A Musing on Whether I Deserve Punishment

I wish I could take a picture of my life as it is now. Snapshot, and I’m done. I could post a photograph of me sitting in my teak wooden chair on my patio with my dog curled up in his bed in front of me and green plants growing in pots, the warm air filling my lungs in the evening light, but that mere description wouldn’t do my life justice. Or, would it? Instead, I am going to write. I am going to write more and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. Because really, it has been a couple months since I last took the pleasure of writing down my thoughts and feelings in a proper blog entry. That is, what I consider a proper blog entry.

A mini crisis just swept over me. I saw my neighbours walk by me with glasses of wine in tow. No, it wasn’t just one person. There were six ladies talking and laughing, each with a glass of wine in their hand. I had an intense craving for wine. This whole episode lasted less than ten minutes but it was an obstacle to surmount, for sure. I talked it through with my roommate. I’m lucky I have her. She said that if she ever gets a craving for something like that she eats a piece of sweet fruit. Luckily I have some perfectly ripe summer peaches in the kitchen and I ate one, dripping over the sink. It did help. It helped.

Sometimes I wonder if I am intentionally thinking about hurting myself. I wanted to drink wine just now, but over the last weeks I have been obsessing about reading some of my old journal entries, emails, and poems which are full of pain, hurt, and suicidal ideation. It would be catastrophic to my current state of equilibrium. I would feel awful and I’m sure I would actively want to kill myself again. That feels awful. It has been two or three months since I last thought about planning a suicide. God, I’m so brainwashed that I always initially think of the word “committing” suicide as if I am “committing” a crime. It’s planning. It’s completion of the suicide. But it is not something that someone commits. People die of suicide. Suicide is not a diagnosis but it is because of a mental health condition, a verifiable illness of the mind and of a chemical imbalance in the brain, that a person would even think of planning a suicide.

I just picked my nose. And I must say, it was incredibly satisfying because I sucessfully extracted some hardened mucous, which I then tossed with with the aide of my forefinger and thumb to the side. It was a good distraction. Anyone who tells me they don’t pick their nose from time to time is lying. As children, we are taught that doing so is not appropriate to do in public. But in private? Hell yes! Plus my dog doesn’t care. He licks his ass and poops in front of me. He doesn’t even care if I’m naked. He accepts me as I am. I want to metaphorically be able to lick my own ass and have someone love me in spite of having been witness to such an act.

It’s half past seven and the sky is getting a little bit darker. The shadows are long and the reflection of the sunlight off of the white buildings is a deep, golden yellow. My roommate has miniature pots with plants in them lined up on the stone of the patio wall in the following order: catnip, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, spearmint and thyme. She has them labeled and in each pot there is a small bit of green sticking out of the soil. Growing plants is a beautiful thing. It is a lovely past-time. One must be consistent to water the plants on a regular basis just as it is important to shower one’s soul with self-love in regular doses.

I moved into my home and am sitting on my light sage green couch on top of a white blanket with my chihuahua blend dog right next to me. I didn’t feel like eating a real dinner so what I have eaten is a peach, a banana, sweet potato chips, and my new favourite Noosa brand yogurt. I’d say, healthy enough and definitely satisfying to the taste buds.

I suddenly remember a friend of mine from over five years ago. I don’t remember why we parted from our friendship. We had been friends from 2009 – 2012 and when we parted I was at one of the peaks of my journey with mental illness. I must have really not wanted to contact her again, because I deleted all of her contact information, including her address. I know what city she lives in but I cannot send her a letter. I was there the day after her baby was born. I documented her child’s first years through photographs and I made her an album. And now, we have no contact and I have never met her twin daughters.

I think I’m ready to go back to the hard stuff again. Why do I self harm? Why do I want to self harm? My therapist suggested that when things are going really well for me I seem to want to do something to sabotage it, so that things aren’t going so well any longer. “I know you’re doing your job to point out patterns,” I told him in a brisque manner. “That sounded angry but you look sad,” he replied. Yes, he was right. It made me sad to think of this topic. I wasn’t angry, nor was I annoyed. But somehow it came out that way.

I’m not a bad person. I am absolutely in no way a bad person. Then why do I treat myself as if I were bad? As if I need punishment? I seem to want to punish myself. But why? What have I done that has been so wrong? Weren’t those things done to me? I am not innocent but I certainly wasn’t the perpetrator of all the hurt and harm which happened in my life. At least not initially. I was treated so badly for so many years that I came to believe that somehow I deserve to be treated in that way, and that that is the only way to live. I even thought I deserved to die. That the only thing I deserved was to die, and it would have been a release from the pain and the ultimate expression of self-hatred. But just this past Saturday I decided that I love my life.

Things are good right now. Summer school started yesterday. Grad school begins at the end of August. It’s a three-year program. I am in process of applying to volunteer my time as a mentor / tutor to a child in a county-funded program for at-risk youth. I also plan to help out with marketing events for my local psychological association which I just joined. I want to get hooked into the local scene with psychologists and MFT’s. I want to get to know people and I want others to get to know me. Last night I had a long, private conversation with my professor after class and we walked to the garage together where our cars were parked. I believe she enjoyed my enthusiasm for pursuing my future helping career.

I have to close the blinds right now because it has become dark outside and almost an hour has passed since I began writing this entry. My dog is snoring lightly. I think of it more like his version of a cat’s purr.

I took another break. I was still hungry so I ate some homemade black beans with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. It was good. Then I went pee for the third time in three hours, hand-washed the dishes as I always do, and petted my dog. Here I am again, at my computer and more time has passed. I’m not worried about the time or the impending, looming hour that says it’s time for bed. I could go to bed right now if I wanted to. But I don’t want to go to bed yet.

I just can’t do it. I can’t do it. I am unable to focus on things which are difficult to talk about, think about, write about. All I managed was a few paragraphs today amid some healthy fluff. I can’t talk about why I am triggered at times to think of harming myself. I don’t want to think about it. I’m done. I’m in control. I get to say when enough is enough. I want to process these concepts with the help of my therapist. It’s far too difficult to do on my own. But I did do it. I managed just a little bit on my own. And that is enough. If I can accept the idea that I want to harm myself with loving kindness, then I won’t have to fight it. I can just let it be and acknowledge it and not act on it.

