TRIGGER WARNING: This essay deals with the damage caused by a pathological liar.
By Ashley Gulla
I didn’t think I could survive you. I didn’t think I could find my way out of that dark, black hole I found myself in a few years ago. Even when you couldn’t take it anymore and quietly slipped away from me, I had no idea how to surrender. I don’t know the pain of losing a child, so it may have been ignorant of me to think, but the death of “us” left an aching, empty space I imagine was comparable. Or at least I did when I was in the process of letting go. Because I wasn’t just letting go of you, I was letting go of my innocence, and that was a heavy price to pay for loving you.
That empty space still exists but it’s different now. It’s just as vast as it ever was but it’s not nearly as dark or scary. Those parts of me — my fear, my insecurities, hopelessness and obsessiveness — don’t hurt to touch anymore. I’ve stared the monster that lives in my head straight in its eyes, and I’ve learned to be friends with her. I, even some times, find myself lost in that emptiness, with a sense of appreciation and humor, over that the fact that I’m still standing after everything. And some days, standing would be an understatement. I’m dancing, flying! Other times, not as often as before, I’m crawling. But I’m still here, and I’m happy.
I don’t miss you. I don’t wish things were different. And for the first time in the last three years, I’m happy you’re not the one surprising me at work, or finishing my sentences when I can’t find the right word, or wrapping your arms tightly around me as we both fall asleep. I cringe remembering how foolish I was. How much trust I instilled in you. How I hung on every single word, when I knew better. And I always knew better, but I desperately wanted to know different. I recognize now how desperately I wanted you to be different. And how unfair that truly is.
But I also remember every single night I cried until I had nothing left inside, not because you were unfaithful, but because of the cat and mouse game you played with me. Because story after story after story was just another way to manipulate me to feel a certain way: jealous, insecure, guilty, afraid, secure, happy, loved. I became a shell of myself trying to sustain a relationship that wasn’t sustainable. The very spirit of who I am and why you loved me, which I believe you did, was missing. Or, hiding really. Scared. Angry. Hurt. Broken. Shaking somewhere in a dark corner, away from the world.
I lost myself in the process of trying to hold you to a standard that just wasn’t possible. To say my heart was crushed would be putting it lightly. I was not only learning how to accept that “we” were never going to be, but more importantly, how to trust myself again because in the midst of trusting you, you taught me not to trust myself. With every reassuring lie and false promise, you convinced me that my intuition, logic, and understanding of the world was wrong. I knew better. But I wanted to know different.
I’ve had a lot of time to step away from the fantasy that lived vividly in my heart, and I realized I got caught up in the idea that one day you could be honest with me. That everything wasn’t a big game I didn’t know I was playing, and you could love me the same way I loved you. But even with our last conversation, two and a half years after I first said I loved you, you still intentionally fed me lie after lie. It wasn’t surprising. And it didn’t hurt. Because I now see that lying isn’t who you are, it’s just something you do. It’s a way out of facing the monster that lives inside your head. A monster I came to know very well.
I’ve searched high and low for answers and understanding, hoping one day to hear words from you that I know will never come. I have tried to wrap my mind around the idea that people can love you, even if they don’t know how to. The wisdom I’ve gained from exploring the more rigid and insensitive parts of myself only exists because I took a chance and followed my somewhat misguided heart when I decided to invite you inside. And although my innocence is gone, loving you was never a mistake because it got me here. A place where my spirit is now peaking its curious but weary head out from where it was hiding, to see if it is safe to come out. And on the days I do feel safe enough to explore, I face the world with a deeper ability to empathize and love.
The effects of deep betrayal and manipulation have the ability to last a lifetime and I don’t doubt I will be dealing with these issues for some time to come. You pulled the wool over my eyes countless times — I should hate you, but I don’t. I want to hate you, but I don’t. Even on the seldom days, when memories hit me with the now unfamiliar feelings of hurt and anger, I would give anything to hate you, but I just don’t.
Loving you, what little I saw of you, helped me love myself and I now can see that hate doesn’t really exist. Fear, hurt, and sadness all do but hate? I don’t think so. I see myself and the world very differently now and to see the world without hate in it, despite the madness that surrounds us, is a gift. And oddly enough, in my heart of hearts, I feel I owe you a thank you for that.
Ashley Gulla is an author, artist and a pit bull advocate from Cleveland, Ohio.