Another Valentine's Day looms on the calendar, and another Valentine's Day I plan to spend single. Being in my early 30's I spend a lot of time wondering if I'm doomed to be an old maid or if I even care. I spend time wondering why I'm the only one of my friends not married or engaged. A single defining time of my life always seems to be the answer. I often think about how few people know my story and wonder how many others have these stories in their past. I don't think I've ever shared every detail with anyone. I won't, couldn't begin to, share every detail here, but these are the standouts of my story. When I was in my first year of college I met and fell in love with my first truly serious boyfriend. We dated for about 5 years. He was sweet, respectful and smitten with me. He would bring me little gifts, write me sweet notes and drive two hours to see me during summer break. I fell for him, hard. Somewhere in the middle of all the good, there was a hidden undertow of bad. "I don't like when girls wear nail polish." Well if my amazing boyfriend doesn't like nail polish, I should stop wearing nail polish. "I don't like polka dots." Even though it's my favorite pattern, I shouldn't wear something my sweet boyfriend isn't attracted to. "Did you know earrings were a sign of slavery?" "I don't like when you wear makeup, I like you the way you look naturally." In my high school days, most of my closest friends were boys. I vividly remember going with them to some movie opening that summer after the first year of college and my boyfriend saying "I don't like you hanging out with all these boys I don't even know." Of course he never made an effort to know them. Do you see where this is going? It's always easier on the outside of situations like this to see what's going on, but I was young and I loved him. I thought that being in a relationship meant compromising, and meant working on your flaws to be a better person. In some ways, yes, a good relationship is that, but what I didn't recognize was that I was never asking him to make any compromises. I never asked him to correct his flaws. I loved him and all his imperfections. I was a theatre major in college. I started with that major, ended with that major and still do theatre as my career to this day. I had been a certified "theatre kid" since I was about 10. My boyfriend had taken one theatre class as an arts requirement, loved it, and promptly changed his major to theatre right before we started dating. We met because we were scene partners in an acting class (yes, we had to kiss in the scene). There isn't anything wrong with switching your major, of course, or finding a passion later than those around you, but my boyfriend quickly became an expert in theatre. He knew more about it than anyone else, more than me who had been doing theatre constantly for about 10 years at that point. In the beginning, I would introduce him to shows I thought he would like. It was so much fun to share my favorite stories and songs with someone but then he would forget that I was the one that introduced those things to him. Soon he began criticizing my acting work. I didn't use my arms enough. I had a wall up when I was acting that I couldn't break through, and worse, he criticized my singing constantly. Singing was a part of my identity I had always been confident in. My entire life people had told me they loved my voice. He was smart about it. He always couched the critiques like he was helping me. "You sound so good when you sing high. Maybe you should just sing high all the time." Things like that. He always phrased it as wanting to help me be better. One time we were with a friend after a round of auditions at school and he started giving me one of his "lessons." He returned to his dorm and I was walking with my friend to her dorm and she said "I don't like the way he talks to you. You should break up with him." Break up with him? He loved me and was trying to help me be a better singer and actor. Over the years he would criticize my singing so often that I convinced myself I was more a "straight show" actor than a singer. I barely sang. Roommates I had in my later days of college would hear me sing in the shower or goofing around in the car and say, "wait, you can sing?". After an acting performance I was particularly proud of, a bunch of friends were complimenting me and he launched into a masterclass of all the things I could have done differently to make it better. I would later realize he couldn't stand the idea that I might be better than he was. I stopped being friends with those boys from earlier. The love of my life thought they were no good. I stopped hanging out with friends from my Freshman year of college because they partied a lot, and my boyfriend and I didn't need alcohol to have fun. I never drank while we were dating. I put most of my jewelry back in the jewelry box. I donated my polka dot clothes to charities. I hardly ever painted my nails and wore little makeup. I became very insecure in singing and acting, always hoping he'd tell me I was amazing and perfect, and that he was proud of me. He always had notes for me. I can't recall one moment of anything I ever did just being good. If the person who supposedly loved me most always had critiques, so must everyone else. Things got worse before I woke up. He would stay up all night long looking at things on the internet. His religious views changed, and