It Still Cuts Like A Knife
Trigger Warning: This post describes a period of intense physical and emotional abuse by an ex significant other, including being raped by that same ex significant other. These descriptions, while not graphic, could still be intensely triggering for some individuals. Please read with discretion.
I found something from the abusive relationship today.
Some background. My ex (the abusive one that raped me) was not very traditional about symbols of committment. Things moved very fast (usually a warning sign) into a strong committment on par with making me their fiancée. Marriage wasn’t really something any of us regarded (it was a poly relationship, the other partner was also abused a bit, although not physically and they were not raped) as viable, although this was before I reached the conclusion that marriage was a poor bandaid for the impaling of society by way of serious social issues with partnership and connection of any kind (not just romantic). It was more because we were all poly (well, actually the non abusive partner and I were poly, the abuser was often jealous and tried to turn us against each other, so it was unlikely they were poly) and marriage isn’t exactly an option for poly folk. So there was no ring or promise of marriage.
Just a sterling silver bracelet (bought by the ex, who had some level of money back then), with two names carved on it, a representation of our bond. The other partner didn’t get one with either of us, they were a bit more cognizant of the red flag raising speed with which this committment was forged and shied away from it. I also didn’t push, as the bracelet wasn’t my idea to begin with, so why ask for the same from the other partner? My ex also had a matching bracelet, also in sterling silver. Both of them came with red drawstring bags to store them when we couldn’t wear them. We did wear them all the time though, so the bags were a bit useless.
The first time I took the bracelet off was when I was helping my dad work on the car and didn’t want to catch it on anything. The second time I took it off was when the ex dumped me and our other partner in a maelstrom of rage and verbal abuse and I finally realized, “life isn’t over”. I realized further, “oh my god, I’m relieved. Oh my god, I can breathe again. I’m not terrified anymore. It’s over.” (thinking these things when a relationship ends is a fairly good warning sign) It actually wasn’t over though, they tried to get us back. The other partner refused outright to take our ex back, and actually is dating me now, our relationship survived the abusive partner and other issues, thank goodness. In fact, they refused even to maintain contact. They were a bit smarter than me. I didn’t take the abusive ex back, but I did maintain contact as a friend. I didn’t throw away the bag with the bracelet in it because I didn’t know if we’d get back together. That’s how caught I was, how easily I was pulled in by this person. I almost went straight back to my abuser. What prevented this was the fact that my ex continued to abuse me emotionally (we had distance between us so the drugging and hitting wasn’t possible anymore) and trying to get me to visit in between attacking me, screaming at me, blaming me for everything (even the actions of others) and cutting my self esteem to ribbons. They also amped up the attempts to turn me against the friends who intervened (who I unfortunately didn’t treat so hot as a result of that) and attempts to turn those friends against me. This was seen by my partner (who was still more or less with me although our relationship was deeply strained by my contact with the abusive ex) and by those friends and finally an intervention was done when the ex reduced me to shaking, suicidal tears. My partner broke into (or got the passwords from me, those days are fuzzy in my head, probably from the trauma) all of my means of contacting our ex and blocked them off. I had no cell back then and my ex had no phone to contact my landline, so I was reasonably safe with that. I went along with it, with cutting off contact, because of how numb I was. At that point I just wanted the pain to end and my friends and partner gave me a way out.
I actually didn’t realize I had been abused until my ex found me on a forum, went after me verbally (scaring the shit out of me and sending me back into depression and anxiety spirals) and was cut down by some of the other forumites (and eventually banned from the threads I was a regular in). One of the people who cut them down talked to me later on. I described what I had had experienced in the relationship, how painful things had been. I didn’t realize it was abuse, just that the relationship was bad and I simply described actions. The emotional shots, the constant blaming, the demands that I handle whatever painful shit was said to me because my ex “was sick and needed my help and I should stop being so selfish” (yes that was a real sentiment expressed). I didn’t even know that my ex had been drugging me with painkillers to shut me up then and I didn’t tell him about the time my ex hit me over and over for being in the same room as them while they were on their rag (apparently looking at them was bad during this time). He (who incidentally is married to a counselor for abuse victims) told me that it was unequivocally abuse and his spouse agreed. That was hard on me. Coming to terms with having been abused hit me really hard because I never thought it could happen to me or that I was especially vulnerable as a trans woman. Finding out about getting drugged (they would make painkiller cocktails for my chronic back pain, only, instead of giving me what they told me they were giving me, they’d amp up the dosage to risky levels so that I would be woozy and sleep so they “didn’t have to deal with” me. This is not a joke. This is real. They could have killed me) hit me just as hard because it showed how intense the abuse had gotten and that it was physical too (this was further driven into me by the realization that being struck a mess of times on just one occasion is still physical abuse. It being rare does not make it not physical abuse).
