Six subtle forms of abuse and what to do about them

The first step toward escaping an abusive relationship is to recognize that you’re in one.  The second is to realize that you deserve and can have better.  To that end, here are some characteristics, drawing on my own experience, that should help alert you to the possibility that you are being emotionally and verbally abused.

1) “Negging”

“Negging” has emerged as one among many despicable PUA techniques.  The aggressor, generally male, gives a left-handed compliment such as “You look pretty good for your size,” or “You’d be cute if you wore more makeup.”  But this technique isn’t limited to PUAs.  Abusive partners often continue to “neg” their victims throughout the relationship, as a means of keeping his or her confidence and self-esteem too low to consider deserving a better relationship.  An example is when my ex-husband told me, “Admit it, you’re not that great.  You know people don’t find you attractive, but you never do anything to make yourself attractive.  Like those beige granny bras you wear.”  Nor does this necessarily have to apply to physical qualities.  It could also take the form of “That’s an okay degree, but it’s not from as good a school as mine” or “You’d be more attractive if you weren’t such a nerd.”  As with many things abusers do, these comments are designed to 1) increase their control over every aspect of your life, including how you look; and 2) to make you feel so self-deprecating and unworthy that you will meekly accept this control.  A supportive partner encourages healthy body image and high self-esteem.  An abusive one consistently tears you down.

2) Guilt-tripping you when you assert yourself

When you calmly and reasonably ask for something you need or criticize your partner’s behavior, do they listen and take to heart what you say, even if they disagree?  Or do they immediately become angry and accuse you of being “controlling,” “manipulative” or “selfish?”  Or perhaps they react with instant self-pity– “You’re so unfair!  I can never do anything right!  I don’t know why you even stay with me!”– implicitly demanding that you switch from self-advocacy to playing mother hen and soothing their fragile ego.  Often, you feel like you have to apologize for being unhappy.  Now, there have been times when I’ve felt ashamed and even cried about problems my partner had with me, but I have always tried nonetheless to take responsibility for my actions, apologize, and express an intent to do better.  It’s reasonable to feel sad when you’ve inadvertently made someone you love unhappy.  It’s NOT reasonable to connivingly turn the tables so that all the focus is on what you feel and not at all on your partner’s concerns.

3) Establishing a complex set of rules that you can never quite live up to

“Don’t slurp your tea like that.”  “Don’t use so much toothpaste.”  “Don’t talk to that friend of yours.” “Call me at this time every day, no matter what.” “Don’t say ‘needs washed,’ you sound stupid.”  “Don’t drink Pepsi with your cheese and crackers, experts say that’s disgusting.”  And on and on.  An abuser wants an infinite amount of control over your life, so for every hoop you jump through trying to make them happy, ten more will instantly appear, and your performance will still, always, be considered insufficient.  There will be rules you are supposed to know about without them ever being spoken.  There will be rules about things that are no one’s business but your own.  So many rules that your existence will feel like a pit of quicksand in which the more you struggle to stay afloat, the stronger will be the force pulling you down and crushing you.  Your abuser may offer elaborate explanations for these rules, excusing their ridiculous nature with tails of trauma from childhood, bad memories of other relationships, and hypersensitivity.  There is nothing wrong with speaking up about something your partner does that seriously bugs you and asking them to change it, but you need to recognize boundaries of personal freedom and not set out hurdles according to your every whim just to trip up your victim and keep them in line.

4) Withdrawing affection and “privileges” to control you

I was once locked out of my own house for having a PAP smear done without my husband in attendance.  Another time, he wouldn’t visit me until I fell in line with his political philosophy.  Another partner refused to kiss me or hold my hand unless I cried and begged for forgiveness for all the mistakes I had, of course, made, in his estimation– often having to guess at what those mistakes were, because “If you have to ask, then I don’t want to tell you.”  These behaviors are simply unacceptable.  They are manipulative and cruel.  They are, again, designed to provide leverage for the abuser to control every aspect of your life.  If they can’t get what they want by demanding and guilt-tripping, they’ll take it by force.

5) Spreading horror stories about you to other people

This is bad enough when your partner decides to cuss you out to their own friends and family, telling only their side of the story, perhaps embellished with out-and-out lies, in order to shame you with public scorn.  It’s worse when they start doing the same with your family and friends, talking to them behind your back, sharing your confidential information and making you sound like the worst person in the world.  The purpose of this behavior is to isolate you, and to further lower your self-esteem by making it seem as though the whole world shares your abuser’s low opinion of you, so that you will believe you have no one to turn to and should be thankful your abuser stays with you at all.  Isolation and low self-esteem are meant to make you desperate enough to cling to your abuser through thick and thin– mostly thin and thinner.

