Abuse Recovery

Don’t Call Me Strong. I’m Not Strong.

I am not a strong person. I am not tenacious. I am not wise. I went through something really, really awful and simply being alive afterwards does not, in and of itself, warrant any particular praise. I don’t feel strong today. Not at all. I am tired of my so-called strength being the only exaltation I receive lately, because it’s just evidence that the only thing I have going for me is that my life is a disaster but at least I haven’t completely gone under yet.

I am not a religious person, but I am capable of finding the Bible personally inspiring. I remember reading, and being perplexed by, the story of Jacob. Where does the angel come from and why does Jacob feel the need to wrestle it? It doesn’t make any sense that, out of nowhere, an angel (or, maybe not an angel? What attacked Jacob is a point of contention amongst religious scholars) jumps on Jacob and he holds his own until he gets a country. I texted my friend Matt about this, who was a religious studies major in undergrad, asking what it meant.

“You can’t take it literally,” he responded, “It’s a metaphorical lesson in tenacity. You can’t beat God. He can bless you with a country just as easily as he can send an angel to attack you, and life is about holding on as long as possible. You can’t win. No one wins in the long run, but you can do the best for as long as you possibly can.”

At the time, I was going through a crushing period of depression. I felt like Jacob, holding on as long as I could. I took comfort in living with a resigned stubbornness over living with hope and happiness, which at the time felt impossible.

I do not feel like Jacob anymore.

Yesterday was horrible. I was visiting my brother in Michigan this weekend, and when I got off the plane at LAX I went outside to call a Lyft. It was dark out. The last time it was dark out, and I was calling a Lyft from LAX, I was still with my ex. Randall had spent the last hour on the plane berating me because I took my phone charger out of his bag without asking while he was in the bathroom. This was apparently a major betrayal of trust that gave him license to bring up every solitary mistake I had made over the past two years. When I got outside, I tried to call a Lyft. I said I wanted to call my mother when we got home. This horrified Randall, so he grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.

“You are not calling a Lyft until we work through this,” he said.

As usual, I ended up admitting I was a terrible person and a terrible girlfriend, just to make him stop, just to make him let me go. It was about an hour before we got on the Lyft. My mom was on Michigan time, and it was getting late. I was hopeful, however, I would have just enough time to call her, to cry a little, when we got back.

As soon as we got back to the apartment, Randall wanted a hug. I knew where this would lead, but I had to comply or else I risked setting him off again. Asking for a hug was a tactic of his. He would demand a hug and immediately started feeling me up and kissing my neck. A hug meant, “Sex now, or I’ll throw a fit.” That night was no different. I was crying and shaking and unhappy and had a headache, and Randall knew I was crying and shaking and unhappy and had a headache. Any normal person would know sex was the last thing I wanted, but Randall was not a normal person. I had to have sex with him that night. It was the only way he would leave me alone, let me call my mom. He had just stopped berating me. Had I said, “No,” it would have started up again. I would have been up until 3AM begging for forgiveness. He might have even stormed out of the apartment and barely talked to me for hours (something he had done a few times before when I said “No), and it was getting late. I didn’t want him out alone.

It was horrible. I cried when he wasn’t looking, trying to hold in my tears when he was. He would get mad if he saw me crying, start yelling at me again. I requested we have sex from from behind just so he wouldn’t see. I flinched the whole time, held in sobs, and just cried in silence. All I wanted was to call my mom. I prayed, even though I don’t believe in God, that he would finish quick so I would at least have time for a short, comforting conversation. By the time he was done, I only got to talk to my mom for about five minutes. I went to bed, just to go somewhere deep in my mind where he couldn’t reach me for a few hours.

I’m not really sure what “trigger” means anymore, and I question whether it’s appropriate for me to use that term here. For lack of a better word, however, I would say I felt triggered last night at the airport. All I could think about was that sinking, defeated, crushing feeling I felt when Randall hugged me that night, began groping me and kissing my neck. I remember holding in sobs as the hug went on, knowing saying “No” just was not worth the hassle. I felt all the emotions (disgust, violation, anger, fear, isolation) flow back into me and I just sobbed into my coat while waiting for my Lyft. People were staring, but what could I do? Say, “I’m sorry. Something horrible happened to me the last time I was here, and I’m remembering it now, and it’s making me feel hysterical and scared and irreparably broken.” You can’t say these things to strangers.

Here’s the thing –

This was almost a year ago. I’m not over it. I have friends who came out of emotionally abusive relationships, some of them lasting longer than mine, who were in healthy, happy romances less than two months after ending things with their abuser. I am obviously not a strong person. I am obviously much, much weaker than other people around me. Maybe this is irrational, but part of this blog is occasionally expressing what I feel during my recovery process without filter, so let me say this:

I don’t think I will ever feel pure happiness again. I don’t think I will ever be able to love or trust again without extreme reservation. I don’t think sex is something I will ever really experience again without fear. I don’t think I am strong. I think maybe there was a time when I was strong, had that Jacob-like tenacity, but that time is over. I have to live for the rest of my life broken, and that’s horrifying. I never imagined my life would be, at 27, over in a variety of fairly significant ways.

I don’t have anything else to say. There is no catharsis here. I just want people to stop saying I’m strong. It obviously isn’t true.

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