Manipulation is abuse. Controlling is abuse. Even if he doesn’t hit you, it’s still abuse. But how can you admit to yourself that you’re abused? How can you believe that someone you love is capable of doing it? How do you look yourself in the mirror knowing that someone took your worth? I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell you the story about this strong woman who snapped out of it and simply walked away. I wish I could tell you the story of a woman who saw right through his manipulation and left. But I can’t, because I didn’t. Till the very end, I still hoped that it was all in my head. I still hoped that it was not real. But it was.

You know, my eyes still scan the room when someone approaches me. He was always there, beside me, watching and controlling. I still live in fear when I go out by myself, that he will show up and demand back what’s his. And that was me. All of me, all of my fears, emotions and body, it all belonged to him. He was that good.

My hands still reach for my cell phone to let him know where I am. To let him know with whom I’m with and for how long. I still catch myself grasping it like my life depends on it. Once it really did. I was living in fear for so long, that I forgot what it was like to breathe in freedom. I lived in a prison of my own mind, of my own fears and his voice. His sweet, sweet words that were pure evil.

I’m still looking for the parts of myself that I lost. I still remember how much I enjoyed morning walks, just before the sun was about to rise. When it’s peaceful, everything is asleep and my mind is already racing through the day, fighting wars ahead. I still remember how much I enjoyed a good basketball game. There was something in that noise, the smell of beer, food and the people around you. There was something in that thrill and the chills down your spine when your team wins. And I still remember how he took it all away from me. How slowly he took away my freedom, doing things only for my good. Making decisions for me, so I wouldn’t have to worry. Stripping me naked of my own will and all that was beautifully wrapped up in ‘love’. How blind I was.

I still haven’t told my mom what he did. I still haven’t told her about the day he grabbed my hand so hard that it left a bruise on it, just because I was stuck in traffic and didn’t call him. I still haven’t told her about the day he smashed my phone because my co-worker sent me an email. I still haven’t told her that every time he bought me roses it was because he broke me the night before. And I don’t think I ever will. How do you tell someone that their child was abused and they knew nothing about it?

I’m still trying to connect with my friends. To laugh with them the way I used to, without feeling guilty. To go clubbing with them, without looking over my shoulder. To go to a game with them, without running away from men and grasping for my phone every five minutes. I’m trying so hard, but I know that there’s a long way to go.

Memories are what hurt the most. I can fight every day, I can take down every challenge that’s ahead of me. But how do you fight your past? How do you get away from it, when it’s going with you every step of the way? Memories; they come, they drown me in pain, kick the air out of my lungs and leave me speechless. I want to scream, I want to fight, I want to feel rage, I want to feel alive when I’m fighting them. But how am I supposed to fight, when I can’t breathe? How am I supposed to fight something that’s only in my head?

But I’m still here, right? I’m still standing, I’m facing my fears every day. I laughed so hard the other day that I started crying. I’ve been walking every morning for two weeks in a row now. Sometimes I manage to get up before the sun and sometimes it’s around noon. But I still get up. I even started going to cooking classes. He told me I wasn’t capable of cooking and that I would probably kill him with it, how bad it was. But I made the best pasta bolognese the other day and I ate it. I think that was the first proper meal I’d had in months.

I’m still fighting. This morning I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time, I didn’t see the broken image of me looking back. For the first time, there were no tears, there was no pain on that face, there was no fear in those days. For the first time, after three years, I saw peace on that face.

I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy way of getting out of his controlling abuse. I wish I could tell you that there are five perfect steps you need to follow and then you’re healed. I wish it was that easy. But it’s not. It’s a struggle, every day is a challenge. Every time the phone rings, you think it’s him. Every time you’re late somewhere, you get anxious. Every time you try to enjoy yourself, you feel guilty. His manipulation is so deep in you, that it takes a hell of a strength to pull it out. But getting out of that relationship, walking away, choosing yourself over him is already halfway down the road to a new you. We got this. We survived him, we can survive the aftermath too.