As I plan, save and pack for my impending move to California this summer, there has been a great deal of reflection and contemplation on my time in Mississippi. It will be nine years that I have been down here by the time I move. And I didn’t necessarily choose Mississippi. My Mom and stepfather moved down here the year before and we had other family here. But I am beyond grateful for the experiences and people I have been blessed to know and love and I am a better person because of it all.
Lately, the biggest thing that I have been looking back on is the reason I left Michigan in the first place and trust me when I say that I didn’t expect to leave from there. I haven’t talked about this often because it’s a very vulnerable and bleak subject that I have done a considerable amount of work around and there’s no need to be a downer all the time. The actual reason I left Michigan was to leave a relationship that was very controlling and, with the exception of physically and sexually, very abusive.
When I was 22, I met a guy. He was older than me, 13 years to be exact. He was sweet, adoring and charming and I was young, naive and impressionable and it was easy to fall in love with him. He had me thinking that he was the one I was meant to with, my soulmate if you will. In the beginning, he made me feel assured and safe to be vulnerable and fragile, which was and still is what I yearn for in a relationship. He met my friends and I met his and both groups were equally happy for us. I trusted him wholeheartedly and for a while, it was good.
As we moved in with one another and started learning each other, things started veering left. I started to notice a jealousy streak that he made rather obvious. We would go out and he would make snide comments if I mentioned an ex-flame or even an old crush from high school. He also started to get really insecure and impatient around the people who were important to my life. And slowly, I allowed him to manipulate situations and circumstances to make me choose him over the people and activities that brought me joy, including my best friend and brother.
As things progressed, they worsened. I was criticized and belittled for any and every flaw I displayed, consciously or otherwise, regularly. Each mistake was magnified and open for ridicule and judgement. Being called “stupid”, “pathetic” and “worthless” became a daily thing. Every time something negative happened, it was automatically my fault. I had become his emotional punching bag and he was often voluntarily relentless with his words and their intentions. It was the definitively darkest time of my life but also the most profoundly insightful time.
It took nine long, painful and scary months to realize I could no longer live in a constant state of fear, grief and shame. It was the day that my great-grandmother passed, who had been suffering from dementia over a year. The entire day, I felt uneasy. It was as if I knew something incredibly somber and heavy was occurring, even though I had no idea of the specifics. Watching “Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad, Black Woman”, something inside told me that this feeling had something to do with my great grandmother. I tried to laugh and smile it away but to no avail.
After getting into a spat with the boyfriend, I went into work and I finally opened up to a coworker about everything I had been dealing with in my relationship and how I was feeling, who couldn’t be more empathetic. Toward the end of my shift, my manager excused me early from work and told me that she would cover my shift for the next day if need be. I saw my boyfriend and I knew instantly what happened. When we got into the car, I called my mother who confirmed my premonition. It was then that I knew I had to do something.
The boyfriend and I talked about me traveling to Mississippi for the funeral and to visit my family. Then he asked if I would come back to him. I told him no. An onslaught of guilt trips and insults followed but I simply took comfort in the fact that my suffering was coming to an end. Within a month, I was on a bus and heading south with a bag filled with my clothes and a few other things, leaving behind a majority of my most prized possessions and favorite things. The ride was tedious and long but all I knew was I was free from my boyfriend and his rage and pain and that was all I needed to know at that point.
From the time I got off of that bus to now, it has been nothing short of a spiritual growth spurt and an incredible adventure that I never expected or could have even fathomed. Starting from a laying on of hands and being saved on my first Sunday in Mississippi to being in the presence of His Holiness the Dahli Lama and listening to him speak to seeing some of most beautiful parts of this country, I have evolved in ways I never knew were possible. And I am beyond grateful for it all!!!!
But it wasn’t from lack of obstacles and the reverberated conflicts of inner voices. When I stepped off that bus, I was a nervous, numb shell of a person. Many sleepless nights and anxiety attacks over spilled milk (literally) came across my path in the past eight and a half years. There were times when the grief and sadness was so immense and overwhelming, I almost couldn’t stand it. I almost couldn’t stand the guilt of neglecting the things and activities I once enjoyed and, more importantly, the guilt of neglecting my friends and family and above everything everyone else, myself. Luckily, every person that I ignored for that boyfriend had a well of grace, compassion and forgiveness reserved for when I returned to them; all of which I pay forward. They reminded me that I am loved and I am worthy of love and belonging. They gave me patience and space when I needed it and they held me together when I fell apart.
But out of each revelation I had received since that bus ride, this is the one major lesson that I gained from the relationship described above: at a certain point in every relationship, you are going to have to choose who it is worth more to love, you or them. And the longer you wait to make the right choice, the more difficult it will be to take that irreversible step. The reality is that you are only number one in your life and you can’t expect someone to love you more than you love yourself, other than your Mama (or even my Mama)!!!
More than anything, the importance of self-love and self-respect were starkly learned after that. It has been harrowing to get to the place of peace and self-acceptance I now know and love. It took being excruciatingly honest about how I see myself and others, confronting and challenging some old demons and beliefs and taking responsibility for my own emotional shit. But it made me evolve and grow into the powerful, positive person whose words you are reading. That’s what real self-love is about. And for that, I am eternally thankful to him and he will always have a sacred place in my heart. I can’t blame him completely for the what happened because I unconsciously allowed those events and experiences to be. And in spite of operating from a place of pain, anger and ultimately fear, I know deep down that he loved me too, even though he didn’t know how.
Photo Source: Cyndi McCaleb