So, how does one go to war with one’s self, and one’s past, and the things done to them? Damned good question, and I had to find – or, I suppose, create – an answer that fit me.
If you haven’t already, be sure to head over and read part 1 of this series of posts (this is the final part, part 12), in particular the Introduction section that puts this into a bit of a larger context, and gives a couple of disclaimers (like, for instance, assuming that I’m talking about a specific person or persons in these posts.) Even if you don’t read the rest of that post, read the Introduction. This isn’t just about a single person in my life, and it’s not about men or women. While it happened to a guy, and it’s being told by a guy, you can change “he” and “she” to any gender you like, and it still fits.
I knew there was a problem, and well… I don’t know what triggered the “I know what it is” moment. Something clicked, something fell into place. Just, something happened. I think it’s that the Universe / God / Random Chance / Your Diety Of Choice decided to lay it all out in the right order for me to see it. That week where various things happened to push my buttons. The post on Gaslighting. Someone attempting to tear me down. All of it laid out just right. It basically hit me – no longer was it “I’ve had an abusive person in my life, but thankfully I was unaffected by it”. No, I had an abusive person in my life, and I was their target of choice at one point. Someone else had entered my life, and found way to stack a few things on top of that.
So. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I was emotionally abused.
There’s a reason why friends and / or counciling works: now I’ve internalized a piece of the big picture. I could see it now. But, that doesn’t mean I’ll keep seeing it. Left to my own devices, there’s a good chance I would stimply start shoving those old relationship zombies back in their little room, and pack ’em just as tight as could be. Nothing would get accomplished. Admissions like that can’t be just to yourself: you’ve internalized it, now externalize it. It was around the fire with some friends. Someone was talking, and I blurted out “I’ve got a story to go witht that. Actually, I have two stories.” Unknown to me, two of the people around the fire already knew something was wrong with me – they litterally had whispered “What’s up with Davis?” “I have no idea.” Eventually, I told story number one, which was inconsequential. But, I know how this works: momentum is a thing in communication. If you stop talking, well, you might not start again. By starting with a softball story, I had started talking. Continuing to talk would be easier. (And, if you’ve followed all of this series of posts, you’ll notice that’s also how I started this; my first post was a softball post, but it got me talking.)
I finally said it. I explained what they already knew: I was in an abusive relationship, and I was emotionally abused. They already knew this. In fact, there’s been more than once where it had been metioned in a round about way, and I blew it off. I brought up gaslighting, and the fact I used to think she just had a bad memory for conversations. He blurted out “I thought you were just being sarcastic!” Other people knew, but they could never tell me: I would simply filter it out. I distorted my own reality to defend myself from something I didn’t want to be true.
I also had a long sit-down chat with someone about it, but honestly, that moment around the fire was the most important one in the process for me. Admitting, openly to others, that it happened. At that point, I still had plenty of zombies walking around in my head, doing damage, but the important thing was there was no longer a room with a door to stuff them back into. Soon, I’d have to pull out the shotgun and the chainsaw, and deal with them directly.
There were more admissions, of course – but, those didn’t have to happen nearly as publicly.
In the end, abuse is always about the same thing: power. The power to control someone else. There’s various reasons why someone might want to have that control, ranging from “I don’t want the other person to leave” to “I want to be better than the other person.” Here’s the thing: power is the result of successful abuse, but there’s only one tool that can be used to gain power: fear. It can’t even be a minor fear. It’s got to be something almost fundamental to the person, otherwise the effort becomes to great. An abuser would have to cultivate a fear to the point it was usable. That takes a level of ability and talent most people lack, and I hope not to meet someone who does have those levels. But, if you stumble upon the fundamental fear of a person, you’ve got a usable toolchest for abuse.
Fine, so, what the hell do I fear? Well, you can’t make me physically fear someone. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) I’m not wired that way. And, well, at one time I learned how to fight dirty and hard. It was part of my anger issues, and I can’t say I’m proud of it. But I can say I was good at it. Eventually, I got control of it. And, finally, I learned a thing sometime, somewhere: all I had to do is smile at someone to make the back off if they physically threatened me. Big, toothy smile. A friend saw me give that smile once to someone who got in my face, and watched him back off suddenly. She told me never to smile like that. Thing is, my fear circuit for the physical world is pretty broken – somewhere, it got crosswired with “anger” and “bejesus scary” modes. I haven’t been in a fight since my early 20’s, and that’s not because people haven’t gotten in my face over the years: it just smile, and they back down. Works for me. And, on top of that, throw in various forms of martial arts I studied on my own, and I just fall into that category of people not to be messed with.
