Saturday, June 30, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

It's been a strange couple of weeks since I wrote that last post. I've been inundated with comments, both public and private, from other women who have been through something similar.

Once again, I'm reminded that we're never alone, not really, and that so many more people out there can relate to our struggles than we dare to think.

I'm very grateful to every one of you who reached out, whether because you can relate to my experience with T or because you can't and now know that it can happen even to people who think they're immune. So many of you told me I was brave for writing this story. You were brave for offering your nods of recognition, your words of encouragement, your arms to link in solidarity. 

We are, all of us, brave for expecting more and better from ourselves and from the people we allow into our lives, and for doing what it takes to get the things we deserve from the world. 

And we all deserve to be happy, to be loved, to be accepted as we are. We all deserve to Live. Me. You. All of us. 

So. Thanks. 

Of the six years that I spent with T, the fact that he was an emotional abuser might be the least surprising thing. Of all the strange paths I ventured down during those years, that one at least seemed to spring from recognizable traits of my character: I had always been a caretaker; I had always been conflict-averse; I had always been willing to suspend my own needs for the sake of others. My relationship with T was certainly a worst-case scenario of all of those things, but it wasn't, in retrospect, as out-of-the-blue as it might seem, if I'm honest.

No, the weirdest thing, the thing I'm more incredulous about as time goes on and the picture becomes clearer and more complete in the rear-view mirror, was the drugs.

Amphetamines, to be precise.

I had never been much of an experimenter, when it came to intoxicants. I hadn't been interested in any of that in high school. I didn't even try alcohol until college. By the time I started dating T, I'd developed a taste for fancy beers and had smoked enough pot to know I didn't care for it, and I thought I'd explored all the methods of getting high that I'd ever care to try.

T, however, liked speed.

He didn't do it a lot, but occasionally, when he had a few days off and wanted to record some music (he was a guitarist), he'd get some and use it to stay awake and focused. I didn't know much about it other than what I observed -- this was before the scary HBO specials had come out, depicting meth addicts as toothless, emaciated, scabby cadavers with a relentless need for one more high.

That might have scared me off, I don't know. Back then, at first, the thing that made me uncomfortable about it was the method of delivery. You snorted it. That made it seem like a whole other level of real, of wrong, of dangerous. This was what they meant when they told you to "Just Say No." 

At first, it didn't even occur to me to think about trying it. I'd never felt that I had to join in when the people around me did drugs of any kind in the past, and I didn't feel it with T, either. He offered whenever he had some, I said no, and things went on as usual. He said he thought it would be a fun experience we could share, but he didn't pressure me in any real way. This was early in our relationship, before he became truly mean, and I think my memory of how it all went down is true.

He didn't pressure me. I chose on my own. 

I might have chosen it because I wanted to prove to him that I was willing to loosen up and have an adventure. I might have done that. And he may have implied that at some point, my refusal to "share the experience" with him might be a deal-breaker. I don't remember it specifically, but knowing what I know about him I'd be frankly surprised if he didn't. But in the end, I did it on my own, nonetheless.

I'd seen him do it enough by then that I knew speed didn't do what I'd thought it would. I'd expected it to be obvious, that he'd be manic, talk too fast, move too frantically, jump from one thing to the next and act crazy until the effects wore off. 

But it wasn't like that at all. He'd do a line, and then he'd seem... happier. More vibrant. Confident. Focused. Awake. Not altered, exactly-- not obviously different the way people are when they've had a few beers or smoked a joint. This seemed cleaner, lighter, milder. It seemed like a state you'd actually want  to be in; one that made you better than what you were, normally.

The idea of snorting lines of powder still scared me-- I was a "good" girl, after all, and I certainly recognized a different league when I saw it. But after a few months of observing the effects of speed and seeing nothing at all alarming, I told T one day that I'd like to give it a try.

A few hours later, we were across the Bay in his older sister's living room, and I was being educated in the art of ritualized drug use.

They gave me a few guidelines and taught me some lingo: Try to notice if you're talking too much. It makes you want to talk a lot and it's bad etiquette to interrupt people and talk over them. Don't take more until you start to feel the effects wearing off a little bit. When you do another line, it's called a "bump." It stings a little, but only for a minute. It makes your eye water on the side that you snort it; people call it the "one-eye cry."

