Slapping, scratching, punching, choking, twisting, spitting, pinning. It’s all a cliche. That’s not to say it is any less scarring or horrific, but there is only so much harm one can inflict before you cross the line from domestic abuse to torture. For a long time I didn’t even consider myself a recipient of abuse, I thought my relationship was just a little ‘messier’ than others. At least that’s what he repeatedly reminded me. “A lot of my friends have relationships a lot worse than ours,” as if that made what was happening acceptable. Normal, even. I knew it wasn’t, but I let that assertion be my truth. 

    No, it wasn’t the physical abuse that left its mark. Is it ever? And not only because he was careful and calculated about his movements, but because he was scared. He was too much of a coward to display his dirty laundry on my body for others to see. Once he discovered the most effective way to inflict pain, however, he didn’t hold back. 

    Of the small number of people I have shared my story with, the majority of them have remarked on how amazed they are that I came out on the other side of that relationship seemingly unscathed. They have said things like, “You’re still so normal!” or “You are so strong.” 

I thought, They’re right. Look how resilient I am. Two years of unfaltering physical, mental and emotional pain and look! He couldn’t leave his mark. I thought I had won. 

    It isn’t until years later that I have come to realize that I was wrong. Sure, on the surface I come across placid, put together and unharmed. But like I said, it isn’t the physical marks that leave a lasting impact. Once he discovered my weakness he picked at it until it was a gaping hole, like a tiny scratch on a couch cushion that eventually leaves the contents strewed all over the living room floor.

    I have never had much self confidence, if I have even had any to speak of at all. From the time I was old enough to understand that people looked different from one another, and that some people’s looks were valued above other’s, I have let that concept define me. I remember thinking my legs were fat when I was a wiry eight year old. It was ludicrous, then and now, but just another cliche that constructed my psyche. Yes, I understand that all women, and probably most men as well, don’t like how they look. But the idea absolutely consumes me to the point that every thought that crosses my mind has a companion thought, holding its hand and keeping  with it a shadowy company. Even when I’m not thinking about how I look, I am. It is a constant nagging in the back of my mind. I have tried countless times to just throw that notion away, just stop caring. It’s as easy as that, right? Just throw that idea in the bin. Just be confident. It shouldn’t be hard. But for an introvert without a shred of self confidence to her name, it’s easier said than done. It isn’t just how I look, either. It’s everything. I’m afraid I come across as stupid, petty, boring. Anything negative is what I associate with myself.

    When this tidbit of information came across his chimerical desk, it was all he needed to completely destroy my humanity. He took his winning lottery ticket and ran with it. Forget the fact that he had once told me I was beautiful, my reservations endearing, I was all of the sudden disgusting. The most hideous female to ever cloud his vision. He felt sorry for me, pitied me. As did my friends and family, who only endured me because they were forced to. Every nook and cranny of my body was magnified on a billboard for him to scrutinize and shred to pieces. Aspects of myself that I hadn’t even been aware of became new reasons to hate myself. 

    Just walk away, right? Slam the door in his face and never look back. Another concept that should have been much easier than I made it out to be. Anyone else wouldn’t have put up with it for longer than it took him to utter a single insult. However this concept only furthered my self loathing. I envisioned all of my friends put in my position, strong and sure women as they all are, and how they would have all just laughed in his face. His words would not have defined them. But they defined me, and this just buried me deeper in my self loathing. 

    As much as I liked to believe that I didn’t define myself by someone else’s standards, especially his, that was exactly what was happening. If only he thought I was beautiful or worthy, then maybe I finally would be. 20 some odd years validated. But the longer I stuck around, begging for scraps of affection, the further he tore me apart. The things that came out of his mouth and nestled themselves in my subconscious became my reality. The worst part was that it was all a game to him. He would laugh at my tears, find a cozy burrow in the hollow cavern that had opened up in my chest. To him, I was a slut, retarded, hideous, disgusting, obese, pathetic. So that’s what I became. 

    I have never been suicidal, before or after that relationship, but for a brief period of time, he made sure that I knew I was better off dead than alive. And I believed him. He told me that no one would care, and I believed that, too. 

    He oozed his way into every corner of my life. He insidiously made himself a part of my work life, every circle of friends, even acquaintances, and did his best to tear apart my relationship with my family. He even had me convinced that my parents were disappointed in who I had become when he had barely even met them.

    I know that seeing stars is a real thing because of him. But because I crawled away from that relationship without so much as a single tangible scar I was convinced that I was A-OK. Years of subsequent self loathing have made me finally realize that I am not ok. Sure, I am able to reflect upon the situation from an outsider’s perspective at this point and see that everything he said was nothing more empty, frenzied ranting, shooting blindly in the dark until he hit something, but that doesn’t erase a damn thing. One time he even tried to make me feel idiotic when I mentioned that the moon affects the tides. So yes, I am aware his words were meaningless, but that doesn’t take away their power. They gave backing to fears I had been suffering from my entire life. He brought life to the insecurities I had done my best to suppress. He was the monster in my closet that I kept inviting into my bedroom. 

    Cliches are not a bad thing, especially in this case. They exist because they are a common occurrence that many people experience. I endured something that many other’s have gone through as well, with a small twist that made it my own personal horror. It is not the physical pain I remember, nor the blackmailing or threats or property damage or shadows on the roof outside my bedroom window in the middle of the night. It is the fact that my fears and my foe teamed up to try to deconstruct my psyche, and that they succeeded. It has plagued me for years after the fact, even when I had believed it was long over. Even now I am weary of staking a claim in the domestic abuse world. When are you officially a recipient as opposed to just dating an asshole? If my abuse was two parts mental, one part physical, does it still count? But now that I have accepted that it is a part of me, possibly forever, I can use it to be better instead of worse.

Published by Alison Howe