Emotions don’t have to control. They simply inform. The fact that I wanted to drink tonight informs me that I got triggered by seeing others holding wine glasses, which immediately brought me to self-harming thoughts, because alcohol used to be related to self harm. I used to drink when cutting myself and I used to drink when I felt suicidal so that I would have the impaired decision-making to carry through with a plan for suicide, whilst I inevitably always called the suicide hotline.

I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. I can just keep telling myself that I am okay. Then, I will begin to believe it. The reality is that I am indeed okay, but I just wrote about some not okay things, things that are not okay with me and things that I am not okay with. But me, my person, my being, I am okay. I am really okay. Now, with loving kindness, I shall focus my attention onto my napping therapy dog. Because I have the power to choose where my attention goes.

Mental Health Recovery Day

I am kind to myself. I can be nice to myself. I give myself permission to practice self-kindness. I can be gentle with me. I can do this. I am doing this. I will keep doing this. I am strong, kind, generous, faithful, intelligent and beautiful.

I took the day off of work today. It was a mental health recovery day. These last five days have been hard and I just couldn’t see myself going to work today. I kept snoozing the alarm and I knew I just didn’t want to deal with life today. Instead, I slept for about 16 hours. I finally got up in the early afternoon, a couple hours before seeing my psychotherapist. I was originally going to see him after work, but because I took the day off and he had availability, I was able to see him sooner. I saw him yesterday and I am seeing him tomorrow. It’s Spring Break and he’s not teaching this week, therefore, I am taking what I can get. I’ve always dreamed of seeing him every day for several days in a row. I tell him by email all the time that I hate not seeing him and I hate having to wait five days to see him. Well, I can rest easy because I get to see him in less than 24 hours from now.

When I can’t cope, I can’t cope. It’s just a fact. I wasn’t okay. When I get overwhelmed my mind goes straight to suicide and self-harm. It makes sense. I wasn’t able to retaliate when I was being abused because talking back or acting out would only make things worse. So when I couldn’t control things in my external world, I turned to my inner world for a sense of control. In focusing in on myself, in exacting self-harm whether through restricting food, cutting on myself, drinking alcohol, having more sex with strangers, telling myself I wasn’t worthy of love, and in so many other ways, I was able to control aspects of my life. Unfortunately, the control seeped out into other parts of my life and I felt that this was beyond my control. I acted out at work and ruined my professional life by quitting my career job out of desperation. But after leaving the abusive situation I was in, I began to heal myself once the major PTSD symptoms had subsided, which took a couple years.

When I was growing up too, my external world was beyond my control and things were unstable, so I controlled my inner world by fantasizing about running away from home or sleeping out on the porch in the snow to hurt my mum by hurting myself. When I was eight, I remember yelling at her, “I wish I were dead!” at the top of my lungs, because I wanted to hurt her back so badly, and I knew because my father had died, that it would get to her. “No, no,” she had replied with tears in her eyes, and I knew I had gotten to her. It’s as if I had to go to extreme measures in order to receive unconditional love and attention.

Self-harm has always been a part of my life, but with the help of my psychotherapist over the last eight and a half years I am learning to find other ways to express my anger and to not direct it toward myself. Because I don’t deserve that. No one deserves to hate themselves and to hurt themselves. Everyone deserves kindness and compassion. Most of all, from me to myself. I am okay. I will be okay. I am going to be okay. I can do this. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that and eventually it will be true. But the fact of the matter is, I am actually okay, it’s just that I don’t always feel okay. But I have learned that feelings come and go, and I remain. The emergency in my mind is no longer happening, and the noise and the chaos in my mind has subsided, and what is left is just me, without the state of emergency. It meant the world to me today when, at the end of our therapy session, my therapist said to me, “I’m glad you are feeling better.” “Me too,” I replied. Me too.

Anorexic Ideation

I started starving myself yesterday. It’s not a complete starvation diet. Since I managed to eat just 750 calories yesterday I’m going to restrict myself to 800 calories per day. I think that’s reasonable. I just got home from work and I’ve had a total of 515 calories so far. I’ve been constantly hungry for the past two days but I am able to sleep through the night and I think I have been drinking more liquids. That’s good, so I don’t get a headache from being hungry. I like the control this gives me. I have told several of my close friends. Some have responded with love and compassion and others have responded with insulting comments. That makes me feel bad and it is unfortunate. And I’m not going to eat because someone tells me to eat. I like the control I get over my body.

I don’t see this as a mental disorder because I don’t have a distorted perception of my body. I know I’m a bit fat. I’m about five foot, two inches and I was 139 for the longest time but in the last two weeks I’ve gotten down to 131 pounds and it is very encouraging. I would like to reach 125, then 120, and then we’ll see from there. A person I thought was a mentor and who used to be like my father responded “you can’t come visit if you have a feeding tube”. Can you believe someone would say that? Whatever happened to unconditional love? The best thing about this diet is that I can have as much tea as I want, which is soothing and comforting, and it’s not that I couldn’t have tea before, it’s just that I need the comfort of the hot tea more now than ever.

I told my roommate about my plan and she told me that is not healthy. That was earlier this afternoon by text message. Now she is sitting in the living room with me here, playing with her cat, and she hasn’t said a word to me. Just “hi” and that’s it. She probably just doesn’t know what to say. I have no idea what my therapist is going to tell me tomorrow night. Supposedly this is connected to the ending of my group therapy, because I decided to stop going. I started looking up things on anorexia last week and then by Saturday night I was so incredibly angry with myself that I was considering jumping off a bridge, but then I decided to go to bed. Yesterday I had no desire to live and I didn’t feel like getting up, and so 14 hours later when my mom called in the afternoon, I finally got up. I must admit I did feel better about life in general after getting up and being “alive”.

Did you know that a medium-sized apple contains 95 calories? Neither did I. But the internet has all sorts of information readily available. I used to think that anorexic people looked… well, far too skinny. But I was looking at images today while at work and I was thinking to myself that it looks beautiful. My friend whom I am seeing tonight said that women are meant to have curves and that my ex-abuser wanted to me to look like a little girl and that is why he put me on diets. He hated my big breasts and totally disregarded them as if they didn’t exist. All he cared about was my vagina and getting into it with his hands and other body parts as much as possible. And getting other men to use me too.

