Once you’re out of an abusive relationship you want nothing more than to enjoy being free. You want to leave your ex in the dust and live again. Breathe again, adventure again, go to the damn grocery store without being accused of cheating again. And most people savor this time. That was me. I left my four year-long, tire fire of a life choice and enjoyed being single and free. I enjoyed being me again. I did see a therapist for a while at first. Which helped. He was kind and listened but, to be honest, I didn’t want to talk or think about my ex anymore — he had stolen enough of my life. I didn’t want to heal by talking; I wanted to heal by doing.

And it worked! I chased my passions again and rebuilt myself back into a person I was proud of. If I am being totally transparent, I didn’t ever want to be in another relationship again. So, obviously, after a few years of the single and free life, one fell into my lap. Not just any relationship, an AMAZING relationship.

But here is the thing that no one talks about, dating again after an abusive relationship is traumatic.

Like super traumatic. Every single fear that your ex instilled in you starts exploding to the surface. It is scary and you feel crazy. It makes you feel like maybe it’s you, maybe you are the toxic one.

That was exactly how I felt. And it was uncontrollable, all my anxieties and fears were overwhelming and because my partner couldn’t magically erase all my traumas, I took it all out on him.

Here was this man that wanted to love me and support me, who was kind and patient, and I was yelling at him like he was the problem. When really, I had taken on all of my ex’s issues and adopted them as my own.

At first, I was angry. I blamed myself. I remember thinking, “Why must I keep paying for this mistake?” Seriously, this was years later, it’s not like my ex was going through any pain. Yet here I was, laden with trust issues and panic attacks.

Then I got wrapped up in all the guilt. I felt guilty for everything. I was guilty for doing the dishes and not spending time with my partner and, adversely, was guilty if I didn’t do them and played video games with him instead. I was guilty for going to work and having friends. I was guilty for not giving him enough sex. I was guilty because I thought everything I did was wrong. That there was no way for me to love correctly. All this guilt because I thought I had to feel it.

If this is you. If you spend more time crying at your partner then laughing with them. If you can’t stop pushing people away. If you feel like your ex has ruined you.

I see you.

I have been you.

You aren’t the problem.

You can fix this.

Here is the thing with dating after abuse, there really isn’t a ton of resources out there. When you initially leave an abusive relationship there are a bunch of programs and tips to get you on your feet. But a few years after the fact, it can be hard to find information that helps you feel validated. It is easy to get caught in the mental trap that you just shouldn’t be feeling this way. That you should be able to get over everything that is coming up. But, your pain is real, your guilt is real, and you are not wrong because you are struggling with it.

There is no way to love correctly. It is not a test. I know, it feels that way, but love is not pass or fail. It’s a creative expression, just like art. It’s something you create your own personal version of and then that version intertwines with another’s.

When I acknowledged that this was occurring, I got help. I hired a coach and told my partner about everything I was feeling and why. I made a point of making sure he knew what he could do to help me and stopped blaming him when I felt out of control.

It took a while, but it helped.

It has been a journey. I have learned so much about myself and about relationshipping in general. I have learned the importance of having people on your team. Whether this be your mom, bestie, or a coach. I have learned how to fight the lies of my ex with my own truths. I have learned the joy of stopping anxiety from taking over. I have learned that singing at the top of my lungs is a perfect outlet for my dense feelings — seriously, try it.

But the biggest lesson I had to learn is that no one is undeserving of love. You deserve love because you exist. There is NOTHING you need to do to earn it or be worthy of it.

When you are struggling, if you remember nothing else remember this. You are deserving of love. Even if your pain is telling you that’s false, it’s not. Write it down. Put it on your wall. Say it every day.

You are worthy of being you.