The Lies of An Emotional Abuser Cancel Each Other Out


I used to think that my mother said she loved me but it was a lie.  And the truth was what she told me via decades of emotional abuse.  But I see now that when she expressed her hatred and loathing, when she called me stupid worthless and incompetent that was also a lie.  I believed what she said about me for a long time, and even when I got to the point in my healing process where I no longer did, I still saw these slurs as honest statements from her and so they continued to haunt me.  But my mother was a compulsive liar, a sick person who was uninterested and incapable of being genuine or honest with anyone.  Every interaction with her was one big toxic mind game, where she bent the truth depending on her moods and nothing was genuine, not the kindness or malice.

My mother looked down on all of my good qualities, saw them as naïve, something to be taken advantage of. Her own personal goal was to get away with as much/do as little as possible in life. The only thing that motivated her was a vindictive desire to control and manipulate others, to be petty and cruel and score imaginary points in a game that only she played. She was a mother who didn’t remember, take note of what made their child happy, excited, interested but who studied what hurt me the most, gleefully observing what could trigger pain, fear and humiliation to put to use in her sadistic games.  There was no love inside her, at most she was codependent with an intense fear of abandonment, which is not love.

My mother shamed me as a burden but in fact she sabotaged my early attempts at leaving home, because what she wanted was to have a target around, a victim she could lash out at and exploit to meet her own needs.  My mother said she wanted me to have a relationship with my siblings, but she also spent enormous amounts of time poisoning that well with scathing comparisons, gossip and triangulation because she wanted to own people solely.  My mother said she supported me and just wanted me to be happy, but in the next minute she would put down all of my aspirations and accomplishments, deny my right to establish my own identity and insist on defining my emotions for me.

I lived with the constant reality of her saying one thing to my face and another when I was barely out of earshot, and yes the disgustingly cruel put downs did cancel out anything nice she said to me, but those nice things also proved that neither statement was the truth, neither was real.  My mother was wrong about me, so wrong she failed to even be consistent and never spoke with integrity or without contradicting and perjuring herself with every word. But her words belong to her, and while she attempted to give them to me via her constant gaslighting and denials (“I never said that!”), I don’t accept them anymore. Her actions define her, her words display her, but they do not define me.

Knowing that nothing my mother said was genuine or honest means that her tired script of manipulative verbal abuse is stripped of any weight or meaning; all the fake love and fake hate amounts to nothing. And in this case, ‘nothing’ is actually really good.  Nothing from her is what I’ve wanted for a long time, but the post traumatic stress she gave me was a gift that never stopped giving.  That nothing she can say, or has said one way or the other means anything is the gift I’ve discovered all on my own today, and it’s the greater and more powerful one.


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Ten Years of Hiding; On Leaving Hypothetical Space and Healing C-PTSD

ten years image

Today marks ten years since I made a final escape from my abusive family of origin. To do that, I took extreme measures that placed huge limits on my daily life, I literally fell off the map and lived in hiding.  At the time I was backed into a corner and could see no other option.  And, it worked; I was successful, the relatives who spent two decades physically, sexually, and emotionally abusing me have not tracked me down or gotten a single direct communication through in all these years (and not for lack of trying on their part!)  They’ve been unable to touch me.

But I haven’t enjoyed my freedom, I was unable to celebrate or even acknowledge this reality for almost this entire decade of my life.  Because on a daily basis I felt that they were always just about to show up at my doorstep to make violent scenes, call me on the phone to harass me with threats, or send malicious hate mail via any number of avenues.   I would imagine detailed scenarios where I would randomly run into them in public even though I chose to move to and remain living in a very remote place where this was extremely unlikely if not outright impossible.

Of course these were valid, rational expectations based on my experiences at the hands of my parents and older siblings.  But that feeling of impending fear and doom was not rational, it was a part of the trauma itself, a component to the many flashbacks I was also experiencing on a daily basis.  And thus no amount of rationalization could alter my fears or make me feel any more safe.

Over the past five years since safely/anonymously sending letters confronting my ex-family, I gradually started to relax the measures I took to hide myself, though most of the real changes were forced upon me by the death of my partner in 2014.  Regardless, I was still hiding inside and went about my daily life expecting d-day to happen at any time.

Until recently with the help of over a year of intense EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy I was able to realize and feel with my entire being that it really was over.  The abuse is over, I just don’t face the kind of daily threats in my current life that I did in my family home.

