But for months, I blamed Edward for all of it. I hysterically sobbed every night and took no responsibility for my role in any of what transpired because I honestly saw no fault in my own actions. I tried my hardest to put him out of my mind, but knew I needed a distraction.
I met Anthony in my Business and Professional Speaking communication class. What initially sparked my interest is how much he reminded me of Connor. They both had that goofy, stoner look with facial hair. Both were Italian. And as I learned a few months later, both were extremely well endowed.
We first got to know each other from doing a group project. I messaged him on Facebook to discuss it, he gave me his phone number, and from there we talked every day. It quickly became less about the project and more about being friends. I told myself not to let him in because I was worried history would repeat itself the same way it did with Connor. And that was not something I was prepared to go through.
So he told me about his ex and family. And I told him everything about Edward. Anthony was so great about all of it, too. I could tell he was starting to like me, but he never let that affect his judgment when giving me advice. He would stay up with me during the nights I was up crying over Edward and would help proofread things I sent to him. I vented and confided in him so much about everything- and even asked how to know when a guy is really over you. With time he became my support system and best friend.
Immediately after Edward dropped a nuclear bomb on my soul, I threw myself at Anthony. I was in such desperate need of love and attention that I didn’t care who gave it to me. We texted, flirted, sexted, etc. And eventually, he asked me out. I bailed on our first few dates hours before meeting him because I was too nervous and felt like my vulnerable self back in high school.
When we did finally go out, it was the first time in years that I had put effort into my physical appearance for a guy. I looked incredible and forgot I could. I met him at the movies… and he was in stained jeans and a ripped up sweatshirt, which basically set the tone for our relationship.
He was always laid back, not looking to impress anyone, including myself. He wasn’t demanding and didn’t expect me to look perfect all the time, like my family did. He let me wear whatever I wanted with no make up and a messy bun for as many days in a row as I wanted. He just loved me and didn’t want me to be anything or anyone else. Nothing I did or said could push him away. Each day, the warmth and comfort from his unconditional love helped pull me out of my shell a little bit more.
Out of habit, I tried to pay for all of our dates until he eventually snapped and told me not to ask again because it was never going to happen. He wanted to take care of me and took pride in doing so. And just like that, the pattern was broken. I still felt uncomfortable letting someone spend their money on me, but I learned to accept it. Over time, I started to feel special like a princess. Aside from my dad, he was the first person in my whole life that I was ever financially dependent on. It was the first time in my life that I really let someone take care of me.
When he met me, it was like my whole world crumbled down and left me buried beneath the rubble, alive, hidden by debris, choking on toxins, and crying out to be saved. As much as I wanted to free myself, I couldn’t. So I watched life continue to pass me by until finally someone came to save me. Eventually, Anthony heard my screams for help, dug through my wreckage, found my beaten and broken self, and pulled me out. He nursed me back to health and slowly helped me to rebuild my fallen world, one brick at a time. Each and every day he worked with me, showing me unconditional love for the first time in my life.
From the beginning, I was completely vulnerable with him. And I tried something new- being honest. He knew all about Connor, my family, depression, anxiety, college, fears, insecurities, and everything in between. I told him there would be times when I say mean things, try to hurt him, and try to leave, but would mean none of it- it’s just how I had been programmed and never learned anything different. And I told him no matter what, not to let me go. I told him to hold on to me as hard as he could because I promised I would make him proud of me. I just needed some time to figure everything out. And he did exactly that.
Anthony understood his role in my fragile life. He was my protector, my security, my safety blanket- the one I could trust to guide me through life. No matter how bad we fought. He came back. Every time. He stayed through every volatile thing I said, until I finally learned not to push him away and started to let him in.
He comforted me every time I broke down or felt inadequate. He helped me do my homework on nights I just could not do life. And helped me face the world when all I wanted to do was hide. He introduced me to his friends and family- And it was the first time I actually felt like my partner was proud of me, proud to be with me.
