Hate the experience, love the lesson

I’ve had a rough time. I’m here to tell you about that rough time. I’m here to tell you about this new, good time I’m having now. I’m here to show you that our pasts do not define us. Most of all, I am here to LIVE. My experiences at the hands of others will not take anything away from the love of life that I have finally reclaimed. I have blossomed.

No actual names will be used here so –

Dramatis personae:

Beatrice – a strong woman

Malvolio – a villain

Macduff – infant son of Beatrice

Names borrowed from the good Bard, events ripped straight from the pages of history.

For a definition of abuse in intimate relationships click here. If you or someone you know is expereincing abuse you can find help here. Break the silence, break the cycle. The rest of the world is rooting for us.

Thanks for joining me.

B x

Guest Blogger – Old Proverbs: You’re Doing it Wrong

I am humbled to share this deeply personal and powerful reflection by my friend, guest blogger Lady Viola. 

When I was nearly 16, I got into an online relationship with an abusive man.  Let’s call him Claudio, for his willingness to believe the worst of women.  He was 21, but told me he was 18.  I knew he was lying because when he told me his birthday, he didn’t give me the year;  only the month and date.  But I didn’t really care, at that point.  I was just recovering and rediscovering myself after the end of my first major relationship, and I figured he was nervous or something that I’d reject him.  Like I said, I didn’t care.  At the time I was already being abused by my parents and he lived interstate, and I figured that if I found a relationship I was happy in that got me the fuck away from them, that was so much the better, really.

The abusive behaviour from him started the way it usually does:  with jealousy.  He didn’t like me talking to other men online, didn’t like hearing about my male best friend.  Luckily for me, I was already well-practiced at dealing with disapproval from people who are significant in my life, and I dealt with that issue by just not telling him about it.  I wasn’t deluding myself into thinking that he’d be better when we were together and he could “see” that I was committed to him;  I honestly wasn’t thinking that far ahead, and if I had been, my response wouldn’t have been any different.  I’d just not talk to him about things that bothered him and do them anyway, like with my parents.  This was all standard procedure, as far as I was concerned, and so far nothing was any worse than it had ever been.

I consider myself extremely fortunate that the relationship was entirely online and, even though he knew a lot of my personal details, he wasn’t the kind of abusive that would hunt me down.  Again, I think the lack of proximity was a big part of that, and made it easier for both of us to let it go once I ended it.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that fights didn’t happen, or rather, that he didn’t start them.  I rarely remember what they were about, but it was usually his jealousy or insecurity or some nonsense like that.  I had very little patience for it, even then.  The first few times, I played the part I knew he wanted me to play, begging him to stay, etc, but I knew it was all part of a script;  one that I’d rehearsed many times with my mother, who loved to withdraw from me emotionally, but more on that in another post.  Eventually though, after the first few fights, I’d quite simply had enough;  I was tired of the same shit, over and over again, so I just said “That’s fine.  It’s your choice;  you can end it if you want.”  Well, it didn’t stop him being an arsehole, but it did give him pause.  He quoted the old proverb at me, “If you love something, set it free;  if it comes back, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, it never was”, and this is where I reach the point of this reflection.

You see, in my experience, abusive people love to use that proverb as a way to “test” their partner’s love (and yes, he did actually tell me once that he’d been testing me), which is a shitty thing to do, and abusive because it means the abused person never really knows where they stand;  are they really angry?  Are they testing me?  Which script do I need to perform?  Et cetera et cetera, ad infinitum.  They threaten to leave you, to break your heart, to take everything you value away from you, if you don’t play the part they want you to play;  it’s all one dangerous, deadly game, as far as they’re concern, and there can only ever be one winner.

Flash forward to 2008, long after ending that relationship, but still at university, studying and living with my abusive mother and largely-absent father.  I’d been dating my now-husband (let’s call him Horatio) for several months, much to my mother’s dismay (though I think she was delighted to have something else to yell at me about), and she made no secret of how she felt about it, at least, when no one was around to witness it.  It was a cold, foggy April morning, a mere four days before Horatio’s birthday.  I was planning on going to class that morning, but she had spent more or less the entire time while I was getting ready (a good 45 minutes to an hour) abusing me for my choice of boyfriend.  It was one of the worst tirades she’d been on regarding Horatio, and I felt thoroughly beaten as I drove off in my tiny, old car.  I called Horatio, and asked him to meet me right away, which he did.

