He seemed like the perfect guy—a military man who was charming and respectful. He opened doors for me, pulled out my chair, and treated me like a lady. I fell in love with him—the kind of love that makes your heart ache. I was completely blindsided by all the suffering that followed over the next five years.
The man I thought I loved was no longer able to hide his true colors. He cheated on me so many times but continued to deny it even when he was caught red-handed. I remember him slapping me twice across my face. When I cried and asked him why he hit me, he looked me right in the eye and said, “I didn’t hit you.”
I always knew he had mental issues. His ex-wife had taken his children, his father abused his mother, and he had PTSD from being in so many combat zones. I believe he learned a lot of his meanness from his father, but his malicious choices were his own. Though he was clearly demented, he certainly knew how to capture and keep a woman. I was just one of his many victims.
Yet despite the abuse, the disrespect, and the lies, I kept going back to him. I couldn’t understand why I was choosing to suffer. My friends were tired of my pain and tears. They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t leave him. I didn’t understand it either. But I kept holding out hope that he would change and the man I first met would come back. I thought I could change him and heal all his wounds. Although I tried, I couldn’t leave him. I was in love and struggled every day with my heart. Still, I knew that love should not inflict suffering.
Eventually I hit rock bottom. I thought about moving to a different state. I felt lost, and I finally decided to leave my job, put my belongings in storage, and leave the country. I traveled to Ecuador and stayed with a friend’s family. I told everyone I wanted to immerse myself in another culture and experience living abroad. But the truth of the matter was that I was depressed. I couldn’t cope with my broken heart.
I stayed in Ecuador for nine months. Removing myself from that destructive relationship and living in a third-world country forced me to channel the pain of my shattered heart into surviving. Experiencing life in that strange and foreign land made me realize that my life, and especially my heart, were worth fighting for. I spent nine months consciously keeping myself safe and alive.
That relationship was painful and the steps to recovery were hard, but when I returned home, I was in charge of my heart and my life. I had overcome the intense pain even though my heart was still scarred. I learned through that experience that I can choose who and how I love others, including myself. I found myself again.