6) Getting out-of-control angry during disagreements

A discussion can get pretty heated and emotional without turning abusive.  But when swearing and name-calling starts (“You bitch!”  “You stupid cunt!”  “Fuck you!”) a line has been crossed.  So, too, if your partner displays ANY signs or threats of physical violence, whether it’s toward you, another person, an animal, themselves, or even an inanimate object.  It is NOT YOUR FAULT that an abuser gets enraged.  It is due to their own fucked up psychology that prevents them from being rational and empathetic.  Even if you really were the lousy partner they make you out to be, there is simply no excuse for verbal or physical violence.  If they are that desperately unhappy, the thing for them to do is not to hurt you, but to simply walk out the door and maybe never come back.  Which is exactly what you should do if anyone ever treats you this way.

If one or more of these red flags applies to your relationship, here is what you should do:

1) Run.

2) Run fast.

3) Run far.

4) Don’t look back.

5) Lock the door behind you.

That’s really all there is to it.  I’ve never seen an abuser change their stripes and make good on their apologies and promises.  You don’t need to take a chance on whether they will hurt you the same way again, or even worse.  If you still care about them, then wish them the best as you run.  The hell.  Away.

All the small things

I’ve come to realize lately that I’m not as “over” some of the abuse that’s happened to me as I thought, for I while, I was.  It’s disconcerting to admit how much another person’s cruelty can continue to affect your life and self many years after the fact.

Example in point:  In the last couple of years of my marriage to my son’s father, he (the husband) worked shifts that started at 4:30 AM.  Invariably, he would set our alarm clock for 3:00, and then when it went off he would set it forward ten minutes and go back to sleep, and do this several times in a row.  He didn’t hit the snooze button, insisting it might not work, but pushed the “minute” button ten times instead. 

WAAAH! WAAAAH! WAHH! WAAAH! click click click click click click click click click click

Under normal circumstances, this might have been merely an annoyance, but at the time, I was trying to care for a fussy infant with stomach issues who slept in our bed and woke to breastfeed every couple of hours per night and never woke up later than 7 in the morning.  (Spare me your parent-judgment if you have it in store.  I did what was right by my hypersensitive child and gave him what he not wanted but needed.)  I was sleep deprived and suffering from exhaustion so severe that I couldn’t eat, despite losing 1500 calories per day in breastmilk, and would suddenly fall asleep sitting upright during the day.  It was also a time during which our marriage was in its final stages of falling apart, which it had been doing before we ever said our ‘vows’; my soon-to-be-ex-husband had no interest in sharing in our son’s care; we had just moved to a new city and I knew nothing and no one; I was struggling to complete my bachelor’s degree amidst all the chaos; and to top it all off my anxiety and mood issues were rapidly coming to a head, and my husband was about as non-supportive as could be about my going back on therapy and meds.

So, that’s the long of it; the short of it is that when I asked him to please stop resetting the alarm every ten minutes every morning click click click click click click click click click click, and instead use the fucking snooze button or just fucking get out of bed when the fucking alarm fucking went off the first fucking time (not, I emphasize, the words I used at the time) so that I could avoid being kept awake for 40 minutes for the seventy-third time each night– when I brought up these matters– we got into a giant row, as we usually did, screaming at each other, calling each other names, threatening each other with divorce and custody and finances, and I, as I usually did, ended up crying and begging him to forgive me and then sitting in the bathroom while he slept, slicing into my thighs with a hunting knife and wracked with uncontrollable sobs.

Keep in mind, at this point I hadn’t really learned about panic attacks, hadn’t been diagnosed with bipolar or anxiety or autism, didn’t know why I felt so fucking horrible all the time, felt I was trapped for the rest of my life in a loveless, violent, manipulative relationship, and was basically alone in caring for a challenging child at the age of twenty, while also trying to remember who I was and get a degree that would allow me to provide for our family, and while most of my peers were out drinking from kegs at keg parties or something along those lines, I don’t really know. 

So that wasn’t really the short of it: the short of it is that for all these reasons and so many more, that fight sticks in my brain and won’t get out.  I am bless-cursed with a sporadically perfect eidetic memory for auditory stimuli.  When something I hear makes an impression on me, because it’s such a horrible dry grating noise or because it was screamed in my face, for instance, or because it accompanied really vivid emotions, I will later not just remember that noise but hear it in my head over and over every time I think about it, with the same reaction that I had when it first happened.  So I can close my eyes and hear it all now:  the things we screamed, the click click click click click click click click click click.  And it hurts, because I realize that I still feel pity and contempt and grief for the very young woman I was, and that even though I cope much better now with the kind of feelings those sounds elicit, they can still fill my brain and ruin my week.