We talked about everything and anything. He told me he wanted to marry me and have beautiful babies together. And knowing that- knowing how committed and serious he was, gave me the mental security to put my walls down because there was never a reason to doubt my role. That’s what I needed with Edward. I needed that sense of security and safe, protected feeling. I didn’t need him flirting with other girls, letting them sit on his lap, or anything else of that nature. I needed him to be as ride or die for me as Anthony was.
Although Anthony calmed my mind, gave me reassurance, and did the impossible, I never felt truly satisfied; but he loved me, and I mean REALLY loved me, so I stayed. He was small town with small dreams and no aspirations to get out. Needless to say, he wasn’t my type and I had already outgrown him before our first date. I wanted bigger and better things out of life. I dreamed of traveling and living life to the fullest, but he never wanted to leave the country.
I constantly felt as if I was cheating on him because although my body was present in our relationship, my mind was somewhere else- more specifically with someone else. Edward. No matter how much time passed and how grateful I was for Anthony, I struggled to imagine my life being complete without Edward. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had lost the greatest love of my life. And please don’t get me wrong Anthony is a beautiful man- He’s patient, kind, funny, and would do absolutely anything for me… but he wasn’t Edward. And knowing how Edward felt about me and giving second chances, I never reached out to him and tried to move forward.
I was on and off with Anthony for over a year and often wondered if he was the first person I felt loved by because it was the first time I had been willing to accept it. And I wondered what Edward and I could have been if he had just believed in me the same way Anthony did. There wasn’t a second that went by that I didn’t think about him.
I had a wake up after one argument with Anthony. He had said, “I don’t know if I can be what you want me to be,” and I instantly snapped back to the memories of Edward saying that, too. What did that even mean? I soon realized I had been comparing Anthony to Edward, and picking fights with him the same way I did with Edward about Connor.
It made me realize I was the problem. Not them. Me. I was the toxic one. I had been the reason the relationships never worked because I had spent all my time trying to mold them into someone else, rather than appreciating who they were and the incredible things they did for me.
From that moment, I took a hard look at my life and realized I wasn’t making the right choices I became someone I no longer knew. I didn’t realize how manipulative, irrational, and out of hand my behavior became. I never wanted to be that bad bitch hardcore psycho. I just wanted guys to like me and choose me. I just wanted to stop being bullied so much and have people accept me. I wanted to change and understand why I did the things I was doing, but I wasn’t getting that far on my own.
Anthony and I broke up sometime in late August, just as Connor floated back into the picture.
He texted me out of the blue a few time, but I never answered. Then one night, I caved. I decided I was ready to confront my past. It was just something I had to do. It wasn’t that I was still in love with him, but I was in love with the feelings I had while with him. So I had to get the closure I never got. So I responded. And like the flick of a match, the passion ignited.
We had sex a week later. And it was exactly what I needed because I felt nothing. I kept thinking sex was going to be like how it always was. Animalistic and passionate. Crazy and intense. But it wasn’t. The sex wasn’t good at all and I was actually thinking about Edward in the middle of it to pass the time. I started asking myself why I ever held onto the memories of Connor in the first place. Was it because he was the first person I loved? Was it because he was the first person I had sex with?
That’s when I realized how wrong I had been about sex my entire life. Good sex isn’t about being the kinkiest or craziest- It’s how you feel about each other. That’s where good sex comes from. It’s the passion, comfort, and intimacy! It’s a mutual respect and openness that drives you to free yourself and release all your sexual inhibitions.
And just like that, another breakthrough was made, one that I truly believe I would have never learned without the experience.
As a whole, reconnecting with Connor wasn’t like I thought it would be. After we had sex, we talked everything out, unloaded our emotional baggage on each other, let go of so much pain, and became really good friends. He apologized, acknowledged his role, accepted responsibility, and actually tried to take care of my fragile state. He said he had never seen me so raw and real before. And admitted everything that happened in the relationship was his fault. Hearing that was… incredible. I remember I actually smiled and instantly felt my soul lighten. It was like the biggest weight had finally been lifted off me.