I have to go over to my friend’s house before it gets too late. She called me last night as soon as I told her what I am doing to myself and we planned to get together tonight. She wants to show me and remind me that I am loved and that her child loves me very much. He is five now and I have known him since he was born. She said that a child’s love, and a baby’s love, is pure. I couldn’t agree more.

Suicidal Thoughts, OCD, and Mental Health Talk

Lately, I have been feeling stressed. Most of it is work stress. There is a finite level of the human capacity to tolerate stress, and I was close to that ceiling today. I took time off of work in the middle of the day to see my therapist because I needed to see him three times this week and that was the only time which was going to work. He helped me talk through the concerns which have been giving me anxiety at work in regards to my new assistant. I feel responsible for her progress because I am the one training her. However, I am not her supervisor and I do not have the authority to correct her behavior. I am worried that her motivation might not be as high as I hoped it would be and six weeks into the job I just thought she would get it by now. But I have to give her leeway because the learning curve in this industry is steep and she has no prior experience. I want her to be making more phone calls and taking on more tasks and I’m worried about not being able to trust her with projects to take on her own. She has been consistently late to work and she does not dress appropriately professionally. All of things are going to be looked at and handled by our supervisor now. What was hard was handing over that responsibility to someone else because I thought I could handle it. But my boss said she didn’t want to put me in that position. She’s right.

I just ate a chocolate that is at least three years old. It was Ghirardelli with raspberry filling, only the filling had sunken in on itself. It tasted okay though I was hesitant at first bite. People give me chocolates and I just don’t eat them.

I found a new walking path today. Because of the time change and the fact that it is lighter for longer in the evening, I had decided to go for a walk by my home. My neighborhood is not ideal for walking: there are long roads with only one sidewalk and cars which go by at fast speeds. I went walking along one of those roads. It crosses over a freeway. The bridge over the freeway is not very high, but I imagined myself jumping off the edge into the traffic below. I would probably only break a foot or leg, but the cars going by at 75 miles per hour in the fast lane would surely kill me. Only, if I survived, I might be physically impaired for the rest of my life and it would be very hard to kill myself then. I didn’t think about that at the time.

I thought about that if I survived, and another person died on the scene due to the car accident, then I would be convicted for involuntary manslaughter or some sort of charge and I would have to serve jail time and then it would be very difficult to find employment. If I had a criminal record I would not be permitted to work with children and the idea of my future career change would be out of question. I would be stuck in a minimum wage job because that’s the only type of job which would be willing to employ me and I would be on state healthcare and unable to travel or buy nice foods or do anything that costs money. So, I kept on walking, both times that I crossed the bridge, and I left my fleeting thoughts behind me on the bridge each time. I didn’t take them with me.

I had a nice dinner, leftover sweet potato curry from a restaurant, and it was delicious. Yellow sauce and whole pieces of soft yam and potato and some mushrooms, with rice on the side. I recently bought jasmine tea, which I haven’t had for some time in my pantry, and I am really enjoying sipping on it. I should be studying but I’m not. The cat is on the carpet right in front of where I am sitting and I had to reprimand him a few minutes ago for scratching on my cloth ottoman in the middle of my L-shaped couch. The couch is light green and I really love the color. My paperwork from school and job interviews and college applications have been littering the living room for the past month. I want it out so I can visually see it, and be reminded that, oh yeah, I still have that essay to write, or oh yes, there’s the New Yorker Magazine from the subscription my Mum got me which I never take the time to read. I told her not to renew it last year but I was too late. “They were having a discount,” she claimed.

Every day I catch myself rubbing my skin to get the dirt off of me. Only, it doesn’t consume my hours any longer, it’s just a little skin rubbing here and there. It’s part of the OCD category of symptoms, but doing it soothes me and at the same time it feels productive because I actually get dirt off of me. They come off in miniscule amounts which my therapist and my aunt have told me are dead skin cells. But I don’t believe it even though the rational side of my brain knows that they are right. I am still uncomfortable with the topic of sex and when it comes to my body, I don’t like to think about it. I feel fat even though I’ve weighed the same amount for the past two years, which is the first time in my life ever that my weight hasn’t fluctuated drastically. I used to be very skinny and it was absolutely unhealthy, but at least I didn’t feel fat (even though my ex abuser told me I was). I am supposed to look at myself as beautiful but the best I can muster is “eh, I look decent.”

My therapist doesn’t judge me. He doesn’t like to diagnose me and never tells me that there is something wrong with me. He guides me and makes gentle suggestions or gets me to think about a situation in a new perspective that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Therapists aren’t supposed to diagnose anyway, unless it’s for an insurance company. Having a diagnosis sucks, although some people find it useful to have a label for their symptoms, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or OCD, to name a few. Five years ago I met the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, and now I no longer do. So it seems to me that it must have been PTSD symptoms instead. Because, how does a personality inherently change? A personality defines a person. Labels don’t define me. And I don’t have BPD. I have major depressive disorder, but it’s something that I have but not something that I am.

What Trauma Memories Do To Me

The emotional pain has subsided for now, but I know it will be back. It always comes back. That’s the thing about the ebb and flow of depression and PTSD. It comes and then it goes, and it leaves turmoil in its wake. Only my therapist and two friends know that I stepped out of my office in the middle of the afternoon today to cry, no, wail, in my car for fifteen minutes. I mean, I cried for fifteen and then had to recover for another fifteen so that I could hide the red, splotchy eyes and dry my tears. No one else, not even my family, knows of the pain I am experiencing.

My therapist booked me as soon as possible upon my request. I will be seeing him in about thirteen hours. I am counting. This is all in anticipation of the therapy group I will be starting this week. It hasn’t even begun and memories of things my abuser said and did have flooded my mental space. It is difficult to concentrate at work. The feelings that were brought up were unexpected and out of the blue. I did not want them to take over my day!

What happened to me wasn’t fair. No person deserves to be treated the way I was, to be manipulated, used, abused, raped, talked down to, isolated from social contact all in the means of controlling the subject. He told me that I always played the victim, and that really, he was the victim. It was I who was manipulating him. It was I who was punishing him. Let me ask you this: who wouldn’t want to find some means of punishment for a man who just sold your body to a stranger for financial gain? Even if it was the silent treatment. I was desperate to find some form of expression, because I couldn’t get away. I could not fathom a life without him. I had become a possession of his, and anything he told me to do, I would do.