Why am I thinking about all this at 3:40 in the morning?  Because I can’t sleep, and I just set the alarm to make sure I’m up to get my son ready for school at 6:30.  Click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click.  And it all comes back to me now, as Celine Dion predicted.  And if it were just the alarm clock, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  I could buy a wind up alarm clock, or set an alarm on my phone or computer. 

But why bother, because it’s not just that, it’s so many small things around the house, around this town, around my head that would need to be locked away in a safe marked “TRIGGER WARNING.”  I have a new bed, I’ve rearranged the living room, but even in my own apartment there are times and places when it hits me like a tidal wave of bricks, the memories, the feelings. 

We’re taught these days to believe that we control who and what we are.  But the truth is, we can’t help some of the things done to us.  They are real, and they affect our brains as much as falling out of an airplane affects a body.  You can’t wish it away.  Like it or not, better or worse, whether you think it will or not, when you bring someone close to you, it changes you.  You can become happy again.  I know people do.  But no matter how long it’s been, you can’t go back.

Mama always said, life is like a giant monster from another universe

Put away your thumbs.  This is not a movie review.

I went to see Pacific Rim two days ago.  And I freaked out.  So, spoiler alert.

I don’t like 3D screenings.  They feel like an unmasked cheap gimmick that distracts me from the actual movie.  But in this case, the only screening at a time that worked for us was a 3D one, so we shelled out the extra bucks for something we didn’t want, bought some overpriced sodium-coated exploded GMO kernels, and put on our gimmick-goggles.

I think I liked the movie, but that’s overshadowed right now by the fact that about a third of the way in, my heart started beating out of my chest and I lifted about two feet out of my body and stared at my own white-knuckled stranger’s hands digging into the arms of the seat, and felt like I’d been reliving the same moment in an infinite loop.  That’s how my panic attack starts:  I know it too well.  I breathed, I counted, I pinched myself, I talked myself down, and then it started all over again.  This is strange for me.  As I discussed in headcheese goes to the movies, the cinema is one of my favorite and most comfortable places.  I go there to unwind.  Even watching disturbing films that I might later regret, I never panic.  Until this time.  I kept thinking about telling Person of Interest that I needed to leave, but I felt too ridiculous, too ashamed, and too angry with myself.

I think the 3D accelerated this development, because of the way it set me inside the action, but I may have had the panic response even without it.  Some of the images apparently acted as powerful triggers for reactions to trauma that I am only beginning to comprehend.

The trouble started when scenes started showing the traumatic memories of the female lead, Mako, who was evidently her family’s sole survivor of a kaiju attack on Japan.  Now, I am always prone to being upset by images of children being harmed, but the sensations they typically evoke are those of intense grief, and concern for my own child.  Not so in this case.  The little girl wailing in the ruined streets, running pointlessly from the claw of a gargantuan monster, still clutching one little red patent dress shoe, grabbed something in my viscera and ripped it out mercilessly and waved it in my face.

My family is not dead.  I have never run wailing through an apocalyptic cityscape.  Yet I was that child, somehow, and I could neither understand nor control the terrifying sensations– so basic and indistinct that I can’t even name them emotions– that were strangling me.  All I could do was paper them over long enough to get to the other side.  But through the whole experience, and up to now, one word keeps screaming in my head.  Helpless.  The sound in the girl’s cries: equal amounts anguish and terror.  Screaming because there is nothing to do but scream, and then giving up even that.  The grown, strong woman’s enslavement by the memory of such, as she steps inside its 3D world and becomes the girl again, leaving her incapable of mastering the incomparable power she has just been handed.  And, another step removed, my own inescapable horror at being dropped into her fictional but very real experience.  Utterly.  Helpless.

The word wouldn’t leave me alone, but I didn’t know why.  I didn’t go looking for it.  It just stuck, on the bottom of my shoe, in my throat, everywhere.  It blew raspberries at me, until I started repeating its name, and stuck myself back onto it, and let it take me where it wanted me to go:  like an old drinking buddy, to all the worst places you never want to see again.  To the rifts where my kaiju live.

I didn’t know there were rifts.  I commented recently, in I’m not laughing, that I haven’t integrated the experience of my second abusive relationship into the ongoing story of myself, but I thought I was hiding it away sedated in Schrodinger’s cat carrier, from which it sometimes crept out at night to nip at me.  I didn’t realize it, and so many other things, were still there complete with their own perverted world where they made the laws, a breath’s breadth away.  I didn’t realize how many times a day they still cross over and recklessly rake their claws across me, not cat claws that coax out a drop of blood, but city-demolition-derby skyscraper-claws.  Which is the illusion?  I think that I am strolling through the pretty, ordered constructs I continually begin:  and then suddenly I am hiding behind a dumpster wailing, clutching my defooted shoe– did someone just plug me into my own brain?

