A few weeks back I found out that a long, long ago ex from a lifetime very different than this one had apparently fallen deep into my Instagram and ???maybe accidentally??? liked a photo of me in a bathing suit that I’d taken over a year ago. I felt immediately furious and invaded. Then a putrid, fetid flood of negative memories came flooding back to me. How this person was coercive and manipulative, how much I did things I didn’t want to do with them. How they made me feel like shit on a regular basis, criticizing my body and making me feel disgusting, worthless, while in reality reflecting their own huge insecurities and projecting those on me. Fuck you, you fucking fuck, I thought.
Then I felt shame because I put up with a lot of their shit, how I yielded, ate less, and changed parts of myself while silencing others (while also literally shrinking). My face burned as I remembered that I mostly willingly continued to see this person, even when it was so, so bad. It’s crazy how many sad and shameful emotions welled up simply because he had dived deep into my social media account, which isn’t private and he technically could do anytime (and maybe had before?).
I blocked him immediately and fumed, venting to girlfriends who agreed that he was The Worst, who knew how warped I’d been while dating him. I still couldn’t shake the feeling of shame because I had dated that person. I had agency back then, right? Why didn’t I leave? Why did I let him do things that made me more like an invertebrate, operating on a lower level than my fellow humans? Then I thought about all the systems that I operate(d) within: societal and cultural expectations around heterosexual relationships, power structures, expectations of the “Cool Girl” who doesn’t make a fuss about anything, how badly I wanted to feel loved and cared about, and how I didn’t understand how to be angry, and how I didn’t know how to say no. How I had been fed the message my whole life through movies, literature, etc. that being with somebody, even if they were a parasitic insect, was better than being alone (and this dude was 100% a parasite).
Academically, I thrived then, throwing myself into research about plastic surgery in World War I, writing a thesis about portrayals of Catholic Madonnas in Peru and Mexico in the colonial era, presenting my first ever paper at a conference, and taking graduate level courses as an undergraduate because my professors saw that I wanted more. Now, I cling proudly to those academic successes, because the rest of my memories from that time are more like stinking pond sludge than anything else. I (temporarily) lost parts of myself then. My friendships suffered, my body image fell apart, and my world shrunk in horrible ways.
I’m almost thirty now, and things are mostly obscenely great, so it felt like a slap in the face to be reminded of that part of my life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had these nasty reminders of dark parts of their lives, but it fucking sucks. Social media has often been a great way for me to connect to people around the world and share my ideas and thoughts, so it was really terrible to have this bog beast emerge after being gone for so long. On the bright side, it was a good reminder of how much farther I’ve come in all those years. I’ve found a voice! I’m a forward-moving person making progress, building relationships I’m proud of, and I have a partner who makes me feel like I’m a sunflower always basking in a great big happy sun. (I’m also way better at being angry and standing my ground!)
If you’re in a relationship that doesn’t feel right, please leave. If it’s not safe for you to leave, contact https://www.thehotline.org/ or your local domestic violence organization. They can help you make plans for staying safe. You shouldn’t have to be with somebody who makes you do things you don’t want to, makes you compromise essential parts of yourself, makes you feel small, etc.: You should feel safe, cared for, and like your partner wants you, in all the complex things you are, to THRIVE.