When I was 14, I was in a toxic relationship. My boyfriend at the time lived with a number of mental health issues and had easy access to his father’s firearms. He often threatened to harm himself when we fought – going so far as to tell me the feeling of holding his father’s (loaded) gun against his head. The manipulation reached a point where I feared leaving him or even saying no to him because I was not sure how he would react. Though he never physically harmed me, the mental, emotional and sexual manipulation left me feeling trapped both by him and by past traumas. My relationship often reminded me of a close family friend who was murdered by their partner when I was 10, and I was terrified of what would happen if I ever crossed a line with him.
Ever since this relationship, I have struggled to be vulnerable with partners and, due to the manipulation I experienced in my first relationship, I also struggle with issues of consent. My first partner made me feel as though I owed him something in our relationship, and (even six years later) I struggle to remind myself that my consent and happiness matters. I am lucky to have a support network in my family and friends that has helped me move past this experience. I am now able to find empowerment in healthy relationships and in advocating for other survivors of abusive, manipulative and toxic relationships.