[Content warning: intimate partner violence, suicide, self-harm]
They’re right about recovering from toxic and abusive relationships: it’s hard. Especially when both parties fucked up. Relationships, even the toxic and abusive ones, are never without good moments. That’s the shitty part. You don’t know if you miss your ex or the good memories. But you do know that there are triggers.
When people think of PTSD, they think of war vets in combat. But other trauma survivors end up with it, too. A PTSD sufferer can be a nonbinary Black person who fights a war with themselves over the toxic messages they received in life — from the assaults they have survived and suffered to the relationship that has left emotional scars.
My abuser and I, during the beautiful moments of our toxic relationship, would listen to music together on Skype. A lot of the time, it was ironic enjoyment of certain rap songs, or cultural exchange. I would show her some reggae songs and then I would hear some of the music that originated in her hometown.
For that moment, I felt wanted and loved. For that moment, I didn’t feel neglected. I didn’t have the urge to threaten to hurt myself so she would stop yelling at me.
But the abuse cycle is strong. The feeling of bonding and euphoria definitely ended. I remember only a few days or hours after we had bonded, I would confide in her my feelings regarding mental health issues and in return, I got a callous response. When I told her about my self-harm, sometimes she would yell at me. Sometimes I would freeze up. Other times I would go into fight or flight mode and do things that I knew would get her to pay attention. We were not meant for one another, something I realized when she broke up with me.
I developed PTSD around the time I was sexually assaulted by some random dude on Halloween of 2014. I didn’t even tell my abuser because I knew her responses would be victim-blamey. I didn’t mention the nightmares I started having or the hypervigilant behaviors I developed. It got worse after she and I had a falling out. Eventually, I was able to finally figure out why certain songs made me want to punch a wall.
I tried to hard to maintain a friendship after we broke up. I remembered trying to interact with her after she ghosted me. After she implied she still wanted to be my friend. I remembered the desperation that I felt not to lose another person, and the manipulative-ass behavior that I used to keep her in my life. We had a horrible falling out. Shit hit the fan, and the things I tried to keep things working — despite the constant breakdowns I had over thinking about how unwanted she made me feel — did not work. It did not work and it would not work. It could not work.
Even though it’s almost two years, it still haunts me. At the time, I did not identify any of my behavior as toxic, nor did I identify hers as abusive. I was used to being yelled at by people because of the household I grew up in. I brushed it off because I remembered she had a hard life. I compared our lives to each other’s. Neither of us had the best childhood. I was going through severe depression and other issues that were seeping up to the surface and I lived with my parents.
She pushed me to find a therapist, but as a queer person who is also nonbinary and Black, the idea was scary. Even in a place like New York City. I would explain this to her and she would not understand. How could she? She was cisgender. She didn’t understand how badly my anxiety manifested. Sometimes I wondered how much effort she put in. Folks that attacked me later on told me that they thought our relationship was not healthy and that I was too toxic. Those same people ignored me when I finally decided to go to therapy (again). I was even called “crazy” by my abuser.
Fast forward to now.
Certain rap songs trigger me. The songs we used to listen to together literally make me freeze. Every time I listen to certain artists, I am very wary: will I be able to laugh like I did when I dated her? Will I think of the times that she yelled at me and triggered the PTSD symptoms that I have now? Or will I think of the toxic ways that I have responded to her behaviors and how I was never called out in the proper way?
I remember the last messages she sent during our falling out. I was severely suicidal and felt like existing was one of the worst things I could do. My medication dosage had to be increased. April was bad — I only wrote one article that month because of my worsening symptoms. Sometimes I do worry about her. I wonder if she snoops on my Tumblr to figure out how I’m doing. A lot of times I want to tell her “fuck you” in person.
But I’m too triggered. Even the sound of her voice haunts me. Those songs haunt me.
I’m OK. Just don’t play those songs around me.