I am playing with the cat, and I stop for a moment to look out the window.  A microexpression to someone else, maybe, passes but I have been ripped from my skin and thrown down on my twin-size bed, snapping its slats, with sweat and spittle raining on my face and fingers digging into my neck and two hundred pounds on my diaphragm.  I am dazed on the phone at 2AM, woken by my psychotic lover excoriates me with invented slights and threats of being what I most fear and believe myself to be, completely and irrevocably alone.  I am stupored by vodka on my back feeling every excruciating inch and second of being unsentimentally fucked without a muscle to move.  I am seventeen years old shaking and pleading in the driver’s seat of a blue Dodge Caravan trying to stay on the highway while my first boyfriend and soon-to-be-husband tells me in measured, icy tones how he is going to murder me because I flirted with a boy at work.  I am five years old under a tented sheet in my family’s tow-along camper and also in my constant unknowingly-autistic-child world somewhere between confusion and oblivion, but dimly aware of ripples in my opaque wading pool, which I will keep effectively bailed out until, ten years later, I am touched again and a deluge rains in.  I look away from the window.  I am playing with the cat.

Supposedly, I am in control now.  Supposedly, I am supposed to rebuild, to live in a world where buildings stand upright and people help each other and I can walk and talk and sword giant monsters to death.   I say that I will try, but when I say I am, supposedly, not that girl anymore, I know that I am wrong.  I just got very good at hiding, and found a really dark alley.

I want to say that I am the monster, as well, keeping my own rifts open, because I hate the word victim and I’m fucking sick and tired of the word abuse and abuser and I don’t trust the word evil, but when I try that sentence out I feel like a traitor to myself, and I don’t like that any better.  So let’s go ahead and admit it:  there have been monsters in my life.  Some of them came from outside and busted me up.  Others were hiding here embedded in the ground by H. G. fucking Wells.  Was I “innocent?”  I don’t know:  Can you be accessory to a crime against yourself?  People who criminalize suicide would seem to think so, but that’s another story.  I went and lived by the ocean and threw rocks at it, and built my house against it, and sometimes tried to drown myself in it.  I was always a pig-headed brat determined to do what people told me not to whether it felt good or not, I always wanted to be loved no matter by whom, and I was (am?) one of those characters I detest who stand open-mouthed gawking at the apocalypse instead of running for their fucking lives.   (No, not am.  Now I run too much and don’t look where I’m going.)  I didn’t make the monsters up, but maybe I wrote them in.  Maybe I felt like an extra thrown into the role of the protagonist, a part I didn’t have a clue how to play.

Only when I think of it in those terms does the question resolve itself into a fruitless one.  A child’s dilemma:  Who Started It?  No one needs a Quixotic thrust against a vanished enemy, or a Spartacus to stand and declare himself when no one else is listening.  But anyone can see this place is a fucking shitheap, so grab a ShopVac, you lazy twat.  But: that requires being here, all here.  I would love to live in a world where the giant claw is no longer an inch from my face and the earth doesn’t shake behind me and the air isn’t choked with plaster dust and I can just get up and walk away.   But that’s not where I am.  Sometimes, I still wake up from dreams trying to figure out how to scream, perceiving deludedly that heaviness of my sleeping arms and legs.  Helpless.

I’m not going to extend this waning metaphor to talk about how I need to build a giant nuclear robot and explode the shit out of the rift after I find a way to stabilize it by letting more monsters through.  That’s quite enough of that, thank you.  The movie’s not an analog of my life.  It was a startling and acutely painful trigger that, in return for my endurance, whispered me a single word that gave me more insight into my anxiety and general fucked-up-ish-ness than months of introspection.

So I guess in the end, in its own way, this is the longest, most useless movie review ever.  Guillermo del Toro et al, I’m pretty sure you made a kickass movie except for the nonsensical bit about people focusing on making googly eyes at each other when making a last ditch attempt to save humanity from extinction, but I’m afraid much of it was lost on me because I was busy counting my breaths and riding waves of flashbacks.  Thank you for that– no, seriously– no I’m not being a smartass for once, okay?!  Seriously.  It hurt like hell, so I don’t know how exactly I’m supposed to be pointing my thumbs, and I highly doubt you knew what you were making, but really.  Thank you.