Over the next several weeks, we talked every single day and he listened to every rant, low blow, lingering doubt, and insecurity I had. He validated every thought and emotion, and then tried to help talk me through each individual point and rebuild me. With every conversation, it was like he was giving back the power he stole from me so many years ago.
I told him everything about my life and what I had gone through since him. I opened up about my pain, devastation, self-perception, everything. No stone was left unturned. I even told him about Edward!
Me: “You don’t get it… When I met Edward, it was like he blew you so far out of the water that you were blasted into space, hit by a meteor, and blown to bits. But even then, I compared him to you. If there wasn’t emotional turmoil or manipulation, I thought he didn’t like me. I basically went looking for abuse because I wasn’t getting it from you anymore. You were my template for love and happiness. I put you on such a pedestal.”
C: “Well its time to take me off it.”
Me: “It’s not that easy, Con. I don’t know how to be loved. But I do know he was everyfuckingthing I ever wanted. Everything my inner little girl used to dream about while playing house. He was the guy I’d imagine when I’d get my barbies and pretend to have my own wedding. He was that prince you read about who comes to save the princess. That was him. That kind of happiness is a once in a lifetime, if you’re even that lucky. And I fucked it all up. All of it. I gave up my happiness and took his because I didn’t think someone like me deserved to be happy or be treated any differently than the way you showed me. It didn’t make sense to me. But, my god, I don’t know what it is about my gut always being right, but I just always have this feeling (even since I first met him) that he’s the love of my life.”
C: “You need to fight to get him back. If that’s how you really feel about him, I’m sure that he feels the same about you. You can’t just shut that off and forget about it. I’m sure he still thinks about you. You definitely made an impact on him if he had that effect on you. You deserve to be happy and you deserve the best. You don’t settle for anything in your life, and you shouldn’t settle for anything but perfection in your man.”
Me: “No, no, trust me. He doesn’t feel the same way because he didn’t even get to see the real me. He saw the psycho bitch me. I could never be sweet or intimate. I ruined every cute moment because I’d choke up. Plus, he’s already said he wont develop feelings again, which I want to believe is a lie, because I honestly cant see my life without him in it.”
C: “Dyl. You just gotta be you and he’ll fall for you like any guy would.”
Me: “But HOW am I supposed to show other people that? It’s taken you years to finally get to see me.”
C: “Just be yourself. Don’t worry what other people think. They will see that you are a happy, caring funny person. People will see how good of a person you are because its natural for you to care for those that you are with. You need to feel good about yourself. That’s what is most important. Getting caught up in what everyone thinks of you will just weigh you down. And those who have negative things to say about you can go fuck off and you don’t need to surround yourself with that type of negative energy. You are caring, smart, creative, smoking hot, funny, outgoing, you put others before yourself, you’re so thoughtful, you listen and give great advice, you’re cultured, you’re silly but you know when to be serious. You’re the total package. You need to start believing that. Being shy and being insecure are totally different.”
Me: “But that’s all I’m submerged in… is like… my family. That’s more fucked up than anything. Maybe you’re right though.”
C: “Hence why I realllllllly think you should move out. You’re a product of your environment. Like if you were in NYC for example, you’d be a boss ass bitch. It’d be pouring out of you. You’d be so active. You’d be the life of the party everywhere you went.
Me: “I’m just so worried of being who I was with Edward… She terrified me. I didn’t even know how much darkness was inside me.”
C: “I can’t see that ever happening. I’m telling you Dyl, even with text, I can feel you’re being the real you. I know it’s scary and I know you feel like you’re stepping out into the world like naked and unguarded but there are so many people who will have your back. Just take the chance. No one will be able to catch you if you don’t at least make the leap.”