Of course it’s still true that hypothetically if I took certain actions I may get a response from my ex-family members.  But I’m not living in a hypothetical world, at least not anymore; the fact is right now, with the actions and decisions I’m taking on a daily basis, they are not doing anything to me and they have no access.  I can finally see that.  This is a big shift, as living with post traumatic stress disorder for my entire life, I am used to existing largely in hypothetical space, primed for ever-present dangers and worst-case hostilities that could happen; to living as if they are in fact happening, constantly and forever.

I don’t need to come up with countless detailed scenarios for what I will do if unwanted contact comes up anymore.  It seems very simple now; refuse to engage, and take care of my security be that via blocking, returning to sender, walking away or calling the police if need be.  This is the same that I would do if a malicious stranger were to cause problems in my life, and I feel no need to spend long hours anticipating that happening either.  While it’s true that I can’t control what my ex-family do, that also means they have no control over me.

The fact is, I’m not afraid of them anymore; I know they have no power and what they do doesn’t really matter that much to me!  This is ok because I see now that I don’t have to be afraid or hyper-vigilant to protect myself from them.  I really don’t.  I’m not living in a warzone anymore.  That cloud of tension following me around throughout my days isn’t necessary to keep them out of my personal space, and it’s dispersed.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become naive or have no boundaries, it means that in fact my boundaries are stronger then ever, because they come from a place of my own exuberant freedom, not from the abuse.

I never expected to feel this way; I had no framework from which to create such an expectation.   I spent seven years of the past decade living in isolation in an emotionally abusive relationship feeling so much guilt and thinking that I was trapped; that staying was the only way to escape being abused by family.  When that was ripped away from me in yet another series of traumatic events, I spent the next three years desperately trying to recover.  I’ve come out of that crisis now and my survival is assured; and perhaps I can look forward to even more then just that.

Ten years is a long time; I know that I’ve outlasted my ex-family’s attempts to reach me,  I’ve won, and nothing they can do could change that now.  It was a shock to my entire unconscious belief system when I finally realized, finally felt and now know that I have permission to move out of hiding, to live wherever I want to, to live my life as I so choose it.   I won’t be moving down the street from my ex-parents, but I don’t want to anyway, its not my scene.  In the decisions I’m making for my future, avoiding them no longer takes precedence over meeting my own needs and goals in life.

It really is possible to move through a state of chronic post-traumatic stress to a place of “lol, who cares?” when it comes to our former abusers.  It is possible to heal.   I still have a great deal of trauma to process, that will take time, but as I do it I’m starting to feel a whole world of difference.

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How Bodywork Retraumatized Me


It’s been over a year and a half since I stopped working with an acupuncturist, but it was only recently that I’ve been able to understand how much harm his treatments actually caused me due to his lack of professional boundaries and respect for mine as a survivor.

Last month I was doing therapeutic work on a memory I’ve had in my mind for many years.  In it I was around eight years old and being held down, shirtless on the floor by my older brother.  He had a knife in his hands, and kept pulling it back and lunging it at my torso, stopping just short of making contact.  He took joy in my fear and panic, and the moments seemed to last forever.

But in the midst of my EMDR session on it, I came to see that his game didn’t stop at pretending that day; he kept going until he had stabbed me in my chest.  Then, he kicked me while I lay bleeding on the ground, telling me that it was my fault, claiming that if I hadn’t flinched I wouldn’t have been stabbed.  Any medical attention I received as a result was cloaked with the lies my parents told to cover up the abuse, the crime that had been committed.

That night, while I was bandaged and high on pain medication, my mother came into my bedroom and sexually abused me.  From the second she came rushing into the room to find me bleeding on the floor, she made it all about her, not me, and certainly not protecting me from anything.   I was forced to continue living with my attackers, and when my brother told me that the next time he would kill me, I believed him with good reason.

When I recovered the memory, my mind was immediately flooded with the script of minimization I always heard from my abusive family, encouraging me to doubt my experience, to make excuses for my brother and set aside my own pain.  But when that passed, I could see that actually this was a huge event in my life and in the history of my body.  At my core, I felt trapped, and I also internalized the idea that I could have done something differently to stop it.  What I didn’t expect to come up in the midst of the memory was my acupuncturist’s treatments.

I told my acupuncturist that I was a survivor of severe abuse, and I even shared with him this memory fragment where my brother had almost stabbed me.  Yet, he kept wanting to place a needle in my stomach or chest, despite the fact that these areas were extremely sensitized regions of my body where I couldn’t handle anyone else even touching without pain.  When he did it, I would start quaking, with every nerve in my body burning, and I would quickly descend into panic.