I’m not laughing

I’ve always laughed at the wrong times.  When I didn’t get the joke, or when I thought there was a joke but there really wasn’t, or when I was nervous and didn’t know what to say.  Not just a petite giggle, but a big, snorty, I-lost-my-chess-board-and-pocket-protector, kick-me-I’m-a-dweeb guffaw.  Aside from being an anxious tic, I guess much of the time, humor, inappropriate as it may seem to anyone else, is the saliva that lets me continue masticating what would otherwise be either inscrutable or intolerable– and maybe those boundaries encircle a lot more mental territory for me than for most.

So still, when I’m regurgitating some of my more troubled past and trying to find ways to process and excrete it in language, I often reflexively search for humor to guide me, and when I can find it, I feel reassured that some important part of me is still whole.

This relief happened yesterday when I actually began to laugh aloud about a conversation I remembered from my first boyfriend.

Him:  You can’t see [x] outside of class anymore.  You spent the whole evening ogling over him.


Me:  You don’t ogle “over” someone.  You just ogle them.  No preposition.

Him:  Shut up, you know what I mean.  You fucking fought me to sit by him.

It hasn’t been very often, because they’ve both left me so much anger in my life, that either of my long-term relationships has offered me any levity.  But, suddenly occurring to me ten years after it happened, the circumferential absurdity of this exchange, and the degree to which it comprised a ten-second abridgment of our subsequent seven-year entanglement, left me in stitches.  But it didn’t get my writing, perhaps because I have trouble believing it could be as funny to anyone else as it is to me.

What it did accomplish, though, was encouraging me to notice and follow a friend’s link to HuffPost’s [cue patronizing stressed-mommy voice] “reporting” [yes it was worth it to do that voice just for that word, thanks] on a dump list that they coolly, professionally dub “the Ultimate Burn,” and which, they tell us, in case we didn’t notice, is “Funny.”  [BREAKing news, everyone.  Haha, I should send that one to George Takei.]

Despite looking as authentic as a moustachioed Mona Lisa, this list got a few snickers from me, not really because of the absurdity of the charges but the opposite, because every single person both commits and is irritated by those same sorts of trivialities, and yet they really are not trivial, because over such specks, multiplied by time and love-klutziness, do so many couples actually go splits.  That was the kernel of tragic irony required to transform this banal hack into something worth being amused with.

I concluded that it would be funnier to have a list in a similar style, but with the more bizarrely, arbitrarily personal textures that only come bona fide.  And why not?  Dear gods, it became clear to me long before we broke up that my abusive partner M. was patently the most absurd entity in the cosmos, and you know it can be delicious when something you conned yourself into desiring– like a kiss from someone who doesn’t smell bad, or a Pier One gift card– turns out to be really cringeworthy, and you get to make fun of Old Dumb You of 9 days ago for being such an obvious tard, when New Hip/Savvy You can see instantly all the reasons why it was such stupid idea.  Especially when you are having coffee with someone and you lower your voice to whisper, “You know how s/he used to [do some ridiculous thing]?  I was always so mortified about that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone.  But isn’t that just the dumbest thing you ever saw anyone do?!”

So I set out to make a list of accurate but sardonic reasons why I left.  My goal was twenty, but I didn’t number them.  The first few were easy:

You think having known someone from a foreign country makes you an expert on their language.

You roasted your ex’s fashion sense, but you always look like a bloated schizophrenic hobo clown.

You use so much hair product that your shoulders are snow-capped all year round.

You loved to play Mr. Fancy Chef, but you thought that dill pickles are made of pickled dill.

You think you’re such a fabulous stage actor, but you can’t even play the part of yourself from one day to the next.

As you can see in the last example, before I even realized it was happening, the snarky little salty morsels started growing larger and tougher, and when I read back over each one, the sensation I felt in my gut was not about laughter, but about bracing– to stay standing, maybe, or against a blow– both reasonable assumptions.  But now I felt driven.  There had to be a way to continue finding the hilarity as a nice strong sidecar for the pain.  So I kept on, but my pulse was beating my temples, and even my handwriting smoothly shifted from tidy and leisurely to slanted slop.  They begin to read, not as punchlines, but as premises for manifestos.

You told me I “couldn’t” drink cola with our afternoon cheese and biscuits, because Experts say those flavors just can’t go together.  You made us fight about this and put the blame on me… yet you hate avocados and drink bottled coffee creamer as a “milkshake.”

You didn’t want to kiss me with my morning breath, but since you were fat and always filthy, you constantly reeked of ass and cheap room deodorizer.