Me: “True… You’re a wise one.
Me: “It makes me sad that I let my inner little girl take such a beating my whole life. I didn’t protect her. At all. She grew into a monster to protect herself. The fact that I got so bad shows howwwwwwwww much I’ve had to have my own back since birth.”
Me: “How do I like… undo things. I can’t unlearn to be mean so I have to learn to be nice. Like being intimate or being gentle or not ruining cute moments idk how to do that. I get flustered and my brain freaks out. “
C: “I think you’ve been nice since we started talking…”
Me: “Not what I mean. Like if someone tries to be romantic and soft, what the F do I do to handle that???? I like…….. panic and make it sexual or just ruin the moment on purpose to avoid emotionally confronting the situation.”
C: “You just have to try and be vulnerable. Which comes with loving yourself. If you’re insecure you keep a guard up and that’s when the mean flustered stuff comes out. Think about it this way Dyl. You have lived your ENTIRE LIFE without any of this stuff…. Ok? You are not going to magically poof and know how to do all of the emotional stuff right off the bat. It will take practice. And each time it will get easier and be less scary. I know you and I know you can do this because when you want something bad enough you stop at nothing until you get it. Take it easy on yourself.”
Me: “But if a guy does something like… lemme think…”
Me: “OKAY I GOT THIS. READY!?! Okay… if he looks deeply into my eyes and tells me I’m beautiful wtf do I do!?”
C: “Smile and let it sink in. You’ll end up blushing a little and you’ll look gorgeous. And then maybe you give him a kiss. Or maybe he goes in for the kiss first. You gotta learn to take a compliment woman! Hahaha. But in all seriousness. Tell me your reaction right now…. You are beautiful Dylan. You’re seriously one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever met.”
Me: “I rolled my eyes like “yeah okay” hahahahahahahahhahahahaha”
C: “Not the appropriate response DYLAN!”
C: “It’s alllllll about being vulnerable and letting your walls down. That’s the end goal for you.”
Me: “Going so many years with emotional abuse is a liiiiitititititltlllllleeeeeee challenging”
C: “I completely understand”
Me: “But what if I blush? I’ll look like an idiot. Or if I look down Ill look shy and like a loser. What if he’s waiting for me to say something and I’m just quiet and frozen. He’ll think he did something wrong or look at me like I’m nuts. I’m so invested in looking like some cool alpha bitch that idk how to strip that all back and just be like my inner little girl without feeling threatened.”
C: “You know how to flirt. I have witnessed it first hand. Smile and say something like, ‘oh yeah?’ and then pill him in for a kiss. Or just smile and giggle.”
Me: “I’m already blushing. I think I’m a little nauseous too.”
C: “WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!! PROGRESS!!!!
Me: “Like what if a guy want eye contact in bed or a bj and I look like an idiot and turn him off and he goes soft or he has to stop asking me to look at him. I’m always worried about how to be and look sexy and perfect constantly.”
C: “That’s just the abuse talking… tell it to shut up. You’re better than that. And you’re more than those thoughts. You don’t have to try to be perfect because you ARE perfect.”
Being with Connor reminded me of how much confidence I used to have. I walked with my head held high and let my bad bitch out for the first time in years. I told him how I stopped wearing dresses and skirts, so he took me shopping and wouldn’t let me go home until I bought some. He gave me the pep talk and tough love I needed to push myself again. And if I’m being honest, I really don’t think I could’ve picked myself up if it wasn’t for him. I know that sounds weak to say, but I’ve had the shit kicked out of me by every single person in my life and carried him with me for so long. I really needed to make amends and forgive him. Reconnecting with him helped me understand that I should have never held on to his memories the way I did, and how wrong I was for comparing Edward to him. But reconnecting with him after so many years also showed me that contrary to my past and how other people treat me, I am capable of change, receiving help, and being loved. And that no matter what, and above all else, to always believe in myself. Words cannot express how thankful I am for his help. He will always have a special place in my heart, but for now, I’m excited to finally be able to close that chapter.