Until the day I wouldn’t. After he realized he could no longer manipulate me, have me be a “good” wife and a “good” girl by doing everything he told me to do, then he had no use for me. He had planned to divorce me, I imagine, far in advance of whence I knew of his plan. All of a sudden he filed for divorce, and my life came crashing down. I was out of physical danger from him, but everything I had known up until that point was no longer in force, and the damage he had left upon my being was far greater than even I could imagine.

One person knows. And that person is my therapist. He saw me through all of it. The suicide attempts, the self harm, the hospitalizations and the 5150’s, my inability to talk, my continual self punishment because I thought I was inherently a bad person who was deserving of punishment, my fear of people and of trusting and of abandonment. He is the one person who knows it all, and that is how it should be. One person, one human being, can make all the difference in the world in another person’s life.

The pain has subsided and I am able to type without my head banging on the invisible wall of despair. I will see my therapist and we will figure out together if I will be attending the sexual assault survivor’s group therapy course in two days. Ultimately, it’s my choice. I have already told him I am not ready for this; I admitted it just two days earlier to him. Yet, I still want to do it. Is this a form of self-punishment? To be honest, I think it is. I know that there is healing potential in group therapy, sitting side by side other women who have experienced some of what I went through, but I have been tortured this week in preparation for it. Really, it’s not preparation but trepidation. I am unbelievably scared about what this group therapy course might bring up for me: the memories, the feelings. Memories of trauma can be just as scary, in my opinion, more scary, than when the events happened. At least when it was happening, I could dissociate, and in a way, not be present in my mind as to what was happening to my body.

The memories of trauma don’t just go away. They persist over time. But it has been almost five years now since the end of that toxic relationship. It was killing me because I wanted to kill myself. Well, here I am, still alive. I’m not currently suicidal, and that is a good thing. I hope it stays that way and if it doesn’t, I can always go to the hospital. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. There are ways to get through this. One way would be to not attend this group. No, I don’t think I can do it. But I might anyway. Maybe my therapist can help to dispel my ambivalence.

Triumphantly I Cry

I walked into my therapy session today feeling content and mildly happy. I left feeling very content and definitely happy. In between coming and going there were tears and emotions felt. The tears were from sadness. That elusive word “trigger” came up again today. It’s a tricky word for me because I constantly need the reminder that I actually have “triggers”. As a concept, it just hasn’t registered in my mind yet. I know what my extreme triggers are, and how to stay away from them, such as watching self harm videos on YouTube, but the subtle ones are difficult to catch.

We started talking about my day. I told my therapist that my bosses at work are putting pressure on me for a project I’ve been neglecting. That project encompasses about 20 boxes of client files, actual physical, non-digital paperwork, and it is my task to scan in all of the paperwork so that we can become paperless. Among my other daily duties. This is a collection of over a decade of client files. I’m allowed to start by scanning five files a day. That is certainly doable. My therapist explained to me that this is what we do, we make it a bigger project in our minds, we tell ourselves it’s overwhelming or “too much” or “I just don’t want to do it”. But the task itself is not difficult. It is the stories we tell ourselves.

We proceeded to go through the steps of what it will take to scan this mountain of files. You start with one file. You pull it from the filing cabinet. Open it up. Start removing staples and binding. Start scanning. The scanner is of great quality and scans both front and back at once. I save the PDF file of the scanned document. I repeat this process. Then I upload the digital documents to the client file, collect the paperwork, place it in the pile of documents to be shredded. We have a shredding service which comes once a week for pickup.

See? It’s not that difficult! It’s like washing the dishes. My therapist uses this example often. You start washing the dishes. Then you think, “why isn’t he doing the dishes? He’s just sitting there watching TV. Why doesn’t he do the dishes?” Then you build up resentment and all the while you could have just been washing the dishes without the burden of these stories.

Where did my therapy session progress to next? Oh, yes, we talked about the weekend. I actually did something for the Fourth of July. I got out of my house and spent time with people I value. It wasn’t difficult being outside of my house. I enjoyed my time. I did not feel stressed. I got to do everything at a relaxed pace, in my own time. There were no expectations of me from anyone. Again we went through the steps. I open my front door. I close it. I turn the key and lock it. I walk to my car. I open my door, climb in, put my foot on the brake. I start the car. When you break the action down into small steps, not one of those steps is actually difficult. Why, then, is it difficult for me to get myself out of bed on the weekends? It’s not difficult, he says. “Is it because I don’t think I deserve to be out enjoying my weekend, or that I think I am not worthy?” I ask. “No, I don’t think it’s that,” my therapist replies. “I think it is because you don’t give yourself permission,” he continues. “You haven’t had enough practice yet.”

So I need to continue practising being kind and gentle to myself. And slowly allowing myself to do things on the weekend, getting out of my apartment, going for that walk by myself. I have thus far relied on external motivators, invitations out from other people, and the motivation has not come from within. This needs to change. It won’t change overnight.

“In your marriage you weren’t permitted to do the things you wanted to do.” You weren’t allowed to be yourself. My trigger point. My lower lip starts to quiver and I look away to the side. My brow furrows. I start taking shorter breaths. Before I know it my face is turning a shade of red, and the first tear trickles down my cheek. Followed by another. And then it’s difficult to hold a straight face any longer and my lips turn downward. I start to sob and little noises escape from my vocal chords. I am crying. My therapist speaks soothing words to me. He allows silence to let me cry. He always asks when this happens, “do you know what is happening?” It takes me a while to process that he asked me a question, and then more time to be able to find words to attach to this process. “You talked about my past,” I whisper. “Yes, and I triggered you when I spoke about it.” He states gently. “You feel sad?” “Yes.” I sob. “It was sad, what happened to you,” he emphasizes, “but it is no longer happening to you. These are just the memories.” He rephrases that same last remark. These are just the memories and it is no longer happening. I feel more reassured, and I allow myself to cry some more while he waits for me to do what I need to do. I wipe my tears with the back of my hands. My cheeks are wet and my lips taste salty. I take a tissue from the Kleenex box and hold it in my hand. I stare at it for a while. Then I wipe my lips, and then my cheek, and one eye, and then the other. I crumple up the used tissue and hold my fist closed over the ball of tissue. I am ready to move on.