He got in my car when I arrived at his place, and I burst into tears in front of him.  I told him that it would never get better, as far as Mother Dearest was concerned;  she would never approve, her mind was made up, and she would continue to make me miserable, and I needed him to know that.  Horatio’s response was to invoke the true meaning of that proverb:  he told me that he loved me, but he didn’t want to stand in the way of my relationship with my family;  that he would not leave me because of this, but also would not hold it against me if I ended it, because he understood that family is important.  He had set me free, by giving me a choice.  This is so much more than I could ever have hoped for, either from Claudio or from my mother, and it was a truly big moment in our relationship.  I was free to choose, with no guilt, no threats, no repercussions.  So I chose Horatio, because with him, I was free to go, but chose to stay.

The true meaning of that now-cliche proverb is lost on many people, and the phrase lends itself perfectly to abusive relationships.  People use it to give themselves licence to reject, demean and belittle others in the name of wanting “proof” of being loved, claiming that casting off their partner or child or friend, to make themselves feel wanted, needed, and superior, while making their victim say words of self-deprecation and voice a need and love and desire for the abuser.  It’s a power play, and a powerful tactic;  after all, if hearing something repeatedly can make you believe it to be true, how powerful can saying it be?  It’s like a spell that the abuser makes you cast upon yourself, and it is the most vicious and cruel type of magic.

– Lady Viola

The ‘whore’ he didn’t have to pay for

Casting my mind’s eye across the bleak landscape of memory, my entire being protests. The task of once more occupying the mindscape of my Malvolio experience creates a maelstrom-like tangle of internal experiences that are supremely difficult to separate and observe. At once I am furious, sick (but whether in my stomach or my spirit, I cannot discern), sweating, energised by my anger, shaking as my heart pounds, and often rendered inert by the lot of it.  Today, I will push through. I am going to descend into the darkness and discuss some of the most horrible things that I have to discuss. Once each of these things is out in the ether I will set to mentally laying them to rest and hopefully attain a more permanent internal stillness.

In the beginning, there was alcohol. Our entanglement was borne of intoxication. The first several encounters took place under the protective aegis of booze. I was happy with this. I was in search of reckless abandon. I found it, temporarily. It wasn’t particularly satisfying in the physical sense but to me, personally, it represented something more about myself – my independence and the hedonistic adventure I was using to demarkate the end of a long and lonely relationship I had been in back home. The details weren’t important. We were just ‘having fun’. Cool. YOLO.

So, erm, it started to get weird… Once we accidentally got serious (accidentally on my part – he kept coming back like a fucking mouthy boomerang) and eventually had sober sex (‘sex has always been something that I do drunk or by myself’… yeah) I started to notice that he was a pretty selfish lover. You know, you excuse drunken sex because who knows what they’re doing then anyway, right? But regular sex is supposed to be more… cooperative? Well, it wasn’t. He would force my face into his junk, give me instructions as to what I must do down there, then flip me over and painfully ride me home like a nasty little jockey.

He spoke of ‘whores’, like, a lot. At first I thought, okay, crass and nasty language but he’s just having a joke. Nope. I was wrong. It became clear that, to him, paying for sex was no big thang. His offhand tone was entirely at odds with the content of his discussion. It was disconcerting but I reasoned with myself that he was someone from a different walk of life. Who was I to judge?

I had a rattling epiphany one day. He said something about how I was his favourite whore. It made sense now why he was not interested in my pleasure.  In fact, when I had aired my grievance about his selfish lovemaking, he had told me that I had unrealistic expectations about female pleasure because of the movies. I said, no, that I had very realistic expectations based on my own experience, and the conversation abruptly died.

