The more people that I become romantically involved with the more I realise that everyone is twisted except for me.
If you would’ve met me four years ago, I would not have been full of such blind arrogance. Instead, I had esteem the constantly licked the floor, a penchant for throwing up every meal I ate and a boyfriend who delighted in calling me fat, pointing out that I wasn’t funny after every joke I made and saying that I had no friends when I was feeling most vulnerable.
Eve recently told me that her mum always says, “you always think he’s the one until the next one comes along”, and having successfully wiggled away from someone I was obsessed with for a long time, I know that to be true.
I grew up believing that women stayed with controlling partners because they were too in love to see the behaviour for what it was – not acceptable. For me, it wasn’t love. I was very aware that I was being taken for a mug and that feeling like I wanted to cry after most times I met him wasn’t normal, but I was simply too scared of being alone to commit to a break up. Emmy Brunner, psychotherapist and founder of Recover Clinic, says that usually “it can be very difficult to identify when you are in a negative relationship with someone because there are many aspects that need to come into consideration”. She explains that: “In relationships it’s vital that we feel seen and heard. If we are engaged in a relationship with someone that is unable to meet our needs and is unwilling to reflect on how they can better support us, we need to consider whether this is something that we feel nurtures us.” I absolutely – during my turbulent on-and-off four year relationship with this first boyfriend – felt neither “seen” nor “heard”.
Oh, and to address any worries about he or his friends reading this – if you didn’t want me to write about it you should’ve been nice (nail emoji).
One argument sticks in my memory as being particularly emotionally damaging. I was battling through the peak of my eating disorder, trying to stop my obsession with making myself sick and instead settling for a problem with binge eating. I had put on weight fast, meaning my face was swollen, my stomach protruded and I was truly uncomfortable in my own skin mostly only wearing oversized, charity shop shirts long enough to conceal where my thighs had just begun to touch through my jeggings (jeggings! I know! It was a rough time…). That is a world away from my wardrobe today as I now basically live, sleep and shit in only bodycon dresses. Myself and boyfriend at the time had just entered the gates to a local park – I can’t remember why we were there, probably to meet his friends while I stood there in awkward silence. I must’ve said something to rattle his cage – again, I can’t remember what. He turned to me in response and he said, “you know what, Laura? You’re fat anyway. And you have no friends.” The next ten minutes was a drawn out episode of intimidation involved a Chinese burn, throwing my phone on the floor when I wanted to call my dad to pick me up and eventually driving him home in under the siege of his rage only for us to get to his, have sex, and for him to explain that he only said those things to upset me. Which by the way, makes it worse!!
I put up with these explosive episodes for years after that, and unsurprisingly my eating disorder remained unbearable, becoming a comfort for me when I was feeling neglected. I could not tell you the amount of times I’d make myself sick, tidy myself up and then head to his with a slightly flatter stomach than the hour before. “Eating disorders are established, destructive coping strategies that are triggered by numerous things including negative and toxic relationships with others”, Emmy says. “When we have grown up in relationships that have not nurtured us or given us space to be seen, we often turn inwards and internalise our needs. We can then develop negative ways of coping; such as eating disorders.” It’s true that I had an eating disorder before I met him, but he certainly made it worse.
At this point in my life, I really felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about all the stresses fizzing in my head constantly. Maybe there were people willing to listen, but this relationship put on hold any friendships I should have nurtured. He used to say that all my friends were boring, and refused to meet any of them. I felt very trapped and very, very alone at such a young age. If you’re currently in the same position, firstly I’d like to apologise. It sucks. If you don’t have access to friends, family or a therapist to talk to, Emmy says that “there are also many books that can help you to strengthen your understanding of the difference between a relationship that is going through a challenging time and a toxic relationship that you choose to withdraw yourself from.”
I’m naturally introverted. Today I view that as a beautiful quality, but in my late teens I believe it worked to my disadvantage, especially when it came to repairing the relationships within my own family. If ever I came home cross or sharp or sad or upset about my rubbish boyfriend, my parents would “leave me to it”, thinking I was just being a “teenager” and trying to find my feet.
For me, the relationship with my first boyfriend wasn’t the only negative one in my life. Although I get on with my family miles better through recent times, we’ve had our troubles. I have an older brother who I haven’t spoken to properly in over a decade, despite living under the same roof, for reasons I’m not yet comfortable explaining online. I also felt very bitter towards my parents for a long time for not trying harder to help me throughout my eating disorder, despite telling them that I had one. But myself and my parents spoken, we’ve cried and we’ve made amends, and now we are very close having come to realise that mental illness spreads much further throughout our house than just the walls of my own bedroom. I hope to one day build bridges with my older brother too.
Emmy says that “the way that we treat ourselves is a communication to the world about how we expect to be treated by others. When we focus our efforts on developing compassionate relationships with ourselves, we begin to attract more loving relationships into our lives”, which I think is the perfect way to conclude this piece. After fighting my own battles and growing strong enough to like myself despite the deprecation of others, I’m armed and ready to defend myself should any other fucker try to belittle me or call me “fat” again. Although I wouldn’t wish to go through that relationship with my first boyfriend again, I did come away from it learning that the most important relationship you have is the one with yourself.