April 15, 2001
I still feel a little uncomfortable when I say that my relationship with my ex had been abusive. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a 42-year-old gay guy. No Brian, it certainly does not!
The problem, I guess, is that most of the abuses I dealt with in the course of our 13 years together were the covert and insidious kind. And that’s why I feel a little funny about the whole thing. When I picture abuse, I still tend to think in terms of black eyes and arguments of the sort that make the neighbors call the police. Domestic violence is the picture most people have. But, I think word is finally beginning to get out...
People who experience those things, I tell myself, have really been abused. In fact, I considered the definition of abuse so unrelated to what I had actually experienced with my ex that more than six months passed after our breakup before the realization that I had been abused broke through. Sounds familiar... Some people never get it.
This is not to say that I didn’t know something was wrong all along. I did. Much of the time I spent with my ex was invested in trying to figure out why he could be so “mean” — and why I insisted that I loved him in spite of that. Hehehe
None of it made any sense. All you had to do was look at the guy and the last thing you’d believe is that he could mistreat anybody. Such a charmer, such a fine figure of a man. And what a success he’d made of his career. His earning power outdistanced mine considerably — so much so, the luxuries I enjoyed while I was with him were things I knew I could never afford myself, but achieved solely through the largess of my significant other. Makes it even harder to complain...
His generosity seemed endless — until it came to the things that mattered most to me.
Looking back, I see the various ways I talked “around” the subject of abuse without ever putting my finger on it. I described my guy as “emotionally unavailable” and fretted about his incapacity for intimacy. His need to maintain control over me became apparent from the start, in just about every way you can think of. These were ongoing problems that I complained about for years.
I could not reconcile how so wonderful a man who provided me with so many great things could leave me out in the cold. The disparity overwhelmed and exhausted me. By the second year we were together, I became subject to debilitating panic attacks that afflicted me for the better part of a decade. Ouchhh! Abuse will certainly tip one over into panic, or depression, or physical illness...
In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, he made me feel like a liability. Socially, he always had his eye on me lest I should do something he would construe as embarrassing. Privately, the number of times he said he loved me over the years could be counted on one hand.
Sometimes, though — too often — the abuse became so blatant, it took every ounce of misguided energy to keep up my denial. The worst times came when I was sick. Whenever I fell ill, my need for him to show a little care, compassion and tenderness hit him like a personal affront. As though enraged by my weakness, as though blind to the fact that I was not well, he would attack — an argument would erupt; he would stand over me, boom at me, and destroy me with the things that he said, until ultimately I would break down completely into a heap of pain and confusion. Yes, the "hit them when they're down" tactic. This is his contempt for you for needing him to take care of you as opposed to taking care of HIM. The narcissism is already apparent.
Then, and only then, would he pick me up and comfort me as I heaved in agony. Yes. Now you are broken and he can rescue you, good man that he is.
Even in the best of times, our arguments hinged on his need to defend himself at all costs. His abusiveness at moments like these reached a peak when once, after I had left the room during an argument and was closing the door behind me, he fired a fistful of keys at the door with such force that the impact left deep gouges on the other side, right at the level of my head. During another argument years before, he grabbed one of our cats, raised her above his head but stopped himself before he flung her across the room. Did you know that before domestic violence becomes domestic violence, it starts with verbal / emotional abuse? Did you know that abuse of objects and / or animals are often pit stops to violence against you?
Had any friend of mine told me that his boyfriend had done these things, I would have told him that he would have to get out of that relationship. Immediately.
I knew this at the time, yet I chose not to heed my own counsel — and as I have developed a better understanding of how abusive relationships work, I acknowledge my complicity in allowing it to continue. Which is why I never refer to myself as a victim. Which adds to the discomfort I experience in describing the mistreatment I lived with.
I kept myself in a place where I could be mistreated — justifying his behavior with the knowledge that I displayed many unsavory traits of my own, telling myself that my guy was only doing the best he could until his patience with me ran out and I got what was coming to me. You were way too quick to lay the blame with yourself. You still do that, you know: Like apologizing that your story might be too long in an email to me. You are a sweetheart. I like you for being so considerate, yet I want to tell you that I don't need your "permission" to cut down your tale. I fully understand you are coming from a position of consideration and nowhere imply I need your permission; yet, you need to be aware how your over-concern is experienced by those who take responsibility for themselves and look for no assurance. I want to tell you to STOP anticipating me; STOP caring for me emotionally. I appreciate it, but I don't want it. I'd rather know who you are. Work on being more Self-ish and worry about your own needs. (Like, "Thanks for asking for my story doc. Could you hurry up with editing it; I'm dying to see your comments." I know you get the picture...)
Then finally, my ex demonstrated beyond any doubt that he held no regard for me at all. After 13 years of living with me in Chicago, he decided, spontaneously and unilaterally, that he needed to leave the city. And, as I watched in disbelief, he found a new job in rural North Carolina, bought a house for us, and proceeded to dismantle everything I had grown to know and love. Sharing nothing of his motives, seeking nothing in the way of compromise or agreement from me. Amazing...
When I saw that my protests could not reach him — in fact, they spawned some of the most awful things he’s ever said to me — I began to make plans to remain in Chicago and send him on his way. I soon changed my mind, however, when confronted by the loss of my relationship and my fears about surviving on my own. Your dependent traits have long been your worse enemy. Ignoring the demeaning remarks my ex leveled at me to account for why my feelings didn’t matter, I rationalized away my misgivings, swallowed the hurt, and prepared for the move down south. Dependency needs are so strong, they create denial. One of my favorite saying: "Face the fear, and the fear will disappear."