They showed me the small, leather-bound kit that T's sister had inherited from their father. From their father, yes. It folded open like a wallet, with slots inside to hold a small mirror, a vial, razor blades, a tiny spoon, a short, metal straw. They didn't like to use all the implements, as it turned out. The mirror was too small when you had an apartment full of picture frames to choose from; the rest didn't fit with the aesthetic they preferred at their parties. It was the vial that got the most use, and that night, it was full to the brim.

They showed me how to chop the crystals into fine, brownish-white powder, how to divide it into tiny lines-- not too big, they warned. This stuff is powerful. You only need a little at a time. They passed on the little silver straw; they used money to snort their drugs-- never use a $1 bill, they said. Always use the largest bill you have. Just because. It's cooler that way. How pathetic is it if $1 is the largest bill you have?

They passed the frame around, and I watched them each hold the rolled-up hundred to one nostril, hold the other closed with a finger, and snort up a line with a sharp, quick sniff, following it along the glass with a practiced movement.

And then it was my turn.

I still couldn't quite believe this was me, doing this, and I sat there with equal parts dread and excitement, and then I thought, what the hell, why not? and I bent over the table, put the hundred to my nose, and took a sniff. 

It stung. Badly. A sharp, piercing sting winding up behind the eyes; a dark, acidic burn in the back of the throat. I shuddered, rubbed away the one-eye cry, and waited, unsure of what I was waiting to feel, but hoping that I'd like it. 

A minute or two later, I knew: I didn't like it.

loved it.

It settled over me like a glow. My heart lifted, my worries eased. I felt... lighter. Better. More excited, more focused, more articulate. Just more. More confident. More interested in everything. More alive.

This isn't the part that will convince you not to try hard drugs. It's the part that shows you why people do them in the first place. I took my first bump and I felt exactly the way I'd wanted to feel-- and hadn't felt-- for years. Awake. Alert. Emotive. Connected. Captain of my own fate.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time now; have known I'd need to write it since before this blog even began; and this has been the part I've been most dreading to describe. Not the part about how it eventually went bad, but this, this part here, about how, at first and for a long time after, it was awesome.

It was so much better than I'd expected. I hadn't known it was possible, actually, that a drug could make you feel like this: not altered, not clumsy or sluggish or foggy, but this, THIS! This was what I'd longed for, after years of feeling exhausted and frightened and disconnected from my emotions. This was worth the danger, worthy of the ritual, better than anything I'd ever tried before.

That's what is so uncomfortable about writing about this now, so many years later. I still long to feel that way. I still totally get the appeal. If there was a way to achieve it without any of the down sides (and we'll get to those, of course, you know we will), I'd do it right now. Sign me up. It was a feeling worth replicating, that level of presence, of engagement.

Apparently, some people just feel like that all the time, naturally, without any therapy or emotional work or drugs to aid them. They just, you know, feel their feelings and experience life as it comes, and they are powerfully happy and powerfully sad and powerfully content and powerfully there in every moment. They don't have to learn how to decipher their own brains,  or how to react to stimuli, or how to be authentic, even if it means being uncomfortable. They just are where they are, and feel what they feel, all on their own.

Fuck those people. How do you do it? Tell me how! Tell me!

Ahem. Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of. I know that some of you reading this are "those people," and I am heartily, buoyantly glad for you. Sincerely. 

Just... don't take it for granted, okay? It seems like it would be really easy to take being where you are and feeling what you feel  for granted.

Don't. It's not a given. It's probably not even all that common, come to think. You know people like me, every one of you, and you know people less like me, people who need substances to get anywhere close to here, now, or who think they do, anyway, and you know even more people who don't even know that this is what they're missing, this ability to just be and feel, they only know that they're unhappy and they're missing out on their lives and they have no idea how to fix it and maybe never will.

I used to be one of those people. I used to all of those people, maybe. And now that I'm not anymore, now that I do know what's missing, and can see the gap between what I'm like and what I'd like to be like and spend all my time trying to figure out where to put my feet in order to position myself best for the leap to the other side, I'm just sitting here thinking that if I ever make it, I don't ever want to take that simple, precious thing for granted.