I am no longer experiencing trauma. It has been a long time since I experienced those things, the oppression, the suppression of who I really was. At times the memories come back, usually prompted by a trigger. “I have a red scratch on my arm. I ran a knife on my skin. I wanted to see how sharp it was, the knives my roommate got. It didn’t hurt.” I tell him. He doesn’t say comment on this revelation because he knows it’s not necessary for him to say anything. I know I must not do it again, he knows I keep my promises to not harm myself, and I know it wasn’t a healthy thing to do. It was a curiosity, and I experienced it, and it’s over. It’s important to remember that the memories are memories, and that nothing bad is happening to me right now, in this moment or the last. I am safe and okay and I am allowed to be happy. I will practise giving myself permission.

My Abuse Story, Part I

Preface: I’m doing it. I’m going to do this. I’m finally doing it. I’m sharing the 20-page written statement I wrote up for the district attorney last month, in parts. I need to share this. Please don’t judge me for what was my living hell. All of this is true and it’s of course told from my perspective. I went through the document and replaced his actual name with “my abuser,” which is what he really was. Here we go…

 

It all started when I was much younger than now. Tragedy struck at the age of 3 when my father died. I subsequently grew up without a male role model. My mom remained single for most of my childhood. Because of the tears and the trauma of my dad’s death, I learned that tears were actually not allowed. I became a very good actress at pretending that everything was okay.

I first met my abuser when I was 12 years old. I had just moved back with my family to the United States from Europe. I was attending high school part time, for French class and a Physical Education class. He was in my P.E. class. We often exchanged greetings and a few words during that class and were friendly, but just acquaintances, nothing more. The following year, at 13, I entered into High School full time as a Freshman. Throughout the next three years my abuser and I would run into each other on campus, passing by on the way to a class, but never exchanged any significant conversation and we did not have another class together. On the last day of my Junior year in high school I was carrying my Yearbook around for people to sign, and I encountered my abuser in the hallway. He asked to sign my yearbook. On the inside of the hard cover he wrote a few words and left his phone number, next to his signed name. He was a senior and graduating. I was to never see him again.

At the end of that summer in the year 2000, just before the start of my senior year, I called him. I dialed his number. We spoke for a bit and agreed to meet. Our first meeting was in the day time. He picked me up at my house and took me to to a special place in his manual steering, old car. It may have been a Honda. He apologized that the air conditioning didn’t work. At first, our meetings took place outside of either of our homes. He also took me to a cliff overlooking the beach and that is where we had our first kiss. My mom soon found out that I was seeing my abuser regularly and forbade me to see him further. She didn’t want me to date him. She knew he was a pilot and told me not to go into an airplane with my abuser. Alas, that had already been done and I couldn’t tell her because she was concerned for my safety and I didn’t want her to worry.

Soon after that, I started letting my abuser into my mom’s home at night after she, her fiance, and my brother were asleep. I would open the front door and we would quietly sneak upstairs to my bedroom. He stayed for several hours and then left before dawn. Other times I went out of my house and waited for him behind the mailboxes just across the street, so no one would see me. I knew exactly how to open the squeaky front gate so that it would make minimal noise. Often, to get out of my house, I would remove the screen from my second floor window, walk out onto the roof, and my abuser would catch me as I made the short jump from the first floor rooftop to the ground. I thought this felt like Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo was below the balcony, and that this was a forbidden love story.

A few months into our relationship we had sex for the first time. It was my first time having sex, ever. It happened at my house. I was very scared, and displayed this verbally and physically. He talked me down to calm me, so that I would comply, telling me it would be okay. I was 16 and he was 18. That was statutory rape. It occurred before the age of consent. We engaged in sex regularly after that first time. It was always initiated by him, he would pull out his penis and take off my underwear to gain access to my private parts. He always initiated the sex. We had talked about sex before, and I had expressly told him many times that I wanted to wait to have sex until I was 17. I was setting a boundary and a personal moral obligation to myself. He disregarded that “no” and had sex with me anyway.

Having sex for the first time produced a number of confusing emotions. I felt guilt and shame for having “let” it happen. I blamed myself although he was the one who pursued it. The more we had sex, the more worthless I felt. My self esteem was being corroded. My complaints and “no”’s were disregarded. I felt like I didn’t matter. I didn’t know how to make those feelings stop.

My abuser had moved from his parents house to a nearby apartment complex. His one-bedroom apartment was a short 15-minute jog from my home. I often went there, and we would have sex. He had a camera and would take photos of us together, naked, and of my private parts. The photos were explicit. His mom went to the print shop where he got the photos printed and when flipping through the photos to see if there were any bad or blurry photos that she wouldn’t have to pay for, she saw these nude photos. She knew that we were having sex, whereas my mother had no idea. My abuser’s mother told him that he shouldn’t be taking such photos, and my abuser’s response to that was, “Well then, don’t pick up my photos at the store for me any more.” He was not in the least bit embarrassed. I, on the other hand, was. I was felt ashamed of the fact that I was sexually active, when I knew I shouldn’t be, according to my own moral standards. I told no one.

That Winter break, my abuser spent three days in my sliding glass door closet. He had a cell phone (when cell phones were rare) and made some business and personal calls during the day. I brought him food and he would come out of the closet at night. His mother was aware of this and she warned him to not get caught (by my mother).

This was the first year of my high school career in which I did not participate in extracurricular activities. Usually, in the Fall season, I ran for the Cross Country team. In the Spring time I ran and did long jump for our Track and Field team. All of my energy was going to this forbidden relationship and our nighttime escapades, usually multiple times a week on a regular basis. Additionally, I was always a good student. I got mostly A’s and some B’s. This senior year I got a C in one of my classes and my GPA suffered. I also had no energy to study for the SAT exam and subsequently got a low score. Because of this my application to Boston University got deferred.

That Spring was my first suicide attempt. Two things in my life had changed. My mom was planning on getting married, to which I felt neutral and emotionally detached. That did not affect me much. The other thing that had changed in my life was that I was having sex at night, clandestinely, with my abuser. The relationship felt intense. There was the intense pressure of not getting caught by my mother, and I wasn’t getting enough sleep, which left me struggling during the days at school, both emotionally and physically. Since my abuser entered my life I had stopped talking with my friends, and grew distant from them. I didn’t have energy to spend time with them after school any longer.