while I don't have a problem with that, I was constantly lectured in why my views were wrong and stupid. At some point during these late night research sessions he found a certain sex advice podcast. He stopped believing in monogamy. He started giving me books and having me listen to podcasts about why humans were not meant to be in one single relationship. I loved him, and I wanted to be with him, and he made his case so strongly that I tried to see where he was coming from. I remember opening one of the books and the opening paragraph describing how a penis was shaped the way it is to scoop out the other men's sperm in a woman to make way for their sperm. I remember slamming the book shut and being sick. I have no problem with people who feel monogamy isn't the lifestyle they want. But I was firmly monogamous. I hadn't even felt attraction to a guy since I started dating my boyfriend. I would have done anything for him, but I knew I wouldn't be able to survive a change to him having multiple partners, and I had no desire to be with anyone but him. We fought about it a lot and ultimately, we broke up. I don't remember much about that time beside watching Tangled on repeat and wondering what I could have done differently. We also worked the same "acting survival" job. It was a weird job that I won't detail here, but I had to call him at least once a day for this job. Another friend we had graduated with and who worked with us told me one day "I went to dinner with him and he started crying. He wants you back." Not long after that he called me asking if we could talk. I think we got back together that night. We had been apart for only two months. He didn't want to be without me, and he would be monogamous if it meant having me back. We lasted just about another year. He moved into my tiny studio within weeks of us getting back together. I hid it from friends and family for at least another month. Spoiler alert, if you are hiding a relationship from your friends and family, it probably isn't a healthy relationship. During that year I discovered he had been cheating on me during the first go around. He also began staying out all night with friends and he wouldn't tell me when he was coming home or where he was. I'd wake up at 3AM picturing him dead in a ditch somewhere. If I texted him or called him, I was jealous, I was insecure, I was crazy. He wasn't cheating, he'd say. I was crazy. I was jealous. It was okay for him to have friends that weren't me, but I just wanted to know when he'd be home, and that he was alive. If I'd ask for us to get together with these friends, the answer was always no. He also began traveling a lot for work. IfI wasn't ready to jump into bed with him before he left or when he got back the fights were unreal. Or sometimes he'd come home at 3/4/5 in the morning after being out all night with friends and want me to have sex. The sex was never good enough for him. I was told to watch porn to get better and learn new positions, and order sex toys so I wouldn't be be so tight, as some positions caused me pain. If I was so bad at sex, why would I want to do it? It would just end in him criticizing me. One day, around Valentine's Day he wanted to have sex and I didn't. This turned into the fight that ended it all. I had apparently never loved him, never appreciated who he was, and made everything about me. I had done everything and anything he ever asked of me but I didn't love him? I couldn't accept him? Because I couldn't accept him not wanting to be monogamous did that mean I didn't accept him or love him? Why couldn't I just do the things he wanted me to do? I was devastated and lost. But, had he ever accepted me? Had he ever tried to give me what I needed? That wasn't a thought I had back then. Back then I shrivelled up and died inside at believing I had treated someone I loved so much so badly. For months I blamed myself. When he came to move his things out of the apartment I had written him a note about how sorry I was, that I had never meant to hurt him, that I didn't know what was wrong with me that I could love someone so much and hurt them, that I was selfish and needed to get help, and that I would always love and care about him. Then he was gone. I spent most of my time when I was not working on the couch binge watching TV. One of my binge shows during this time was "American Horror Story." Why? I have no idea. At the end of the Asylum season, Jessica Lange's character says a line that is something to the effect of "Don't ever let a man tell you who you are or make you feel like you are less than he is." I sat bolt upright on the couch and paused the show. Not long before we had broken up we had fought about something, I no longer remember what, and I had said to him "sometimes you just make me feel like I am so small and so stupid compared to you." In that moment (seriously, thanks Jessica) it was like a veil had been removed and I saw everything for what it was. Emotional abuse. Control. Narcissism. I didn't even know who I was anymore. I began rebuilding my life. I bought polka dots. I began wearing makeup and jewelry. I was cast in a show where I had to sing, and every time a cast mate or audience member complimented my singing, I cried. I'm not the same as I was before I met him. I swore to myself I would never let what happened happen again, and I haven't. I know the signs and I'm wiser and stronger. In most ways