You thought you were such a splendiferous chef and wanted to make your “secret scone recipe” (which had you lapsing into nigh on Georgian poesy about exploding butter and molecular gastronomy) almost every day, but they were always burned or were raw or didn’t rise or were hard as rocks.  You tried to “teach” me how to make them but of course I could never get it right.  What I didn’t tell you while you were fishing for compliments was that even when you were happier with them, your “secret” scones tasted like raw flour seasoned with baking soda, scavenged from a hospital waste incinerator.

You got pissy at me for having computer trouble, but because you thought you had to build a showy grandiose Power User rig, while constantly drunk or drugged, you didn’t manage to even have a functioning computer the majority of the time, and you couldn’t even keep your telephone working because you always tripped over it like the graceless, intoxicated sloth you are and either broke the cord or pulled it off the hook.  Smooth, lover, reaaaal smooth.

By this point I was in full gear.  I wasn’t even trying to laugh.  I wasn’t even thinking about anyone ever reading what I said.  Frankly, I was picturing Lisbeth Salander tattooing “Sadist Pig” on her rapist’s torso, and thinking that I’d tattoo it on his fucking face instead.  On his eyelids.  Under his fingernails.  And I’d find a way to make the words– not mirthful, not even sneering, because that would be too kind, but hateful, wanting so badly to be hurtful– into charges that I could cram down your hideous throat until you choked, until you broke and confessed without inhibition, with total self-loathing, to every way you ever hurt me.  And then I’d detonate the charges.  Short of that opportunity, all I wanted was to find words violent enough to validate those overpowering sentiments:  “See?  It was really that bad.  He really is that bad.”  Like trying on a pair of jeans for someone just to demonstrate conclusively that they can not be zipped.

You always have to be the best at everything.  You don’t know how to have a relationship with anyone because you’re too busy trying to make them fear you.  The only way you know to be valued by others is to make yourself indispensable to vulnerable younger women and gay men, under a tasteful veil of platonic affection, by playing messiah so that you can soon use your unflagging “help” and “support” (even when it wasn’t wanted and was frankly ignorant) as leverage when you are manipulating their lives.  Even when someone is explaining something TO YOU, you have to find your sociopathic ways of remaining in rigid control of the exchange, staying aloof enough that people can’t forget that they are be granted the privilege of surrendering their mere mortal insights, which you would have arrived at instantaneously anyhow if you cared enough to devote a brain cell to the topic, to your superior intellect for rejection or development.  Because if people didn’t feel like they had to have you there, none of them would keep choosing you, because they’d realize what a miserable, wretched, black-hearted, pathetic little cunt you are.  That’s why you always have to have the upper hand.  Because if you stop being saint and possessor for one instant, you become human, and in the mimetic you become comical, and intimate respect can only withstand this inevitable comedy when its core is an emotional partnership so mortally serious, intense and obdurate that the bustle of daily use can not deface it.  And since you contain no such substance beneath your all-consuming Cleverness and Erudition, you have the capacity for no such substantive connection, so that minute you stop appearing to be a suave, misunderstood English scholar and reveal yourself as a lumpy, waddling little prat, the gig is up.  You have all the relationship skills and emotional maturity of Rousseau, topped off with even more douchiness, which I never thought possible.  All of your life is, and always will be, a lie, the saddest and stupidest lie in the world– the pretense of being a person, when all you have inside is an abyss that you cram with booze and codependency.  You got your pdocs to dx you with DID, a.k.a. dissociative identity/multiple personalities/ the most specious diagnosis known to modern medicine– but in reality you don’t even have one personality.  You just have a hunger and an aggression, no more or less than a desperate exiled wolf.  I wish I could tell the world, stay the fuck away from [name], because whatever he paints for you is a fraud, and he will leave you emptied and depleted, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, monetarily, only to move on to fresh pickings.  I wish I could video you like The Silence, advising their occupied subjects to kill them on sight.  Because I have no question in my mind that that is what I would do to you, if the consequences were feasible.  I would cull you from this world where you have no purpose but to sew distress and propagate your parasitic cruelty.

Wow.  I’m still feeling uncomfortable about the length of that passage– both the idea of posting it here, unabridged, and in the simple fact that I had THAT MUCH to say with virtually no time or effort.  I thought, though, that it would be worth sharing in its entirety because I don’t know any way to condense the number of thoughts that gnaw my brain about that subject.  And I’m not laughing.

I’m not crying, either– I so nearly never do nowadays.  I am just not here right now.  I haven’t found a way to integrate my experience and interpretation of this personal crisis into an ironic awareness, even a tragic one.  It still stands alone, looming even among a lifetime of invisible frustration, as a brief time of some of the most intense suffering and loss I have ever endured.  It’s not a scar to display yet, and I don’t know when or if it will be.  It still opens straight into my assorted cavities and sweetmeats, and when I go there, I don’t know how to come back.

