Ghosts are scratching my brain tonight.
The topic has been on the edges of my periphery for awhile, swirling the drain of my consciousness. And maybe it’s time I talk because to not do so is just sticking my head in the sand.
I was in an abusive relationship for 6 years, from my early to mid twenties.
I’m not talking about Hollywood stereotypical woman with a black eye, cigarette and baby acting nasty to her husband. Hollywood does not have the right of it, in any fashion.
Physical abuse was part of it, to be sure. Particularly in the early years.
But I was a college student. Then college graduate. Then professional. The surface of my life appeared to be following in standard mid-America fashion, though I was a bit weird and definitely introverted.
The hows and whens of getting into this relationship are not necessary to share. I had moments of intuition, to be sure. I had moments of doubt. But what people need to understand is abuse does not start out the gate as beating someone up.
No, the first step is emotional engagement and manipulation. The first portion of our relationship was him learning my buttons by way of wooing and earning my trust. Don’t get me wrong. Not a smart man. Just very manipulative and wise to navigating human nature.
I want to take a moment to point out lying and manipulating are not the same thing.
I had childhood injuries used against me, sandwiched with the repeated message of the only person who understands you is me. The only one who gets you is me. The only one who will always be there for you is me.
It was by far the easiest button to push. A lonely introverted child who was not close to her family at this time, in an attempt to extricate herself from perceived childhood misery.
Repress and run, that is my standard M.O.
By the time I felt the urge to run, I was tightly wrapped in his reality. A reality where he was nearly suicidal any time he felt me slipping away. A reality where drinking, and cutting, and midnight runs to the ER became David Lynch nights to my college days.
I wanted to save him.
We were about six months into the relationship before the first fist flew. He was drunk. Blacked out drunk. Made it easier for me to accept, I think. Not being in his right mind. Along with the teary eyed, nevergonnadoitagain apology.
And he didn’t. Not in that fashion.
Looking back, I hadn’t even seen the war I was losing before the first bruises. It was a 3 prong attack: isolating me, convincing me he was a victim who just needed my love to do something with his life, and exposing me to the world of night most people do not realize exists when they are at home sleeping in their beds.
The emotional abuse and sexual abuse were a majority of my reality.
If you loved me, you would…
People who love each other…
The physical abuse was used as punishment for when I pushed hard enough and he agreed to do something. Like going out with one of my friends. The night would end with my head meeting a wall, or his head. Punishment for wanting anyone but him in my life.
Or in the early years when I fought back.
A weird thing started happening to me. I mean, beyond the surreal hell I was living.
He only worked for the first few months of our relationship. During the grooming period, when he was still trying to ingratiate himself into my life.
Once he was sure of my sympathy towards his upbringing and horrible childhood, he promptly quit with big plans of all the amazing things he was going to do.
So I was going to college and supporting the both of us. I was operating in an upward trending fashion, as if I was heading towards a Suburbian middle class life. I was taking psychology classes. I was an intelligent, self directed, independent individual.
Until I got home. Then emotional reality stepped in, and I had no control over what was happening to me. But a part of my mind stood apart, whispering to me. My brain maintained it’s own monologue of how fucked up the situation really was.
In the sober moments.
We spent a large portion of time drinking. He was running from the ghosts of his childhood, I was running from the ghosts of my current life.
In general I avoid conversations about domestic violence. Repress and run. But also because there is no way for anyone not in the situation to understand the situation. And not every situation is the same.
What is the same is abuse is not about anger management. It is not about being pissed off, or stressed, or a case of kick the dog syndrome.
Abuse is about control.
I was his mother. I was his plaything. I was his accomplice to the quagmire that was his mental illness. The femme fatale and angel to his real life noir.
I am one of the lucky few. I’m out.
I descended to the depths of my own mental illness, made choices that my voice told me at the time were going to land me exactly where I landed, yet was lucky enough to have support and therapy to recover some form of life.
My life with him didn’t just scar me or break my bones. It shattered me. I was lucky to have professionals who picked me up piece by piece and superglued me back together. I was lucky to have an amazing family who, despite my horrid treatment of them at his hands, rallied behind me and gave me undying love.
But I’m not really out, mentally. I never will be, I don’t think. Even as I write this, I feel the compulsion to put in details about how it was my fault. How I saw the signs, or how friends tried to warn me, or how I had the means why didn’t I just get up and leave…
I have no words to describe the anguish I feel when I think those things. How I had zero control over my emotional life. How impossible it will always be to get others to understand.
Still I cry in torment because I can’t be angry with him. I can’t blame him. I will forever see him as a product of an awful childhood, someone worthy of my sympathy. Despite the rapes. Despite the trauma. Despite my body never feeling quite my own.
I used to live in fear I would see him at a bus stop. Or I would pull up to a stoplight and he would be staring at me from the next car over. Or I would look behind me and find him following me. Nearly ten years later, that has diminished mostly.
Except when I’m stressed, or exhausted, or worn down by life. I start looking at bus stops again.
The purpose of me sharing this is two fold, and partially selfish. I can’t live with the ghosts haunting me anymore. I need to get this out, and I have no other medium to do so.
But I need to stop hiding from this. I need to stop pretending this horror didn’t happen to me. Because every time I do, it reinforces mainstream misunderstanding. That they can leave whenever they want, or they asked for it, or they participated in what became their reality.
It’s not as simple as just leave him. And no one outside will ever understand that.
Nor will anyone ever understand how my relationships continue to be defined by him. Unless I’ve had a chance to watch you, study you, learn about you I will not trust you. I don’t handle physical touch well unless I trust you. I keep my thoughts and my emotions to myself.
Until recently I had successfully made myself invisible. But people change and grow, and it’s time for me to be seen.
And the writer in me apologizes for the rough writing, but I have to hit send before my nature takes over. No time for editing.