We travelled to the nearby large city with a group of friends once. I paid for the hotel room. He was a real “prince” the whole time, but that’s a story for another day. The relevant experience was this. We were at a bar with one of our mutual friends. He spent the entire night flirting with some other girl. Determined not to play his game I instead played foosball with our mate. He kissed her on the cheek when we left and I never mentioned it because I didn’t want to care and I was becoming used to him being intermittently dickish and dismissive of me anyway. So off we went, back to our hotel room, and I said nothing. What he did was rude, seeing as I had paid for us to go away together in a quasi-romantic gesture, but I was fine and was still enjoying my time away. I didn’t mention his behaviour. I now think that he was doing it to test me. When we were back in our room he started on me. He wasn’t exactly accusing me of anything but somehow I felt I’d done something wrong. I remember him saying something to the effect of, ‘I would have fucked her, too,’ and me being like, ‘whatever man, I’ve been through worse,’(infidelity is no new thing to me) and really just wanting to go to bed. I wish, oh God do I wish, that I could tell this in a coherent way, but it was one of his histrionic all-night-long mindfucks, so it still doesn’t even make sense to me. What happened the next morning felt like punishment, though.

I thought it was going to be sex. I thought it was going to be a physical burying of the hatchet, if you will. Well, it sort of started out like that, in the rare eye-to-eye fashion that I so preferred (I kind of felt like he couldn’t ignore the fact that I was a human in that position), but he got bored, flipped me, went at it for a bit, got bored again and said that he’d never had sex with the same person this many times and so it wasn’t exciting anymore (it had been maybe like twenty times, at a guess). Well, my previous relationship experiences had left me poised to take particular exception to anything of this nature, so I got off the bed and told him that I was done because I wasn’t just going to be seen as some hackneyed lover. After he told me that I’d used the term ‘hackneyed’ incorrectly, paused, and then ceded that maybe I hadn’t, I hopped in the shower and got ready for a day with our friends – the people who actually seemed to enjoy my company.

I got out of the shower and he became affectionate once more. Again, I thought, this was his way of making amends. I was somewhat hurting by this point so I fancied the comfort, but it took a turn. He pinned me down onto the bed, my arms trapped by my sides under his legs, as a pulled his pork while I struggled. I think the struggle is what he needed to become ‘excited’ by our sex once more. I struggled until I gave up and waited for him to finish, which he did, all over my face, in my eyes and in my hair. He got off and I was clearly not impressed so he said, ‘Hm, girls in pornos always seem to like it,’ and that was it. I took a second shower and we left the room.

I need to end this here here for now.  I’ll write more soon.

B x

The yuckiest thing to talk about

It has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to put this post together. Writing about deep emotional injury is daunting enough, but the shame that comes with acknowledging what was done to my body in some perverted mockery of intimacy is uniquely difficult to sit with. I have been tempted to write one long post outlining the sexual abuse but I found myself avoiding the task. Instead, I will dedicate as many consecutive posts as I can to themes or episodes in an attempt to suck the poison out of my wound. This should be fun.

When I began my pre-natal care in Australia, I was asked by a midwife a routine question about whether or not the father of my child had been abusive. It was surprisingly easy, at that point, to say ‘yes’. It was funny, really. When it was just my wellbeing at risk, the facts were murky in my mind, but once it became clear to me that Malvolio’s behaviour was putting my unborn baby at risk, something inside of me squared up and said ‘enough’. The question was initially posed in writing as part of a questionnaire. I suppose not having to admit it out loud for the first time made it easier, too. Because of my answers there was a follow-up. And another, and another.

I met with several people as part of a maternal welfare effort. I cannot emphasise just how crucial these interventions were to my recovery. One question that was really difficult to answer, and which was asked many times throughout the process, was, ‘Was your pregnancy a result of sexual assault?’ Now, this question wasn’t difficult to answer because I didn’t feel like talking about it, or because it was awkward or traumatic (I had cultivated a sort of numb detachment from the events by this point); it was difficult to answer because I just wasn’t sure! I didn’t know for sure that some of what I had been through was considered sexual assault and entertaining the idea that it might have been made me feel ridiculous and melodramatic. I certainly had not recognised, let alone admitted, that the sex in general had been characteristic of sexual abuse. If these were hard pills to swallow, then I needed a big glass of the correct vocabulary to discuss the experiences to wash them down.

To begin with, when asked the difficult question about whether my pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault, I would answer something like this: ‘It’s hard to say. I don’t know exactly when I fell pregnant but most of the sex was kind of unpleasant for me.’ I no longer get asked this question, but if I did I would be likely to now say: ‘Yes. He was sexually abusive and the experience has been traumatic for me.’