When I said I wanted him to take the needle out, he would criticize me, saying that I could have left it in longer.  And he insisted on repeating this experiment multiple times, despite the fact that it wasn’t at all beneficial.  This retraumatized me, as he triggered the pain and terror of my stabbing and then added onto it. As a result the two traumas became literally fused together in my body, intensifying into something that’s been much harder to process and heal from today.

My acupuncturist had seemed helpful and empathetic at first, which threw me off when he began to show this other side to him.  But by the time of our last few sessions, my acupuncturist’s empathy for me had vanished completely.  He yelled at me for telling him not to touch a certain part of my body, for saying that I had had enough, as if my body didn’t belong to me.  He told me that I ‘exaggerated,’ and repeatedly snapped that “someday you’ll have to push through the pain!”

Of course this is incredibly ignorant, as ‘pushing through the pain’ was something I spent most of my life doing.  Via the 21 years of abuse that I endured from my family of origin, and afterwards by not listening to my body, by dissociating and going ahead with whatever I or someone else had decided I should do regardless of how wrong for me it was.  And I know that that road only leads to more pain, there is no rainbow at the end of it.  So I made a decision that having lived a life of pain, I now wanted one of boundaries and safety instead.

That someone who claimed to be a healer would question that and tell me he knew better then my own body is something I find really shocking.  His aggressive behavior and lack of  respect for me could never facilitate healing.  I see now that his approach to chronic pain was informed more by machismo then medical science, and he projected a great deal of it onto me when I told him no.

He made many demeaning comments to me early on, usually in the aftermath of the session when I was too fatigued to respond.  Such as when he minimized my trauma by referring to it as “little boy stuff,”: using a derogatory term (“little boy”) generally used to mock and make men feel small for not living up to stereotypical gender roles to describe the fact that I was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused from infancy to young adulthood was profoundly insulting.

He was also deeply homophobic.  Repeatedly he ended sessions by telling me how glad he was that I wasn’t “misinterpreting the love” that comes through via the treatment.  Doing so showed his discomfort, which also made me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, afraid lest I do something to make him feel like I was coming onto him (when that is something I’d never have done in any circumstances.)

However, my sexuality does not mean that I’m incapable of reading situations and respecting personal and professional boundaries; his homophobia, however, did, and that is a huge problem.  Meanwhile, there was no actual love coming through in the treatment; what I ultimately received was his anger, his judgment, his toxic spiritual condescension.

For survivors, allowing someone into our space is a precious privilege, and someone (especially who we are paying!) abusing that is a serious violation.  I see now that long-term or intensive body work isn’t really right for me at all, let alone with someone who didn’t have my interests at heart.    During the time  of our treatments I was in a long-term emotionally abusive relationship where my boundaries were also not respected, so I wasn’t in a position to recognize these red flags.  But I do now.

Let me make something clear; there is no such thing as ‘exaggerating,’ the boundaries we choose to set with our bodies are perfectly right and good.   The people minimizing me were sick, toxic, dysfunctional, or psychopathic.  At the time, they were all I knew.  But today I don’t know them anymore.   And by that I mean I can’t take them or anything they’ve said to me seriously.


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The Toxicity of Unsolicited Advice

toxic advice photo

I’ve found myself in relationships throughout my life that are openly hostile to my emotional needs.  Where it becomes the imperative truth that if I talk about myself, my feelings or problems, it is seen as an invitation for attack, not an invitation to connection or intimacy.  Where I definitely don’t get back what I give to the other person.

Last year I tried to set a reasonable boundary with a friend.  I told them that I had heard their opinion on what the treatment should be for my health issues, I had laid out the reasons why that doesn’t work/isn’t for me, and I didn’t want to hear about it from them again.  Their repetitive, unsolicited medical advice often beginning with the phrase “you have to…” was beginning to really bother me.

They weren’t just sharing what worked for them, as they had never been in my position in the first place.  This came right after a very traumatic episode, and I told my friend how overwhelmed I was and that they weren’t helping.  In response they refused, saying “Well, I’m going to say what I think.”  That was, really, the end of our relationship.  At that point there was nothing to do but walk away.

Except I was dependent on this person, and would remain so for almost nine months.  After my deceased partner’s family threw me out onto the streets, I was left homeless and  with no option but to camp out on some land that they owned, and because that land was in the middle of nowhere I also was dependent on them for transportation.  During that time my friend did continue to harass me by repeating that same critical advice which they knew was unwelcome.  They took the fact that I was vulnerable due to needing their help as an excuse to ignore my boundaries which I was completely entitled to set.

