Since this is my first proper post I think it appropriate that it is a little bit about my story. I’ve called my blog ‘Silent Abuse’ because there is a type of abuser moving through the world reaping destruction, toppling skyscrapers without ever raising their voice or their hands, gaslighting so subtly the victim doesn’t understand what is happening to them. The victim becomes lost in mental anguish and a hell so terrible it’s hard to explain without sounding hyperbolic. The police understand being hit is a criminal offense. Friends understand being called a whore or a bitch is wrong. But how do you talk about:
– the silent terror of a lover who speaks in a calm voice, words careful and even to make sure his anger and blaming of you for all his problems is subtle and hard to quote back at him;
– sometimes using tone of voice to convey contrary meanings to his words,
– hinted at threats to you: “back off because you won’t like what I’ll do if you keep pushing me.” He never actually said what he’d do but the rage, hate and darkness in his eyes and body language tells you it would be bad;
– insults that are “just a joke, don’t be so sensitive!”;
– talking of violence to third parties but never you but make you feel terror and deep unease,
– his punishments that are small but terrible because they all add to the narrative that you are useless and a burden; and
– the terror of not knowing when you will mess up and say something that will send them into a silent spell that can last weeks. And a silent spell they won’t acknowledge.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“You’re acting strange, please tell me what’s wrong.”
“God, can you please just stop overanalysing me? It feels like I’m walking on eggshells whenever I set foot in this house. It’s exhausting.”
Crap, I didn’t realise I was that difficult to be around. I felt like I was the one walking on eggshells. I must be oversensitive. I need to stop overanalysing every little change in tone of voice, every bit of body language. Anyway, it’s time for my anti-psychotic pill, my anti-depressant and my mood stabiliser. If I miss a dose my psychiatrist will be mad with me again.
The problem with these types of abusers is that to pick up on their tactics you have to be aware of the tone of their voice, things suggested and implied but not actually said, body language, subtle changes in behaviour. All things that they can turn around on you and say you’re being over-sensitive, controlling, suffocating. All things a person who has a mental illness or even a personality disorder might do. (You might have guessed from the above paragraph I have experienced being mis-diagnosed by mental health professionals because of the abuse I was experiencing. More on that in future blog posts.)
You see, I thought I knew what abuse was. I thought I knew what abusers looked like. Yelling, name-calling, pushing, hitting, threats. Angry, nasty men who reek of bitterness and rage who move like tornadoes through the lives of those who love them.
I thought I knew what abuse was, so I didn’t know I was being abused. I took the messy cloud of control and silent anger that lived above me, blocking the sun and the moon and pulled it inside myself thinking it was my aura, my doing, my shadow. He never raised his voice, and I was so depressed, so anxious, so sensitive, it was so difficult to be with. No wonder he seemed annoyed. He loved me. He never hit me. He never called me names. He was so patient to stay with me. I was so damaged, that’s what I thought. It’s what I told myself. It’s what he told me. It’s what my psychiatrist told me.
There were many times my gut whispered unease, tugged at my sleeve and I tried to talk about his coldness to him, his skyscraper expectations of me, his way of taking my words and making them stretch and droop like pulled caramel and become silly, nothing, a sticky mess to be cleaned up.
I was in my twenties when he first started to groom me. Ten years later I asked for a divorce via email, knowing I should never be in his company again, gut instinct talking louder, clearer in the space where he used to be. When he asked to talk to me about it I said no. I was unwell and couldn’t handle it. He was something wrong, dangerous to me. But I still wasn’t ready to call it abuse. He said to me many times when we were married: “I’ve never hit you, never called you names, never raised my voice.” He was a good man. Or was he. Why couldn’t I allow myself to ever be alone with him again? What was that voice telling me? I didn’t have the names for it, the terminology, the literature or the research.
But I had Donald Trump. That disgusting blight of twisted toxic masculinity forcing his greasy skin across the news. And I was angry. I was furious with him. I desperately devoured the news each day, usually lying in my old bed in my childhood bedroom, watching CNN on satellite TV and scouring Politico and the Washington Post for the thing that would eventually destroy him. He couldn’t be allowed to win. He was an abomination. I lived in my parents’ house, too unwell to work, covered in grief for a dead marriage that wasn’t as simple as grief. It wore the black clothes of grief, it tried to be simple, sad. But there were other beasts under the cloak of the grey golem that heralded my failure as a wife in the fresh seconds each morning when I awoke and remembered where I was and why. There was fear hidden there. A howling creature of rage.
I devoured the news. I knew when Trump was defeated (I mean, he couldn’t win, right??) the world would somehow be set right, I would feel better, a great wrong would be made right. I lived for articles that tried to explain who Trump was, what kind of human he was, what gave him skin and breath. Then I read an article called ‘Donald Trump’s behaviour is textbook emotional abuse, and Hillary Clinton isn’t his only victim’. This led me to a links on gaslighting, emotional abuse, domestic abuse and eventually to a domestic violence support program and a clinical psychologist who specialises in non-physical domestic violence.
So, I suppose thanks, Donald Trump? Yuck, no, I won’t go that far. In part two I’ll go into more detail about what happened after I read that article to what got me here.