This is, word for word, what I wrote in a journal entry many years ago. I got myself out—this all happened before I started travelling. Still, it is only now that I have become fully aware of what I went through and of the danger I was in at the time.
I want to stop feeling stuck confused hurt lonely afraid wrathful frustrated impatient intolerant rigid irritable lazy slothful compulsive narrow-focused slow scattered bored waiting disappointed unable unrealistic anxious scrutinizing self-critical unsure of self unsure how to act on guard clouded paralyzed in search of distraction/pleasure sad for others snappy incompetent underachieving searching for answers/motivation where there are none self-pitying ruminating navel-gazing blank serious fragile unbalanced adrift unfocused unmotivated
There was also a voice playing on a loop in my head, saying “Something is not right,” but it was a small quiet voice, and I tried not to hear it. (A louder voice insisted everything was fine.)
I knew enough to know I hadn’t always felt this way.
Underneath all that, I wrote:
When I’m feeling better, I feel curious engaged sociable interested in others good rapport caring funny lighthearted driven goal-oriented capable smart active
What finally got me out was the realization that I felt lonely all the time, even when I was with him—and that this was a good enough reason to break up.
Anyone can reject or break up with anyone else at any time for any reason, or no reason at all. Relationships are a choice, and ending them is a unilateral decision.
The other person can go to their grave not accepting your decision, and it doesn’t matter. The relationship is over because you said it’s over, and it ended the second you said it.
If these feelings resonate with you—of being stuck, of feeling that “you’ve made your bed and now you have to lie in it”—you NEED this book.
The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker
The only part of this book you don’t need is the domestic violence chapter, which contains, to paraphrase Captain Awkward, “victim-blaming claptrap.”
Anyway, the important part is to get yourself out. After you’ve had a lot of time alone, the fog will begin to clear from your mind, and you will know what to do next.
When you’re ready to understand what happened to you, read Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.
(Don’t read this first, because it takes a while to get to the “actionable steps” part, and meanwhile you can stay stuck. The Gift of Fear teaches you immediately to tune in to your intuition, and that is what will save you.)
Finally, when you’re in a place where you can fully grieve—when it’s time to mourn “the loss of the vision of what you wanted to have”—read Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride. Whatever you’ve been through—whether or not it involved your mother—this book teaches you how to grieve, heal, and strengthen your inner self.
Other things that helped
From Captain Awkward:
Maybe you’ve read this far but you still think this guy is a good person. Maybe he is. You still get to break up with him, if you want.
You don’t have to make a judgment on whether he’s a “good person” to decide he is not a good person FOR YOU.
“My advice: TGINNEBHAPAANQRFYAWYFSWIYPWNSMA
i.e. This Guy Is Not Necessarily Evil But He’s Also Pushy, Annoying, And Not Quite Right For You And When You Find Someone Who Is You Probably Won’t Need So Many Acronyms.”
Paraphrased from Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person by Alain de Botton:
“The people we love often frustrate us. Sometimes we just want to let them be someone else’s problem.”
I read this and thought “Yes! That’s what I want! For him to be someone else’s problem!” The very idea was a relief.
(Also, I may marry the wrong person, but not this wrong.)
From Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft:
Public service announcement: There’s no such thing as “blue balls.” Anyone who tells you otherwise is being manipulative.
“[Abusive men] sometimes pressure their partners with the myth that men can suffer physical pain or damage if they become sexually aroused and are not satisfied. Of course, I have never heard them claim that this risk applies to unsatisfied women.”
Also, we must wrest the definition of “abuse” away from abusers and look at the legal (and common-sense) definition.
Q: Is it violence if he pokes me?
A: Probably. Noncoercive men don’t poke their partners in my experience. If it frightens you, causes you pain, controls you, or makes you start wondering what he will do next time, it’s violence. Whether it will have these effects partly depends on what his history of past intimidation has been and on what his motives appeared to be in the specific incident. If he is repeatedly emotionally abusive, then a poke is definitely violent. In other words, context matters.
The abuser will of course deny that he meant to intimidate his partner; he just “lost his cool” or “couldn’t take it anymore.” He may ridicule her for being so upset: “You call a poke violent?? That’s abuse?? You’re the most hysterical, melodramatic person in the world!” To me, this bullying response makes clear that he did indeed have power motives.