They didn’t use the time, for instance, to read up on the science behind my illness and become more educated about it.  They didn’t express curiosity and ask me questions, but instead made insulting statements that gradually escalated despite my attempts to avoid the subject.  Soon not only was I accused of being a “bad patient” who supposedly wasn’t listening to his doctors, but actually a delusional person who’s illness was all in his head; who was “taking too long” to grieve his dead partner and everything that was lost.  This person projected his ignorant judgments onto me and accused me of a long list of things that I am not rather then understanding and respecting me and my innate intelligence.  That is not acceptable.

Being dependent on someone who I didn’t feel safe around made my life into a complete nightmare.  I experienced severe stress and panic virtually every time I had to see or contact him.  I felt silenced and intimidated, while he felt free to say whatever he wanted to me and vent all of his anger and judgment with no filter.  It was a very familiar pattern, from my abusive childhood and onward.  Hearing my former friend writing me off as someone who was “weak,” “wimpy” and constantly making homophobic comments about the way I dressed was extremely triggering.  It took a long time to get out of that place, both physically and emotionally, and be able to reflect on what was actually happening.

The fact is, I don’t “have to” do anything; I have agency to review my options and make the medical decisions I see as best.  I do self-work based around healing and recovery because I want to, not because of any alleged moral obligations. This is a very important distinction for me, as I see healing as a journey of liberation, not of stricture.  I avoid any healing philosophy that is made up of commandments or one size fits all platitudes.  Healing is finding my voice, healing is having my own personal boundaries, not following someone else and their rules.

My family of origin was extremely unhealthy and emotionally abusive.  In my childhood, if I came to any of my family with a problem, if I expressed hurt or sadness, I wasn’t given support, but just brushed aside, criticized, belittled, told what to do and why what happened was actually my fault.  With my late partner of seven years, I experienced a similar pattern, where if I was ill, he insisted that offering emotional support ‘wouldn’t help.’  But his unsolicited ‘practical advice’ was very condescending, and usually ended in his mocking and insulting me, which definitely didn’t help me or our relationship.

My ex-friend didn’t know what he was talking about.  However personally, I don’t have to understand the intricacies of someone else’s medical condition or life situation in order to empathize.  If I want to know more about something, I will look it up, but I’m sure that the person living it will always know more about it then I do, so I give them the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume that it’s up to me to solve their problems when they certainly haven’t asked me to do so.  I also don’t see it as my place to become frustrated with someone about how sick or in crisis they are, and whatever I do feel I definitely don’t unload it onto the person who is actually suffering.

Instead of telling someone “you should,” “you have to…” or giving unsolicited advice, providing emotional support does go a long way.  A good alternative to such statements would be “I know you’re doing everything you possibly can right now, how can I support that?”  Offering to support someone in what they are already doing for themselves, as opposed to making them feel obligated to explain themselves at length or defend themselves against unsolicited and inappropriate advice.  Respecting their intelligence and ability to research, plan and think critically about their own life.  Respecting the fact that if they wanted advice, they would ask for it directly.

I’ve long since learned that defending and explaining myself just doesn’t work with some people.  They don’t get the point, they don’t step back, they just respond with more inappropriate advice and intrusive questions. The effective response there is to just be firm the first time, to not engage the pattern.   What they communicate by their behavior is “you’re so lazy, you do nothing, you aren’t even thinking about how to improve your circumstances and you obviously have a ton of free time, so you better do X!”  There’s nothing helpful or constructive about this form of advice.

Do we have to first prove that we’re worthy of emotional support before receiving it?  Do we have to show that we filed our paperwork on time, followed the advice of a ‘professional’ and put ourselves through a series of self-flagellation to be deemed worthy of it?  If we come from a cycle of abuse and dysfunction, then maybe we are used to being given the cold shoulder unless we’ve jumped through all of the right hoops and can present a convincing case to prove that we are worthy of empathy as opposed to punishment for what the judge declares was actually our fault.  But that is not emotionally healthy.

We are worthy of emotional support, even if we have made mistakes, even if our capacity right now is just to struggle through the day and try to cope with that, even if the people around us have no interest in giving it.  Even if we provide non-judgmental emotional support to others but they refuse to reciprocate.

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Postmortem Of My Relationship: Beginning The Healing

gatesI’ve been through a really bad period, some of which I’ve written about here. What I haven’t written very much about is my relationship with my partner. I shied away from sharing any of it when he was alive, because I didn’t feel confident in my perceptions. But his death and what’s happened since has thrown it into sharp relief. I’ve wondered what it was that we had if it all led to this? The answer is of course mixed.

