As this is mental health month, I’m going to talk some about the lingering effects of the abusive men in my life. I think the title makes it clear, but just to make absolutely sure no one gets a horrible shock reading this:
I’ll be talking about mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse and the impact they’ve had on me and my life.
I’m doing this as a cathartic exercise, and in the hopes that it will help someone. I want to remind people that you’re not alone in your suffering, that we can get through this. That there is so much more to us than our abusers and the abuse we suffered.
(This will likely be a long post).
It started when I was a baby, or a toddler. Very young.
My very first memory was being sat in a high chair out in the patio, and a wasp stung me. It hurt like a sonofabitch, so I cried. And the bastard came and stung me again. (Thus started my intense phobia of wasps). Mum came and picked me up and took me inside, father started shouting and screaming at me to stop crying. Mum explained that I’d been stung by a wasp, but he didn’t care.
I stopped crying.
It didn’t take him long to learn that I was stronger, more resilient, and thus a better punching bag than my sister. When something went wrong, whether someone cut him up in traffic, or he hit his thumb with a hammer, or whatever, he had to shout at someone about it. Mum shouted back. My sister crumbled and cried. I shut down and took it with a poker face. I’d learnt to hide and bury emotion. I’d learnt not to cry. Never cry.
At least once a day he’d come and find me and tell me I was useless, worthless, unwanted, ugly, etc etc. At least once a day everything that went wrong in the world was my fault. Every day. For 18 years.
I sat and took it with a poker face. I didn’t move. I didn’t speak. I didn’t display a flicker of emotion.
I’ve always been underweight, I was going to say slim, but the eating disorder started young. It was all the control I had, being slender. My sister however has always been overweight. One night we were watching some tv as a family, and father turned to my sister and said, “if you lost some weight you’d be very pretty.” He then sneered at me and said, “you’ll always be ugly though.”
When I was 11 he was working nights and we only had one car, which Mum had taken to work. He devoted almost 4 hours to screaming at me about how he never wanted me, everything was my fault, and he wanted to kick me out of the family. He was in such a rage I’m sure if he’d have had that car he’d have driven me somewhere, who knows where, the hospital? Some adoption centre 2 hours away? And tried to remove me from his life. He didn’t have the car, so I was sent to live with a friend for a few days.
My grandparents and uncle were very traditional in their views of men and women. Each big family get together the women cooked, cleaned, set the table etc, while the men-folk talked farm business and drank port and whisky. Mum fought against it, she pushed and bit back, but the remnants of those views remained with me.
Those traditional views, combined with an intense need to escape, and fathers words, led to a series of abusive boyfriends. They pinned me down and forced themselves on me. One pinned me by the throat. I got out before it turned sexual. That was until it had been going on for too long.
I’d lost all of my friends by then, due to personality quirks thanks to the abuse. I ended up so desperate to escape that I got together with the guy who stole my virginity and raped me numerous times a week for a year. My parents divorce happened during that relationship and while I was elated to have father gone, he put me in the middle of the divorce. The girls I was living with made my life hell. Everything was hell.
I became suicidal. Every time I drove near a bridge or a tree I fantasized about driving into it, and I came close to doing it sometimes. I drove incredibly recklessly, I barely ate, and I sat with handfuls of pills and bottles of vodka most nights. Contemplating.
My best friend, the only friend I really had left, said I’d become nothing more than a shell. He gave me the kick I needed to get out of everything. To start life fresh. I was so broken I lost him during that process too.
I rushed into my next relationship, again, desperate to escape. He, we’ll call him B, had no idea I’d been raped, and he pushed and rushed me into things before I was ready. Of course I told myself I was ready… but it only reinforced the idea that sex is something I give to men to satisfy them and get them off my back.
I couldn’t even talk about sex during those years. It took some very determined new friends to get me to talk about what had happened, to make me accept that my ex had been sexually abusing me. I’d shut down so much I’d ignored it, forgotten, brushed it aside. They helped me, they got me writing erotica to help work through some of the issues.
My relationship with B lasted 7 years. He’d been cheating on me for the last 9 months of them, and I didn’t care because I wanted to make sure my horses went to the best possible homes. I endured everything his mother said and did, for my horses’ sakes.
Finally, I found my husband. Finally, some happiness. He has spent 4 long years helping me. He has been so incredibly patient, kind, and understanding. I love him more than I knew I could love someone.
I trust him more than I ever thought I’d be capable of trusting anyone.
And yet… I still have more issues than I can shake a collection of sticks at.
I almost ran out of the room last month when my husband and I were being open, and honest about emotions and affection. I’m still so closed down with my emotions, despite the leaps and bounds I’ve made, that I struggle with what ‘normal’ people think of as the basics. My husband knows how I feel, he tells me he sees it in my eyes, and I’m glad of that. He doesn’t push me, but I want this. For both of our sakes.
I’ve been in a good place for 4 years, and I still have close to zero self-esteem, god awful trust issues, an almost complete lack of understanding of my own emotions – I have a fantastic understanding of other peoples’ thanks to a fascination with psychology. I just can’t grasp my own.
I still slip into suicidal feelings and desires a couple of times a year. I still have sexual issues, but I no longer view it as something done for the man to satisfy him. I’m a horrible bundle of issues, quirks, and problems. And they’re all things that most people just can’t quite understand. They’re not logical, they’re not something most people can quite grasp onto and picture… and that makes it so lonely and painful.
I see the same things I display in Mum, and that breaks my heart. She refuses to talk about her childhood. I know it was intensely abusive. She was abandoned by her mother when she was a few weeks old. Her father abandoned her with his parents when she was a few months old. From there she was passed around her extended family. A few months here, a couple of years there. Never wanted. I see how she doesn’t display emotion. I see how she shuts down and stands strong.
I don’t think people realise quite what a huge impact abuse truly has on people. I want people like me to know you’re not alone. I know that sometimes it feels as thought you’re nothing more than a collection of broken shards, that your entire identity is ‘survivor’. I know that there are times when you feel as though you’ll never really enjoy life, you’ll never find your place, because you’re not normal. I need you to know that you’re so much more than that. You’re a complicated, wonderful person. You can heal. You can find your place in the world, and it does exist. Keep fighting. Keep looking.
To those who haven’t been through this… I know that our, my, issues can be difficult to deal with. I know that you can’t quite grasp onto my thought patterns, my behaviour. I know that you can’t quite imagine what it is I went through, and I am now. I ask that you don’t think of me as a victim, or a survivor. Think of me as an author. As a fox lover. As a scotch drinker and coffee obsessive. Think of me as Holly, the little red-headed woman who shares too many cute animal pictures on Twitter, and writes weird random stories about tackling odd sock mountain. I am so much more than a victim and a survivor.