It’s not that everything changed overnight for me. The things that happened, they didn’t all happen in one day, and the effects were slow and gradual, until suddenly they weren’t.
If you haven’t already, be sure to head over and read part 1 of this series of posts (this is part 10), 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.
It’s Not That Bad
Here’s the first thing I want to get out of the way: there are two phrases that go with any sort of abuse. The first one is “It’s not that bad, other people have had it worse.” The second one is “It didn’t really happen.” There are plenty of variants of either of those phrases such as “It’s all in my head”. Or, there’s the ones that other people tell you, such as “You’re just being sensitive” or “Oh, seriously, get over it.”
If you’re going through something like this, and you stumbled across this page, you’ll want to do two things: tell anyone who minimizes your situation to fuck off. Seriously. Just fuck right off.
Then, you’ll need to get the following factoid through your own head: this is your situation. Don’t compare it to everyone else. Yes, it happened. Doesn’t matter if someone else ended up in the hospital because of abuse, and you didn’t: the fact is, yes, it is that bad. And, don’t forget the concept of escalation – if you’re currently in a relationship that’s emotionally abusive, it’s only a hop, skip, and a punch to the face away from being physically abusive. It could happen.
Yes, I’m sharing my story for a variety of reasons, including as a cautionary tale. Nope, I’ve not been beaten. But messing with one’s head eventually has a cost.
Explaining this is going to be hard, and possible somewhat incoherent. Truth is, there’s not a specific incident where I knew something was wrong. I’ve known a few things about myself were becoming a problem over time.
I don’t let people touch me very often, and if they do, I cringe a little bit. This is one of those times I do put on a mask – no one likes to see someone cringe when you touch them. Now, there are people in my circle of friends that I’ll let touch me, though that’s some pretty close friends. Yes, I know: not everyone likes being touched. I used to not mind it too much, unless the person was creepy. In fact, at one time in my life, it was common to be touched at nearly random – I had a lion’s mane of hair (I’m a Leo, so, it’s more fun than saying “long, unruly blonde hair” 😉 ), and gals liked to run their fingers through it, even if it wasn’t someone I knew. I didn’t mind hugs – though I always griefed someone a little if they gave me a hug without asking, just ’cause I could – and that wasn’t uncommon for me to do.
I started becoming suspicious of people. I started talking less about the things that were bugging me, or wrong in my life, despite hanging out with a group of people on Saturday nights where that’s 1/4th of what’s talked about, or the fact I could simply pick up the phone (well, send a message on Messenger) and have a very judgement free discussion on the porch with Professional Little Sister. In fact, there’s plenty of people I could talk to about it, or about anything, but slowly I started closing some of those channels.
Women started becoming creepy. Well, I don’t mean in general, but specifically any woman that showed some sort of romantic interest became viewed with suspicion, and I felt they were creepy. There is, however, a very narrow band existed where a woman could show some sort of interest – but not too much – and still not be creepy. I did have one person who flirted with me that I considered to be not-creepy, and it took a while to figure out why: in reality, she was unavailable, and thus not an actual threat.
I became less and less physically affectionate. Just like with the hugs and touching thing, this sort of became a problem. For a short bit after I was divorced (for the second time), I dated someone, and something interesting happened: I never touched her. I’m actually a very tactile person with someone I’m in a relationship with. I like holding hands, kissing, touching each other (and I don’t mean in a sexual way – not that I object to sex, that’s just not what I mean here.) Basically, physical affection. In the span of three or so months, the closest I ever did to that was when she put her head on my shoulder (we were looking at the weather forecast on my phone), and I tilted my head over onto her head. This is not common for me. Now, I am very permission based: there’s a good chance if I’m going to kiss a girl, either she’s going to kiss me first, or I’m going to ask, until there’s a set of protocols for accepted behavior between us.
My smile started become a mask. I consider that to be very dangerous, going back to how friends are a mirror. If I’m faking smiling, there’s an issue. I can actually see it in some of my selfies for the year – the number of them that are faked -vs- the number that are real increases with time. Now, not saying I never smiled, and that it was always fake: I’ve had plenty of times I’ve smiled, and I’ve had plenty of things to smile about. It’s just that natural smile on my face started going away.
I started experiencing social anxiety. I’ve been described as an “anti-social butterfly” by a friend before, and it actually fits me well. Taken as a whole, I don’t like people. I filter out A LOT of people (I don’t do it online, just in person), and focus on the ones I think are enjoyable, good people. I know that I have to have a certain level of social interaction to keep me connected to the world, otherwise I’ll start to become a game developing cave man stuck in my office. But, more and more, being around more than one person at a time was becoming a problem. Nothing to do with my ADHD issues – just… extremely uneasy, and on the edge of afraid.
Then, I started developing what I’m going to call “Social Networking Anxiety” (I have no idea if that’s a thing, but, I coining the phrase here if it doesn’t already exist.) My social networking accounts may look personal, but actually they’re business – I do filter what gets put on there, mainly for business reasons. At the beginning of 2016, I started doing “Selfie A Day”. It was a random whim, but less than a week in, I realized it was a cool idea on multiple levels. One of those levels was documenting the things I was doing, the places I was hanging out at, the business I deal with, and the people I hang out with. I hang out with a very nice woman about once a week, and go have dinner or do something. Been doing that for probably about 5 months now. There exists only three pictures of her and I hanging out, and I actively avoid mentioning anything about hanging out with her on social media. Basically, I’ve put a nearly complete blackout one person in my life. Why? Inexplicably, in the back of my head, I feel someone is going to object. No, not someone in particular, just “people”. I can’t even figure out why. Thus, “Social Networking Anxiety”.