My stay in North Carolina lasted exactly four days — during which time, I came to realize that being coerced into moving under such conditions was nothing I could accept, nor should. It was a little late for the light to come on, but I could kid myself no longer. Never too late! The stench of how I had been mishandled in the decision to move clung to everything about North Carolina.
So when my partner left for his first day at his new job, I wrote a short note and got the hell out of there. In leaving this way, I lost almost everything. I lost my relationship and the content of my life, including the four cats that had provided me better company than my ex ever did.
The struggle to take control of my life has not been easy. My feelings keep getting in the way. After a period of anger, I fell into deep depression — and found myself mired in a state of unremitting grief.
In the midst of all this, I began to realize that my marijuana habit of 24 years was doing little to mitigate the pain. Instead, I came to view the pot as nothing but detrimental (and on this point, my ex had been correct), and stopped smoking it — cold — six months after my breakup. Excellent. Your smoking was a way of coping - temporarily escaping - from the pain you did not want to feel.
I hoped this would be something that would turn my life around. Instead, without the buffer of self-medication, the impact of the breakup hit me as though it had occurred only yesterday. I could not handle anything. I hardly slept, because I couldn’t. I didn’t eat, because my appetite had vanished. And while these are symptoms related to withdrawal, I believe the cessation of marijuana exposed me to post-traumatic stress problems — as I am given to understand that symptoms of this disorder can come into play in the aftermath of abuse. Yes... You became depressed; had to reevaluate your whole life... Tough stuff. Your grief is very real...
The impact this had on my health could be seen by anyone. I looked like death. On the job, my performance suffered — the stress was too much. And as I sat at my desk one morning, eyes welling, stomach churning and my heart exploding in my chest, I went home sick for the umpteenth time. And decided I would have to tender my resignation, effective immediately. You had a mini-nervous breakdown. Translation: In giving up all the old ways, the world became just too confusing. You did not have the resources to cope in healthier ways - yet.
After a stint at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, I was restored to health and came back to Chicago. It is during this period of unemployment and unrelieved isolation that I am finding my way to recovery. What a wonderful time this is for you! Oh, I know it hurts... But, it's wonderful in the sense that you are discovering who Brian is. Without denial. Facing each and every one of your fears, your dependencies... Psychological rebirth, if you will.
To facilitate my job search, I acquired a computer — and while this has yet to bring about gainful employment, the unforeseen benefit of surfing the web for anything that would make sense of what I’ve been through has achieved miraculous results. My computer has been the lifeline that dragged me back from despair. You may also want to augment computer therapy with an antidepressant or St. John's wort...
With ample time for exploration, I found more than I went searching for. I must have been looking into divorce issues when I stumbled upon a page entitled “Recognizing Verbal Abuse,” [ www.divorceonline.com/articles/f86746.html ] an article derived from the book of the same name by Patricia Evans. Yes. Her book outlines every possible abusive word or behavior or gesture to look for. Incredible piece of work. (But, forget everything she says about the abuser.) Here, I read a list of descriptors indicative of verbal abuse — and found that every bullet point on the list applied to me. Every one. Here's a few of my bulleted points.
Instantly, my research focused on abuse topics — leading me to discover Dr. Irene’s website and a wealth of additional information all over the place. Learning about the traits of abusive personalities began to strip away the romantic illusions that clung to my ex, and helped me realize that I was grieving something that never really existed. Yes. You bought into the persona he projected...
But it has been learning about myself that has yielded the most positive results. Oh yes! And in working to build a stronger self in the midst of so much devastation, my research has led me in a direction that is both startling and fulfilling in ways I would have never thought possible. Because you are an amazing human being and you have finally begun to free yourself to listen to the creativity inside...
My spiritual side is emerging. This is so new to me, I can hardly recognize myself when I make such a statement. :) While I suspected that the present upheaval in my life would provide opportunities for redirection, I now believe that the confluence of losses I’ve experienced was no accident, revealing to me a depth of spirit that is rising to the surface on currents of neglected intuition. How well put; eloquent.
All the nuts and bolts of psychology that have helped mend my broken psyche are coming together in a personal dimension. The mess that is my life has never made more sense, now that I am drawing on my own truth instead of someone else's. And, it's so easy... So effortless... As natural as breathing...
Wading through all the tarot readers and astrologists one encounters on the web, I have found words on practical spirituality that nudge me toward the most basic, nurturing aspects of my being. I would mention two pages that have been especially pertinent within the context of my recovery.
The site set up by Robert Burney, author of Codependency: The Dance of Wounded Souls, provides a vast resource for individuals interested in a spiritual perspective; see his article on emotional abuse [ www.silcom.com/~joy2meu/emotional_abuse.htm ]. Ah yes. I know Robert. And I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding his Site as well as his excellent book, which so many of my clients have been "prescribed."
Elsewhere, I would particularly recommend the “Spirituality and Gay Identity” [ www.whitecranejournal.com/wc00014.htm ] page by Toby Johnson, a brief introduction to some fascinating ideas — part of a site useful in alleviating the spiritual abuse many gay people experience in their lives.
Had it not been for this interval of intense focus on my self, I would still be stuck in ruminations and a sense of hopelessness. The positive effects I’ve seen cannot be denied — after two months of being ignored in my job search, I have an interview scheduled for next week. And not a moment too soon. Watch Brian: you will see that the Universe times things to happen exactly when and how they should... It is truly amazing, and there is no coincidence...
After losing almost everything, I am finding so much more than I ever thought I could know. - Brian, Easter, 2001
Happy Easter! I am delighted and grateful that you chose to share some of the jewels you are finding with us. Thank you Brian, and may God bless. Dr. Irene
Wow! Any comments for Brian gang?
I want to read the posts.