Dew, my partner was significantly older then myself; I was in the same age group as his grandchildren, in fact. I’ve been afraid of being judged about that, even though I don’t see age differences as a problem in itself. But because he was closeted, wealthy, and married with children for much of his life, he conducted his gay relationships in a certain way. By taking in a series of attractive young men, and passing them off as being his servants. Except it wasn’t just a lie, it seeped into every aspect of his love affairs. He would blur the lines between the romantic and the professional, and then blow up when his unequal partners crossed his line.

He shared with me countless stories of his volatile breakups, all of which were blamed on his boyfriends and centered around their ‘undesirable’ qualities. It was only after his death, when I actually met and talked with some of these people, that I realized they weren’t monsters, but rather the recipients, like myself, of toxic relationship patterns that Dew engaged in throughout his whole life. He sought out deeply unequal relationships, with people that would either share his life on his terms, or leave. Some of them wanted a life outside of his estate, others wanted only a job or a relationship, and he would explode in rage and kick them out, as he almost did to me many times.

There is actually a lot of irony in the fact that my partner’s adult son threw me out in a torrent of abuse on my birthday three months ago. Because the first birthday that I spent with my partner, I was also the recipient of rampant verbal abuse and humiliation from him. In both cases it’s true that I hadn’t told these people it was my birthday, but I didn’t because I had no reason to, and being treated like that on any other day wouldn’t have made it any better. I almost left a week after that day in early 2008, but then we had a long talk, and he offered to let me stay, so I did. Eventually I did come to love him, and we became close, to a certain extent. But I had also showed him how much I would put up with.

But his raging didn’t stop. Often times, his anger would suddenly be triggered by little things, and then he would shout at me and start ‘listing’ everything that he had done for me, all the money he had spent… He had once told me he loved me, he asked me to let him take care of everything. But there was also resentment, of me, and my needs, there were tallies being kept and brought out for shaming in response to completely unrelated issues. This was the same way his son would later treat me, as while he was breaking our agreement to violently throw me out onto the streets, he began insisting that he had been ‘very generous’ to me and reciting a list that showed he placed no value on me or the work I had done for him.

We lived an isolated life, in a remote rural community filled with mostly retirees, where everyone had to have a car to get around. This isn’t how I was used to living; I had centered my independent adult life on the ability to walk or use public transportation to get around. Yet going anywhere with Dew I was inevitably just ‘tagging along’ in his view, he had no interest in changing his routines. He had a real ego about his car, and would insist that because it was his car and he was the driver, he got to make all of the decisions, and it didn’t matter if I was cold or air conditioning or loud music was giving me a headache, it didn’t matter if I was starving when he wanted to drive for six hours straight without ever stopping, because he was the driver, and it was his decision.

I never learned to drive, as my parents didn’t bother teaching me, yet whenever I brought up wanting to learn to drive, he would discourage me, telling me that I couldn’t take care of a car because I’m allergic to gasoline and therefore couldn’t pump my own gas–which is a valid point, but not an insurmountable one. Or he would snap at me, condescendingly, that I didn’t really want to learn to drive, because if I did then I would be watching his every move while he was driving the car… He brought up driving school once, but the only such places were hours away, and so it would have involved extensive driving to get there. In the end, there was really no way for me to do this independent of him, and he didn’t want me to do it, so I didn’t. Unfortunately that was a really big pattern in our life together.

I know that the reason he threw out a young man about a year and a half before I showed up was because he had wanted the use of one of Dew’s cars, to teach soccer or be a substitute teacher at a school on the island. In which case, he wouldn’t be there with Dew on the estate all day. That’s what Dew wanted, someone to share his life, not an independent adult with their own life. Unlike me, Dew didn’t want to go places and see things, meet people… he said he had seen the island already, and if I really wanted to go somewhere he would try to talk me out of it, tell me it was nothing special. Eventually I adapted, I learned to cultivate a life that while not stimulating, was comfortable.

I was unhappy, and I had very little choice in my life. But the atmosphere that I lived in contained no one who would have validated me or my situation. I was filled with shame, by the idea that I was just a disgruntled employee or an ungrateful person. That our relationship was inappropriate, and it should be hidden from view. That I was just ‘the help’ or some sort of rent boy preying upon Dew. So there was no one I could talk to about what was happening. And I was caught up in a connection that wasn’t emotionally healthy. Not in the slightest. To admit that would be to imagine leaving, when I had promised (to myself primarily) that I would stay with him until the end, because he asked me to. Because he needed me, and that was all I felt I had. I was used to being a caretaker, and I took good care of him.