I want to be. I want to feel. 

I want to live!

Well. My first experience with amphetamines was with speed. Crystal meth. It's a powerful high, and a lasting one. A little goes a long way. Later, we also included cocaine and eventually switched to it completely because it was easier to get. The stuff we got was usually fairly diluted and the high was never as strong, never lasted as long, and may have had a lot to do with the way this story ends. But I get ahead of myself. 

Back to the beginning. Speed.

We were quite "responsible" about it, believe it or not. (And I'm being only partly sarcastic here-- I do believe that it's possible to use drugs relatively safely and responsibly; I do not believe that all drugs are categorically bad or wrong. Most people I know have had great experiences on various kinds of drugs, myself included, and this is not a "Just Say No" sort of story. It's more of an "I Played With Some Serious Fire For Some Seriously Unexamined Reasons And Am Lucky That's The Only Story I Have To Tell" sort of story. There are many kinds of drug stories, and this one is mine.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: responsible. We were, in our own way. We were sort of nerdy about it. We'd choose a night where nobody had to work the next day or the day after, so we'd have plenty of time to come down and rest up before we had to go to work again.

We'd eat a big dinner. Speed and coke take away your appetite-- it's almost impossible for most people to eat anything while they're on them. But it also makes you very thirsty, so we'd stock up the fridge with water and juice and protein drinks, as well as beer. You know. To keep ourselves nourished and hydrated. We weren't crackheads. 

Then we'd get the party started. We'd all get nice and bumped up, and sometimes we'd just talk. About anything. Everything. Incredibly focused, articulate, exhaustive discussions that would last all night. Literature. Politics. Religion. Child-rearing. Whatever it was, we were passionate about it, if only for that night.

More often, though, we played music. T would get out his guitar, and we would sing songs we loved. Or his sister would write lyrics, and I would create melodies and harmonies, and we would sing songs we wrote ourselves. We made some pretty good recordings. I was way too shy to sing in front of people under normal circumstances. I still am. But I do have a great singing voice, and the drugs gave me confidence.

We'd keep it going all night, bumping now and then to keep the high, our voices hoarse from talking and singing and talking and singing. It was fun, productive, creative time. And their tradition held that the party was over as soon as someone noticed aloud that the sun was up.

That was when we'd stop, put away what was left over for next time, and begin the slow, angsty decline. Back to Earth.

Coming down, if you've never experienced it, is tedious and irritating at best, and at its worst can be truly nasty business. When that first endless night was over, T told me you're going to feel... sort of... low. Kind of depressed and bummed out. It's like all of your worries come to the surface for a while. But you just have to keep reminding yourself that it won't last, it's just part of the trip and it will be over soon. After a few hours, you'll be back to normal and you'll be able to sleep then.

This was all true, especially with speed. The come-down was long and slow, and you passed from confident comfort to restless angst to irritated depression to deep melancholy to hopeless self-loathing to resigned exhaustion, and then you feel into an uneasy sleep for a few hours, and woke up feeling mostly right as rain again.

That process, by the way, is why people sometimes try not to come down at all. As I said, with speed, it can be ugly. T and I never did it more than one day at a time, once a month at most but probably averaging less than that, but his sister used to stay on it at varying levels for days and weeks at a time. She used it to go to work, she used it to feel normal. She didn't exhibit any of the recognizable signs of being a meth addict, but she was one all the same.

This is important, I think, because it gave me a yardstick to measure myself against and come out ahead. I think I thought, somehow, although I don't remember ever thinking it overtly, that the fact that I didn't have her problems meant that I wasn't in danger. I did heavy drugs occasionally, under carefully-controlled circumstances. You know, with juice and protein drinks.

Nothing to worry about!

Looking back, the yardstick I should have been using was a different one altogether. I started using drugs with people who were deeply vulnerable to addiction, who had a long and full family history of drug use, drug addiction, drug overdoses. They were addicts themselves, with varying dependent relationships on a multitude of substances, some more obvious than others, some more troubling than others, some less controlled than others. They had enormous tolerance and could take in huge quantities before getting drunk or high.

And I was keeping up with them, line for line, every step of the way.