It was about 9 o’clock at night just before bedtime. I was on the phone with my abuser. I was feeling intense anger, but unaware and unable to express this in any other way, I picked up an old pair of scissors and started cutting through the skin on my left forearm. I made some deep cuts, which bled, and from which I still have scars today. The more he spoke, the more I cut. I had never done it before. He stayed on the phone. I had not contemplated suicide before, but suddenly, the thought came into my mind and it seemed like the only way out of my pain. I attribute that extreme emotional pain to the sex and the confusion I had around it. I found a large bottle of Advil, as well as some other pills, and swallowed them all down with Listerine mouth wash. I wanted to die then. my abuser then got off the phone and called back the landline. My mother picked up. He told her about what I had just done, the suicide attempt, and she rushed me to the hospital. We stayed until the next day. My mom says that the medical staff pumped my stomach, though I was not conscious and so cannot verify that. my abuser’s parents drove him to the Emergency Room to visit, but my mom would not allow him in to see me. Instead, he left behind a teddy bear that he had brought to give to me.

In the meantime, my mom had gotten married, and I graduated along with my brother from high school. Right after graduation our parents took us on a six-week traveling vacation around the world. When we returned we moved from that city to another city eight hours away. I did not see my abuser again until the Fall quarter of my Freshman year in college. My abuser came to visit me about once every 4 – 6 weeks on a weekend during my two years at university. The drive was an average 8-hour drive but he would often boast, for years afterwards to friends and family, that he was able to make that drive in less than six hours. He often drove at speeds over 100 mph.

When at my university town, he would rent a room at a motel right by campus across the street from a restaurant where both I and my abuser’s cousin worked. We spent the weekends in the room, Friday through Sunday. Years later, my abuser would tell me as a matter-of-fact statement that I was “a girlfriend who put out” meaning that I had sex with him often. I think that made him feel good. I engaged in the act of sex, having been trained at a young age that this is what I am supposed to do in order to receive love. I desperately wanted love and affection.

#MentalillnessEducationFail

Saturday night I met with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years. He was travelling and happened to be in town for business. During our conversation I discovered that his girlfriend has depression. Of course this sparked my curiosity and interest! His main complaint was that she was less interested in sex. This began about a year and a half ago. They had maintained a 9-year relationship, of which several years was long distance between different countries. They saw each other every 6 months during that long distance period. Now they have been living together for a year. When I asked if he will marry her he replied, “Maybe next year, maybe never.” Apparently it all depends on the sex.

My friend revealed that his girlfriend used to cut herself. She did it once last year and instead of being supportive, he reprimanded her. “Who is this helping? You? Me?” he asked her. He recognized this as a form of “self-punishment” but does not understand it. I suppose that out of fear for getting another reprimand, she hasn’t done it again. But it’s just like me! I can relate. Horizontal not vertical cuts along the forearm. She’s Japanese and I’m, well, let’s just say, American. Depression transcends cultures, as do behaviours. When I first cut myself at the age of 16 I thought of it as a perfectly normal yet novel idea. I didn’t know that other people did this. I had never heard of it. And I don’t think that this young woman has any idea that she’s not alone. Instead, she is suffering alone in a non-supportive environment.

“She has mentioned wanting to see a psychiatrist,” my friend said. He claims that she has “free choice” and can do whatever she wants, yet he tells her with firm conviction that he does NOT want her to see a psychiatrist. I told him that he is doing her a disservice by telling her to not see a professional. I explained to him that, in relationships, one person wants to please the other, and that in not wanting to make him unhappy, she is choosing to not see someone for medications. “It’s her choice,” he maintains. “Yes, but it’s not her choice if you’re telling her to not go,” I said. “What am I supposed to do? Lie?” he strongly remarked. After that, I shut up, but I wish I would have continued, not that it would have made any difference. I wish I had encouraged him to lie to her, for her own sake. Tell her you want her to go see someone. Or at least support her. She’s depressed and self-harming and not on any medications. She lives in Italy, completely isolated from her Japanese culture, barely speaks the language, has almost no friends save the foreigners in her language class. She doesn’t work, doesn’t want to, goes to class for three hours a day and then sits on the couch for the rest of the day. She doesn’t get out. She’s there only for him, because she wanted to maintain the relationship, rather than having it end due to the distance. She’s shy. She “pretends” when others are present and maintains that she can “only be herself” around him. He doesn’t like that side of her and prefers the compliant, yes-saying, agreeable version of her, the fake version. He doesn’t like the “real” woman. Not to say that this relationship is abusive, but it is skewed to favour one side as the dominant side, which is a disadvantage to her. I can relate all too well. I remember the days of my relationship when I would smile although I hated my life, and the fact that most of my entire life for more than six years was a complete performance. I was on stage and I was the best actress ever. I should have received an Emmy. I made the jump of moving in with my ex-abuser only to “save” the relationship, at the expense of my educational goals. I know this scenario. I have lived it before.

I explained to my friend that depression is a real, medical illness. That it changes the brain chemistry. “It’s not like she has cancer” was his attitude. I told him that psychotropic medication will help her become less depressed. However, he is afraid she will become “addicted” and that she’ll have to take the medication for the rest of her life. “The medication is not addicting,” I said, “It helps alter the brain chemistry, and she may not have to take it for the rest of her life.” It’s not habit-forming. It’s not an illicit “drug”, damnit! It’s real, legitimate medication! My sense of urgency wasn’t coming across, and it’s not like I have frequent contact with this person. I tried, I really did, but I was up against a wall of prejudice toward mental illness.

He wants her to “deal with this on her own.” Those were his words. He doesn’t want her to see a professional and doesn’t want her to take anti-depressants. “I have depression. Have her contact me. I could help to let her know that she’s not alone.” I pleaded. “I want to help her!” His response? Stonewall. “She won’t open up to you since you are friends with me.” Turns out she doesn’t like his friends much and given the option to stay home or go out with his friends, she prefers to stay home. Did I mention he is an alcoholic and smokes marijuana? She might have picked up on his alcoholic tendencies, as she helps him polish off a bottle of wine each night, not to say that she might be drinking one glass and he the last three, but she does not smoke weed and he doesn’t force her to. Thank goodness for that. So if she doesn’t like his friends, he just assumes she won’t want to talk to me. I’m still going to encourage him to give her my email address. I want to help her. I feel as if I’m her only lifeline because I’m the only person in her life (though I’m not “in” it) who understands what she is going through.

