Editor’s Note: MADlines, aka Maddy Clifford, is an Oakland rapper, poet and activist, as well as an educator in the juvenile justice system. In this personal essay, she delves into her journey of learning to love herself after leaving a toxic relationship.
I have a confession to make. I’m not over it. I haven’t healed from the trauma I survived, and I haven’t fully convinced myself that I’m lovable. That realization is painful, but avoiding it would only make me susceptible to repeating my mistakes.
A story can set you free or keep you confined. The stories we learn about love, about what we deserve, speak volumes. Even as a feminist, I have internalized harmful stories about love. These concepts came at me as a child within my own home. They bombarded me at school and as I walked through the world. I was stalked by societal expectations, harassed by desire even before I grew into my adolescent body.
I was taught that it isn’t normal to be alone. “Why is a beautiful girl like you still single?” men would ask. I was taught that it is my duty to sacrifice my wellbeing for others. I was taught that it’s normal for relationships to be tiring sites where, as a woman—and, therefore, a nurturer—my job is to act as an unpaid therapist. I was taught that it’s selfish for me to demand respect, to set firm boundaries, to enjoy being in solitude.
I knew that these stories were problematic in theory, but I still fell in line. But perhaps one of the most dangerous stories I was ever taught is that physical abuse is the only abuse that matters. Trust me, it isn’t.
Breaking the Curse of a Toxic Attachment
Over a year ago, I ended a four-year relationship. I loved this person profoundly and thought that we could remain cordial. What I’d hoped would be a normal separation morphed into an unnecessarily agonizing upheaval that impacted my sense of self-worth. Every breakup is hard, but this one changed my life. I had to come face to face with the hard truth: it had never been a normal relationship to begin with.