TW/CN: Abuse/IPV/manipulation

I’m letting the title stand as my trigger warning here because I’m going to be writing about some things that have happened over the past month and years. I was in an abusive relationship. It didn’t get physically abusive, but toward the end I was afraid that it might. I need to write about it. It might come out disjointed. I’ll probably talk about my remaining partners’ experiences and feelings as I know them, too. Mostly, I just want anyone who reads this to know and have really fair warning that I’m going to be talking about this experience–for my own health and sanity if nothing else. And I’m a little afraid that said partner will actually come read this and say things or .. I don’t know. I have fears I don’t want to give expression to, I guess.

Anyway.

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Adventures in Sleep and Grief

About a year ago, I finally had a much-needed sleep study done. It was an at-home sleep study, to the surprise of everyone involved (myself, my doctor, my partners, my therapist). Maybe my insurance provider wasn’t surprised? Anyway, shortly after the test, my doctor’s office had to cancel my results appointment because they had a computer training class that day. I said I would reschedule.

And then I didn’t.

Some of that was depression. Some of that was brain fog and fatigue. Some of it was life and being bad at adulting. Some of it was exhaustion.

Finally, around March–my grandma had been doing okay-ish. I knew she was up and down, health-wise. I’d been up and down, too, depression-wise. I’d been through some suicidal ideation, broken through due to getting angry at my parents, and come back to it. I kept kind of…waiting on The Call that something was Going Worse with my grandma. But it hadn’t come, and so in March, I decided to finally make that doctor’s appointment again.

I went, and I found out that I have sleep apnea (to probably no one’s surprise who has ever heard me snore). My oxygen saturation level was dropping to 66% at night (hence my constant brain fogginess) and I was stopping breathing up to 15 times per hour. That’s…no wonder I stopped having my super-vivid dreams, and no wonder I have felt so tired all the time, and no wonder a lot of things, right?

So my doctor said I needed to go for another sleep evaluation, to get fitted for a cpap, in-clinic. So we scheduled that.

And then my grandma fell and cracked her head open on her bathroom floor.

My dad was there, thankfully. He got her to the hospital, but he had to clean all that up alone. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know if I would’ve had the strength.

Grandma’s health deteriorated pretty rapidly from there. It felt slow. But…that was March, and by the beginning of July, she was gone.

In between, I had my evaluation. That went okay. It was weird, to have the paste in my hair and to try to sleep in the clinic. I don’t sleep well in strange settings at the best of times. Being nervous about people watching me sleep, and having things attached to me…plus the fact that I somehow dislocated and relocated my shoulder while settling in for the night and so was in a lot of pain (only me!) meant I felt like I didn’t sleep much.

The lady who worked with me–a nurse? attendant? clinician?–seemed to think I’d feel so much better! when I woke up, that I’d feel an immediate difference. I don’t think I slept as much as she thought I did. I *did* feel some difference through the day, but I was still exhausted at night.

I was told I’d have my cpap within a couple of days.

A month later, I still didn’t have it, and I was having to yell at my doctor’s office that I didn’t have it. They’d wanted to schedule me for a ‘review of how I’m doing’ on it, and, well, it’s hard to do that without actually being on it.

I didn’t actually get it until about a month ago now, in August.

I missed some time with Grandma because of that, because for a little bit they kept calling me each week to say “It’s on its way” or “We don’t have the information from your doctor,” and my doctor kept insisting they had sent the information.

Then I missed some time with Grandma because we found out my wife has a very small, benign brain tumor on her pituitary gland.

The last time I saw Grandma, she clutched my hand…she knew, and I knew, and we both knew that we both knew it was the last time.

It’s been two months, and I miss her so much.

And I can actually feel that. And sit in it. And think about it. And remember things. Because this cpap…being able to breathe at night means my brain functions during the day.

I wish I’d been able to do that while she was still here.

Though for the first few weeks, this thing was a terror. I’d been told it would aid my depression, my anxiety, make things so much better. Instead, I got vivid nightmares from which I couldn’t wake myself; during the day, my brain busied itself remembering and reliving all the worst parts of my life. I felt haunted.

That has somewhat eased now, although I still have occasional nightmares and very very vivid dreams. I started playing my way through all the Escape The Room games I could find on my phone to occupy my brain with something other than Bad Thoughts.

I hid in bed for…it feels like a long time. It’s been a couple of weeks, I guess. I’m not in it now, but it has felt like a long time.