I am strong and confident in who I am. I am not willing to change who I am, and I am okay with people not liking that person. I'm fiercely feminist and an advocate for what I want. I still listen to constructive criticism and feedback, but I'm able to determine what I agree with and what I don't. But it has meant it being very hard for me to trust people and very hard for me to be vulnerable with men. I know it's why I'm still single. I know it's why I have had feelings for a guy for almost 6 years and am still afraid to tell him. I don't want to trust my heart to the wrong person again. Like I said before, this isn't a story I tell often, mostly because it's embarrassing. I always prided myself on being fiesty and feminist, and I let a man totally control, change and rule me. It took more time than it should have for me to understand the depths of his master manipulation, narcissism, gaslighting and power. To forgive myself and stop blaming myself for not seeing it. To not care if people that were still friends with him knew my side of the story, and to know that I deserved more than what he gave me. During all the time I dated this guy, it never crossed my mind that I was in an abusive relationship. A lot of people told me they didn't like him or didn't like the way he talked to me sometimes. Some of my friends even had experience with him trying to control them. But they never told me, except that one girl, that I shouldn't be with him, that I deserved more. We often ask "he hasn't hit you, has he?" But we never ask about emotional/mental damage. It's easy to miss damage that isn't visible. I still don't like to say I am an abuse survivor because I was never physically abused. While I can't even imagine the horror of physical or sexual abuse, I can tell you firmly that emotional abuse is real. Watch out for your friends who you suspect are being controlled. Call it out for what it is. Help them get out. No one deserves it. And if you are with someone who makes you feel small or less or wrong all the time, get out. You deserve to be loved for who you are, polka dots, earrings, nail polish and all.
Dear victims and supporters I'm an Arabic male 27 Yrs old (at that time), and I'm .. Depressed, my story started when I was 3 I got raped by my neighbor … like regularly and when I was 7 we moved out. We moved out to another city and I was the youngest in my neighborhood so I had no friends so I was hanging out with this guy (25) we used to go to video games shops and one day he invited me at his house and raped me. He called all of his friends (12 or more) and they told the whole town. To this day no one takes me seriously and people mock me, people who get raped aren’t considered men, they do not get jobs, or get married. 20 years later I still think about it every night and sometimes it’s even hard to breath. I don't sleep well most of the time, and every time someone talks about sex or manhood I have a panic attack. I can't have a relationship, every time I have sex I get emotional and tears come out. My life got worse when they kicked me out of the army because I tried to kill my self ..I just .. wish I was born again even as an animal or tree just .. not this life. I'm writing my story with tears and to all who have been raped you're not alone, and I wish you peace.
I wanted to share the story of my mom and her battle against alcoholism. More than 15 million people in the US struggle with alcoholism and less than 8% of these people receive the treatment they need. Alcoholism is a disease that no one really wants to talk about or even simply acknowledge. It can be shameful, scary, overwhelming, and isolating. This subject is really important to me because I lost my mom to this disease recently. My goal in sharing my family’s story is to let as many people as I can know that if you are battling with alcoholism, or have a friend or family member that is, you are not alone. Growing up my mom was my best friend. I would go to her for advice, if I liked a boy, or even just to talk. My parents supported me and my sister, Makenzie, in our school activities and extracurriculars. I really could not have asked for a better upbringing. Everything changed when my mom decided to get a gastric bypass surgery my senior year of high school. My mom had always struggled with her weight since I can remember. She did not want to be in pictures, and she was almost always the one taking them. She had tried every diet and exercise routine in the book and nothing really worked for her. Finally she decided to get this weight loss surgery as a last resort. Now, me and my sister were completely unaware of the surgery, and we would be until years down the road. I understand that it was her decision to get the surgery, but with my mom being in the medical field, I feel like she should have understood the risks of it. A gastric bypass can result in loss of appetite, malnutrition, increased risk of alcohol abuse, and many more health complications. After my mom received this surgery her behavior and appetite dramatically changed. We would sit at the dinner table and she would eat maybe two bites of her food, and watch us as we ate. She would play it off with different excuses every time. It got to the point where I had a gut feeling about the surgery and I decided to ask her if she had a weight loss surgery. I remember her face to this day. She immediately shut me down and said she