Listen to the dread. It is never wrong.
I’ve had three serious relationships in my life. Antonio, EJ and Michael.
Antonio was my first love. As an adolescent, I adored him. I thought he was smart, charismatic and funny. I was a senior in High School and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life upon graduation. I had so many aspirations and so many goals. I was optimistic about all I could accomplish. I believed I could do anything. The summer of my high school graduation, I went to Hawaii to attend a summer semester at BYU.
Antonio hated that I chose to go. I was torn. I wanted to go, I wanted to do something with my life, but I also didn’t want to hurt him. I came back to Alaska after one semester, and that was the first mistake I’ve made that would forever shape the course of my life.
When I got back to Alaska, Antonio was insistent that we move in together. I remember the day clearly; he came over and packed everything I owned into his truck. I had this sick feeling of dread in my stomach the entire time, but I brushed it off and told myself that I was just nervous. My parents came home and I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “I’m moving out”. It was as though I had lost my voice. My heart was beating so hard, it was so loud, it’s all I could hear. Antonio spoke for me, and I left. This was the second big mistake that would change the course of my life. We stayed together for 2 years, he was controlling, manipulative and took advantage of me. He didn’t work, he didn’t pay rent. I was so unhappy. The day I moved back home, I slept. I slept so well. Yes, my younger self was heartbroken, but the constant feeling of dread had vanished.
It took me a while to heal from this first failed attempt at love. And when I was 23, I met EJ. Enough time had passed and I was completely over Antonio. I was ready to fall in love again. He pursued me. He fooled me. I had no idea that being with him would be the next big mistake which would change the course of my life forever. I fell head over heels crazy in love with EJ. But as things became more serious, my life began to crumble all around me. EJ was unlike any man that I had ever met. He was my best friend. He was a man that I could just connect with, like I had never done before. When I fell in love with him, I questioned if I ever actually loved Antonio. Because what I felt for Antonio was nothing compared to what I felt for EJ.
I ended up moving in with EJ. This would be the next big mistake that would forever change the course of my life. One of the things that I liked about EJ was his strong persona, and when we started arguing, he started yelling. I told myself that was just how he was. He was a strong and aggressive man. He wanted me all to himself. He wanted all of me, every day and every night. I mistook his possession for love. His yells soon turned into screams, his screams soon turned into grabbing my arms and pushing me around. My arms had bruises where his fingers had been as she pushed me up against the wall. I kept telling myself that I needed to leave, but every time I did, he would pull me back in, I felt helpless to his requests. Eventually his pushing turned into hitting, and his hitting turned into punching, his punching turned into choking and his choking turned into copious amounts of habitual beating. Before I knew it, I had isolated myself, away from everyone in my life who actually cared for me. The abuse went on for years, and every time I left, he would make me feel guilty, that it was somehow my fault. And so, I would go back. Every time I went back, I had that feeling of dread in my stomach. I told myself it was just heartache, because I loved him so much. I was finally able to break away when he was sent to prison for almost killing me. I felt so guilty for putting him in jail, I tried so hard to get him out. I thank God that the court system knew I was brainwashed and that this man needed to be in jail for his actions. I was 27 when it was finally over.
And that’s when I met Michael. Michael was different than any man I had ever met before. He was sweet, caring and attentive. He cooked for me, made sure I was safe and showed me off to his friends and family. The first time we kissed, my heart exploded. And I knew there was no turning back. But, in the beginning of our relationship, his ex-girlfriend messaged me and told me they were still sleeping together. That he was a cheater and a liar. I confronted him, he denied it. He told me she was crazy, that she was just trying to ruin his happiness because he refused to be with her. I decided to believe him. And that familiar dread deep down in the pit of my stomach came back.
Things were great with Michael, we laughed all the time, made love habitually and began to make plans for the rest of our life’s. Eventually, I became pregnant and we had Isabella. Little did I know, this would be the turning point that would put me back on the path for which I was meant to be.
Isabella was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had not known what love was until I looked into her sweet face and held her small body. I felt like my life was coming together. I had a sweet little family, I was content. As time went on, Michael and I began to argue more and more. We were off balance. Something was off. I told myself, it was normal, things weren’t roses all the time, right?
Four years went by, and one day, his ex-girlfriend messaged me again. She said they never stopped. They had been sleeping with and seeing each other the entire time. I was shocked. There’s no way, right? He viciously denied her allegations. He said she was psychotic. Until she sent me screen shots. Let’s just say, those screenshots were proof that he was lying and she was not.
The shock that I felt upon realization that our entire relationship had been a farce was the most painful thing I had EVER experienced. More painful than my breakup with my first love, more painful than the physical abuse I suffered with EJ, more painful than realizing I was brain washed, that I was a battered woman. It was a type of pain that I couldn’t even put into words. It was like my heart crumbled into small pieces, my soul fell concave, my world, upside down.
He finally admitted it. But not the whole truth. But this time, I listened to that feeling of dread. He may never admit the whole truth, but I know deep down, there was so much more to their story than he was willing to admit. I left. He begged me to stay, to forgive him, to try. I wanted to, I was so heartbroken, so miserable. I questioned my worth. Why wasn’t I enough? Did I imagine the love we had for each other? How did this happen? I blamed myself. And when he asked me to come home, that feeling of dread arose again. So, this time, I listened.
This time, I am listening. I still love him. I always will. He had become such a big part of my life, he helped shape me into the woman I am today. He gave me the gift of motherhood.
He still apologizes. He tells me he’s hurting. He tells me he needs me, that he will never betray me again. That we will get married and live happily ever after. I want to believe him, but I don’t.
This time, I am going to make a decision that will be best for me. This time I AM going to listen to that small voice, that feeling of dread, for if the dread arises, it has been proven to be a clear indication to go the other way.
I feel bad for him. He’s hurting, I’m hurting. I almost gave in, I almost decided to go back, so he wouldn’t hurt anymore. But then I remembered that now, it’s not just me, it’s me and her. Isabella, my daughter. I want to be an example to Isabella just as my mother was to me. And the example of a woman that I want portray doesn’t let the men of her life walk all over her, not anymore. The woman that I want to be is strong, independent and respected.
I think about Isabella, what would I want for her if she was an adult. What would I feel if she was in a four-year relationship with a man who lived a double life? I would be heartbroken for her and I would be furious with him. I would want to kill him for hurting my sweet daughter.
But she isn’t in that situation, I am, and this time, I am going to choose me. I am going to choose her. I am going to avoid the dread and be the example of strength that my daughter needs to see.