Just Keep Swimming: What to do With a Toxic Relationship

Hurricane Florence hit the Carolina's this weekend and it seems every time a storm like that hits there's at least one story of one person who refused to evacuate their home and the rescue squad being unable to reach them. 

In the meantime, I received a text message from someone I've known and loved for a very long time the other night. We hadn't spoken in almost a year so I knew a text must be either really good or really bad news. Since blog posts rarely come from amazing, happy news, you can imagine which one it was. 

Basically, this person informed me that they feel trapped in their current relationship. That they feel alone, and they don't know what to do. You know, all the ear markings of a toxic relationship. I asked her if she was happy, she said no. I asked her if she knew that she was in an unhealthy relationship, she said yes. I asked her if she had realized yet that this was never going to change, and again she said yes. The heartbreaking part wasn't hearing her realize all these things. It was knowing that she wasn't going to do anything to change the situation once I hung up the phone. 

How do I know this? Because I was in her shoes about two years ago myself.  I was in a relationship for someone  who was physically, emotionally, verbally and even physically abusive. I knew it was wrong. My friends knew it was wrong. I'd make desperate calls from the bedroom floor behind a locked door while my ex was passed out drunk in the other room. Crying for help, but pushing away every hand that reached out to me. When I tell people stories from that time in my life, they are almost in disbelief. Anyone who knows me now knows I am a pretty proud, strong, independent woman. But even the mighty can fall, and now that I am one of the helping hands being pushed away, it hurts me even more than when I was going through it myself. I feel more helpless now for my complete inability to help this person I love so much, than I felt for my purported inability to help myself back then.

So what does this have to do with a hurricane? You see, a few years ago, I was the person who didn't want to leave their home when the storm hit. I thought for sure the storm would pass or that I could withstand it on my own. When the police knocked and told me to come with them, I slammed the door in their face. And when the waters rose, I was petrified. I regretted not going to safety when I had the chance and I felt trapped and alone... and stupid quite frankly. Finally, I had to jump off on my own, and swim to shore. 

But now I am in the rescue boat. I see this person I have cared about for so long crying out for help on their rooftop. I hear them screaming and see them waiving their arms in the air, begging for help. But try and try as I may, I can't reach them. The waves are just too high and the winds are too strong and I know the only chance this person has for survival is to swim for their life. And that is harder than being on the roof. 

So why is it we don't evacuate when we're told a storm is coming? Why do we as humans, especially women, allow ourselves to fall into these abusive relationships? And why on earth is it so hard to leave once we're in one? I've spent a lot of the last few years reflecting on this and I think the answer ultimately lies in our self-image and self-worth. I allowed myself to be mistreated for likely the same reason my friend is now allowing herself to be mistreated. Because somewhere, subconsciously, we think we don't deserve any better. We think that this is "just the way it is".  This is a lie. A lie we allow ourselves to believe. A lie that becomes our reality. 

The only way to break free from a toxic relationship is first of all, to admit that it is in fact, toxic, and second of all, to convince yourself that you deserve better. That you are worthy of true, deep, unconditional love. 

Manipulation is not love. Control is not love. Jealousy is not love. Fear is not love. Infatuation is not love. Lust is not love (no matter how good the sex is). That sharp pain in your heart when you're walking home because you're not sure if you've done something to upset them or which version of them you're going to get, is not love.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not boast. Love is selfless. Love is not jealous. And YOU are worthy of love

So, if you're feeling trapped in a toxic relationship, please know you are not alone. You would be amazed at who has been in the same position you are in. But you have a long swim ahead of you, and it starts by putting on your life jacket and jumping into the water. No matter how tired you get, please just keep swimming. 

If you're like me currently, and you have a friend in a toxic relationship, don't abandon them. Just because they seem out of reach for now, doesn't mean they always will be. Who knows when the waves will calm and when they'll start swimming towards you. If and when they do, be ready to offer your hand, no matter how many times they've swatted it away. You have no idea how much comfort a little life boat in a storm like Hurricane Florence can provide.  


Note from the Author: Gender Traitor operates as an open platform for all to share their stories, experiences and feelings. If you have a poem, blog, or just want to share something, submission are always open. Send us an email under the Contact Us tab on the site and we'll be happy to post it on your behalf. Want to remain anonymous? No problem, just let us know that as well. 

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