I still had the bracelet though. I had, at this point, mostly forgotten about it. I’m a packrat when it comes to things, especially now as an economically disadvantaged woman (I like to say “mud poor”. Not dirt poor, I do have some money set aside that can last me a little bit and I am going to school, so I have some housing support, but my time is very limited and the risk of being forced to drop out because I’ve run out of food or can’t cover my rent is very very high. I live on the edge of a knife, with a lot of debt racking up. So mud poor). So the bracelet sat in its red little drawstring bag, a metaphorical focus and symbol of the single most traumatic period of time of my life.
I found out much much later that what had been done to me on that cold night, in that dark bedroom, after I had been fed drinks to the point of near nonfunctionality, what had ended in me curled up in a ball crying hysterically, was rape. Even though I had already come to terms with having been abused, this threw me into a backspin of denial. Rape was something that happened to other people. It was this awful thing that a lot of my friends had gone through, been hurt because of and a serious problem in the world. Now it was this horrible personal monster, living in my past, a monster I had refused to see till then. I couldn’t even say the word for a while. I called it everything but rape. Even back then I refused to call it sexual assault, even knowing deep down inside that I had in fact been violated and traumatized, I still couldn’t call it what it was.
And the bracelet’s bag continued to collect dust in a bin full of stuff, the specter of rape added to the ghostly aura of abuse, pain and fear that it exudes.
It took a while. A long while. I finally admitted what had been done to me, refused to be broken by it and pulled myself up again. Lately I’ve been writing about my past and my experiences. I’ve been writing things about rape in general and my own rape, writing things about abuse in general and my own abuse. I’ve written newer ideas related to this, as I’ve grown more worldly. Like realizations that this may have been chaser exploitation, that my ex might have been drawn to me being a trans woman and that the abuse was informed by objectification. That I’m vulnerable to certain personality types, certain kinds of charisma, rapid committment and rapid connection forging (because of how hard it is to tell people to slow down) and that my dedication to trying to keep relationships intact worsens that vulnerability to those who would exploit, hurt or otherwise entangle me in an abusive connection. I’ve written about all of these things, put these lessons to use in protecting myself now from people who are harmful or toxic. And I’ve healed. Bit by bit, slowly and painfully, the flashbacks happen slightly less, the anxiety doesn’t fire up as much. When before, seeing a lookalike of my ex would have put me into crying, shaking, hiding anxiety attacks, more recently spotting a lookalike of my ex at an anime convention only made me shaky and anxious. I may have gripped my sister in arms hand hard enough to cut off blood flow, I may have hid behind my friends so the lookalike couldn’t see me and I may have hyperventilated a bit, but I didn’t pass out (a real risk with my anxiety attacks), run away, start crying uncontrollably or worse. So things have gotten better. I’ve gotten better. I’ve healed a bit.
But it still cut me deep, finding that bracelet.
It still put my heart up into my throat, made me feel shaky and unsafe, I still felt the twin demons of anxiety and pain twisting their way around my neck. I was on the edge of a flashback for a little bit, I curled up into myself (sitting, not laying) on the carpet next to the bag and tried to hold onto my head, to keep it away from the past for a bit. My partner saw my reaction, insisted I throw it out. I normally don’t throw anything out that cost money even if only a gift. But I tossed out that bracelet.
Well not quite. My sister in arms had a better idea. She’s good with metals, does metal art on the side. She suggested melting it down, making something new. That feels like it would be freeing. Burning away that symbol of pain, melting it down, reshaping it into something else. Something clean. Something that doesn’t take me back to those times of fear, pain, suicidal feelings and tears. Something that doesn’t have my name and my ex’s name on it. Something truly mine.
I hope it’s cleansing. I hope melting it down and making something new will help melt some of the harm I still have sitting in me and replace it too.
Healing takes so fucking long.
Filed under: personal | 8 Comments
Tags: abuse, rape, sexual assault, violence