Traumatic. Yes. This is what the sex was for me. If ever I feel that I’m being over-the-top in my assessment, I reflect on the trauma. It has been two years since I last saw Malvolio, but I have not even entertained the idea of sleeping with another person. I simply can’t right now, and I’m not sure I will in the future. The thought of trusting somebody with my body (not to mention my heart) makes me shudder. I can’t even watch a sex scene on tv without it making me so uncomfortable that I may even need to stand up and busy myself around the room. These reactions to sex are unconscious and deeply visceral. I know where they have come from, though, and that is the trauma inflicted on me by Malvolio. I remind myself, time and time again, that just because he didn’t rape me behind a dumpster, doesn’t mean there was no sexual assault. There was plenty.

More to follow.

B x

Good little victims

‘Victim’ is such a loaded term, and it is not loaded with anything particularly helpful to those it describes. It conjures an image of a weak and unfortunate person who has been broken by someone malignant, yes, but strong. While it is, obviously, unfortunate that we ever came into contact with an abuser in the first place, in no way is the abuse that followed due to any dysfunctional trait on our end.

In How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser, Don Hennessy writes:

Much of the literature of the past 30 years has tried to define what sort of woman ends up in an abusive relationship. We have analysed the history of the women. We have heard their own self-analysis. We have attempted to distinguish them from the population of non-abused women. We have been looking for explanations in the wrong place. The main reason why any woman becomes trapped in an abusive relationship is because a skilled offender decided to target her.

Further in the chapter:

I have just been reading some press coverage of the case of Rihanna, a prominent female pop star who has changed her mind and has agreed to give evidence against her well-known partner for a publicised assault on her. While the reporter tries to explore and challenge some of the popular myths surrounding domestic violence, she falls into the trap of trying to explain the fact that the woman is being abused partly because of her own troubled childhood. The article raises the question as to whether the woman will return to the abuser when all clear-minded people are telling her not to do so. Sadly this is a good example of a well-intentioned person looking for explanation in the wrong place. The main reason why this person is in an abusive situation is that, as a woman, she has been targeted by a controlling man. We all need to refocus our attention away from who she is or what she is doing and concentrate more on how and why he is controlling her. The real question is not if she will go back to him but rather how is it that many skilled offenders manage to get the woman to stay or come back.

I have grown weary of the pervasive notion that victims of intimate abuse are somehow just a wee little bit different from the regular folks of the world; somehow just a wee little bit to blame for what befalls them. Stop. We aren’t. We aren’t fundamentally dysfunctional. The qualities that are exploited by abusers are normal human qualities; compassion, consideration, a kind heart. No, of course, not everyone possesses these traits, but they are not the sort of thing that attracts derision in any normal setting, and nor should they be here. Functionally, we were no different than all of those ‘normal’ people. The abuse happened because we, with all of our ‘normalness’, somehow ended up on an abuser’s radar. We were targeted.

Well-meaning people have said things to me, personally, that perpetuate this myth of the victim as somehow responsible for the abuse. I’ve heard jokes about my shit taste in men and I’ve been gently reprimanded for my stupidity. This. Is. Not. Helpful. I already feel stupid. This oblique form of victim shaming aids abusers on their quest to see a gas-lit world.

People on the outside need to be just as educated about abuse as the people who have experienced it. Abuse doesn’t occur in a bubble. Abuse is inextricably linked to the society in which it is committed. We are all responsible for ending abuse. After acknowledging that abuse has occurred a victim’s only focus should be to move past it and heal. There should be no collusion, inadvertent or otherwise, with the abuser and his version of events.

I make no apology for not embodying society’s notion of the victim as some crumpled damsel. Let’s retire ‘victim’ in this discourse. ‘Survivor’ is fine, I guess, but I’d really rather not whack a label on the wronged parties just for the comfort and convenience of those discussing our ordeals. We are regular people. The abusers are the ones who need the labels.