Connor moved to VT, and we keep in touch, but my personal growth didn’t stop there.
One day while I was cleaning my room, I put on YouTube to muffle the sounds of my family fighting downstairs. For hours, video after video played. Song lyrics led to showings of Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden, which led to The Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon, which led to The Ellen Show episodes, which eventually led to Dr. Phil.
He was describing a family’s day-to-day home life and dynamic, without using any biased remarks. The similarities between that family and mine were spot on! It caught my attention so I tuned in as I folded my laundry, and remember thinking, “Oh, cool! This is like us!!! We could’ve gone on TV!!!” I angled myself so I could watch as I folded.
Then Dr. Phil brought out the family members and introduced them to the audience. He wasted no time before getting into discussion and explaining why their behaviors were so wrong. And at first I was annoyed, like, “He’s being so general, obviously not everyone can be wrong if they do these things. I’m sure there’s a million things he doesn’t know about.” But I learned he was right. It was like the moment in Elf when Will Ferrell realizes he’s human and his entire life was a lie. It took that episode and a few dozen others for me to finally start understanding my family dynamics and be able to see things from a perspective that was not cloaked in the brainwashing nonsense I grew up with.
After that I was hooked. I watch so many episodes primarily on family and personal relationships. It was like learning the things I never got to as a child… from a distant chatty balding uncle.
I sat and watched back-to-back Dr. Phil episodes on YouTube, trying to educate myself, and hopefully break the patterns of my childhood. The more I watched, the more I learned how flawed my logic was. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least and I was determined to stop being everything my past and family taught me, and to start being everything else. I would rather deconstruct every single thing I knew to be true about the world and relationships, than live another second being the person I had become.
So I watched, took notes, re-watched, and looked up terms I was unfamiliar with. I read articles, journals, and books. I listened to audiotapes, podcasts, and general discussions about the psychology of self-perception, toxic environments, and family dynamics.
And everything clicked. It all clicked. There was nothing wrong with me. There never had been. The only thing wrong was how I was raised. Although I’m grateful for the sacrifices my family gave in order to prove the life we had financially, I can’t help but feel angry. How can you take innocent children with such fragile minds and raise them so violently? How can you allow the dysfunction to continue and invade every ounce of our being? How can you let your children, your own flesh and blood, succumb to that degree of emotional cancer?
Once the blinds had been removed from my eyes, I saw everything. I finally understood my deep-rooted feelings of hatred, jealousy, blame, embarrassment, disappointment, inadequacy and how they interwove in relationships with myself and others.
January 7th 2017, I had another significant breakthrough. I figured out my self worth stems from my brother sexually abusing me. Because he was so mean unless I was doing something sexual, I never felt I was enough, like I was somehow defective and because of that, I was unable to be liked. I also developed a sense of needing to “earn” affection, and never thought it was something to be handed to me. The meaner someone was, especially a guy, the harder I tried for his attention because I thought I was the problem. I was just too young to understand everything at the time.
I grew up associating wanting male attention, even from a friend, to be something that had to be a sexual exchange, which developed into my understanding that I had to “out slut” all the other girls. Because of this, I never let myself be vulnerable with guys because I was always pretending to be someone else. I just kept evolving and evolving from rough sex to kinky sex, without any true emotion or respect for myself.
This was obvious when Connor cheated on me so many times that I thought the only way to keep his attention was by losing my virginity to him. And since it worked, my thoughts were confirmed and I carried on the mindset that I was only good for my body.
This dramatically impacted my perception of my self worth, as well. Because I felt like I was only as valuable as my body and what it could do, I was overly critical about my physical appearance. I called myself fat when I wasn’t and would beat myself up over the smallest blemishes. Physical perfection was something I vehemently strived for and sought out. Without it, I felt inadequate and undeserving.
