I was a Division I athlete. I played field hockey for a university in the Midwest.
When I was in high school I was all about it. I just knew I was going to go to college and get stronger and become this amazing player and my life would be fantastic because of it.
But things didn’t really go like I thought they would. I spent my entire freshman season fetching teammates water and picking up balls and stripping off my jacket and pants in freezing cold weather to give to the starters during timeouts.
It was a degradation I’d never experienced before or at the same level since.
But in the spring before my sophomore year, everything changed. I got on the field during our spring games, I began beating my teammates in workouts. I felt confident and powerful and I just had this unbelievable trust in myself.
And that’s also when I met Adam. He was a fellow athlete. This sort of wide, stocky wrestler with these big blue eyes and this slight country accent.
He hooked me in pretty quickly. Within weeks of our first “hangout” -- because in college we always just went to dorm rooms to watch a movie instead of going on dates. Within weeks of our first hangout, we were saying “I love you” and planning our wedding.
We started dating pretty close to the school year ending, so just after we said I love you I was on a plane back to the northeast where I’m originally from.
And you know, we talked every day and texted non-stop. But I started to change. The powerful woman I was in the spring started disappearing. And I couldn’t figure out why, or where she was going.
That whole time apart Adam had all these rules, like, we could only say “I love you” once a week, because we didn’t want to get sick of it. And we both had to train so hard because we had to be the best at our sports and hold each other to these high standards. And I found myself apologizing to him every day for not being better for him.
It got to the point that when I returned back to school in August for preseason, all I could think about was Adam. The only think on my mind was being good enough for him and making him proud.
And it just never seemed good enough. He started doing these little things to embarrass me and to humiliate me. Yelling out personal details about me in front of strangers. Talking about other female athletes.
At the end of August, we had our first pre-season game. All my work in the spring had paid off, because they had me starting at right halfback.
I started off the game strong, playing aggressively. But then I missed an interception. And then I turned the ball over. And then they substituted me out of the game and put in a freshman. And I just started to self-destruct. Every move I made back on the field led to a complete crumbling. I totally lacked confidence, and the more mistakes I made the more of an attitude I developed. When the final buzzer went off, I felt this total anguish. That trust I had felt was gone.
A couple days later, we’re finishing up studying film from the scrimmage and my coaches ask me to stay behind.
I’m sitting on this old, beat up couch in one of the football rooms and my coaches are standing behind me.
They turn the lights off and the projector shows me on the field.
And then this clip reel of me starts playing before my eyes. Each clip is of me, and I’m missing a ball. Or turning it over. Or getting pushed by a defender. And I see my reactions, and they are horrifying. I’m throwing my hands in the air. I’m slamming my stick on the turf. I’m glaring at my teammates. I don’t recognize the person on the screen.
When the video stops, one of my coaches turns on the light. And my head coach asks me what I have to say for myself.
And it was the first time I realized I was not doing OK.
I told my coaches I was “in a dark place,” sort of as a way to get them to cut me a break. But I had no idea at the time how true that statement was. Because I really was in the darkest place I’ve ever been.
I tried my best to stay positive on the field while my relationship with Adam continued to get more toxic.
I isolated myself from my friends and family. I started crying for no reason and wondered why anyone would love me. I obsessed over the other women Adam would talk about. I just stopped caring about anything except me and him.
And then I was benched. The entire spring was a distant memory and I was back to being that insignificant person getting water for my teammates.
And it should have devastated me, but instead I was worried about whether Adam would still love me, all while he’s canceling plans and making his mom apologize for him when he hurts my feelings.
I’d break up with him and we’d be back together the next day, repeating this sickening cycle. And I could feel everyone around me was exhausted with my coming to them for advice on what to do and then ignoring it completely.
It wasn’t until I got Swine Flu in mid October that things really changed. My roommate was an athlete, all my friends were athletes. So when I got sick, nobody was allowed to come visit me. I spent three days in bed, barely eating and moving in and out of consciousness with hot and cold flashes.
And when I finally felt strong enough to shower and go to the mirror, I saw this pale, sad face looking back at me. I’d lost six pounds. But I’d finally gained perspective on what and who I had become. And I didn’t like it.
It took another few weeks after that to get Adam completely out of my system, in which time the field hockey season I’d trained so hard to succeed in had finished.
It took another few months for me to get back to some semblance of the person I knew before Adam.
I never trusted myself the same way as a person or as an athlete again. And I never started another game after I got benched that sophomore season.
And while that field hockey season broke my heart on and off the field, I don’t regret that it happened or even that Adam happened.
Because it opened my eyes to the world and to how easily and quickly things can change.
More than anything, it taught me that having trust in yourself doesn’t mean you have to trust other people.