There is a sense that this is the kind of thing that could never happen to most people. The statistics make a fallacy of this notion. I understand that when we are faced with tales of horror our defences go up and we mentally list all the reasons that these things could never happen to us. Nobody would ever do that to me because: X, Y and Z. We put ourselves in the position of the wronged person purely to prove that we are adequately discrete and would never experience the same thing. You may be tempted to ask, ‘How could they have ended up with someone like that?’ What you should be asking is, ‘How might I avoid a similar situation?’ Because, let me tell you, it really can happen to almost anyone. Let’s throw out these ‘victim’ badges.

B x

Using a pencil instead of my voice

I’m the first to admit that my artistic skills are, well, rudimentary. But you know what? That really doesn’t matter when my ‘art’ is only for me. Drawing is an exercise that has allowed me take some of what’s on the inside and put it on the outside – a little bit further away from my core. Drawing has been like cleaning house; taking this big, disgusting internal mess and dumping it on a page of my sketchbook. My sketchbook is then closed and popped neatly away. You see where I’m going with this? It helps. Even though I may produce pure shit, it helps. It helped me then and it helps me now.

Sometimes I get so tired of thinking in language. If my mind had a mouth it would be dry and its jaw would be aching. During the reign of King Malvolio, language – my once trusted ally – frequently betrayed me. Nothing I said was taken at face value. Every syllable I uttered had some twisted shade of meaning to be drawn from it. Language was not my friend.

When language starts to suck, I turn to my pencil to silence the babble. These are some of my shit-but-therapeutic pieces. In the spirit of dissing language, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

B x

Fraudulent feelings of fraudulence – gaslighting and the Cycle of Violence

One of the things I have struggled with the most throughout my process is being able to admit to myself that what I went through was, indeed, abuse. There are those who have gone through MUCH worse than myself, and some who never even made it out the other side. According to Our Watch, one woman a week is killed by a partner or ex-partner in Australia. That’s some seriously heavy data. I’m not dead, so how bad could my experience have really been? I never had a broken bone or a bruised face. But how close did I come to that? The scary answer is: I don’t know.

I don’t know if Malvolio ever thought of hurting me in such a way that I would physically never recover. I don’t even know if his attacks were premeditated, spontaneous or some combination of the two. I just don’t know. Now that my lovely son, Macduff, is in the picture, I fear physical violence more than ever before, but I take an enormous amount of solace in the fact that he lives very far away from us and doesn’t know exactly where we are.

Amidst the haze of my abuse, I never took the threat of violence particularly seriously. I knew it could happen but I had become a virtual ghost with a sort of numb detachment from life. Sometimes I kind of wished it would happen, and in a big way, so that I would have something to show for it. Not to show to others, but to show to myself.  It’s hard to explain but I know there are those who will completely get this. You keep telling yourself that if it just reaches this arbitrary level of escalation then you’ll be convinced that what you are going through is the same as what you hear about in the horror stories and get the hell out of dodge! Sadly, it just doesn’t work this way.

This is how it works, I’ve learned. When another person systematically breaks down your sense of self and directly attacks your ability to trust your own intuition, you flail. I didn’t know which way was up, nor which of my own thoughts I could trust, nor whose voice was the voice of reason. And worst of all, I couldn’t see my future anymore. I didn’t know where I was heading. It felt like I was going nowhere. I knew the relationship had to end. I WANTED it to end. God damn, did I want that shit show to have had its final run. But, paradoxically, I was terrified of it ending. I still can’t quite put my finger on the mechanism at work in me responsible for this, but from all the reading I’ve done since beginning my recovery, it seems that this is a common experience among victims of psychological and emotional abuse.

What I do accept as fact now is that Malvolio worked with this mechanism of fear in me. He exploited it. Hell, I’d even go so far as to suggest he created it in the first place, but I can’t know that for sure. What I do know is that he used it in pursuit of coercive control.

Now seems like an appropriate time to discuss the Cycle of Violence/Cycle of Abuse. This model was introduced in the second meeting of a short course I participated in which was geared towards women who had experienced, or were still experiencing, family violence. Before the facilitators showed us the diagram, they had us write down and share our impressions of our own cycles. Upon comparing what we’d written I was surprised – even relieved – to see that our cycles were, overall, fairly uniform. What validation! Some of the stories shared by the other women were so horrendous, so deeply disturbing, that I began to feel like I would be exposed as the fraud that I surely must be at any given moment!