didn’t. I could always tell when my mom was lying, but I understood why she wanted to keep this from us so I let it go. Shortly after the surgery my mom started acting like a completely different person. She was very secretive with her phone and she felt very distant from me. Eventually, my parents ended up getting a divorce. My mom and sister decided to go live with my nana, and I stayed with my dad at the house. It was hard for me to be away from my mom and my sister, but I felt like there was some pressure on both me and Makenzie to take care of our parents during this time. To be completely honest, I look back and I know I was not there enough for my sister and mom. I wish I could have been there for everyone at the same time but it simply was not possible. As my dad and I tried to adjust to the quieter house, my sister and mom decided to get an apartment. After they moved in, I would go and visit every now and then. One day I decided to go to the grocery store with my mom. When we got in the car she set down her yeti cup that she carried with her everywhere. I was really thirsty so I decided to take a sip. It was straight vodka. I looked at her and she already had tears in her eyes. I immediately poured it out and she spent the rest of the day begging me not to tell anyone. She used excuses like “it was a one time thing” and “ I am just under a lot of stress”. My heart ached for her. I promised not to tell anyone as long as she never did it again, and she made that promise. This was the first of many promises that were broken. The months to come were so hard. I would spend the night and wake up to bottles clinking in her room as she was getting ready for work. I would go in and she would yell at me to leave and go back to sleep. I ended up telling my nana, and dad about the alcohol, but we all felt really helpless. We would help her get set up at rehabilitation centers just to have her check herself out and uber home. We couldn’t help her get better because she did not want our help. After she would leave for work I would go to all her “hiding spots” and replace her bottles with notes of encouragement. Some would say, “You are so loved. I promise you don’t need it” and others would say “You are stronger than you know. Today is a new day”. She would be livid when she saw her alcohol was gone, but to me it was worth it. I just wanted my mom back and I would have done anything to do that. My mom continued to drink regardless of my family’s efforts to help her get sober. A bottle thrown away just meant an extra trip to the liquor store. I tried tough love, and I tried comforting and understanding. I felt completely helpless. There was a long time that I was not sure how to cope, or who to talk to. My mom would call me drunk and crying at work and I would talk her down. In the coming months, she lost a number of jobs and ended up in two car accidents, one being where they had to pry the car open to get her out. She also got arrested and charged with a DUI. After all of these traumatic events, my mom always turned back to what made her the most comfortable, alcohol. All of this started while I was a senior in high school. However, not very many people would know this. I went to school like everything was normal and did not open up much about my home life. The only people I told were my closest friends and I always presented it as a joke. I did this in an effort to hide my pain and loneliness. I spent most nights crying myself to sleep and others not being able to sleep at all. I wanted desperately to have someone to confide in but I felt like I couldn’t. I was ashamed. Eventually, my mom decided to move to San Antonio with her new (racist) boyfriend. This ultimately made the situation even worse. He constantly enabled her and let her drink as much as she wanted whenever she wanted. This was a time when my mom only called me to cry or yell about something. She never asked how I was or how I was doing with my transition to college. At this point it felt like I was the one being the parent. It was hard. I knew that being there for her would be hard and would take a toll on my mental health, but I was willing to make that sacrifice for her. However, there came a day where I couldn’t anymore. It was the day she told me “if I died tomorrow, you are going to wish you were nicer to me.” She said this because I knew she was drinking and confronted her about it. After she said that, I had to take a step back and worry about my own mental health. As a student at the University of Texas at Austin I decided to go to the Counseling and Mental Health Center. I did not have health insurance because I used to get it through my mom’s work and she was unemployed at the time. Because of this, the only thing I could afford was the 3 free sessions available at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. These sessions really helped me get insight on the whole situation. I spent so much time being there for my family and being everyone’s rock, that I was sacrificing my own wellbeing. The best piece of advice I got was that I needed to let someone be there for me. I wanted to keep going to these sessions but I had to pay for my own groceries, rent, gas, and electricity so it really wasn’t feasible. After going to therapy I decided to finally open up to my closest friends. This took so much weight off of my shoulders. I even found out I had a friend that was going