My brain is working now. That’s something. My sleep schedule is…weird. I think I need to start recording it again. I keep falling asleep anywhere from 7p-11p (if I can keep myself awake that long–it’s seriously a challenge) and waking around 1a-5a. Sometimes I wake a little later, but not usually. I get tired pretty easily through the day, and sometimes have a 2-hour nap. One hour doesn’t seem to suffice.

I have discovered that I really cannot go without the cpap. Sleeping, even for 10 minutes, without it leaves me feeling like I’ve been choked and like my head is full of cotton. Is that how I felt all the time a month ago? It’s so hard not to doze off somewhere sometimes–I want to be able to drift into a pleasant nap on the couch like I used to do occasionally–but I know that if I do, I’ll wake in that strangled state.

It’s nice to be able to think. I’m still tired, though. Something else is definitely ‘wrong’ with my body, something other than the sleep apnea. My brain is sharper, and I’m waking naturally and sleeping naturally, so I think that is ‘fixed’ as it can be for now. So…I need to figure out what the rest is.

Anyway, I can sleep. I can breathe while doing it. I can grieve. I am struggling still with depression and anxiety, so the cpap hasn’t fixed that, but maybe it’s helping? I actually pulled myself out of bed for a walk today. And I have been fixing some of my own food. Maybe I will regain some of my independence. Maybe I can find my way to a new healthy.

 

TW/CN: Rape, Sexual Assault, Cis White Men Getting Away With It

There have been three or four high-profile cases in the news lately of young, cishet, white men getting away with raping women. Some of the victims have been vocal, speaking against the judge and system and man and family. Some have been ‘compassionate’ (I’ll get to that), talking about how a ‘mistake’ shouldn’t define a person’s life. Some haven’t really been able to defend themselves or speak for themselves. Some have been quiet.

I was quiet. For a long, long time, I was quiet. I still am, in most ways. Most of the people who knew me then don’t know. Most of the people who knew us then–me and him–still don’t know. And I don’t use his name when I do talk about it. I use veiled references. I hint. I don’t give exact dates, I don’t give details. I know that people on my friends list are also on his friends list, and they don’t know, and I don’t want to go through he-said/she-said drama and bullshit. He’s a my-age cishet white male. I never turned him in. There’s no evidence. And at the time, I don’t even know if there would’ve been bruising or tearing. I know a hymen is no indicator of anything (they’re so varied naturally), but mine had torn at a young age to a bouncy horse incident. Whether it grew back..? I don’t know. Anyway.

We were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. In love, or so we said. I thought so. I found out later that he mostly wanted sex with virgins. He grew tired of me when I was no longer virginal enough for his tastes. Of course…that was his fault. And of course, virginity is a ridiculous societal construct meant to hold women down…but that was the point, right?

Anyway.

I didn’t speak, for years. I didn’t even call it rape, for years. I lied to myself. I lied to everyone, because who would believe me? I knew my parents wouldn’t. They always assumed I was having sex, doing drugs, drinking underage, smoking, partying. What a laugh. I got straight A’s, never did find out where to buy drugs or alcohol. I still awkwardly call it alcohol. I still have only had champagne at weddings and wine at the Table, and a little mead at my own wedding. Two swallows, enough to know the fire of it and that I wanted no more. I never even snuck out. I was too terrified to try.

And, because of my Purity Promise, I thought I had to marry him. I thought that the first person to stick their penis in me–with or without my consent–claimed me.

Even if I felt my soul die the instant it happened.

Even if I liked women, too.

I lied. To myself, to my parents, to my grandparents, to my friends, to him. And when he kept using my body, over and over, and telling me I was too stiff, too unemotional, too uninterested, I tried to force my body to respond.

Because that’s how it had to be, right?

Years later, when I finally began to hesitantly call it rape, I realized he probably didn’t. And, at the time, I thought, “Okay, there are two sides to this story. To me, this was rape. To him, it was sex.”

But that’s not how this works.

It has taken me almost half my life since then to realize that.

Rape is rape is rape is rape.

And I say that even though I know consensual non-consent is a Thing. Because that is different. See how ‘consensual’ is included there? Trust is a Thing there. Conversation, knowledge, consent. It can still go too far, it is a dangerous Thing, but consent is built in.

Anyway.

We had talked. He knew I wanted to wait for marriage. He decided–apparently–that he didn’t. And just like that, suddenly, I had no choice. I was trapped, and there was no escape.

