I breathed heavily as I thought about what to say next. His words thrown at me like daggers, coming from a man that was supposed to love me. I pleaded to drop things, that this fight wasn’t worth it. But somewhere between grabbing dinner and meeting our friends at a nearby campsite, I found both of us like this. In a fight. Tears streaming down my face.
Then suddenly, his hands at my throat.
In September 2017, my boyfriend at the time and I went for a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest. We spent the first two nights solo backpacking in the woods and ended the trip with a night at a campsite with friends.
Once we met up with the group, we headed to the only restaurant near us in the park. We celebrated my friend’s birthday, food and wine ensued. But during the windy drive down the mountain to our campsite, something I said triggered my boyfriend. And the man I thought I knew so well turned into something else, something much meaner.
My boyfriend parked the car. His anger escalated as I tried to calm him. “Please, let’s just stop. I love you. I don’t want this.” But the man I knew was lost behind a veil of rage that I didn’t see the source of. He threatened to leave, and I ran after him, pleading for this all to end.
That’s when it happened. His hands met my throat. The air to my lungs cut off. He uttered words that shook me to my core. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening until I felt his grip let go, and the cold, mountain air rush back into my lungs.
This is it, I thought. He hurt me, and now we’ll be over. There’s no coming back from what he just did. But I tried, and that was my second mistake.
This time, I not only felt his hands tighten around my throat, I felt the ground lower beneath my feet.
As I dangled from the hands of the man I thought I’d spend my life with, I was struck by the notion he might be the reason I’d never feel the crisp air of another night like this again.
That was over two years ago.
I’m no longer in that relationship. I’d love to say I broke up with my ex after that night, but sadly, I stayed for another two months. Hell, I even moved in with the guy after that.
It took some time for me to get over this relationship. Not in the sense of missing my ex; more so having the time to cope and process how his actions deeply affected me.
Because what scared me most about that night is how it didn’t scare me. I stayed with him. I moved in with him. I didn’t leave him. And it took some processing of the relationship and therapy sessions to help me understand something about myself.
I didn’t love myself enough to leave the relationship.
In all of my relationships, I never did. I stayed with a guy in college that kept me from seeing any of my friends. I allowed a man to encourage my eating disorder. I stayed with a dude that stonewalled me for over a week — no communication.
I never put myself first. Even when it meant my physical safety.
After many therapy sessions, I started to understand two things about myself. The first was I struggled with creating boundaries in a relationship.
The second was that I didn’t love myself enough to create those boundaries.
If I loved myself enough, I would’ve let my boyfriend walk away that night. I would’ve gotten in my car that morning and drove away, leaving him behind.
After making this realization, I decided to take a year off from dating. I wanted to really get to know myself and learn what it meant to prioritize me, first and foremost.
Taking that year off from dating changed everything for me.
Suddenly, I found myself with a lot of free time. I tried out new hobbies, started reading more books, and really thought about how I want my dating life to look once I dove back into that world.
I realized that, no matter what, the person I’ll be with most in life is me. So why not love myself like crazy?
I’m in a new relationship now. Things are significantly different, though I’m not perfect; I sometimes let my insecurities dictate my behaviors. It took some practice drawing boundaries and learning to trust someone again. But over time, it got a lot better.
Regardless, this new relationship is the best one I’ve ever been in. Not just because I’m with an amazing man, but because I make decisions from a place of self-love. I make time for my passions. I keep doing what makes me me. I stand up for myself when the need arises.
I look out for my number one, yours truly.
It would’ve been nice to learn this without going through the worst night of my life. But that’s just how life goes, we take what we’re dealt and decide what to do with it moving forward.
Now I rest assured that I will never put myself in that position again.