When he died, I was thrown into confusion and cognitive dissonance, as all of the illusions I had held onto for so long were disintegrating before my eyes. I told myself this situation gave me an opportunity to heal. And it did, to a certain extent, so long as I could go about it alone (except for my great friends and allies online.) But some forms of growth were just not possible in that environment. I told myself it would give me time to recover from my eating disorder, but that was a long, hard road that I haven’t reached the end of yet. I told myself I could build up a writing career, but found myself uninspired, isolated, and sick instead. My real reasons for staying were much deeper and sadder.

I realize now that there is no reward, cosmic or otherwise, for staying in a flawed, unequal, or abusive relationship. For putting up with things for someone else’s sake, for making compromises that aren’t all practical or workable. It doesn’t win love, or better treatment to do so. With Dew’s death, my hope that this situation or our relationship could improve also died. There was no significant benefit to my hiding with him for all those years, not to me anyway. Those two birthdays that bookmarked my life with him have led me to mostly the same place and situation; though of course there are some differences, some are better or worse on each end, and hope shifts around, is ephemeral in each. Suffice to say now I have the chance to live my own life, and break out of these patterns.

This is only part 1 of a series of posts to come on this subject.

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Defining Family As A Survivor: Through Grief and Contrast

reaching out to the sea

It’s been three and a half months since my partner of seven years passed away. I’ve experienced many cold, dark, lonely days since then. The holidays this year were not a time to celebrate, but to grieve, and somehow survive despite the pain and fresh trauma that life threw at me. As a survivor of abuse, incest, and child sex trafficking, I lost my biological family a long time ago. And today I’ve lost the one I spent years building up; my partner, our dog, and my home have been ripped away from me in rapid succession. It’s left me whiplashed, but also contemplative, and more then ready to examine what is left.

What I’ve come to realize is that there were toxic people in the life I shared with my partner, who had emotionally abused and disregarded me over a long period of time. Including my partner’s adult son, and a close friend of ours. And they didn’t stop being abusive when he died and I became more vulnerable then before. They didn’t suddenly decide to give me respect, validate my personhood or recognize my equal value. I had to demand it, and move forward with the truth regardless of their attempts to retaliate and hurt me in response.

When my partner died, he was in the closet. He admitted the reality of our relationship to almost no one, though people who really knew him could see the obvious truth. Though we weren’t married, he was family to me, he was my family. Yet after he died I found that in many of our discussions, a friend of mine kept making unprovoked statements along the lines of “well, THEY’RE the family, we were just his friends…” and when I shared my sorrow as well as physical exhaustion with her, she would say in a critical tone “oh gosh, well imagine how THEY must feel?” These were silencing statements, that really harmed and confused me in the earlier stages of my grief, despite the fact that I definitely don’t believe in comparing feelings or pain.

It also hurt me because it was like she decided from the beginning that there were sides, that I was on one side and my partner’s relatives/legal heirs were on the other. And she had chosen her side. In truth she had said things like this before, treating me like an outsider, someone who didn’t belong in my partner’s life and was driving a wedge between him and his relatives. As if she didn’t approve of our relationship, though she wouldn’t come out and say it. When I confronted her about how these statements and her withdrawal of friendship made me feel, she responded by saying “I know you THINK you had a relationship with Dew, but I don’t believe that!” She told me that I was just Dew’s employee, while she was his friend (thus in a higher position in his life then myself, and if I was less then her, I must be so much less then his relatives too.)

This level of absurd, arrogant invalidation shocked me; as if she actually thought she knew better then I what happened in private, while I only imagined things like living with him, our physical intimacy, verbal expressions of affection, and the many seasons of our life together. But I also felt empowerment, because I had stood up for myself, and that is something she could never take away or cancel out. It also helped me to realize that it hadn’t just been my own insecurity telling me all these years that people are thinking things like this; some really were. And now that my partner was dead, I wasn’t putting up with them anymore. I’m not letting anyone, not my family of origin or her tell me that my experiences, memories and feelings are not real or valid.

When my partner’s relatives came to the house after he died, we got along well, and it seemed for a time that a new page had been turned in our relationship. But I see now that wasn’t real; the truth is that when they came I was desperate, afraid, and eager to please, because I thought I would be thrown out with nothing. So I over-exerted myself, running on pure adrenaline I sought to make myself invaluable to them. But they just saw me as a source of cheap, efficient and quick labor; which given my physical and mental state, I most certainly am not. And my partner’s son was no more eager to please or even willing to accommodate me then he was in the years past.

