Throughout my whole life, I’ve had relationships with various men that have been, in simple terms: horrific. This won’t be a complete sob story of how I’ve struggled with men throughout my life, and really it probably won’t be a very long post in itself, but I do want to give a quick overview of how my issues with developing relationships with men have leaked into other aspects of my life, how it’s affected me as a person, and also why it’s also taught me so much.
I might be a bit rambly at times, and possibly vague (some things are still really painful to talk about), but bear with me.
I grew up in a household where my father was an alcoholic; he was a very unpleasant, quite violent drunk. I remember being young and wanting to stay at school for as long as possible because I was scared of going back home. I had to grow up very quickly, looking after my parents when I was about 11, waiting up for my drunk father to return following his drink-driving. My mum had to run the family business alone, always dishing out that he ‘had a headache’ – I cherished the early mornings with her, going to get a pan au chocolat and playing cards before I had to go to school.
He once hit my mum, and I’ve had horrific flashbacks, nightmares and so forth of that day – of his face, of my panic, of ‘what does a 12-year-old do to help?’.
Because of his addiction, my illnesses went unnoticed for a long time. I was able to get away with skipping meals, self-harming, purging and so much more, because he always wanted to be the centre of attention. He told me he had depression, so I refused to believe that I could also be depressed – I didn’t look like that? Even once I was diagnosed, he would turn the attention back to himself.
One day I decided enough is enough, and after lots of ‘taking him back’, I finally helped mum see that we didn’t need to live like this. We didn’t need to spend our days marking beer cans to see which ones were replaced, counting the ones in the bins near the house or walking on eggshells in fear of another fight.
Then came all the middle part – the hospitalisations, the moving house, doing exams – you get the drift. There was a boyfriend somewhere in the middle of that too, which although in hindsight was not a healthy relationship, it also wasn’t terrible.
Following that though, I moved to University and got myself into a relationship. This relationship was the most toxic one I’ve had other than my father. It was abusive – mentally and physically – and he completely fuelled my behaviours and essentially, part of my relapse. All my insecurities, trust issues and difficulties, he perpetuated and enhanced. I was gaslighted, assaulted, accused of being horrible. Yes, perhaps I wasn’t a nice person at times, and an outsider would most likely think I was controlling because I hated him going out drinking – but alcohol was still something I was trying to work on, and it didn’t really help when he cheated on me in the first week. I’m not trying to justify my behaviours, I take responsibility for those, but I also know that I’m not terrible because of this.
I FINALLY got out of that relationship (and I’m sure my friends and family would like to reinforce the ‘finally’ there, because wow did I go back a lot). Do you see a pattern here though? I would continue going back. I thought being treated like this was acceptable because I was used to a man treating me so poorly.
I don’t want to delve into this relationship too much, because it’s still something I am really struggling with – I haven’t worked through all the trauma yet, so it’s still quite raw.
A bit later on, I saw a guy for a couple of months. I thought it was going well and eventually started dropping my guard, only to be left ghosted (the day before an exam and the week of my father’s funeral no less *sigh*). Although short-lived, this still hurts a great deal, because it reinforces these thoughts of not being enough. I was never good enough for my dad, never good enough for my ex and not good enough for this other guy that I finally dropped my guard for.
The relationship I had with my father also set this really low standard of what to expect from people in general – I’ve had countless friends treat me terribly yet still carried on being their friend. This low expectation and belief of how people should treat me carried me through so many relationships – with men, with friends, with myself.
The thing about trauma from a young age is that it affects you in a way that carries you through life – it’s comforting because it’s what you know. It’s a thought pattern that you KNOW. Then trauma on top of that later on in life, at least for me, simply reinforced a lot of beliefs and brought unresolved trauma to the surface as well as adding to it.
That being said…
Since starting my recovery journey, I’ve built a resilience that I didn’t know I had. I’ve had so much pain, that I have learnt to set boundaries and expectations – I expect so much more from friendship and relationships now. In lame-man terms: I don’t take bullshit anymore.
Setting boundaries is so important, for your well-being. You’re allowed (and should) set boundaries – your friend talking about something that upsets you too much? You can either say that you don’t want to talk about that or walk away. Someone posts lots of unhelpful things on social media? Unfollow/unfriend them – you don’t owe them anything. It can seem extreme at first, because the first time I set a boundary that I stuck to was when someone told me that we couldn’t see each other because of my mental health; they then ‘regretted’ it, but I give one chance now – you can’t hurt me so badly and expect me to crawl back – I’m learning to unlearn these behaviours. So no, I wouldn’t take him back. Did I sound like a complete bitch for saying that there was only one chance? Yep. But that’s my boundaries, and I’m sure as heck protecting myself from now on.
Trauma, relationships, friendships, family – it can all be so messy and painful. You might be in the midst of it all, or you may be on the other side and only just learning that your worthy of kindness. Learn what boundaries you need, and stick to them with all your strength, because they are so important. Stay safe.
I’m sorry it’s a bit of a low post, but I hope I’ve managed to get to the core of what I’m trying to say – your boundaries are important, and let (pretty crappy) situations guide you as to what boundaries you need.