This went on for a few years, partying all night every few weeks, maintaining a decent job and straight-As in grad school the rest of the time. I didn't tell my friends about it. I still couldn't quite believe I was doing it, let alone enjoying it the way I was. But those nights were significant, in those years, for several reasons.

They were the only times I felt at peace, if only for a few hours.

They were the only times I felt confident enough to sing and write music, something I loved to do and which would become inextricably linked with (and ruined by) the sweaty, anxious, heart-pounding muscle memory of an uneasy coke high for many years afterward.

They were also the only times in our entire six years together that T ever told me he loved me.

So the long nights continued. We lost our speed connection (serendipitously, I think) and switched exclusively to coke. It took progressively more to get high, and was progressively harder to get as high as I wanted.

But it was better than nothing. And it was fine. For a few years, it was fine.

And then, quite suddenly, it wasn't.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

My car accident was the turning point in my life for a long time-- the event that marked the line between Before and After. I thought that was how I'd always define myself. I thought it would always be the worst thing that ever happened to me, and everything would fall into those two categories: Before The Accident. After The Accident.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would someday go out and create myself a new dividing line, but if I'm honest, I have to admit I didn't see it coming. I didn't know what to watch out for, then. It never occurred to me that I was vulnerable to more than blind chance on the highway. I didn't know the dominoes were still falling. 

It started with a boy. 

It ended with him, too, but that comes much later. Six years later, in fact. What happened in between is very important, and very hard to write about. I can feel myself shrinking away from the emotional experience of putting that time in my life into words. I want to write around it, as much as I realize that not only this post but the very journey I'm on has to dig in and pass right through it if I'm ever going to get where I'm trying to go.

The road has led me here because it's the only way out. Forgive me if I drag my feet a bit.

A year after college, restless and unsure of what to do next, I packed my belongings and moved 500 miles away to San Francisco to live with friends, apply to grad schools, and Figure Things Out. 

It was five years after the accident, and although I didn't know it, I was well into the short-term effects of PTSR by then, and beginning to show some of the longer-term effects identified by PTSR guru Peter Levine, as well: I was already familiar with disconnection and deadness; depression had begun to seep in; exhaustion and avoidant behavior were to become the themes of the next decade of my life. 

In my current therapy, I've been able to look back at my late 20s and, instead of feeling like what happened then was the cause of the depression I've struggled with in my adulthood, I've been able to see all of it as a symptom of something that was already well-established in my psyche and in my habits. 

This has been one of the greatest gifts of the recovery process. Sure, it's uncovering the depth and breadth of the grip of PTSR on my life, but it has also taken a lot of power away from the events and instigators of that time. They're just a few pieces in a much larger puzzle, instead of the whole picture.

I don't know why this is such a relief, but it is.

This will probably make more sense if I actually tell you what happened, yeah? 

Okay. Once again, I'll start at the beginning.

It started with a boy.

We'll call him T. That is not his first initial. It doesn't stand for anything. 

T was smart and funny. Charming. Handsome. We met through my roommate.

He had a sad story, as people often do. He was a little damaged. And he liked me.

That wasn't unusual, incidentally. I was accustomed to being liked by boys.  I was pretty and flirtatious, I was smart and sharp-witted, and I was a genuinely nice girl, if a bit too naive for my own good. I'd always had a lot of admirers, and was sure of myself in relationships. I knew my boundaries and had no trouble holding them. I didn't fall for peer pressure. I didn't play games. I didn't have sex before I was ready, much later than anyone I know. I dated nice, respectful boys who took "No" (and "yes") for an answer and who showered me with affection, and got it in return. 

I knew what I was doing, in other words.

It seems important to establish that before we proceed. That was who I was Before.

So. When T came along, things progressed in the usual way.

He was a nice guy, talented, full of promise. We enjoyed each other's company. We had fun together. As time went on, I learned more and more about his tragic past: the months he'd spent caring for his dying father, the remarkable prevalence of addiction and abuse in his family, his missing childhood memories, his hidden sorrow. He needed someone who understood him. I wanted to be that person. Seems harmless, right? Lots of relationships begin this way.

I'm not sure when or how it started. The small jabs, the subtle undermining. He often said, in the beginning, that I hurt his feelings with my sarcasm, that I threw him off with an unexpected reaction or comment, that he felt like I was attacking him and he didn't know how to defend himself against me.  