I do have a mild phobia of ants, and clausterphobia. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) Though, the ants thing just gives me the ability to either teleport at will, or get really grumpy. Not usable. Clausterphobia is similarly unusable – and, I’ve actually had to deal with that many times. (I have a friend who owns a plumbing company, and it’s not uncommon to end up in a crawlspace under a house. Hey, there’s a paycheck at the other end of that crawlspace, damned straight I’ll deal with it and get paid.)
I don’t really fear breakups. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) I’ve been through them before, and while it can be a bit painful, they’re not that big of a deal overall. In fact, usually I’m left with a really good friendship that tends reflect two people who’ve gotten to know each other very well. In fact, that’s one of the really hard parts about having people forced out of my life: one of those people who knew me well didn’t ever return. That part makes me sad, to be honest. She was a good friend. But, it’s not a fear.
I don’t fear getting yelled at. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) I don’t fear fights in a relationship. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you.) I don’t LIKE having fights, and my opinion is to communicate, rather than fighting, but sometimes communication does break down, and it happens.
I don’t fear failure. (You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded. Everytime I fail, I learn something new. Every failure, in one way or another, is a success.
(You’re avoiding it, aren’t you?) Yes, I’m desperately avoiding it, because I always avoid it. And, let me explain: I have a cat curled up on me, looking at me concerned, because even just writing about it, after having come to the realization over a week earlier as to what fear was triggered, and used, it’s still making me cry. And, I’ll warn you: this is a little graphic.
What I’m avoiding is a cold night when I was in my early 20’s, after having read a note that said “Better this way.” I’m avoiding the yelling and screaming fights that had proceeded days before. I’m avoiding picking up a flashlight, and beginning the process of walking around 5 acres, searching. I was already certain I was going to find something bad. Something just wasn’t right, and I knew it. I’m avoiding finding a body, with a hole in one side of the head, and a giant cavity in the other side where there used to be brains. I’m avoiding all the blood everywhere, bits of hair, brain matter, and eyes that were fixed open but saw nothing. I’m avoiding the smells. I’m avoiding seeing a .44 magnum a few inches from her hand. I’m avoiding telling my dad. I’m avoiding calling 911. I’m avoiding talking to the cops. While holding my dad’s hand while we walked down the driveway to the cops. I’m avoiding helping clean up the mess that’s left after they took away the body. I’m avoiding the funeral. I’m avoiding her willow tree dying. I’m avoiding the fact that over the years, I keep trying to avoid it, and lying to myself that I’ll make peace with it. I’m avoiding that fact it lives in the darkest reaches of my head, in a sealed room with a big biohazard sign, with a nuclear danger sign below it, with a chemical reactivity warning below that. I’m avoiding that I make the excuse that she was very sick. I’m avoiding the pain. I’m avoiding the loss. I’m avoiding the fact that sealed room has cracked open a couple of times, in my darkest times, and threatened to consume me, and for me to follow that same fate.
I was avoiding my mom’s suicide. I’m avoiding the greatest fear I have: loss. And I have always avoided it as much as possible.
Now, it might sound like a really weird jump here for someone to be able to use that. And, it takes just a little explaining to see how it goes down in my head. In nearly every one of those significant or semi-significant relationships, I managed to avoid the usual consequence: the other person being gone, and probably never talking to you again. I remain friends – usually good friends – with most of them. Over time, some of those friendships have faded off, or disappeared. Others still remain, though we don’t talk as often.
But, her threats were different. She wasn’t threatening to break up with me. She was threatening to break up with me, and move to another state, where I’d never see her again. Simply put: I would lose her, completely. While not the same as dead, the result was the same: she would be gone to me. Yeah, I know, it probably sounds silly. Thing is, people who have a loved one commit suicide are brain damaged. And I mean that quite seriously: there’s a higher likelihood of suicide, for instance. Heck, there’s a whole list of attributes I could give you, but I think it’s easist to just say we’re brain damaged. We will never be the same again. It’s not the same as losing someone to an accident, heart attack, or some disease. It doesn’t even matter if the person was in pain. They chose, for one reason or another, to completely remove themselves from our lives. Oh, and like most forms of brain damage: there’s no cure. There are ways to deal with it, but there’s no cure.
