I stared into the murky depth, deep and dizzying. It was far from welcoming. These depths held a fire, much like a volcano threatening to erupt.

I was no stranger to that threat, as it had been my ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ for over a year. Those eyes caged me in and burned me where I stood. My personal microscope lens hovering above me constantly; this was far from the safety I had expected.

This particular volcano took the barely human form of my first abuser, my fiancé. I was young and naive at the age of only 17. I had no idea that one should run from the lava as opposed to wade right in.

I cannot adequately pinpoint a time where the light pink of romance darkened to the blood red of damage, but it swirled like water down a drain. Don’t get me wrong, I do remember a lot of what happened. I remember being madly, childishly in love. I remember sneaking kisses in the hallway at school; skipping lunch to go to the park together; dinner with relatives finally trying to accept us. I have fond memories of the feelings I was feeling for the first time as a teenager who was experiencing her first love. Then I remember running down the hall of a home that was not mine, had never been mine. I recall slamming myself inside the closet, grasping until my nails bled and the door handle was wrenched until finally breaking free. I remember the first coming as quickly as I blinked my already-swollen eyes, but I don’t remember anything after that.

When I woke up, all I felt was fire: a burning, searing pain in my head; fingertips slick with blood as I touched my scalp; fingers shaking but unable to move. The fire was everywhere, but this time the fire was not merely pain. This fire was revenge. The power held over me was meant to control my actions, my friends, my life. I knew I needed to reclaim control. But as every victim that came before and will come after me, I convinced myself that it had been the worst of it. I convinced myself that this time it was really the last time. Until it was really the last time. Until I woke up in a hospital bed with bruises circling my throat and an irreparable trachea. Until I saw those eyes staring through the recovery room, a challenge resting deep behind the feigned worry. Something about seeing her family members blocking the access to my room was enough of a reality check to know that our time was done.

Abuse comes in all forms, and not a single person is exempt from the possibility of becoming a victim. I’d never been a victim of anything but my own foolishness until then, and I won’t try to play the victim now. The fault rests in the hands of the abuser, first and foremost.

The fault is not loving yourself enough to pick your broken body up off the ground. The fault is in letting someone else hate you more than you hate yourself.

The fault is in the fire that consumes your heart until all it knows how to do, in the face of fear, is forgive.

Be strong. Get help. Don’t stay in an abusive relationship.