You think after you leave a toxic relationship that the games are over. You think that you can finally stop worrying, stop crying and, finally, stop trying so hard to belong to your own life. You think the questioning will stop. The doubting will stop. You think the back and forth in your head will slow down. You think your heart will stop racing, your eyes will stop crying, and your soul will stop bleeding. You think that the pain will stop if you can just…get…out.

But, it doesn’t.

You think your self esteem will come back on its own. You think you will feel safe. You think that you will be smarter, leaner and tougher from the experience and that next time you will know. You think that there is no way you will find yourself in a toxic relationship again.  You think time will heal all wounds. You think the horrible voice in your mind will dissipate rather than constantly reminding you that that you are “Absolutely worthless.” You think after he leaves that you will have the emotional energy to go after the next promotion, the next relationship, the next dream.

But, you don’t.

You think people will see. – that they will know him like you do. You think they will discover the truth – that they will come to your rescue. You think they will do the right thing, stand up for the good, and save you. You think, you hope, you pray, someone will save you. You think that they will see the crazy making. Be able to pick apart the gas lighting. You think they will notice the tension in his shoulders, the smile that never truly portrays happiness. You think others will see the hatred in their eyes being thrown in your direction.  You think that they will believe you.

But, they don’t.

You think that you can shut down your life and be okay with the results. You think you can hide in your house with a bottle, a remote control, a cat. You tell yourself they don’t need human contact.  You think that you don’t need love. You convince yourself you don’t need anyone to hold you. You think you don’t need anyone to tell you how beautiful you look that day. You think you don’t need someone to care.

But, you do.

You think that because a person got out of your bed that they will also be out of your head.  Out of your heart. Out of your life. Instead you find yourself sitting with their memory at breakfast.  Stepping across their memory on the way to the kitchen. Riding with their memory during your commute. And sleeping with their memory as your tears hit the pillow.  You find yourself wondering…will it ever get better?

And then…you wake up. You look in the mirror and realize that no one is coming to save you. No fairy godmother is waving her magic wand, no superhero is scaling a wall, no knight is busting down the walls of the prison around your heart. You realize that there is only one person you are stuck with from birth to death, one person you are truly stuck with in sickness and in health, in poverty and wealth. Only one person who will be with you always and forever. And, that person is stronger than you think.

So you learn to save yourself. To love yourself. To stand up for yourself. To give yourself permission rather than waiting on others to consent for you to live. You learn how to have thoughts that are your own again. You learn to speak up. You learn to put yourself in new circumstances and to create new beginnings. You learn to listen to your heart rather than the lies in your head. You learn to love your body, to quiet your mind, to calm your nervous system. You learn how to feel safe again. You learn how to make failure your friend.

And it’s hard. Very hard.

But eventually you stop asking what’s wrong with you and start learning what’s right with you. You begin to wonder if all the things that are right about you were actually the things that made you so attractive to the toxic person in the first place. You wonder if your strengths are actually what kept you stuck for far too long. You realize your kindness allowed you to believe the best in someone even when they didn’t deserve it. You realize your introspection created a situation where you were constantly asking yourself what you did wrong rather than waking up to what they were doing wrong. You realize that your naivety of manipulation in relationships allowed them to make you feel like it was your fault even when you were being tricked. You realize your love for growth made it easy for them to convince you that you were the only one who needed to change. You realize your intelligence left you analyzing their childhood, their past relationships, their changing moods rather than judging their actions. You realize your loyalty caused you to stay in something much longer than you wished you had.

But, you also realize there is a huge difference in being loyal and being stupid. A huge difference in being kind and being codependent. You realize being introspective, intelligent and being willing to change are qualities that may have kept you stuck, but not qualities that you are willing to give up. You realize that the same qualities that attracted the toxic person will also attract the right person. You refuse to become bitter because you realize you already have the qualities to make you better.

And, you slowly realize that even though you are far from perfect overall you are pretty fabulous.