After Taylor, Connor, whoever else and whatever other traumas I endured in my life, I metaphorically blew myself up. I stopped taking care of my appearance and myself. I stopped being feminine, wearing makeup, and socializing. I wasn’t looking for new friends or doing anything that positively impacted me. Instead, I sort of just stopped my life and left it on pause on until now.
It’s not that I didn’t want any attention- It’s that I didn’t want THAT kind of attention. I didn’t want to be sex on a stick. I wanted to be me. I wanted people to like me for me, for what I look like without makeup and the perfect outfit. I wanted them to like all parts of me not just the raunchy ones or what I appeared like on the outside.
So I self-destructed. I blew myself up, and blew that girl to bits.
And I am so happy I did. Because not only did I rebuild, but I’m stronger now.
Two days after my realization, I found the confidence to finally tell my mom everything. I kept Taylor a secret for 17 years, worrying I would get in trouble if anyone found out and believed what transpired was a reflection of me. But it wasn’t. I was a child. There’s no way I can blame myself for any of it and it was time I let it go.
The next day, I had the biggest breakdown of my life, far worse than any others. I was uncontrollably weeping from every part of my mind, body, and soul. It was like the emotional floodgates opened, the doors snapped off their hinges, and everything was pouring out without an end in sight. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. It was like I was being pulled by a rope and the more I put my heels down to stop, the harder I was pulled and jolted further into it. That night, I was an absolute wreck. My crying was frenzied and overwhelming to the point that I was scaring myself. As it all flowed out, I questioned my existence. I was wailing into my pillow with such force that I felt intoxicated. I was curled up in fetal position, blubbering like a child. But even then, even in the darkest moment of my life, I fought. My emotions were out of my control, but I knew I needed help and I knew it was okay to ask for it. So without shame, I texted my friend Tim, told him I was in a dark place and needed help. He, the kind soul he is, did his best to distract me until I wore myself out and fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up and felt strange. The best way I can describe it was like I still felt drunk after a night of partying. I knew I needed to get out of that house so I packed a bag and went to my safe place- grandma’s house. The oddest thing is, I don’t really remember too much. My brain was in such a fog it was like I was floating around, blacking out for minutes and coming to during different parts of conversation. I must have some how made my way upstairs and put myself down for a nap because my next memory was when I woke up, face down, diagonally on top of the bed….. 5 hours later.
From the moment I sat up, my head was clear. CLEAR. It was if the meltdown some how cleansed me of everything. I felt absolutely insane, considering the previous 24 hours. But I was me. ME. REAL ME. Real unfiltered me. Raw. Natural. Me. I wasn’t depressed or anxious. I wasn’t thinking bad thing about myself. I was happy. For the first time in my life, I was happy. Truly happy. It was in that moment that I finally understood the meaning of the word. I knew what it meant when people said they were happy. It was the most exciting thing I had ever experienced. I WAS HAPPY! Really, really happy! ME. M E. Me. I had happiness in my life. And it was incredible!!
I went downstairs to see Grandma and could tell how different my mood was. I looked around and was happy for every single thing I saw. It was like those movies when someone wakes up from a dream or out of body experience and just freaks out with such blasts of pure joy. Like, “HI GUYS! IT’S ME! I’M HOME! I’M BACK! HIIIII! I’VE MISSED YOU!”
It was like my soul was finally free to be herself. And she has been ever since. That day, changed my life. I have woken up happy almost every day and choose to be that way. I choose me. I choose my happiness. I understand what Edward had been saying about happiness being a choice. It made sense. EVERYTHING he said made sense. I just couldn’t see it before.
It took Edward’s absence, Anthony’s unconditional love and devotion, Connor’s return, some time, patience, therapy, great friends, a lot of Dr. Phil, extensive research, and a catastrophic breakdown to help repair the years of damage and abuse to finally lead me to freedom.