I had never seen a gun up close until I met M–. He was several years older, and said that he was returning to school after doing a tour for the marine corps. He liked to go to the target range, he said. He drove a new Mustang convertible, and was taking a few courses at my college. He was a charismatic frenzy of plans for having fun.

He was a walking time bomb of pain. Being only a 20-year-old senior in college, of course, I didn’t know that at the time. In those days, I placed a higher priority on what someone said, rather than trusting my own intuition.

Several months later, it was a string of choices to subvert my own wisdom that landed me in my dorm room at 1 a.m., arguing, crying, my hands twisted in the lanyard cable plug that was intended as a child-proofing mechanism for his gun case, begging him not to open it. There was a handgun inside.

“You’re going to have to watch my brains splatter against the wall,” he said. I remember his tone as a low growl, as he tried to pry the case out of my hands. I had wrapped the cable tightly around my own fingers so that he couldn’t get it away from me, and it was cutting off circulation.

The relationship was insanity. A thirty-something man was basically living with me in my college dorm room after his parents kicked him out. He was unemployed and without enough credit to even get a cell phone. He had cheated on me a few times, and I’d discovered it but taken him back. He was failing all of his classes. He caused conflict between me and my friends by lying, starting rumors. He would offer to pay for dinner before going out, but then slide the bill my way when it arrived, in front of friends, so that I wouldn’t argue. The Mustang he drove when we met? His best friend had rented it for him for a weekend, and M– kept it for an entire month, costing his friend $1,200 in fees.

He was dangerously charismatic. I changed my hair, how I dressed, the music I listened to, what I ate–all because he charmingly, but emphatically said that I should. There were whispers all over my life that things weren’t right, but I wouldn’t listen. The changes were so subtle and small that I didn’t see what they were collectively adding up to.

Listening to My Life

I didn’t listen because I thought that I was getting love. Then one day I woke up and realized I didn’t know who I was, anymore. I didn’t know who I would turn to, either. When I tried to talk to my friends about him, the general consensus was judgement. Why was I so stupid as to have believed his lies? Why was I staying? Couldn’t I see what was happening?

This was the problem–I couldn’t. It was hard to peg as an abusive relationship. The abuse didn’t come in the form of being told that I was stupid, or being hit–it came in the form of someone deliberately manipulating my closest relationships, and capitalizing on insecurities in order to have control. It came in the form of terrorizing me with a gun.

That night, my cries woke up the woman who lived in the room next to me. She called the RA, who came to investigate, and who wisely said that M– needed to leave. The woman next door later told me that she had called because when she heard me crying, she thought I was being beaten.

The Turning Point

I wish I could say that the night with the gun was a turning point, but it wasn’t–not even the fact that a gun had been present with someone threatening to use it had been enough. It gives you an idea of how little I valued my own life, at that time.

The turning point? It was so small. As I recall it, there was just a day when he’d lied about yet another thing, and suddenly I was tired of it and realized that if he weren’t in my life, the drama was gone. So, I broke things off and refused to see him again.

Interestingly–or perhaps not–I don’t look back and see M– as the problem. He wasn’t abusing me, as much as I was abusing myself. From the beginning, I saw that he was not behaving with integrity, and I made excuses for him or justified his behavior. Those choices seemed so small and insignificant at the time (“Oh, don’t make a big deal out of it,” or “Everyone makes mistakes” or “This doesn’t feel like ‘me,’ but alright, I’ll go with it” or “This doesn’t seem right, but surely he’s telling the truth”) that created a crazy-making relationship.

I’m not excusing his actions, so much as I’m able to recognize how my choices influenced the situation that I was in. He had the gun that night, but I had pulled the metaphorical trigger, shooting down my own worthiness and self-respect, many times over.

And now.

What struck me the other day was that I feel nothing but forgiveness for the situation. I bless it, which I suppose is odd to say.

It taught me more about trusting my intuition and guidance than anything else that I’ve lived through.

It taught me a lot about forgiveness, and how the person I most needed to forgive was not M–, but myself.

It taught me that a million “little” choices can add up to one big mess.

It taught me an immediate and intuitive understanding of one of my favorite quotes from Iyanla VanZant: “Your life speaks to you. You have to learn to listen.”

It taught me my worthiness, because from the depths of feeling so unworthy, I figured out how to rise.

To rise, and to survive. To thrive.

It’s worth asking ourselves on a regular basis: What is my life saying to me? Am I listening?