Which may have had a factor in later ended up having a sexual relationship with the person who had moved and broke things off with me, and trying to maintain a friendship: it reduced the loss, and put things back in the scope of how I could deal with them. Yes, it was better to continue to see an abusive person than to deal with loss.
So, there it is folks: the bitch didn’t know it, but she had wielded the power of my mother’s death against me. Hell, it’s not even a particularly uncommon fear for people to have. I had just managed to take my fear, and hide it from myself as much as possible. I’m not saying anything she did was intentional, running along some sort of strategy for long term dominance over me. I’ll get into that in a bit, by the way. But, even without knowing it, she leveraged the worst weapon possible against me.
Now, you might be wondering: if I suppress the emotions behind that so deeply, how the hell did I manage to get all that? Oddly, it was me reviewing a fight from a later relationship. She was upset with me because I didn’t talk about my mother, and it was like prying teeth to get me to talk about any of it. Truth was, I didn’t trust her with that information. Why not? At that point, it was a matter of backtracking a bit, and looking for the sorest points. There were some stumbles along the way, but at that point, it wasn’t too hard to find that hidden room, and the connection between the two things.
Once she had that first fear to work with, that’s all it took. Slowly, yelling and disappointing my significant other became wrapped in with that fear – they became synonyms – because the threat of leaving wasn’t just said, it was almost always yelled.
Great, so I found the problem. Now what?
Each person finds their own therapy to deal with it. Me? I’m a writer. Once I put a word down on paper (well, electronic paper), I’ve set a piece of reality. It’s hard to explain unless you do it enough times, but it’s a fundamental thing that writing creates it’s own realities. All of this? This is 25,000 words worth of therapy. The admission that something was wrong. Accepting that it was real. Accepting that I was not at fault. Discussing what hurt. Exploring my support structure, and how it failed. Admitting to myself that I was lying to me. Opening up and telling friends what had happened, and using the support structure (that had been restored years ago). Coming to terms with the idea that, me, someone who’s usually damned hard to injure, had been injured in a fundamental way. And, finally, finding that root cause – what fear was it that allowed someone to control me.
25,000+ words in 8 days. And that’s not writing all the time, I had plenty of other things going on. There’s even stuff I didn’t brush on – for instance, at one point, I tried to push this all off on experiencing “work burnout” from these projects. At one point I had a sore back and sore guts. I went to the doctor, and he gave me meds that did nothing. I actually came to the conclusion that somehow, it was actually stress related (someone in my life once told me that I “carried my stress in my guts”. She wasn’t wrong.) A friend had a stomach bug of some sort, so I end attributing it to that. Until I sat down to write the first section, and both my back and my stomach were in pain. It literally hurt to write the first couple of sections. There’s so much more I could talk about; but I won’t, because I wanted to focus on the most important parts.
I wrote on Facebook one day: “Advantages to being a writer: need to kill a thing that’s in your head? You’ve always got the tools at hand to do it. Nothing is better than watching that bad stuff in your head die a slow agonizing death as you write it away.” There’s a truth and untruth to this at the same time. Yes, I wrote out my own therapy, and I shared it so that hopefully, if someone else is going through the shit, they’ve got some help in the form of someone else’s painful story, and their solution. (Unfortunately, each person’s solution is different: I don’t recommend my way of doing things, unless you are me.)
But, that doesn’t mean all of this is dead and gone. That room is still there. I’ve taken the tape off of the door, unsealed it, and put it on the map so it’s no longer hidden. But, it’s always going to be there. And, there’s still going to be scars. I’ve got old scars on my physical body, and emotional injuries, once treated, tend to be the same thing: they fade over time, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely innert. I’ve got a scar on my hand from a broken bone – if you touch it for too long, I’ll probably draw my hand back, and rub the scar a bit. The nerves in that scar are damaged, and it feels weird to play with it. Emotional scars can be the same way: if you start touching the scar, it’s still there, and it’s going to have some sort of effect. But, it fades over time. I had someone who was fascinated with playing with that scar on my hand: eventually, I just got used to it, and was fine with her touching it most days. Same applies here.
There’s always going to be those scars. Life did a bang up job on me in this case, but hell with it: “chicks dig scars”, right?