through something very similar. I realized that talking about what I was going through gave it less power over me. My boyfriend and his family also helped me understand that my mom’s addiction was not my fault. My boyfriend’s mom is a sponsor for Alcohol Anonymous and she helped me learn more about addiction and it helped me work through a lot of the feelings I had towards my mom. I spent a lot of time blaming myself for her addiction so having someone help to guide me through such a dark time helped me tremendously. Eventually my mom and her boyfriend broke up and it led my mom even deeper into addiction. It got to the point where my dad had to drive up to San Antonio and move her back into the house. Soon after, it seemed like things were going well. I went to AA with her, and went to lunch with her as much as I could while still trying to manage school and work. She finally got a job again as a cardiac sonographer and things were going well, until they weren’t. After some time, she was back in and out of hospitals detoxing over and over again. Towards the end of my mom's life she started fainting. In one instance, she fainted and hit her jaw on the fireplace. My dad woke up and saw her laying in a pool of blood. She was taken in an ambulance to the hospital. This was almost the norm for me and my family now. She would go to the hospital, she would decide to get treatment, we would all support her in this decision, and then she would check herself out and start the cycle of drinking again. This time they stitched her chin up and sent her on her way. Little did I know that the next time she would go to the hospital it would be her last. A few weeks later I got a call from my nana that I needed to come to the hospital because my mom was not doing well. My nana, sister, aunt, and cousin had to go get my mom from the house and bring her to the hospital. When I got there my mom’s eyes and skin were completely yellow. We were told that my mom had jaundice and that her liver was failing. She was really out of it. I tried to talk to her as much as I could. I told her that I forgive her and that I loved her. I prayed over her and told her that God forgives her. I talked to her all day that day. Before I left I told her I loved her one last time and she whispered “I love you” back. That was the last thing she would ever say. That night my mom took a toll for the worst. As soon as I saw her for some reason I knew it was the beginning of the end. The doctors came and took us into the room where they tell you that your loved one is going to die. He asked us what we were hoping the future would hold. I said I just want my mom back. My nana said she found a treatment center that can help her with her addiction and that she can’t check out of. My sister said she just wanted her to live. With grief in his face, the doctor said that our hopes were unrealistic. My mom had to be intubated over night. She had complete liver failure and her kidneys were starting to fail as well. He said that she was probably not going to make it. Everything after that happened so fast. Since my mom was divorced it was up to my sister and I to make all of the medical decisions. We stayed with her for the next couple of days to see if she would make any progress. We watched our relatives and friends come and say their goodbyes. We talked to her, held her, and gave her as much love as we could. Eventually my mom started seizing and we knew it was time. This is when my sister and I had to sign the DNR. I signed my name and my sister dated it. I had to watch my dad say goodbye to the love of his life. I watched my nana lose her only daughter. My sister and I had to lose our mom. My mom was so much more than her addiction. She was loving, caring, giving and so much more. She was my best friend. You may know someone who is struggling with alcoholism and not even know it. I know that my mom deep down really wanted to get better but she thought she needed alcohol to survive. She was ashamed. She would hide it as much as she could whether it be on social media or in person. Alcoholism has a stigma that can be very embarrassing. This stigma is preventing so many people from getting the treatment they need. This disease is something that needs to be acknowledged and talked about. If there is anything I learned from my experience it is to hold your friends and family as close as possible. If you have a family member struggling with addiction, open up about it. It is more common than you think. Know that all of your emotions are valid. A great resource for family members of alcoholics is Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a place for people who are worried about someone who has a drinking problem. I went once a few weeks before my mom passed but I wish I had gone more. It is hard to accept that addiction is a disease. It was difficult for me to navigate being there for her without enabling and giving her tough love without abandoning her. There is no right answer. I had to realize that it was her decision to drink and I couldn’t make her stop. She had to make that decision. I do know that God stopped my mom's suffering. I know that she loved him fiercely. I have to remind myself of these things daily. It has been hard since my mom passed but I am hoping that our story will reach someone that needs it. I promise you, you are not alone.
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