I put it off, thinking about it, dealing with it emotionally, for years. I couldn’t make a scene, you see. Every tiny emotion I showed was so -dramatic- in my family.

And so I live with the knowledge that every time I show emotion about this, or about any rape, I might be seen as ‘dramatic.’ I hear it in that Emily Gilmore voice, “Everything’s so *dramatic* with you, Lorelai.” I am keenly aware of how my family takes this any time I talk about it.

I have told my mom and my dad now. It was…it was traumatic and relieving, telling them. Terrifying. I had panic attacks and nightmares, but they both accepted me and my story. I don’t know that they would have all those years ago, but they did now. Half a lifetime later. I’m glad.

But I’m also still aware of how my mom is still with my step-dad, and how my step-dad said, multiple times, that women were to wear skirts so men could have “easier access” to them.

I wore pants. Not even shorts. Jeans, always.

I finally bought a pair of shorts I like this year. For the first time in…I think since I was a little girl, I wore a dress without pantyhose and shorts underneath, too.

I am very aware that whenever a rapist gets away with it–and they are always cishet white men, almost invariably young–that all of this is going on in the back of my mind. My stomach is tightening. This all comes to the forefront, washing over me.

I want to tell my story, but how can I? How can I, when I lied for so long? How can I, when I know that my family is watching? How can I, when I know that so many people are mutual friends even now? How can I, when I am battered with the idea that women are supposed to be compassionate, even to their perpetrators? How can I, when talking about it in the company of mutual friends–like on my Facebook feed–feels like I am somehow hurting him?

 

These are some of the things that keep me up at night, that make me think I am a terrible person. Reason #3383 Why I Am A Terrible Person, on repeat as a litany through my mind: I lied. I lied in a big way, and I lied to myself, and I can’t trust myself, and so how could anyone else trust me? I lied to cope, to deal with my circumstances, but it hardly seems to matter when honesty is such a big part of my foundation.

And that’s part of why I want to tell, too: confessionally. I want to cleanse myself of the lie, to let it go. But who deserves such a burden? And how many times must I unburden myself? How long before I will be able to get out of bed with ease, and for more than a day or two at a time?

 

Will this ever get easier, seeing these stories? Will we ever learn to treat victims/survivors of rape better? Will we ever stop telling victims/survivors that they must be ‘compassionate’ to their perpetrators? Will we ever start treating cishet white male perpetrators of rape the same way we treat cishet black male perpetrators of rape? Will the day ever come that we teach consent to everyone, candidly, from birth on up?

 

I don’t know, but now, I am exhausted.

 

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

The Town of Angry Bees

For me, there’s a town full of angry bees.

Sometimes the bees are dormant, as if covered in snow. The buzz is there, but buried under feet of cold crystals. It can be ignored, talked over…for a while. But there will be a price to pay if I wait too long, because snow does eventually melt.

Other times, the bees are very active. Sometimes they’ve been swatted at by others, made angrier, ready to sting with no provocation. Sometimes they’re just…there…being angry bees…and it’s wise not to go near.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if I’ve been away or out of contact for a long time.

I’ve discovered that there are bigger bees and smaller bees; bees whose stings I notice immediately and those whose stings take a long time to show.

I thought some of this swelling was protective, and to a certain extent, it was–but it turns out it never needed to be there if the stinging hadn’t taken place.

I almost never want to go to this town of angry bees, but I keep getting pulled back. Responsibilities. Guilt. That one bright spot amid all the bees.

The bright spot plans to get out.

After that…I think that town will always be filled with angry bees for me.

What I Wish I Could Un-Know

CW: Abuse


The sun brightens most of the rooms of my family’s house. Mom sits at the table, working on a paper for her college course–an emotional piece, designed to sway people.

I’m in the long, skinny bathroom next to her, doing laundry: bend, dig out one of my abusive step-dad’s work shirts, shake it out, turn and hang it; fish out a sock for the sock box; fold one of my siblings’ shirts and toss on their pile of clean clothes.

The TV patters in the background. Kids shout. Mom finishes her draft.

“Can I read it to you?”

“Sure.”

She’s written about my step-dad. About how he was abused as a boy. She’s persuasive. I don’t know how those details could fail to make anyone’s eyes fill with tears.

My heart breaks.

I hate her for that, a little bit.

“How was it?”

“Good.”