It’s good to shut up sometimes ~ Marcel Marceau
This is not a time to be quiet. In fact the opposite is true. It appears that it is our time to speak, yell, take action. To do anything but stay quiet. People who have endured abuse are coming forward to tell their stories. Stories of which we should not be ashamed of. There are so many, these stories are bringing down powerful people, and people who just abuse what little power they have. But people of both genders have come together to say #metoo – and from what I am reading, its working, people are taking their power back.
I have not been shy of talking about my experiences with abuse. It’s not easy to talk about – and my history with it is complicated. But I don’t want to talk about sexual abuse, or my relationship with it. Rather a type of abuse that is not so easily defined, by me. Emotional abuse is something I am still struggling with- and for a long time I didn’t view it as abuse at all. I thought of this person as someone who knew more than I did, and who shared his rules of conduct passionately, eventually that passion became a bit constricting, and then over time became threatening. This is where I am now. But lets be honest, it was emotional abuse right from the start.
I use social media mainly as a way to connect to people, to friends that I have had for a long time, or with people that I share common interests with. I am completely authentic online, as I am in the “real world”. I find no reason to pretend to be someone else. So if I am sharing that I had a breakthrough, it really happened – and if I am sharing that I am having a really bad day, you can believe that I am really struggling. So I don’t find it terribly productive, when someone I used to know sends me incredibly toxic and threatening emails, calling me “pathetic” or a “sick fuck” or referring to the fact that I am mentally ill, and that I am hurting people by being honest about who I am, because he is unhappy with my online presence. We aren’t connected on any of these platforms- he is seeking out my content, without my permission. If I was really worried about what people thought about me, then I would just post videos of puppies being puppies. But I am not a puppy, I am a person. A person who has passions and interests, and emotions. I have good days and bad days. I have people who care about me, and people that I care about. I don’t have time for someone who sends me threatening and hateful emails, just because he is too cowardly to post his comments publicly. This is not an invite to post nasty comments, I truly have no interest in reading anything negative towards me or the people I care about.
In the weeks that have gone by since I last heard from this individual, I have gone through some stuff. Most of that stuff is fear. Then fear led to growth, which has developed into some strength. I can handle things now. But during the time I was experiencing fear, I wasn’t afraid for my personal safety – it was something a lot more personal than that. The fear paralyzed my creativity. I lost the ability to express myself. And this is unforgivable. I have a business where my imagination is my most important tool. If I am unable to create, tell a story, come up with new ideas, then I don’t have a business to speak of. Fear took that ability away from me. These are some of the things I experienced, and what I did to get my creative self back.
- I became paranoid. I looked over my shoulder constantly, even in places where I knew I was alone. I jumped every time the phone rang, I held my breath every time I checked my email accounts, especially when I checked the junk mail folder. The truth is, I haven’t yet found a way to not be paranoid. Im still really jumpy, but I’m slowly settling back into my routine, and that is making it easier to deal with.
- I became super judgemental, nothing looked right, or sounded right, or even felt right. My senses were off. I found fault with everything, and all of it centred on me. Its like there was a spotlight just to follow all of my flaws, and holy there are a lot of them. I have always carried around a set of judges (all at one time were real influences -both good and bad, in my life), they live in my head. But over the past couple of weeks they have been working overtime – nothing was good enough, and they told me so repeatedly – and loudly. There is only one thing to do when you start acting this way. Tell off your judges. Tell them that they stink, and that they are ugly – and that they are no talent hacks, and that a little kindness wouldn’t kill them. After awhile I did apologize to them for telling them that they were ugly – but they deserved it in the moment. This is actually a trick that works quite well. And I learned it from the great book, A Soprano On Her Head, by Eloise Ristad.
- I lost control. And when I say I lost control, what I really mean is that I was just lost. I couldn’t make a decision, I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t clean, I couldn’t follow directions, I couldn’t cook – unless you consider cooking to be making peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I started having violent panic attacks. I did start going to therapy regularly. And its helping me to come to terms with who I used to be (someone who would let people walk over me/hurt me, someone who felt she deserved to be treated badly) but is taking steps to become comfortable with who I am becoming – a person who can stand up for herself, and be able to say what she wants and needs. I want to be strong, and not give into fear.
- Taking a first step. Wow this one is hard. When you are afraid that first step feels like its a long way down, or long way up- depending on the task. Either way its a lot of effort. Basically I was paralyzed. I couldn’t do anything until I addressed the problem. There was no way I was going to reach out and engage with someone who I believe really just wants to destroy me. But I knew that if I didn’t do anything, I wouldn’t be able to move on. While I have my doubts that what I did was wise, my solution was to out his behaviour on Facebook. I didn’t use any names. I didn’t even publish the emails in entirety. But I did let people know that someone was hurting me. And that I was doing something about it. And the response I got was overwhelming – people sharing similar stories, and just a general outpouring of support. I hate knowing that my friends have been in similar situations, but I really appreciate their gestures of love and support. Having kind people in your life help a great deal.
- Self Criticism for me is different than being judgemental. For one, the voice is my own and not others. And its not exactly saying “you suck!” but rather a very loud whisper that is saying “you don’t belong here”. The thing about self criticism (at least in my experience), the longer you don’t do anything about it – the stronger the voice gets. Also the voice changes from your own to the voice of your abuser. At this point you have to get out of your own head. I spent an hour talking to a friend who had no connection to the abuse I was experiencing. We didn’t know each other at that time of my life. But he was empathetic and kind and is the exact right mix of positivity and enthusiasm, and is a presence that I treasure. He listened, he understood my predicament, he presented me with some options, and he gave me a timeline to accomplish them. This blog post being one of those things (and done long before Jan 1st)!
- During this time period, I have worn some blinders. I haven’t spent any time appreciating life. I have almost exclusively concentrated on feeling bad about myself, and thinking about my past, and obsessively reading about the treatment of women and how there is so much victim blaming. I find myself returning to these thoughts several times throughout the day. It makes me angry and upset, and it forces me deeper into the tunnel. I have had very little focus for anything else. But I have found that water is a great distraction, particularly walking in the rain. No umbrella needed, the feeling of water hitting my hair is cleansing. I even find myself enjoying it. It is a nice break from the toxic thoughts. Its virtually impossible to think dark thoughts when you are doing an activity and smiling. Walking in the rain makes me smile. Smiling + walking is all that I can handle at once. I am not able to multitask, so the tunnel thinking has to wait until I am not doing anything else with my time.
- I think it goes without saying, that this has been a stressful period in my life. But taking some small steps has helped. Mild exercise (and somedays this means a walk around one block), drinking water, eating well (protein helps), human (or pet animal) contact, some cultural activity, meditation, sleep, and reducing your news intake are all really good steps into finding your way back to normal. But taking an hour or two to devote to your own wellbeing is probably the best thing that I found that has helped me return to my old self. For me, those hours revolve around reading. Im a sucker for a good story. And it reminds me that one day all of this is just going to be a story too.
And maybe there is one more not so small way to make life better for yourself and others – just be kind to everyone (including ourselves). If we just showed some kindness, the world would be a much nicer place to live out our days.
*Photo Source – Flickr