Paraphrased from Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners by Kenneth Adams:
You may have committed yourself to this person quickly, before you got a chance to know them. In effect, you committed yourself to a fantasy. And now that the fantasy is crumbling, you’re afraid to look closely—because you’re afraid to find out all the many frightening ways in which the fantasy is not real.
But you can see reality for what it is, you can get out, and you can be free! Freedom is not given, it is taken—and you deserve to claim it for yourself.
Paraphrased from Codependent No More by Melanie Beatty:
When you’re afraid to be alone:
This fear is so common that even women who’ve been holding down a full-time job and raising the children (while their partner drinks the day away) wonder, “How will I ever live without him?”
Honey, look at all that you are doing, and all that you are capable of. There’s no question that you are capable of living without him.
When you feel bad for what you’ve “done” to him:
He is perfectly capable of living without you. You know how he apparently feels so sad and upset without you, he can barely get through the day? Yeah… You can just decide not to care anymore! You can detach! And that doesn’t make you a bad person, at all! The second you end the relationship, his feelings are NOT YOUR PROBLEM.
Also, note that in this case “the second you end it” = the second you DECIDE to end it, since it’s impossible for you to convince this man it is over, and unsafe to keep trying.
When you still feel guilty:
Imagine you’re holding his hands. Now imagine taking those hands and placing them in God’s hands. All the responsibility for this person is off your shoulders and with God, now and forever.
Say it with me: Let go and let God.
(I’m an atheist, but I still use this “Let go and let God” refrain.)
From Captain Awkward, again:
Read this as a letter from your future self.
“Listen: In the future, there is a small, quiet room that is just yours, where you are safe and you are free. […] Nobody can come into that room unless you let them. In that clean quiet place, you will work and you will study. You will love and you will heal. I know this is true because I am there with you. We are there together because you saved us. You saved us because you were brave and because you never stopped believing in that room.”
 Thanks to Tim Urban (Wait But Why) and Jennifer Peepas (Captain Awkward) for teaching me the standards by which I now judge a relationship.
From Wait But Why:
I enjoy spending time with most of my friends—that’s why they’re my friends. But with certain friends, the time is so high-quality, so interesting, and so fun that they pass the Traffic Test.
The Traffic Test is passed when I’m finishing up a hangout with someone and one of us is driving the other back home or back to their car, and I find myself rooting for traffic. That’s how much I’m enjoying the time with them.
To me, almost nothing is more critical in choosing a life partner than finding someone who passes the Traffic Test. When there are people in your life who do pass the Traffic Test, what a whopping shame it would be to spend 95% of the rest of your life with someone who doesn’t.
And from Captain Awkward, again:
One thing that guts me about all of your letters is your questioning of your right to want good kissing, good sex, a partner who can help with the bills, marriage, someone who makes you feel relaxed instead of stressed all the time. You’re using words like “drama queen” to describe yourself for being a human who wants things. You’re all asking “Is it even okay to want what I want?”
Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists. Because I want EVERYTHING. I want love, I want great sex, I want great kissing, I want to be able to relax and laugh with my love, I want us to both contribute financially to the household as well as we are able, and when the time comes I want to stand up in front of the people I care about and say “You bet I do” and sign that “meaningless” piece of paper.
I want those things without apology. Without limit. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of you for wanting those things, too.
I can’t promise you that someone is out there who wants those things and wants them with you (I don’t control that, just like I can’t make people kiss better or clean the toilet when it’s their turn) but my own life has given me lots of reasons to be optimistic on your behalf.
(“Letter #573, #574, #575 and #576: Applying the Sheelzebub Principle.”)
 This line is from a poem by Cheryl Strayed (writing as advice columnist Dear Sugar), and is quoted often by Captain Awkward.
“There was nothing wrong with my ex-husband. […] But there was in me an awful thing, from almost the very beginning: a tiny clear voice that would not, not matter what I did, stop saying go.”
(From “Dear Sugar, The Rumpus Advice Column #77: The truth that lives there.”)
It helped tremendously to learn that I could leave even if there was nothing wrong with him. (Of course, there were many things wrong with him—but I only realized that after I got out, because it wasn’t safe to let myself realize that until after I got out.)