On Abuse Pt 2 (Summer)
Sometimes you don’t know your own self worth until you have to defend it to someone else. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve actually accomplished until you’re screaming it at someone trying to break you down. Sometimes you don’t know your own strength until you find the person you love throwing stones at you only to discover you’ve become a brick wall. And sometimes you don’t see your metamorphosis until you’re judged as a caterpillar but realizing you’ve evolved into a butterfly.
I was in love with him. More than love, I yearned for him. I walked to him in snowstorms, under highway over passes, dodging plows and distracted drivers. Walking through the park at all hours just to be next to him. My body was his, however he wanted. And the next morning, a ‘see ya’ was enough of a carrot to bring me back the following weekend.
What do you do when the person you love, the person you’ve turned your life upside down for more than once is the one who fills you with doubt, and loathing, and fear. How do you reconcile your achievements with his demands of humility, navigating your own words to sound happy but not proud? What tools do you use to build him up while diffusing he’s own self hatred? Where do you put the shame of knowing you’re demeaning yourself while trying to keep him smiling?
I was beyond low. My feelings of worthlessness extended into all parts of my non-professional life. I let others use my body. I filled myself with whiskey, cocaine, and sex. Outside of work, I did everything to fill the hollow in my chest. Eventually I met an alcoholic who loved me and I loved back. And in the beginning, most importantly, kept me from walking through the dark to a bed that would reject me by dawn. I would live with benign aggression for years, keeping my head down and my body in my own bed.
We are living through the latest iteration of female/femme empowerment. We are strong, independent, fierce. We don’t need partners to be fulfilled. With the right social and financial status, we can define our own destiny. How do you start a conversation about emotional abuse? How can you save face, be that femme force of nature while admitting you allow your significant other to put you down, demand your compliance, edit your own words and desires to not ruffle feathers?
We train women from young ages to be caretakers, to be nurturers, to be mothers. Chances are, one of the first toys a young girl will get will be another baby to carry around. Society encourages that attachment while young boys are broken of their desire for a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Women are empowered but still expected to nurture, to raise, to support, and when necessary, to self sacrifice to those in their care.
At the beginning of the summer I made a drastic move. I gave into the body I had walked through snowstorms for. We would give ‘us’ a chance. I felt empowered, that I had harnessed my destiny. The scene in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening played over and over in my head, that my wings were strong enough to follow my heart.
It wasn’t long before there were raised voices, stomping, slamming objects around me. I was told it was the only way to get my attention. This eventually escalated to constant questions of fidelity, where I was, who I was with, why I felt the need to go out after work. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped producing work. I told everyone that it was ok, that I was fine. I didn’t tell people when the mattress was flipped over on me. I only casually mentioned the fights, brushing them off as only those raised by sitcoms and reality tv can. It wasn’t abuse. It was beautifully volatile.
How do you wrestle with the guilt of hating yourself, your life, but knowing the only way to fix it is to hurt a broken person? We are nurturers, caretakers, mothers. We are supposed to build people up, to ease the pain. How do we demand more for ourselves and rectify those in our wake?
The last night we fought about holiday plans. I was expected to keep quiet about a subject knew volumes about (I wrote some of those volumes) because his friend was passionate about a subject even though his facts were wrong. “You don’t always have to be right. Just because you know something, doesn’t mean you have to say anything.” He expected me to play dumb and complacent within my own professional field. Then he kept screaming and pulling the blankets off of me. He ripped my headphones off with such force, they ripped in two. He slept on the couch that night.
By morning there were apologies. Promises to do better. A willingness to work on the relationship. But there was a caveat. I had to admit my part in this. How I escalated the situation by insisting on being right. Not knowing when to just let go. Not knowing how to show humility. My heart ripped and the tears came streaming. The person I loved, who I changed everything for, who regularly screamed at me, demanded my time, attention, absolute loyalty, who would rip the blankets off me, flip me off the mattress, would never elevate me. His ego would always need to be on top. Supporting my success was a blow to his own.
My last words were ‘I shouldn’t feel like a monster for wanting to feel loved, safe, and supported in my own home’. And he left.
I replayed what had happened over days and years over and over again in my head. At one point I found myself sitting on my couch with a sense of calm rush over me. Suddenly I could feel my wings. The caterpillar had become a butterfly.