I am very willing to laugh at things that make most people uncomfortable– and even, sometimes, when they make me uncomfortable.  To me, humour means letting go a little bit and willing to say, or hear, things with which we wouldn’t normally know how to connect, because they’re fed to us in a context where laughter is, by default, an appropriate response.  That said, not all offensive jokes are funny.  People forget that funny sometimes hangs out with offensive but isn’t its whore, and that sometimes, things that are shocking are also just dumb.  And sometimes, when I start out joking but forget to laugh, it’s because no matter its pithiness, the payoff wasn’t really amusing at all.

It’s never you until it’s you, part 1

It’s amazing how capable the mind can be of explaining away the congruence between an individual fact and general pattern.  Somehow, when your own life is in the balance, you can become stupidly good at finding reasons why the truth isn’t true and the wrong things are actually okay.  I suppose this evolved as some sort of protective mechanism, ensuring the perpetuation of the ego.  But it also has the potential to be one of our most disastrous faults.  I never learned this until I got into, and stayed for a very long time in, an abusive relationship.

I don’t remember when I first began to suspect that my long-distance committed partner, M., was abusing me.  It probably took longer than you would expect, given the behaviors to which I was subjected.  However, one of the pitfalls of relationships for people with spectrum disorders is our difficulty with interpreting cues accurately.  When you don’t often have the same gut reaction to another’s behavior that an average person would, you stop trusting what instincts you do have, and look to someone you think you can trust to tell you how the world is working and how you should respond to interactions– including interactions with that very person.  Once someone gains that inroad and convinces you that they have the kind of answers that your “badly”-wired brain will never provide, it’s ludicrously easy for them to manipulate your perceptions, making themselves unassailable and invaluable to your existence.  You couldn’t possibly survive without the insights and guidance they offer– not to mention the companionship, which is less than forthcoming from most of the population– and if you feel hurt, confused, frustrated, misunderstood, stifled, overwhelmed, worthless, inadequate, hopeless, resigned, even suicidal, those are manifestations of your own disability, not any fault of your benefactor’s.

In my case, the abuse eventually came to a head and became incontrovertible when M. came to stay with me for three months and the physical violence began.  On perhaps as many as a dozen occasions, I had the joy of knowing what it feels like when someone presses his face to yours and screams vitriol, spraying you with sweat and saliva, backs you into a corner, and, when you try to escape or call for help, digs his fingers into your arms, throws you onto the bed, kneels over your stomach and covers your mouth (and sometimes nose as well) while continuing to call you a stupid bitch, threaten your reputation and family ties, convince you that he’s already planned everything so that you have nowhere to turn for help, and endlessly confirm that it’s all your fault.  Yeah.  It’s pretty hard to excuse that.  (Although I did.  Even recognizing this blatant abuse, I pathetically believed the tropes about how sorry he was, how he was going to get help, etc., for literally months.)

However, even had the abuse never reached this extreme of physical and verbal assault, the relationship still would have been abusive; I am just not sure whether I recognized it in that stage, or ever would have if it had continued the same way.  Truth be told, my memories of the last year or so with M.  are pretty fucked up.  Maybe that has something to do with the number of hours per week I spent curled in the foetal position on my floor hyperventilating, then running to the bathroom and puking until I dry-retched.  I know these things:

  • He demanded more and more of my time.  I had to call him at certain times every day and spend all of my free time on IM and VOIP with him.  I lost touch with everything I liked to do on my own, and my son and I became very distanced because I wasn’t giving him the time or emotional energy that two and three year old children crave.
  • Everything we did had to be done his way.  If I wanted to, for example, watch a tv show that I liked, or go to bed early, I needed special permission which involved a whole lot of pleading and guilt-tripping.
  • He controlled virtually everything I did.  What I wore.  (No black.  No patterns.  Nothing dressy.)  How I did my hair.  Who I knew.  Where I went and when.
  • He had terrible rage problems.  When I made him angry (usually by questioning or  “failing” at the “obligations” listed above) he would lash out and harm either himself or the objects around him.  He broke at least half a dozen keyboards during the time I knew him.  He would slice the backs of his hands with razorblades while we were on VOIP and tell me I made him do it.  This should have been a pretty fucking huge red flag.
  • He manipulated me by telling me distorted half-truths or out-and-out lies about my mother and conversations he’d had with her.  I later found out he was saying the same sorts of things to her about me.  Apparently he was plotting to keep us at one another’s throats so that I wouldn’t have a refuge or confidant in her.
  •  I was constantly making excuses to others for his repeated calls and texts and ridiculous demands.  The stress of this, and the shame, was crippling.  I was isolated and living a perpetual lie, deluding even myself.

