“With or without you, I will continue to be,” I wrote in a poem about my ex-boyfriend when we began dating. It was for my own benefit more than his: I wanted to reiterate to myself that I am a strong human being who is more than someone’s girlfriend. If our new relationship failed (which it did spectacularly), I wouldn’t be left with nothing; I’d be left with myself, and that would be something. That would be okay.
Two months into being emotionally abused and I forgot this mantra completely. He had successfully manipulated me into giving up my whole being. There was no Zoe left to speak of; there was only the shadow that played his caretaker, and that was exactly his aim from the start. I married my own wellbeing too closely to his because I have an unhealthy tendency to throw myself at my favorite people. He smelled that immediately and exploited the hell out of it.
The thought of being left alone, even for a few minutes, became utterly untenable to me. Already a dissociated person by nature, I felt like a ghost when I was left in a room by myself. By month three I wanted more than anything to end the torturous relationship, but the prospect of spending the indefinite future alone was terrifying. So I remained his “partner” much longer than my self-respect would have allowed, if he hadn’t torn it all away from me.
The line in my poem was no longer true. It felt like with or without him, I would continue not to be, so I might as well stay with him. I was a ghost with a boyfriend, which seemed like a better thing to be than a ghost with no one.
Thankfully, my wonderful therapist reminded me of the line from my poem. Three months ago, she said, I was able to shrug off the thought of being alone. Three months ago, I didn’t doubt that my future would play out successfully regardless of my relationship status. Three months ago, I wasn’t smitten with a toxic person.
So, frightened to my core, I eventually told him I was done. I had been waiting for my bone-chilling fear of loneliness to abate before I left him, but at a certain point, I knew it never would.
Driving a stake through the relationship felt like cutting deeper into an already open wound, which defied all my primal self-preservation instincts. I was taking a chance that things would get better for me once he was gone.
And that chance paid off. Only three days after the breakup, I started writing again for the first time in a year, reconnected with people I care about, and astonishingly, enjoyed my time alone.
Without relying on someone else to breathe for me, I could breathe for myself. I no longer had to fret over how soon I could see him again. I no longer had to sit around until he decided to call me. I could make my own schedule and embark on my own life without that awful, awful waiting.
So I did. I rebooted this blog, set to work on a memoir, found old friends, and stopped trying so hard to escape from my own head. Without a sour relationship to distract me, I fell back on my hobbies and passions, which have turned out to be extremely rewarding. They seemed so far away when I was dating him, but now they’re a part of me again, and I’m no longer his ghost.