Abuse and abusers come in all shapes, sizes, flavors. Mine came in the form of my mother’s longtime boyfriend, a hoarder obsessed with control. I was not allowed to throw anything away, to close my bedroom door, to use a fan even on the most humid summer nights, to use the phone (he would often go as far as to hide it from me if he went anywhere), leave the house… The list always went on. Many of his rules were arbitrary and strange, but because I was a child who was rarely allowed to leave the house I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t. Visiting family would bring the fear of following a rule that wasn’t normal and people finding me out. One wrong move and they’d be able to tell I was “worthless” or “stupid” like he said I was. Or, just as bad, they’d be able to tell how strange he made me. I knew I wasn’t normal and my life wasn’t normal, but I didn’t know which idiosyncrasies were the dead giveaways. I was always so scared of making a mistake.
My abuser would often hide things that were important to me and claim I could have them back when I “deserved” them, or just break them outright. Over six feet fall and well over two-hundred pounds, he would back me into walls, threaten me, scream in my face. This all started when I was a mousy seventh grader, a sweet little girl who literally cried the first time she accidentally killed a bug. The first year he abused me I felt it must be my fault. If I just did the dishes “right” or “better” he wouldn’t have to make me do them four times in a row until my hands were raw and I was exhausted on a school night. If I made myself smaller, if I was quieter, if I stayed out of the way, maybe he wouldn’t notice me or yell. It took a year of his threats, his intimidation, his degradation until something in me me snapped. I stopped blaming myself. I stopped freezing up and crying when I was backed into a corner. I became hard, loud, angry. That little mousy girl was gone, turned into something with teeth and claws. When he bit, I bit back. It made him more angry and even more determined to hurt, scare, and intimidate me, but I’d found my power and held onto it with everything I had. I fought a predator with the predator inside me. It was how I survived.
He abused me for six years. I spent most of my days fighting back and my nights lying awake in fear and dread, a constant hypervigilant state of fight or flight. The damage he did will probably last the rest of my life. There is nothing good about abuse. There is no everything happens for a reason or you are a better person for what you went through. No. All of it is wrong. It shouldn’t have happened to me. If you’ve ever been abused it shouldn’t have happened to you either. We didn’t deserve it and it wasn’t a trial “given” to us to teach us something or make us better people. On the contrary much of my healing has felt like trying to become the person I would have been had it not been for what I went through. The hard work has been undoing the anger, sheathing my claws (mostly), opening up and softening. If you find meaning in your trauma and that is helping you heal, I think that’s wonderful. But in my process even the thought of my abuser somehow making me a better person is laughable. For better or worse, though, there are a few things I have learned over the process of my healing.
- You cannot control someone else’s actions by being “better” or doing “better”.
An abuser will always find something “wrong”. They want to hurt you. Nothing you did made you deserve it and nothing you can do will make you change them.
- Mental health issues do not excuse abuse.
My abuser was a hoarder and probably also had OCD. This doesn’t mean what he did is understandable or okay. Being sick doesn’t inherently mean you are also toxic. He just happened to be both.
- You don’t have to forgive anyone.
I’m a firm believer in that some people don’t deserve forgiveness. If it doesn’t contribute to your healing you don’t have to hear their apology or accept an apology you’ve never gotten. Be angry if you need to be angry, unapologetically cut them out of your life if you can. Continue to hate them for as long as you live, but burn your past and continue living. Then go to their funeral and dance on their grave.
- You have to heal on your own time in your own way.
Everyone is different and deals with trauma differently, so don’t let anyone tell you you’re not doing it right or that you should be “over it” by now. There is no road map or deadline. If you want help, there is no shame in reaching out, but there’s also no shame in going it alone and healing in your own way. I first found my healing writing really angry, gritty poetry. You know you and your needs better than anyone so listen to yourself first and foremost.
- Fuck it. Be yourself.
I spent my childhood and teenage years trying to be invisible and hiding myself away in order to feel a semblance of safety. Then there was a long period of time where I had no sense of self because I spent so long repressing who I was out of necessity. It took years to reverse that damage and I’m still working even now, but I have a better sense of who I am and what I want, and I’m never going to hide any of that away for anyone.
It has been almost 10 years, but I am still learning and unlearning. It’s a process. If you’re being abused or ever have been abused — you are strong, you are a force, and you deserve so much better. If escape isn’t possible right now, keep fighting to see the day that it finally is. You can outlive your abuser. You can win.
Further reading and resources:
- Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
- Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can–and Should–be Saved by Lundy Bancroft
- Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward
National Domestic Violence Hotline
- 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) | 1-800-799-7233 (24/7)
- Live chat with National Domestic Violence Hotline (7am-2am CST)
- 1-866-331-9474 (TTY) | 1-866-331-8453 (24/7)
- Live chat with loveisrespect (7 days/week, 5pm-3am EST)
National Child Abuse Hotline
- 1-800-422-4453 (24/7)
RAINN: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
- 1-800-656-4673 (24/7)
- Live chat with RAINN (24/7)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-273-8255 (24/7)
- Live chat with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7)