that had been taken. More importantly, who I had become. Then, it clicked. I had to forgive myself! And that’s when the most important part of my healing started. I forgave myself for all I allowed myself to endure. For being the woman I denied in the mirror all those years. I prayed for mental, physical, and spiritual strength. I leaned into the tribe of women around me, who all have stories that ended in heartbreak. And forgiveness, for myself, didn’t seem so far-fetched. Once I forgave myself, I was able to accept what I was and declare I’d never be her again. It allowed me to become who I wanted to be and exist in the relationship I’d always dreamed of.
For more stories about healing from past heartbreaks and embracing healthy love, be sure to tune in to “Black Love” on Saturdays at 9/8c on OWN! Also, binge watch seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon and Urban Movie Channel.
Editorial note: The author’s name has been changed to maintain her anonymity.