I was horrified by this, of course. I'd never been accused of such things in my life, and began to question my own behavior. Was I unintentionally cruel? Was I insensitive? How could I act so callously toward someone who had been through so much?

I began trying to protect T from himself, in small ways-- or at least, that's what I thought I was doing, as much as I thought of it consciously at all. I started to change little things about myself-- the way my wit tended to be sharp and sarcastic, the way I tended to be spontaneous, the way I liked to debate issues and argue my opinions for the intellectual exercise, because he didn't like those things (at least, he didn't like them in me. He liked them quite a bit in himself, I failed to note) and I didn't want to see him sad or hurt. He had enough to deal with already, I thought. I worked hard to create an environment where he felt comfortable, because he shut down or withdrew when he got upset.

And if he did that, how could I help?

None of these changes seemed large, in the moment. That part is important. It was all very small, insignificant stuff. Keeping a teasing remark to myself, because he didn't like to be teased and got upset, for example. That wasn't a compromise of my values, right? In fact, I'd come to see that the way I joked around-- however benign-- was actually mean, and I'd be a better person if I didn't do it. Especially to him. He deserved my consideration, after all he'd been through, after all he'd endured at the hands of others. If he didn't like to be teased, well, who could blame him? 

In fact, I began to realize, I'd been selfishly assuming that my sense of humor was harmless, that I was generous and considerate of others, that I voiced my opinions respectfully and compromised well, that everyone took my jokes the way I intended them and that I never hurt people's feelings unintentionally. But I found myself constantly blundering with T, overstepping boundaries I'd missed, causing distress when I'd meant to comfort or entertain. 

And in this context, somehow, it began to feel like a character flaw. I was not the person I thought I was. I began to wonder how many others I'd hurt in this way, but who weren't as intimate with me and didn't risk telling me to stop. He assured me there were others, that I did it all the time and didn't notice. I believed him. I wanted to take better care of him, of everyone.

I wanted to be a better person for someone who needed it. And also, if I'm honest, I wanted to keep him from getting upset with me.

Because that's how these things really happen, isn't it? This is how women-- strong women, intelligent women-- end up with abusers. It's not because you're weak, it's because you think you're being strong for someone else, and you're willing to make some sacrifices if you can protect him from himself; from the reactions he can't help but have.

And if you get yourself caught up in doing all of that, it's really just a very short slide down that slippery slope to the point where you're working to keep that environment non-threatening to him to protect yourself from his reactions, because he doesn't shut down so much anymore when he's upset-- you're inside his defenses, now! you've made progress!-- but rather, he turns his anger on you

Or maybe it's not even as cut-and-dried as that. It's not like he flies into rages or punches walls (or, god forbid, of course not, punches you). (He would never! It isn't like that!). It's just that things are more difficult when he's upset. You find that it's easier just to keep him from losing his temper or being uncomfortable or being disappointed or any of the number of things that set him off. 

It's just... easier. Easier if you go along with whatever it is he wants, whatever it is that will keep things stable and steady. Easier to keep your opinion to yourself and let him call the shots. He's going to call them anyway; why prolong the conflict by digging in your heels? That will only bring on one of his Dark Moods. The silent treatment. Derailed plans. Cold distance. Slammed doors. Condescending remarks. The implication that you have failed as a girlfriend, as a person. The subtle, relentless pressure to give in. 

And again, the changes are small at first. You go to the restaurants he wants to go to, because he never likes your choices and becomes increasingly more irritated until you just ask him where he wants to go, wanted to go all along, where you'll end up going, of course, because you always go where he wants to go. It's just a restaurant. No big deal. Not worth fighting for that.

You buy the cookies he likes, even though they're not your favorite, because he hates the ones you like and it seems silly to buy two kinds, and a waste of money, as he never fails to point out. But they're cookies. Not your integrity. What could it possibly hurt to compromise?

You hang out with his friends, and you don't mind, because you like them and they like you, and your friends make him feel unwelcome, he tells you on the drive home sometimes, and then every time. In fact, you always do the things he wants to do, go to the places he wants to go, because he doesn't like the things you like and you don't mind indulging him, so what's the harm? 