There are a few variations of the model but, broadly speaking, the cycle has three phases: honeymoon, tension building, explosion. And round and round we go, losing a little more of our footing with each turn of the wheel.

My cycle looked like this:

Honeymoon – In my opinion, the period during which the most egregious acts were committed; the deceptions. This is when I thought I was seeing the ‘real’ Malvolio. This is who I was attracted to. This is how it began and this is how I was kept on the hook. He could be an absolute angel when it suited him, and I ate it up – this mummer’s farce. I began to live for it. All of my desires became centred around getting back to this, waiting, hoping, wishing that it could last this time. He would tell me sweet things, do me little favours, offer to help with things – you know, all that ‘normal’ stuff. He once told me that he had previously been a lonely person and that I had ‘saved’ him from that life. It seemed an honest and very raw admission. How could I doubt such a thing? Well, I do now, that’s for damn sure.

Each time we would return to this phase I would be awash with relief and gratitude. Yes, gratitude! Fancy that! Gratitude for behaviour that could reasonably be expected in any healthy relationship. This was always the time that I felt I could breathe again. Everything would be okay. He’s a misunderstood man with a good heart, and his heart belongs to me, I would tell myself.


Tension building – This is the part of the cycle that I would consider the ‘norm’, or most long-lasting, in our relationship. It felt like this was the default. This was when my anxiety would peak and then plateau – a state of consistent terseness –  as this was when he would become hurtful and cruel, and snap easily. He would be excessively critical and punishing of me for my behaviour, my personality, my appearance, my tastes, my political views, my spiritual beliefs…  Anything and everything, at one point or another. This is when my self-esteem took the most blows. He was totally dismissive and treated me like I was an annoyance, and I began to internalise the things that I kept hearing about myself. I listened to him. I started to believe him. There was a counter force, don’t get me wrong – inner Beatrice wasn’t going to give up on me that easily, and nor were my friends who could see what he was doing to me – but the lines became blurred. Confusion, despair and hopelessness were characteristic of my experience in these periods. Also the time that I consider the most sexual abuse to have occurred, which I will detail in a later post *vomits in mouth at thought of sharing sex stuff*.

I specifically recall a day that I had tried to discuss my feelings of hurt about a recent incident of nastiness. When he rejected my sentiment and turned the incident back around on me I cried a little because I realised that there really was no hope, but felt like I was trapped by my love for him. I didn’t say this out loud, I simply wept a little. He looked at me with distaste and said, ‘I think there’s something mentally wrong with you right now that’s making you cry all the time’. Funny that. This was the first time I’d cried in this particular way. Gaslighting? Yup. I now believe that he presumed that I must be crying when he wasn’t around (because of him, duh) and sought to inject even those private moments of despair with insidious self-doubt.

Explosion – The big one. The big ONES. Time and time again, he would blow up over something seemingly-innocuous. He would rage, and I mean RAGE, like a wounded bull. Rage as though I had caused the greatest insult in history. How could that be possible though? Hadn’t I already done that during the last explosion? Wouldn’t I do it again the next time? Geez, I must be one hell of a basketcase if I’m able to induce such fury without having any idea how I’m doing it. What a shit superpower.

I still know almost nothing about the aspects of my behaviour that he deemed so objectionable. He was so rarely able to be specific. Mostly he would attack me as a whole. Take exception to me as a person. That hurt. That hurt so very deeply. How could I have become so… HORRIBLE? I began to grow smaller and quieter, never knowing which parts of myself I should be ‘turning down’ so as to avoid offending his sensibilites, eventually resorting to turning them all down and just hoping for the best.

In our cycle, the explosion would be followed by a period of, say, a week or two of radio silence. No breakup, no nothing like that, he’d just avoid me. He would ignore my calls, ignore my texts; treat me as though I had literally stopped existing. On occasion he might respond to a text (usually one in which I expressed concern for his wellbeing) explaining that because we had (imaginarily) ‘broken up’, he didn’t feel like talking to me. Sometimes the ‘breakup’ would follow an outburst of abuse directed at someone other than me – a stranger or friend, for instance – and would have nothing to do with me other than the fact that I was there. I’ll discuss some of those later.

These periods were my darkest days.

