This Is How You Leave

The silence was palpable, only interrupted by the muffled sound of a quiet sniffle and tears that wouldn’t stop coming. Embarrassed, I whispered, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this. Maybe you should go. I’m sorry.” 

We were sitting side by side in my dimly lit childhood bedroom. He walked in after I fought with my mom about something that seems insignificant now. He’d been over so many times before that, yet somehow, that time seemed different. It was the first time he had ever seen me cry; it was the first time he had ever seen me as anything other than the person he knew.

I sat in a ball on my bed, head between my lap, doing everything I could to avoid his eyes. But even in the darkness, green eyes still found me.

“Why are you always sorry,” he said, not bothering to listen to my desperate plea for him to leave. “Don’t ever say sorry unless you did something wrong. You say it all the time, but I’ve never heard you say it without feeling guilty for something that isn’t your fault.”

He didn’t know it then, but that conversation changed me.

I needed to stop wearing my apologies like a shiny piece of jewelry around my neck, and giving them out so freely to the people standing in front of me holding a loaded gun.

Years later, I am still working on that.

There are things I need you to know tonight:

Please don’t apologize to the people who pour gasoline on you and expect you to dance in the fire. You do not owe anyone an apology for the things that you didn’t ask for. You don’t need to say sorry to people who spit out hateful words and say you’re to blame for them. Please don’t justify the way someone else hurts you. Don’t make excuses for the lies they told you and for the way they took the light right out of your eyes.

You have the right to say when enough is enough. You have the right to know your own boundaries and to respect yourself enough to walk away from a conversation, a situation, or a relationship that only hurts.

You do not need to give yourself to the people who don’t love and respect you fully. Please don’t let the incessant voice of guilt pressure you into staying because it’s the right thing to do. Only you know what’s right for you. You don’t need to put up with someone who chisels away at all the good pieces of you just so they can stand with their chest pushed out and their head held high to feel good about themselves. You are not the punching bag to someone else’s bruised ego. 

It’s okay to expect the best from people. It’s okay to keep coming back because you expect a change. It’s okay to have hope that all the wishes you scribbled into your Winnie The Pooh diary as a kid will come true and that you will have the kind of support you always needed. But if it doesn’t change, if those pages in your diary stay just as wishes, please don’t walk back into the ring and expect not to get hit. Please don’t go back and make up excuses for what they said or what they did or why it’s okay for them to hurt you. Please don’t try to make sense of someone else’s chaos. Sometimes crazy is just crazy.

You have the right to stand your ground. As a matter of fact, please stand your ground. Please stand your ground when no one else is on your side. When no one else hears you. You have the right to pack up your boxes and leave. You have the right to say when a relationship is no longer serving you. You have the right to stop someone from destroying you, and you have the right to walk away from anyone — no matter who they are: friend, significant other, family member. You have the right to guard your own heart. So please guard it.

Love is not conditional. Let’s scream that one from the roof top: love, no matter what kind, is never conditional. It’s not a tit for tat kind of thing. Love is not a laundry list of the things they’ve done for you, or given you, or provided you with, with a list attached of what you owe them in return. Love doesn’t have to be earned. Love isn’t approval. Love is consistent; it doesn’t grow because you got straight A’s, it doesn’t cease to exist because you accidentally left your dresser drawer cracked open, it doesn’t magically reappear when you bring home an academic award, and it doesn’t go away when you knock over a houseplant. Love is not conditional; please know that.

You need to stop believing all the lies that you’ve been fed. You need to stop putting the people who speak to you with nothing but fire on their breaths onto a pedestal. You need to stop thinking you are the sum of all the negative things anyone has ever said about you. You are so, so much more than that.

I’ll be honest; maybe I need to keep these words today. Maybe I needed to type them out to see them for myself. Maybe I needed a harsh reality check — a sucker punch straight to the gut.

At some point or another, we’ve all been fed lies. We’ve accepted lies. We’ve told ourselves lies. And we’ve believed them. You are not good enough, you are the one to blame for all the shit you’ve been handed, you don’t deserve good things, you are not a good person. 

These tiny little sentences are toxic; they climb into our head, unknowingly, and make a home there if we let them. They take up room. They take up space. They grow with every rock thrown at you. They live in your bloodstream. They scream at you square in the face until you believe them. They make you feel like less of a person. They make you feel like you are the one to blame.

Do not feed the lies. Do not feed the liars.

It’s going to hurt. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that. When you finally throw your hands in the air and tell the world around you that you are not sorry for the person that you are, it’s going to sting. It’ll knock the wind right out of you. You’ll feel desperate to turn back on your word. You’ll try your best to cushion the blow. You’ll apologize, you’ll try again, you’ll push to be the person that they want you to be. You’ll make excuses for the way they throw knives at your heart.

But when you finally get to a point where you are done fueling the fire and fertilizing the lies, I imagine it will feel a little bit like freedom. I’m hoping it will feel a little bit like freedom.

I wonder if I say it enough times, if I type it out enough times, will I really start to believe it. Will I start to resolve the guilt I feel and the self-blame I keep beating myself up with? Will I be able to come to terms with the fact that not all relationships are meant to be saved? Will I be able to resolve the one relationship I’ve spent nearly my whole life trying to mend?

Let me tell you this: I tried. I tried my damndest to be good enough. I tried so incredibly hard to be the person that everyone needed me to be. I showed up when I was needed. I got the grades. I did everything I was ever asked. I want you to know that I am not giving up as easily as it sounds, I am not walking away from something without having poured my entire being into making it come to life. I tried to look passed the lies spit out at me. I tried to look passed the years of being made to feel inadequate. I tried to stay hopeful. And believe me, I still am. I tried to say the right things; I tried to not let anger and resentment speak for me. I tried to forgive. I tried to believe that people change. I tried to recreate myself over and over again. But none of that is okay. None of it is okay.

And I guess this is how you leave. You leave when you try so hard that you start to lose pieces of yourself. You leave when it hurts more than it helps. You leave when the pain weighs more than the guilt. You leave when they keep telling you those lies. You leave when the love is no longer conditional; you leave when you come to terms with the fact that maybe it never was. You leave when the very people you thought were protecting you are the ones destroying you.

You leave because staying hurts more than leaving.

Maybe you’ll be back. Maybe things will change. But this time, you don’t apologize. You don’t say sorry. Because this time, you know it’s not your fault.

And so you pack your bags, turn around, and leave.

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10 thoughts on “This Is How You Leave”

  1. Wow! Just wow! This is the most powerful piece of writing I have ever read. It made me realize how much I actually do say ‘sorry’ when it’s not necessary. I especially loved; do not feed the lies, do not feed the liars. Your words have changed the way I see things and I would really like to thank you for that! I can’t thank you enough Jackie! I love you so much!

    Thank you!

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