I told him that her hormone cycle can also have to do with the depression. “No, that’s not a problem,” he said. “She’s horniest when she’s on her period,” he proudly proclaimed. I told him that “being horny” has nothing to do with depression. She could be having all of the sex that he wants her to have and still be suffering from depression. What changed in the relationship? She stopped wanting to have oral sex. “She had no problem for the first few years doing this, so why is this all of a sudden different?” he rants. She says she wants to have babies, and says to him that if she’s not satisfying him sexually, that he can find someone to fulfill that need for him, as long as she never knows about it. He attributes this attitude to the Japanese culture, where it’s common for older, married men, to have younger mistresses outside of the marriage. Luckily, he’s not into that. He’s with her because he only wants to have sex with her.

Then there’s my story. I tried to explain to him what I went through during my marriage. I couldn’t tell him everything, partially because of the shock factor, but also because I had this inkling that he just wouldn’t understand. I simply told him that I was raped a lot during the six years of my marriage. “How is that possible,” he asked. Apparently, and to my disappointment, he belongs to the population of the world that doesn’t believe marital rape is possible. If you’re married, you’re entitled to sex. I explained to him that the rape was traumatizing. “But why didn’t you want to have sex with him?” The only answer that I could come up with was that he was cheating on me. “He was sleeping with other women,” I replied. “Oh,” he said. That he understood. He understood that I didn’t want to sleep with my ex-husband because he was sleeping with other women whilst we were married. That didn’t mean I wasn’t having sex with him. I couldn’t explain to this friend that I had become a prostitute during my marriage and that my husband was “pimping me out”. I couldn’t explain to him that it was considered to be an “open” marriage and that we were both having sex with other people outside of the marriage.

“He wasn’t that attractive,” my friend reflected. “I know! Another friend told me that recently,” I replied. “She said that I was much more attractive than he was! Why didn’t you tell me?” “You wouldn’t have listened,” he stated in a matter-of-fact way. “I met him when I was 16 and he was my very first boyfriend. I didn’t know anything else.” I explained. I told my friend that in 2008 my ex-husband sent me to Europe for a month to visit family in England and friends in Italy. At that time this friend was living in America studying at school and we weren’t in contact. The reason my ex sent me there was that he needed to “focus on work.” Whereas that may have happened, he also acquired several girlfriends in that month and complained about having to break up with them when I returned. “But how could he have gotten so many girls if he wasn’t attractive?” asked my friend. “Unless he was paying for them?” “Yes, sometimes he paid for them,” I replied. “Prostitutes. That makes sense,” he said. And he shook his head. “Why didn’t you say something to me?” my friend asked. “We weren’t in contact! I had no friends. Nada. Niente. Zero. I was socially isolated,” I responded. “Not even your family?” he asked. “No! I didn’t even talk to my family then,” I desperately expressed myself. “I had no one. No one. They were all his friends and his contacts.”

This friend of mine, he isn’t without his own issues. He regularly drives drunk and said he has never been pulled over for it, because he “doesn’t make mistakes” while driving drunk. He’s only gotten a ticket once, and that’s for speeding when he was living in the U.S. In Italy, you don’t spend a night in jail for drunk driving unless others are involved in an accident. And they certainly don’t do random check points. They only ask you to pull over if you’re breaking a law. He used to drink all day long. “I’m not an alcoholic if I don’t admit I am,” he said proudly. When I met him he was in his early 20’s, living off of mom and dad like a “mamone” (mama’s boy, typical for Italian men) and he would have a shot of alcohol with his morning coffee. These days he only drinks at night, not during the day. He drinks a surprising 8 to 10 shots of espresso per day. He can have a shot of coffee just before bed and still be able to fall asleep. My friend also doesn’t consider smoking marijuana a problem. He does it regularly and it’s definitely not legal in his country. But “everyone does it anyway,” he says. He has also had multiple surgeries in the last several years for a tumorous growth in his abdomen. The first surgery was a noninvasive procedure in which the doctors killed the organ and skin cells. He ended up having an open wound for 10 months whilst he waited to regrow the dead skin after they took out his tumor so that they would be able to sew him up again, because the first set of stitches broke since there was no viable skin. In subsequent surgeries they cut out all of his right side stomach muscles, and because the left side muscles have nothing to attach to, they have bunched up and caused an abnormal lump on his abdomen under his skin. His stomach is not behind muscle and is directly touching his skin. He will have to have another surgery. See? He understands what it’s like to have a physical illness. He understands having to be on medications and what it’s like to be down for months at a time. But he doesn’t understand depression. He only understands physical illness, not the illnesses of the mind. I believe this is a pretty common stereotype. There’s even mental illness in his family. His mother used to take anti-depressants and she just “wasn’t herself” when she was on them, he said. As a result, because it made her sluggish and lethargic; she is no longer on the medication because she didn’t want to “live like that”.

I suppose I’m angry. My TalkSpace therapist pointed that out; I didn’t notice it on my own. I’m angry that this supposed “friend” of mine will not and cannot understand what I live through on a daily basis, what makes my life so hard. It’s not like I have cancer or some other debilitating physical illness. Some people just don’t understand illnesses of the mind. They are just as debilitating as severe physical illness. It is to be taken seriously. You go to the hospital to get a broken arm fixed, so why not a broken mind?

I’m upset on behalf of his girlfriend because I cannot imagine living in an non-supportive environment like that. I cannot imagine having to deal with this on my own, without the support of my psychotherapist, my psychiatrist, my friends and my family. It’s just not fair. It doesn’t have to be that way. She could be getting the help she so obviously needs. Instead, she is suffering, alone, in a foreign country where she doesn’t even speak the language. It’s not fair and I want to do something about it.

Just another Sunday

Sunday night late. In order to make myself feel somewhat normal I’ve decided to write. I’ve been wanting to write since last night but couldn’t bring myself to. I have a slight urge and desire to cut myself. Maybe because I talked about it over dinner last night. Maybe it’s because I know we have new sharp knives in our home which I haven’t used on myself yet. Maybe because I know that after my therapist and I create our new safety contract on Tuesday I will be morally obligated by an official promise and document to no longer harm myself, and to take action by calling someone before I do anything to harm myself.