From the very day we met, his behavior implied that he didn’t approve of my presence in my partner’s life and his house. Though he used the fact that he owned the house after my partner died to push in on me, the truth is he didn’t bother knocking back when my partner was alive, he would violate my space on his whim. Once he threw my clothes from the washing machine onto the floor and left them there so that he could do his own laundry, another time he insisted despite my objections on washing the carpet in my office with chemical carpet cleaners that made such strong and long-lasting fumes that I wasn’t able to enter my office again for over seven months without getting sick.  There are many such examples, that I never received any apology for.

My partner explained to his son countless times that I have a very real medical condition; multiple chemical sensitivity, a neuro-immune, multi-system illness that causes me to experience acute pain and inflammation when coming into contact with volatile off-gassing chemicals. But he never acknowledged his father’s requests that he simply use the hypoallergenic, environmentally friendly products we provided him with that made our living environment tolerable for me.   On his visits I would become sick, and have to retreat to the small cabin on the property, despite it’s lack of facilities. After my partner died and I was kept on as caretaker of the estate, he began to say things like “I don’t know about your ‘sensitivities,’ but…” when actually he knew very well about them, he just didn’t care.

Over the three months that I spent caretaking my former home, my health deteriorated rapidly, as my safe environment was gone, and I was dealing with grief as well as the stress of my precarious position and being pressured into taking on a project which I was not capable of doing. Despite my chronic fatigue and pain, I began to experience panic attacks, thinking that he would come back to the house and if I didn’t finish single-handedly building an entire business out of my partner’s artwork, I would be thrown out (even though that was not a part of our agreement.) I was right about that.   When I wrote him an email saying that though I had completed a great deal of the work I had reached my limit, he didn’t respond. But when he came back, he tried to bully me into moving forward with it; he grew aggressive, and hostile; he kept making demeaning comments about me, asking insulting questions like ‘do you have fleas?’ and otherwise not listening to anything that I said, confident that he could steamroll me and get his way regardless.

Finally, without warning he decided to light an illegal trash fire 40 feet in front of the cabin where I was struggling to live.  When I saw him light it he shouted that he would be “shooting off guns” as well, so I should stay in the cabin.  As the smoke entered through the cracks in the doors and windows, my lungs constricted, my skin started to burn and my heart-rate increased rapidly. Thankfully I was able to call one of the only true friends that has stood by me during this entire episode, and he came to pick me up.  But as I was still trying to recover at my friends house, he rang me, and started calling me names, asking me if I was ever coming back or not, saying that he had gone through my things in the cabin after I left…

At that moment I stood up for myself, I told him that just because he inherited the house does not give him the right to emotionally abuse, bully, disregard or physically attack me with smoke and chemicals. He probably wanted to provoke me at that point, to give him an excuse to throw me out, and he got what he wanted; telling me to “get the hell out of my house” before I hung up the phone. It was just a few hours before my birthday, which I would spend frantically packing my things.

People trying to invalidate my illness or my relationship, pretending that they didn’t exist, and that they hadn’t already been proven and explained to them, was enormously painful after my partners death. I was being attacked while at my lowest point. But I’ve had to ask myself today, am I someone so desperate and vulnerable that I’m willing to put up with any amount of mistreatment and abuse that people throw at me? The answer is no, that is not my state of being today, and anyone who tries to project that onto me is completely mistaken. While I’ve been experiencing a massive identity crisis, as I lost my partner, our home, and our beloved dog, that crisis is not about whether I have and deserve to be treated with equal value. I do.

During my final encounter with my partner’s son, he brought up yet again a patronizing question he had asked me many times; “why don’t you just call your family?” Asking it more then once shows how he hadn’t respected my answer, that we are estranged, and I have no biological family; that I don’t define family that way. But the real answer came to me less then a week later when the good friends I reached out to, who supported me during this whole time took me in and told me that they consider me family, and won’t throw me into the wind, like my partner’s biological family, or my own.

I don’t restrict compassion and human decency to just people that are biological relatives, or build relationships out of obligation.  My partner was my family, until he died.  But that is a type of family that thankfully can be rebuilt, with time.