You wear the clothes he likes to see you in, because he lets you know when he doesn't find your appearance pleasing. Sometimes he even goes shopping with you and picks out things for you to try on and model for him, and the other women in the shop think it's so cute, he's so interested, their boyfriends or husbands NEVER shop with them, and look, he has such good taste! 

And you think it's cute too, because he really does seem interested and it's fun to have his attention like this; he's in such a good mood when you let him dress you and direct you like a paper doll; and when you start to notice that the size you've always worn is getting too tight and you need the next size up, well, you figure it's because you're 26 and you couldn't be tiny forever-- you're just getting a more womanly shape-- and anyway a size 8 is still quite small, more than reasonable, and you have a long way to go before you have anything like a weight problem so you'll just watch what you eat a little and walk more and it will be fine. 

And he starts to say things about going to the gym, and about the things you like to eat and like to wear-- he's been doing that for a while now, come to think of it-- but you just laugh it off. You're not sensitive, your style has always been a little outlandish, and anyway, you could always stand to cut back on sugar, right? You're not a teenager anymore.

And then, later, when you find you need a size 10 and he refuses to bring you things any larger than a 6 or an 8 and keeps insisting that you should be able to fit into your old size-- it's not that small when you compare it to other people, really, is it? An 8 is almost double-digits!-- well, you have to agree because if you're really honest with yourself you'd much prefer to fit into that size 6, you have always been thin, fine-boned, with wrists so tiny that watch bands hung from them like bangle bracelets and a waist you could almost fit your hands around. 

You had a fast metabolism as a kid, hypoglycemia, you had never imagined in your life that you would have weight issues, you had never given a second thought to the way you ate, you'd always gotten plenty of exercise and were reasonably fit but now with your back issues it's harder to feel strong and you don't have the mobility that you used to have and anyway you're so tired all the time that you just don't get around the way you used to, can't bring yourself to care about it, can't find the motivation anyway. 

You begin to eat in secret, because he gives you dirty looks when he disapproves of what you're eating-- you eat too much sometimes, you really do, and you should be more disciplined about it but you're just too weak-willed to keep yourself from indulging-- and it's just one more way that you've changed yourself to keep him from reacting in ways that are hurtful and the worst part is that the more you do it, the harder it is to hide-- you're carrying 20 extra pounds, then 40, then 50; the number on the scale is higher than you ever dreamed it could be with your build; your size 10 becomes a size 12, and 14 is looming in the near distance--and the more hurtful his comments-- or even his pointed silence-- about your burgeoning weight become.

And you deserve that, don't you, really, if you think about it? You're the one who's sneaking candy bars and fast food and always having dessert and spending too much time on the couch and not even trying to go to the gym. It's your own fault. You've brought this on yourself.

He's not saying these things because he's cruel. He's saying them because they're true.

And there you are. A once-strong, independent, spontaneous, confident young woman who no longer believes she deserves to be admired. Or respected. Or cherished. Or even heard. You no longer trust your own opinions or decisions. You no longer think of yourself as attractive or independent or strong. You look in the mirror and see a stranger. You don't recognize a single thing about yourself. You don't know how you got to this point.

You just know it's no one's fault but your own.

(I mean I. Me. Mine. This is my story, but did you see how I slipped out of first-person POV back there, for the worst of it? That was unintentional. Apparently, I can't help distancing myself even now from the way I felt, the person I became, the things I did and said to get by during those years. I've been staring at that section for a week now, trying to rewrite it from my own point of view, and I just can't bring myself to do it. I don't want it any closer than a very long arm's length away.)

Anyway. Once I'd accepted the blame for what I'd become, the rest of it just washed over me like the tide, just as inevitable, just as relentless. Every birthday, every holiday, every vacation, every event of significance to me-- my acceptance to grad school, my 10-year high school reunion-- were particular minefields, filled with explosions of inexplicable anger, accusations, demands that shifted the focus of attention from me back to him

I began to dread celebrations. I began to dread everything, really, because they could come at any moment: the endless, back-handed comments, dropped like grenades at precisely the right moment to keep me forever off-balance, forever ashamed.

On his ideal woman: Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's is the perfect woman. She's so free-spirited and cool and outgoing and social, and always ready to party. She never takes anything seriously. She just likes to have fun. She's, like, the opposite of you. No offense.