Then, I started losing my confidence, and my motivation. A number of people will tell you I’ve had some moments where my confidence wained at times. But, it started hitting an all-time low. I survived – kind of – by asking myself “what would the old me do?” It’s not that I HAD the confidence, I was just drawing from the past, and trying to go through the motions, trying to keep up. And, trust me, I was barely keeping up. Right now, financially, I’m just on the edge of fucked.
My motivation started waining. That’s uncommon. I’m extremely energetic, and I’m always working on something if I’m not spending time with friends or a significant other in my life. It’s what I do. I really don’t “kick back and relax” a whole lot on my own, because work is such a part of my life, even if work is defined by doing something I love, like writing. Someone recently suggested I needed a goat – I had to ask about that, and she meant a calm goat to keep a high-strung horse calmed down. There’s actually something to that with me: if I have someone in my life, I make time to relax with them. Sometimes it’s going out and doing something, sometimes it’s just vegging in front of the TV, sometimes it’s eating a meal together. I carve out time from my schedule – even if they don’t know I’m putting something off to spend time with them – to spend time with them, and to just flat out relax. It’s actually partially of a side effect of other things: I won’t enter a relationship with someone who’s company I don’t enjoy. Talking, or even just being quietly together. Years ago, I took sex out of the equation for dating – I won’t date for sex. Now, sex can be a part of dating, but it’s not the primary goal; I want to spend time with someone who’s company I so completely enjoy, I quit thinking about work in the front of my brain, and think more about the person setting across the table from me. If you’re in a relationship for sex, sometimes you have to endure stupid conversations you have no interest in, or be in situations you have no interest in being in. Plus, let’s face it: even great sex may only last a couple hours, and if you’re enduring a bunch of BS for the sake of a couple hours of fun, is it really worth it? But, if you’re doing it the other way around, life is much easier – find someone you completely enjoy your time with, and let THAT be the prize, not sex.
Well, that was a longer side-diatribe than expected. Anyways, my motivation for the things I do on a daily basis began going away. More and more of my time was spent, sitting there frustrated in front of a computer working on an app or game, unable to think properly. Not ADHD – that’s different. This was being tied up by fear because I was behind on things. I was vapor locking. And, the real kicker to that was when I lost $10,000 in November, thanks to being unable to ship a game project.
Insomnia has become common, but at the same time my brain now requires about 8 hours of sleep. Great – now I can’t get to sleep, but when I do, I’ve got to sleep as much as possible. Not exactly convenient.
There’s more. In fact, there’s lots more. Some of it, well, I’m just not going to put on here, and some of it isn’t too big of a deal when taken until it’s self. But, when you start taking it all as a whole, you can see something: I was broken.
It wasn’t just a person that broke me. It took multiple people by the time it was done. One relationship laid the seeds, and another watered it, and helped it grow. But, all it really needed was time.
Of course, all that stuff listed above didn’t happen at once. I didn’t wake up one day and think “Wow. I am so fucked up.” Nope, everything happened over an extremely long period of time. It was all slow and gradual – until one day, the Universe decided my time was up, and kicked me square in the balls, over and over.
I already knew something was wrong with me, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around what it was. And, for a couple of months proceeding the incidents I’m about to mention, I could feel myself getting worse and worse. And, of course, since I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, well, it just continued to get worse.
The final set of incidents began with a post on Gaslighting. I already understood the concept. In fact, I’m fairly familiar with the concepts of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I’ve spent long hours talking with people over the years about it – not because I’m a counselor or anything like that, but because for some reason, quite a few people find me to be a trustable ear. And, I mentioned before, the number of women in my life that were at some point victims of abuse is pretty high (actually, for long term and semi-long term relationships, I can count the number of women who weren’t abused in some way on one hand.) And, of course, I research stuff like this just because, well, I do. So, it wasn’t new information when I read it. It might have had to do with who had posted it, or it was “just time”, I don’t know. But, it stuck in my head.
See, it wasn’t that I didn’t know one of the people in my life had been abusive. I knew that. The realization had happened years ago. Big whoop. Thing is, that didn’t mean it happened to me. That’s how my brain side-stepped it. Abusive person. Long term relationship with me. But, didn’t happen to me – it’s not possible to abuse me. Logical, right?
Something with that article stuck in my head for a couple of weeks. Then there was the next thing. I had gotten a tattoo – all it says is “Love”. I won it, and I love this tattoo. It represents a lot of my life, my mission, and what I carry with me into the world: love. Now, not all of my friends are what I’d consider to be socially conscious. I showed my tattoo to a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and the other friend jumps in, and begins pointing out all the flaws (he has no tattoos, no tattoo experience, and was simply repeating what he heard someone else say.) It twinged me – I didn’t attack him. But, it brought back that whole tearing down process that had been done to me many times.
Then the final week hit. Someone hit on me in a weird way that sort of set me off. One person informed me they had cheated on their spouse. Someone lied to me. Someone failed to pay their bill on time. Someone asked me to lie to other people about them. One person’s long term relationship fell apart. Just thing after thing after thing. Suddenly, that long process accelerated.
I suppose I said it wrong earlier: I wasn’t broken. I was breaking, piece by piece. And if I didn’t do something, it was only going to get worse.