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Learning To Value My Creativity After Emotional Abuse

proudly sensitiveA photo I took shortly after escaping my abusive family home

Being a visually oriented person, photography has long been a great interest of mine,  though it wasn’t always accessible to me. I remember the first significant time I used my parent’s camera, on a (unhappy) trip to Berkeley when I was 15.  A week after I arrived home, my mother threw the just-developed pictures on the floor in the hallway and banged on my door, screaming “You’re lucky I didn’t pay to have these developed; these are the worst pictures I’ve ever seen in my life!” She provided neither instruction on how to use the camera beforehand, or encouragement for how I might use it better in the future, there was just a put-down before I even got to see the pictures myself.

Instead of paying for the film herself with unconditional love, she had charged it to her workplace account and then became enraged at me because I didn’t make her subterfuge feel worthwhile. My mother communicated to me that I wasn’t worthy of kind gestures or good thoughts even if they cost her nothing at all, and that I should feel ashamed. Permanently ashamed, as once I hadn’t lived up to her expectations the first time trying something, she would never forget, I would always be a ‘bad photographer’ in her eyes after this.

Looking back I had just gone through a hellish year of constant bullying and isolation at school, I was anxious and depressed, and understandably not fully engaged in where I was going or what I was seeing. If my mother had considered not that these were ‘bad photographs’ meaning that I was incompetent, but asked questions instead along the lines of “Why didn’t you have a good time?”, “What can I do to make you feel more comfortable?” Then maybe the answer would have been different. Perhaps she would have seen, beyond the first-time camera use, that the photographs reflected what I was feeling at the time, if they seemed like a drab afterthought, that is what they were meant to be.

The truth is that I found spending three days each way on a hot, stressful, sleepless bus ride across the country living off of stale junk food numbing and dismal. Countless people along the way harassed and called me homophobic slurs because of the way I dressed, people threatened to assault me, and I was bored out of my mind. And all of that just to stay with my older sister who was no more interested in my feelings then our mother was. She was principally occupied with her one and a half year old son, and though I couldn’t have expressed it this way at the time, the fact is he triggered feelings about my own abuse when I was his size. It made me really uncomfortable to be around him.

But my sister’s habit of constantly yelling and raging at me was worse; her communication methods were toxic, she took our her bad days at work on me, and threatened to kick me out of her car and leave me stranded in the city I didn’t know. Staying with her was not a vacation, and not a summer activity that I would have chosen for myself had I been given options. But this trip was my mother’s idea; she constantly wanted to travel to California and see her grandchild, a desire I naturally didn’t share at the time, but which she projected onto me.

A year before, I walked into the kitchen and heard her on the phone begging my sister to let me go live with them for the entire summer.  She said that I, at fourteen “needed something to love,” and thus would be a great babysitter for her infant son, that I could take him out in his stroller to the park every day…  As if that wasn’t blind and inappropriate enough, my mother went on to say that I could sleep outside on the balcony of their studio apartment so that my sister and her husband “could still have sex” while I was there.  Though I quickly left the room, I know that my sister declined this bizarre proposal.

The photographs to document my trip included stray shots taken from the bus windows at odd angles, of smoke-stained cities we drove through in five minutes, of the exterior of the building where my sister’s cramped apartment lie in, poorly lit photographs in her rooms, and scenes over the boiling California sidewalks where I wandered up and down aimlessly for no discernible  reason (except for the fact that my sister would yell at me if I didn’t go out and “explore.”) Apparently not what my mother would have preferred. But I wasn’t a bad photographer, I simply had nothing else to photograph, no hope, no good memories, nothing to focus on and little knowledge of what all the buttons on my parents cheap old camera were supposed to do.

I wasn’t responsible for meeting my mother’s strange and not clearly expressed expectations at the time. As my mother, she was responsible for taking care of me and meeting my needs and respecting my feelings, which she did not do, instead she abused me, she ignored me, and tried to over-rule my very personhood with the unsuitable plans she dreamed up for me. Her emotional abuse was never justifiable, it doesn’t matter even if she had paid for a roll of unsuccessful film to be developed. I didn’t keep the photographs from that trip myself, I threw them away after looking at them once, my mother’s words echoing in my mind. It was hard for me to value anything that others didn’t.

Four years later I got my first digital camera, and I was thrilled. I could experiment, and express my point of view without having it screened or put down by anyone before I even saw the results myself, and when I did like what I produced, I shared it with my friends online.  Sometimes when looking at those old photos I took while I was still living at home, they make me uncomfortable, because I can see the shadow of trauma and old memories in the background.   But I don’t feel ashamed of myself, my history or what my art is today or was in the past.

Today I do make my own decisions on what I value, independent of what others think.   Reclaiming my true history from the lies told to me by abusers has been a very empowering process.  So, you’ll be seeing allot more of my photographs on Proudly Sensitive in the future.

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