On the way to a party... no, on the way to every party: Are you ever going to wax your facial hair? Doesn't it bother you? It's really noticeable.

Over dinner, while on a trip to England: All guys really want to date supermodels. They just lower their standards to what they can get.

On graduating from my MFA program: You're not really a "Writer." You're just someone who likes to write things occasionally. It's not 'who you are.' If it were, you wouldn't need to go to school for it, it would just be something you woke up every day wanting to do.

By the time we'd gotten to the point where he could lob gems like these in my direction, I was beyond answering back. I responded to it all with silence. I felt hurt and angry, of course, but the days when I might have defended myself were long since past. 

I rehearsed in my head a million times what I'd have liked to say, calmly, firmly, murderously, leaving no doubt about the consequences: That is the last time you will ever speak to me that way. Do you understand? I told myself a million times that next time, next time, I'd open my mouth and say it.

I didn't. I never did.

What I did was this: I didn't let new acquaintances-- coworkers, classmates-- get too close. I avoided people who knew me well, who knew me before, who might see me and be shocked at what I'd become. My family. My closest friends. I didn't want to disappoint them-- they'd always thought I was so strong, so together, and now it would be obvious to everyone how weak I was, how out of control; a freak, a waste, a failure.

I didn't want to let anyone down, so I began to avoid not only people, but situations where I might be forced to answer questions I didn't want to answer: 

First, it was: What happened to you? I was convinced people would see what I'd become (fat, sad, exhausted, ugly, ashamed), compare it to what I used to be (thin! fun! purposeful! confident!), and want an explanation for the ways I'd failed to live up to my former promise. The fact that nobody ever asked me this-- and never would have, not like that, anyway-- never registered. I assumed it was all anyone could think when they looked at me. It was all I could think when I looked at myself.

And then, the slightly-more-complicated dip beneath the surface: How did you get this way? It was another question that never came, of course, but it lurked in the background of every thought, every moment of every day. I never, ever acknowledged it consciously, even to myself, but I was beginning to suspect the answer to this question and even though I spent all my time trying not to let the words form in my head-- you know how, you know who-- I was judging myself harshly for having let it happen.

After a while, even the simplest, most rote question of all-- How are you?-- became one I couldn't bear to hear, even from those who knew me, who loved me, who I knew on some far-away level would never judge me if I blurted the real answer, even if I collapsed in a heap at their feet and begged them for help, even then.  

They say abusers isolate you from your family and friends, and they're only partly right. You do plenty of that work-- most of it, even-- all on your own. So that feels like your fault, too.

My fault, I mean. It felt like my fault. It all felt like my fault. I hated myself for staying with him, even while I couldn't admit the reasons I should leave. I hated him for the way he treated me-- I did, although I never admitted it to myself-- even while I cut myself closer and closer to the bone, just trying to make him love me. 

Somewhere along the way, I'd given up everything, everything I'd ever valued about myself, for that.

I never sought therapy during those years, even though it became clear at some point that I was deeply depressed, because I knew I'd be judged for being with him, knew I'd be advised to leave him. I was able to see that very clearly-- as faulty an assumption as it may have been--  without ever articulating to myself why that might be true. 

There was no way to win, no matter what I did. I had become my own abuser, really-- I found ways to take up where he left off from every conceivable angle. It seems now, even to me, that this had to have been unbearable, that surely I would have seen it and protected myself, taken steps to get myself to safety.

I didn't, though. As dissociated as I was, it was easy by then to distance myself from reality. It was easy to trade in the pain I felt for the only alternative I could imagine, the only one that didn't require me to face what I didn't want to face: feeling nothing. 

Nothing at all.

I'd like to say this was the extent of what happened during those six years-- it's more than enough, isn't it?-- but it wasn't. 

This story will continue...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Still Here... New Post Soon

I apologize for the long gap between posts. One thing after another has prevented me from getting any writing time over the last few weeks.

I did get most of a post written last weekend, though, and it is the beginning of the story I've been avoiding telling you for a few months now, so it's a difficult post to write and even more difficult to get into postable shape. I intend to get it posted this weekend. It's a juicy one.

So watch this space. New post up in a day or two.