Submitted to Not All Big Girls Drink Wine AnonymouslY
Little Red Riding hood and the big bad wolf. You remember this fairy tell right? Little Red Riding hood strays from the path on her way to her grandmothers. My what big teeth you have and all that. We like the one where the girl doesn’t realize the wolf is not her grandmother and is ultimately saved by a man with an axe who cuts open the wolf and RRH and her grandmother emerge unscathed. You may not know the original story. The very original fairy tale actually involved the wolf going to the grandmother’s house, brutally murdering her; feeding her to red riding hood and then making RRH strip and get into bed with him. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Red was a symbol of losing your honor – your virtue as a woman and it signified her having strayed from the path; basically don’t be a whore or you’ll have the same fate as Red Riding Hood. But that’s not the story anyone wants to hear – about a cannibalistic granddaughter and a wolf with a knack for pedophilia.
My story is not unlike this in that it’s the same one everyone has; just not the version we tell. I have the story we don’t talk about, the topic that shuts down dinner conversations and makes everyone look at each other sideways ‘what do we say now?’ My story is not unlike any of yours; you will relate; you will feel something even if you have tried so hard not to.
We don’t talk about domestic abuse – there’s a sense of debasement surrounding this topic; that as a woman we were unworthy to be treated properly; that we were the ones who were wrong. We were wrong because we stayed. We were wrong because we answered to them. We were wrong because we didn’t tell anyone what was going on. We were wrong because we hid behind a veil of self certainty; gossamer threads of what everyone else thinks our lives are like; trying so hard to thread their way into actuality. Because that’s what we wanted – we wanted what it looked like to everyone else; you don’t want to ruin the mirage because that means facing what really happened.
At the risk of revealing my identity – I’ll just say this: I am a very smart, very successful woman with a reputation for not taking any bullshit. The fact that this happened to me would shock you. What I can say; tried and true; is that you don’t realize it when it’s happening. I’m going to say that again, because maybe you need to hear it: you don’t realize it when it’s happening. That’s the thing with abuse – its insidious. It’s a gray line that one day fades a little, becoming more and more transparent until suddenly there is no line at all. Anything goes. And it’s okay because maybe he said that he didn’t say something he just said moments before. In the world of psychology this is called gas-lighting and it is very real. It makes you feel like maybe you were the crazy one. Maybe he didn’t just say/hit/scream/throw something at you. It’s a form of control and it’s what your abuser will do anything to have.
Abuse. It may be that you don’t have the black eyes or have to wear the long sleeves to cover up bruises; come up with stories about where they came from, you know what you see on TV and in the movies. Emotional abuse and mental abuse are just as bad. One is not worse than another. Just because he didn’t physically hurt you does not mean it is less worthy of talking about. Abuse is abuse. And more than likely the emotional abuse is steps away from physical abuse. Mine was. It’s like skipping a stone on a lake. An onslaught of nasty text messages… rock skips once… 10 missed calls… rocks skips twice… screaming inches from your face when you get home…. rock stops, sinks. The ripples are there. Far and wide they spread, disrupting the lifestyle you’re pretending that you have. You don’t know the next time a stone is going to be thrown in, but you know it’s coming. The constant phone calls and making sure he knows where you are at all times, the incessant need to be on his time frame at his beck and call, changes to him screaming at you when you’re in the shower, breaking the door off the hinges to rip the shower curtain back to scream in your face. To feel the control of having you naked and vulnerable inches away from him. The control in knowing he is the one who is making you this afraid.
If talking about abuse is frowned upon, talking about having sex with someone abusive is just downright vulgar. We don’t want to hear about that. We don’t want to be crossing the line from physical abuse to mental abuse and then have to say the words sexual and abuse together in the same sentence. It’s disgusting. Its debasing. It happens. A constant need from you, physical abuse when it didn’t happen, shoving, swearing at you; you thinking up lies to come up with because you just can’t tonight. Pretending your sex life is happy and healthy to all your friends “we have sex twice a day, every day! What do you mean you do it once week?” Scoff.’ Wondering why you never had any of your needs met, but him making sure his were.
I lived through this for all the years I was with him. I pretended for more years that my feelings about it weren’t real; that it wasn’t abuse it was just a fucked up relationship. I won’t go into the breakup; just know its all the above paragraphs twisted into one horrible night. I got out. I started dating again. I went to a pool party with him and he hugged me and jumped in the pool. I went underwater. I was trapped under 6 feet of water with this man’s arms around me and I could not get out of the water. I could not breathe. I was the stone in the lake; and I was sinking. I came to the surface; him laughing and carefree and I was fighting the verge of hysterics. My physical response was that of someone who just avoided a car accident. I finally decided to go to therapy.
Therapy is another word that attaches the same stigma to it as abuse does; ‘how fucked up can you be that you need a therapist?” If I had my years in the aftermath of that relationship back I would have gone the day I got home. I sat in my living room the day after that breakup curled in a ball repeatedly thinking over and over again, “it’s okay you’re safe.” What I learned in therapy was that everything that I lived through was real. The fact that I did not tell anyone what was truly going on is very typical of someone in an abusive relationship. You develop a Stockholm syndrome and want to keep that person safe. I learned that everything he did was to control me; a true abuser likes control, but more than anything he loves the power that comes along with it.
The original story is sometimes too hard to swallow. Look at poor little red riding hood. It took me years to tell mine and even now it’s behind a curtain of anonymity. Everyone likes the one with the happy ending, to read the words that are easier to piece together. Own your story. It’s okay to get help. It’s hard to believe the number of things you can live through. You don’t know how resilient you are until you do.
I want to leave you with this: whatever you’re feeling about whatever happened is right. Do not be ashamed of your story. Acknowledge it. Know you aren’t wrong. Know that the only closure you need is your own forgiveness for allowing yourself to stay as long as you did. Know that it does not get better. You read that right – it does not get better – but you do. You get better. It is your story, part of you and that does not change. How you react can change. How you love again, how much you tolerate, how you allow someone to treat you right from the beginning. That changes. And there is so much light on the other side.