One thing that came up in this is the idea of “bad people”. Yes, there are bad people that set out to be abusive. They’ll set out to use you, twist your brain, and generally leave you in a pile of rubble, wondering what the hell happened. Then there’s the rest of them.
See, one person read this, and declared that I was calling her a bad person (not directly, indirectly). I know her: she’s a good person, but she has her issues, just like everyone else. She did something bad. Is she a bad person? I can’t say – it’s not my place to judge their relationship. But, what I can say, is that there’s people who end up doing stupid shit not because they’re evil or bad, but because they’re human and they hurt. That hurt comes out on others.
Is that the case with some of the relationships I’ve mentioned in here? I have no idea, and it’s beyond the scope of what I had to deal with to determine something like that. Plus, I’d have to sit down with them for days, weeks, or even months to get down to the heart of it. They’d have to admit to their part of abuse. Then we’d have to explore what deep seated thing caused the need for control, for power in the relationship.
You know what’s not going to happen? Any of that. I have no desire to. As much as I’m a deeply caring person, that battle is something they get to face on their own, or with someone else. But, not with me.
I’m not here to shame others, or to call others bad people. This isn’t about them. This is about me, and if you’re dealing with abuse, this is about you, not the person who abused you. I hope anyone who’s abused finds help, and live a happy life. But, I also hope those who have committed those abuses find help, too, and live a happy life. And I do mean that sincerely.
Many times the question has come up in my life: if you could go back in time, would you do anything different? My answer is always “no.” This time, I’m going to give two answers.
In every relationship, I have loved completely and deeply. I have given my heart to my partner no matter what. Yes, it’s come back covered in dirt, blood, and I think a couple of pieces have been bit out of it. It always grows back, stronger, but with a few scars. No matter how my relationships have turned out, I value all of them. I sit here today (for better or worse) writing this because of so many things. I am the sum of my experiences, and for the most part, so many of those experiences have been awesome.
But, there’s always been a thing. See, there was a moment – just a moment – where this all could have turned out differently. Just before meeting someone who would eventually turn out to be abusive in person, there had been a discussion. One of my previous relationships and I had a long – till like 4 AM – conversation about getting back together. It was there, and we decided to really consider it. There was a moment I really was. But, I had a choice: A, or B. Choice A would have mean getting back together with someone I loved, but we had broke things off twice so far. Both of us had done some growing up between the two times, so maybe it would have worked this time. I don’t know. Or, Choice B, which involved exploring a new relationship with someone I didn’t know nearly as well. I ended going with B, because A seemed too unstable. There’s been moments when writing this over the past week where I’ve seriously thought that maybe I really should have taken Choice A.
There’s always those pivotal points in our lives where we could have made a different choice. So many of them wouldn’t have changed the outcome of my life nearly as much as that A / B moment.
But, I don’t regret it. I have loved fully, even when the other person was attacking me. I have loved fully when the other person has loved me the same, even if it didn’t work out. I’ve seen both extremes, and I’m a richer man for it.
So, after taking a chainsaw and shotgun to the zombies, exploring the tomb of my deepest fear, and combing back out, what now?
I have no idea. I don’t have a plan in mind. But, I do know this: I’m a hell of a lot more prepared for whatever comes next. If I think I’m going to end up in a long term relationship with someone, well, I’ll probably point them at the first post and say: this is a part of me. You need to know this to understand me.
And, the next time I’m in a relationship with someone? I’ll still love them with every bit of my heart, scars and all. Granted, at this point there’s enough on it for a scratch and dent sale on hearts, but hey, it’s not a bad heart even if it is high milage.
One More Thing…
Off and on, I’ve got a habit of embedding music into my posts. This one is a bit of a victory song. Not completely appropriate, but it’s got a ‘feel’ that seems right for the moment… (complete with lyrics)
Runnin’ out of self-control
Gettin’ close to an overload
Up against a no win situation
Shoulder to shoulder, push and shove
I’m hangin’ up my boxin’ gloves
I’m ready for a long vacation
Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
Oh be good to yourself
You’re walkin’ a high-wire, caught in a crossfire
Oh be good to yourself
When you can’t give no more
They want it all but you gotta say no
I’m turnin’ off the noise that makes me crazy
Lookin’ back with no regrets
To forgive is to forget
I want a little piece of mind to turn to
Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
Oh be good to yourself
You’re walkin’ a high-wire, caught in a crossfire
Oh be good to yourself
Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
— Be Good To Yourself, Journey