I can’t seem to scrub that “part-time hypocrite” stamp completely off my forehead. I made a personal category, yet I’m still loath to use it. When I first started this blog, I made an “abuse” category. I’ve used it once for its original purpose, and even then it was just posting excerpts from an article because I was too chicken to involve my personal experiences. I don’t want to air my dirty laundry, but what else is having a blog for if not to be a space where I can express my opinions and experiences? Even as I write this, I’m not sure I’ll ever post it.
About seven years ago, I was in the middle of a year and a half long emotionally abusive relationship. Now, anyone who knows me for long enough will likely know that. If it comes up, I mention it. If not, I don’t. But very few, if any, of the people close to me really understand what happened. It is, after all, such a simple thing to say I was abused, but such a hard thing to actually talk about.
For a year and a half, I bore all the pain he gave me in relative silence. My family and friends knew he wasn’t good for me, many knew that I felt I couldn’t leave him, but I kept most of it for myself. I want to say that it was out of some misguided nobility to not want to burden them, but that would be a lie. The reality is more selfish and more stupid: I loved him. I knew if those close to me knew all of it that it would damn him irrevocably in their eyes; at least if they were in the dark they could only hate him for the things they could see.
After he dumped me, I still kept quiet. This time it was because I didn’t want to appear weak. I could handle it on my own, I told myself. I was strong. Everyone said so. Everyone still does. I moved on. When he came to my house to return my belongings, he gave me the “let’s still be friends” speech. I had learned long before we broke up to understand exactly what he meant under the ostensibly friendly words; he wanted booty call without the emotional attachment, leaving him free to use me while breaking in a new victim. Outwardly, I was strong. I told him with increasing volume to get out of my house. But he knew me well, too. I still loved him. His hold on me was gone, but not forgotten. Eventually my dad had to come down and throw him out because he and I were at an impasse. My dad lauds me for my courage that day, to stand in the living room telling him to get out. I still curse myself for my weakness. I was not strong; I was stubborn.
I did not always want to be silent. There was a time, soon after I became involved with my second boyfriend that I wanted to speak out. Even after six months the wound was still fresh. At that point in time, my abuser was still harassing me from time to time, pouring salt in the wound as it were. My boyfriend saw the pain it caused me, saw how panicked I would get. In the beginning, he tried to help me. He did what he thought was right. But how can one inexperienced person cope with something that I myself still cannot?
He did so much for me just by loving me as a partner should, by so obviously thinking the world of me. Through him, I saw myself as a human being. I saw myself as someone who was not only worthy of life, but also capable of achieving my goals. I will be forever indebted to him for that.
But in the end I had to be silent around him, too. He could not understand and whenever I tried to explain it would just make things worse. His disbelief that I stayed with my abuser for so long, indeed even after I was aware of what he was doing to me, fed into my own shame on the matter. After all, it wasn’t even me in the end who got out. He dumped me. For all of my talk about partnerships, equality, for all my feminism I couldn’t get out. I had a responsibility to get out. I was at fault.
My silence was not absolute. At the most inappropriate times it would come bursting forth from me, manifesting as wracking sobs or irrational anger. My boyfriend didn’t understand what was happening to me; he took the burden onto himself and refused to listen to any explanation I tried to give. He did not want to hear about my abuser, or my time being abused. Since I could no more keep silent than he could hear what I needed to say, we worked our relationship around the triggering points. We remained very emotionally close until the end, but our intimacy suffered greatly because of our problems.
My life went on. Changes happened; my boyfriend and I parted company, I decided to rediscover joy in myself and my sexuality, but my silence remained constant. It had become a habit. I used that silence to create an invisible wall between me and everyone I cared about. It was so easy by then. Easier, for sure, than facing the truth. It took me a little over a year to recognize the wall. I wanted to overcome it. I wanted to be whole.
I chose the wrong people to help me, and I suffered from it. Suddenly I was the abused girl all over again. I lost two of my friends, one of whom had been my very best friend, right before graduation because of the situation. In truth, the whole fiasco cost me most of the self-esteem I had built up in the intervening years. And still I get ridiculed by some of my remaining friends on how my lack of friendship with my ex-friends is “stupid”. Fuck, if I wanted to be called stupid I would have let my first abuser stick around.
I want to talk about my experiences. I need to talk about them. But I’m afraid. Every time I speak up, I get punished for it. No one wants to hear the truth. No one wants to know how fragile I am. How much I’ve suffered. They want to think of me as the strong one, but I’m not. For once, just for one time, I want to be able to share a painful moment and be supported. I don’t want to be told that I’ve ruined my second boyfriend’s life because of my freakouts. I don’t want to be told I’m stupid for my feelings. I don’t want to be told that I’m strong and therefore can handle things. I don’t want to be “supported” only to be left high and dry when I need support the most.
But, most of all, I don’t want to be silent any more.