I’m a fan of social justice activist, the Appalachian Graffiti Artist, Final Girl. Final Girl uses graffiti, a traditionally transgressive method of communication, as a way of exposing issues of gender-related violence. I was honored when she agreed to write a three part series on emotional abuse. Please stay tuned for follow-up posts on the effects of gaslighting/lying, as well as how to reclaim a sense of self after emotional abuse.
Part I: The Words
I took a picture of the bruises.
They were strangely lovely. Gray thumbprint on the inside of my wrist where he had wrenched it; ivy creep of hemorrhaging up my leg where he had kicked it; and a broken bone in my hand from where I had tried to punch him, when I finally fought back.
That was the only time he physically assaulted me—but there were other kinds of assaults. I have many bruises from him—but you will never see them.
There were the times he insulted my body (too skinny), my sex drive (too high), my family, my job, my clothes, my stuttering. There were the names he called me: bitch, douchebag, asshole, freak.
He was angry in the mornings. He was angry at night. He was angry because he hadn’t eaten, or had had too much or not enough coffee or sugar, or he had too much work to do, or he was annoyed by his friends or his phone, or he was tired; he was really, really tired. And he was angry, angry at me about all these things. Biting, sarcastic, and derogatory toward me.
I’m not sure why he directed his anger at me. Mostly, I think, I was there. I was there and I didn’t fight back, at least not at first. I was there, and I think by my very presence I was a target.
And I can’t tell you why I stayed with him, because sometimes? I still want to go back.
I know I felt needed. I felt special; this man who hated everyone loved me. At least, he said he loved me. And I believed what he said. I felt I was too sensitive, because he told me I was. He told me I had no sense of humor. He told me he was just kidding at the end of yet another tirade when he shoved me into a chair. Just a joke, a joke, can’t you take a joke?
And I told myself, sure. I told myself, hang in there. I told myself, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.
But it wasn’t fine.
The worst part about emotional abuse is that, like the punch that will change the shape of my hand, morphing it, deforming it; the bone will never mend straight—I will never be the same. My sense of self is altered after being with him.
Because I believed him.
After months of being yelled at, I begin to feel there was something wrong with me, many things. I was too skinny. I was judgmental. I did want too much sex. The sex I wanted was wrong. I was wrong.
Emotional abuse is confusing. It’s slippery, shifting. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is. Toward the end, I called him names too (especially asshole) and I did strike him back—or tried to. But the systematic, daily onslaught of insults, ridicule, and degradation he subjected me to is equivalent to brainwashing.
He wore me down. He wore me down.
After awhile, I couldn’t leave him, because who would want a freak like me? A skinny, ugly, stupid bitch like me?
He diminished me. He made me hide my light, and I hid my pain too. Maybe I was quieter. Maybe you saw less of me at parties. Maybe you noticed my eyelids were swollen. That was all that was visible on the outside. On the inside, I was starting to rot, to collapse under the weight of his words.
The splint is off my finger now, though my leg is still gray and I wince if anyone brushes it. You will never see my other bruises, not with your eyes. These bruises are slower to fade, the ones on the inside. I see these invisible bruises. I feel them, and I feel, more and more each day, how wrong he was to inflict them upon me.
I’m a painter. And while it is hard for me to make art from the experience of emotional abuse at the hands of this man, as it is hard for me to make sense of it, I took a picture of my bruises.
I did it for myself, to swear to myself: No love, no companion is worth this. No man (or woman) is worth me feeling worthless. No one EVER has the right to diminish me.
I took the pictures to remind myself: Never again. And as a promise to myself: There is love without pain. I will find it, I tell myself; I will get stronger and stronger every day. And then I go out to make beauty in this one.