I know that I was unhappy, because I tried repeatedly to leave him, but he would always find a way to contact me and guilt or sweet-talk me into getting sucked back in.  But I genuinely think that it wasn’t until the assaults began that I connected the dots and identified the relationship as abusive in basically every possible way.  That sounds so pathetic now, because I consider myself reasonably street-smart and capable.  But I suppose one of the reasons abuse is successful is that it beats you down until you genuinely think 1) that it’s normal and excusable, and 2) that you can make it different by modifying your own behaviour.

So did I leave him once I recognized this?  Hell to the no.  I continued to accept his excuses and promises that he would find a way to deal with it, even as it got worse and worse.  Part of this was that because of the way he’d isolated me, I had no one to whom to turn for comfort after these traumas except to him.  If I left him, I would be utterly alone.  Also, I would have to admit my own “failure”– those are the terms in which I thought of it– and deconstruct the lie I’d spent a year and a half building.  I felt so weakened that I just couldn’t face that prospect.  The situation was self-perpetuating.  Anyone who despises battered partners for allowing the abuse to continue needs to understand that feeling before they cast judgment.

In the face of all that, my reason for finally leaving probably sounds ludicrously arbitrary and superficial.  One day I had been shopping for new, dressier clothes for school, having lost some weight.  I showed M. the clothes and told him that because academia is my profession, I felt I should start dressing in a way that reflected my committed attitude.  He got upset and lectured me about how out-of-character and immature it was to try to dress to fit in with a certain group of people and project a certain image.  As usual, I felt resentful and tried to argue, but ended up being cowed and depressed.  For some reason it was the last straw.  After the conversation ended, I remember going to the mirror and staring at my reflection for at least an hour, trying to discern anything that looked or felt like me.  I couldn’t find it.  I didn’t even know what that meant anymore.  I felt like smashing the mirror, but instead I went and told him that we were over.  And for whatever reason, that time I didn’t go back.  I spent three days sleeping on the couch, getting piss drunk, and watching the most abhorrent television I could download.  And then I got up and went on.  I rebuilt– am still rebuilding– my life, my relationships, and myself, one day at a time.

I wish I could tell you how I let go of the fear and did what seemed impossible; I wish there was a magic formula that I could give to everyone else who has suffered similarly.  But you know and I know that there’s not.

All I can say, to everyone but particularly to my fellow auties, is this:  I know sometimes we are desperate for someone to love us, because we’re told we don’t understand relationships and because no one seems to like or understand us.  Just ask yourself what that love means and at what cost it comes.  We’re not broken, unlovable people, but we can be vulnerable ones.  If you don’t feel like you understand how a healthy, happy relationship feels and looks (and they DO exist), do what we do best and analyze the world around you.  Read.  Peoplewatch.  Find out what realistic expectations are.  Don’t just accept what comes along and trust the person making the demands to tell you that they’re reasonable.  Life isn’t about being loved, it’s about being happy.  Trust me on this one: years later, when something better comes along, you will not look back and regret the years spent alone figuring out what the fuck this is all about and who you’re supposed to be.  You WILL regret sacrificing years of your life to a hurtful illusion and experiencing the self-loathing of knowing to what you consented.

Interestingly, only toward the end of our relationship did I find out that M. was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder with psychotic tendencies.  Looking back, this helps a lot of the pieces fit into place.  And only very recently did I find out that bunny boilers [definition]  with BPD latching onto autists is a thing.  Not to say BPD people are evil and untouchable, but do be aware of the symptoms of Borderline Personality.  Know that if you’re an autist, somewhere on the spectrum, or an otherwise sensitive or vulnerable person, you may not be the one equipped to handle a partnership with someone volatile and aggressive, no matter their other good traits; and understand that these behaviors are signs of being, not madly in love, but mad full stop.

Related Rinky-dinkies:

A good, accessible page introducing those on the spectrum to healthy, realistic dating and relationship habits:

Straightforward and very sensible advice on identifying secure partners:

Learn about your own attachment style, because being secure is attractive to secure people:

A more in-depth article on attachment theory (if you just want the “goods,” scroll down to “Adult Romantic Relationships” and continue from there):

NB:  I was unable to find a good reference for how to improve your own attachment style.  If anyone has any resources on this, please do share.  Also, every time I go to type “secure,” I type “sex.”  Boy would Freud have a field day with me.