The cycle is the trap. The cycle is what we need to be educated about. The details will vary in each person’s unique experience, but to recognise the pattern is to recognise the abuse. Name the demon and destroy its power.

Writing this post has been a taxing, yet empowering, exercise. I hope that it will find its way to someone who needs it.

B x

Shame takes a back seat

Throughout the experience of my abuse I have had so many confused thoughts and feelings. During the relationship with Malvolio, my head was at war with my heart. I believed that my head was sending me cold, logical warning signs about the villain but that my heart, in its infinite generosity, was silencing it. The prevailing romantic sentiment of the Western world suggests that you can’t go wrong if you follow your heart, right? So that’s what I thought I was doing. I thought I was being strong for the person I loved.

I still believe that we must follow our hearts. The error I made was in attributing the logical arguments to my head and the need for love to my heart. I have since reframed this way of thinking. My heart was the one screaming at me to GET OUT while my head was being slowly poisoned. This shift in thinking is the most liberating thing I have accomplished in my recovery. But I’m not out of the woods yet.

The dynamic of control in the relationship with Malvolio made it almost impossible for me to be assertive. I was never really able to speak up about things that were upsetting or seriously hurting me. But what do you do with pain and anger when it’s being ignored, dismissed or ridiculed by the one causing it? I turned mine inwards. It became Shame. Shame is her name. Shame is her own entity. I no longer wish to identify with Shame so I am separating myself from her. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still in here. She’s along for the ride, but I’m never going to give her the wheel again. She can sit in the back and keep quiet unless she has something to say worth my attention.

Funny thing about Shame, she was great mates with Malvolio. He seemed to really like her, and I really liked him, so I became like her. But that can’t work, can it? I’m so much more than Shame. I am thankful that Beatrice was in here the whole time, fighting to be heard. Although I couldn’t feel my strength, it was there, and it helped me claw my way out, put Shame back in her place, and end the nightmare.

I’ve decided to write this blog for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’ve been feeling like my experience needs to be offloaded. The memories are heavy and painful as I carry them around in my mind, so my hope is that this process will relieve me of some of that burden. I tried putting pen to paper but, oddly, it just felt too personal. I’ve had an easier time (though certainly not ‘easy’ by any definition of the word) sharing my experiences with friends. It has somehow enabled me to gain some distance from what I went through and tell it like a story, as though it could have happened to someone else. But also, a problem shared is a problem halved, right? Although it has been hard to discuss, it has been crucial to my receiving help and recovering. The people who love us (and professionals) want to listen. They want to know what’s happened. They want to help. We have to let them. We have to take that giant step of opening up and letting it all out, even if the memory of the experience is muddled and confused, and even if it doesn’t all make sense right away, this is the beginning of organising our minds so that we can move on with our wonderful lives that have been there all along, waiting to be lived.

The inspiration for this blog came from Malvolio himself, believe it or not. I’ve recently been alerted to a blog that he has started in which he talks about himself and his warped beliefs, casts poorly disguised aspersions at me and the people in my life, and outwardly names names and shares photographs and what have you. As I write this, my son, Macduff, is just shy of sixteen months of age. If you were to Google his name (his actual name – I’m not so cruel as to call him Macduff for real) the first three or four hits would be links to this blog. As a mother, I’m furious. As a sensible person, I’m concerned. As someone who knows Malvolio personally, I’m not all that surprised. For now I am going to leave him be with his blog because I think that so long as he is channeling his madness into it then he will be distracted from doing anything worse. When Macduff is older, if it still exists, I’ll try to have it removed. Thankfully, so far, it’s mostly just the barely-comprehensible ramblings of a troubled individual.

Perhaps some might consider it harsh that I deem my abuser the villain of the piece, but I will make no apology for this. In the story of my life, he is the villain, the monster. He might be something different to the rest of the world, but not to me. I am no longer the victim (gosh I hate that word); I am now the wizened survivor who has learnt from harsh but invaluable lessons about how we relate to one another and how we treat ourselves.

I hope that my blog finds its way to those who will read it and benefit from my story. Our stories may all be different, but let there be no more question in the world about what constitutes abuse. The law is on our side. The sensible people of the world are on our side. We are in this together.

B x