I had a very active Friday night and all of Saturday helping a friend move from one house to another, and as such, I spent all day in bed today. It was agonizing because I wanted to get up but just couldn’t bring myself to. By 10 AM I dreamed of making myself an espresso with my moka. At noon I checked the time again to discover that my afternoon study partner had canceled our date due to feeling ill. So I stayed in bed. I woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon to eat two large bowls of cereal, which was the equivalent of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My roommate was listening to worship music and because I didn’t want to have to tolerate it, and also because I didn’t know what else to do with myself (I could have been doing laundry… no thanks!) I went back to bed. Now it’s almost midnight and I had been struggling for the last three hours to get the motivation to have a shower since the last time I washed my hair was Thursday night. Can’t go to work with greasy hair, though I’ve done it before.

I was brimming with stories to tell last night of my dinner out but as I discovered on my day of suicidality, I cannot write about it right away when I’m still so charged with emotion. I have to let the stories simmer for a while before delving into them.

My hair is wet and I’ve made it through another weekend. This weekend I did accomplish a lot, despite my full day of hibernation. I was up and out when I was needed, and the moment I wasn’t needed I discarded myself to depression. Tuesday I see my therapist and I’m so glad we already have the appointment scheduled. I feel unstable and edgy when we don’t schedule ahead of time.

My story that I’m going to tell, about my Italian friend, starts back when I was 19 years old. There’s tragedy and heartbreak and years of not being in contact due to my controlling ex-husband. And there’s memory loss of recent years due to the ECTs. But all of that I won’t go into right now. I’ll just try to make it through another day.

On Educating Others

I’m sitting here at my work computer on my lunch break with my aching legs criss crossed on the swively chair and my head cocked to one side. My phone headset is floating atop my hair and I’ve been taking calls even through my lunch hour. I rarely step away. Today is an easy day: there’s not much going on, and it gives me time to think.

The night of my reverse-suicide attempt I got the courage to confront my American aunt. I lived with her and my uncle for a few months after I had first escaped my abuser four years ago. She has known me since I was born. She’s been in my life sporadically, on and off, over the years. When we lived in Europe I didn’t think of her at all; I was so focused on the environment around me.

I’ve been frustrated because I want to have a relationship with her and I would like her support. The thing is, she doesn’t know how to “handle” me because of my mental illness. I send her a text message every few months to let her know how I’m doing but she doesn’t and hasn’t ever reached out to me proactively, on her own accord, without prompting from me. And that hurts ever so slightly. I like to think of myself as an amenable person.

Here’s our recent text message conversation verbatim:

Me: I was going to kill myself tonight. My therapist listened to me and talked me out of killing myself. I feel like you could care less either way. You probably just don’t know how to deal with it. Suicidal people just want compassion and understanding, someone to listen and to respond. Your last comment to me was insulting. Don’t you think I’d join a volunteer group or partake in a hobby if I could?? That would make my life just that much more worth living. When you’re suicidal you don’t have any energy to devote toward those things. I had hoped for too much when I thought you might be willing to listen and respond. I didn’t even get a response from you for the first two messages when I said I was going to talk to the district attorney. Nothing. Silence. Maybe you didn’t know what to say? Maybe you could have told me just that. It would have been better than unsupportive silence. I feel like you could care less about me even though you and your husband paid for a whole year of my college over ten years ago. I knew that you cared then. You even made the effort to come visit me in Italy. What happened? Did I do something to disappoint you? Maybe the fact that I’ve been suicidal for five years scares you and you don’t want to deal with it. I’d rather know if that’s the case. Something is better than nothing. When I made my safety contract with my therapist in 2012, you were one of the people I was supposed to call if I felt I was going to harm myself. But I know I can’t count on you for that now. The last time we Skyped was a long time ago and you never care to reach out to me proactively yet you visit with your own children all the time. And you visit your youngest niece. If I called you feeling suicidal you would probably just tell me to go get a hobby. Not only does that kind of comment make me feel worse, it’s confusing. Why would someone say that to a suicidal person? All I’ve ever wanted is your support and I hereby must apologize again for having had any hopes or expectations. It’s not my fault that my ex-spouse raped me, sexually abused me, psychologically controlled me and damaged me for six years. I had an emotionally abusive mother and I was vulnerable to falling into that trap again. I had no idea when I met him that he would turn into a narcissistic abuser. Living in that marriage was torture and hell and I put on a brave face for everyone just like I did when I was a little child. Killing myself was the only logical solution out of that mess because I didn’t want to leave him, ever. I never thought of leaving. I think I stayed with you for a while when I first separated from him. Thank you for that. I don’t remember any of that. Apparently I acted or behaved in a way that would never make you want to have me stay with you ever again. I don’t know what I did. I don’t remember that period of my life. Sorry for existing. I thought you should know how I feel, what my thought process is, and that my suicidality is not gone. Tell me that you can’t handle it.

My Aunt: I’m sorry I don’t know how to respond. I found it emotionally draining trying to help you in the time after your separation and I felt you were trying to manipulate me. I did not feel it was good for me to keep helping. I really don’t understand not wanting to be happy so the things I recommend are things I do when I feel down. I’m sorry if they are insulting to you. It just shows that I’m not qualified to deal with your problems. It is good you have a therapist who can.

Me: Thank you for saying that and for responding. I still desire to have a relationship with you. I know you’ve never felt suicidal before but it has been such a big part of my life. I’m sorry that you thought I was being manipulative. I don’t remember any of it. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just acting on instinct. How I behaved with you gives you a good idea how I was with my ex-husband at the end. It wouldn’t have just changed that quickly. It wasn’t you, that’s how I would have been with every person around me. I can understand needing to protect yourself first over helping me. I wonder what you would have been like had it been your own daughter. I’m not your daughter so you don’t have that sort of social or moral connection or responsibility. I have come a long way and I have had lots of support from other people. Sharing with you that I was going to the DA was a leap of faith because I wanted to include you in my life. When my grandmother died I broke my safety contract with my therapist and cut my arm with scissors. I took pictures of the wounds and shared them around. I said something to you and I think you asked your son to call me because it was right after that when he called me that week.

My Aunt: I didn’t respond because I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t think it would be good for you.