Survivor Stories, Guest Post. Final Girl, Part 1.

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.

Invisible Bruises
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.

Final Girl is an Appalachian street artist.  Her essays have been published in Hillbilly Speaks and Bending Genre, and her art appears in many secret spaces.  You can see more examples of her work at

9 thoughts on “Survivor Stories, Guest Post. Final Girl, Part 1.

  1. Anonymous

    Emotional abuse strips you of everything. It feels like you are simply a hollow shell, filled with blackness as he strips bits of you away, one day, one comment at a time, why you are just not good enough – as a wife, as a mother, as a woman. You can feel that bright light of your soul, that little candle that used to shine so brightly, start to get smaller as your darkness gets bigger until your biggest fear is that that tiny light will be put out forever. You think of the painting “The Scream” by Munch, where a person in great personal pain is screaming and no one can hear it but you. Emotional abuse makes you doubt yourself until you start believing the lies that you are fed, lies that are told you to bolster up his lack of self confidence. You are told so often and in so many small ways that you are nothing that you believe it as well, which takes away your confidence in fighting back, in leaving this abuser as far behind as you possibly can. After reaching the breaking point where I would have gladly given up everything, leaving an emotional abuser takes years to slowly build back some of the parts that make up you, while parts of you are gone forever. People are surprised that I haven't had contact with my ex for so many years: they have no idea how hard it has been to banish the blackness inside, rebuild my flame, and not live in unreasonable fear that he will take it all away from me again. Friends and family don't understand: but he's so charming, so popular in town. No one has ever asked “You must have had a reason for divorcing him – can you tell me why?” The emotional abuser gets to move on to his next victim.This time it won't be me.




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  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for so eloquently sharing your experience. I lived with this type of emotional abuse for over 6 years. I told him if he ever hit me, I would leave him, but I feel like by telling him that, I implicitly gave him permission to call me a cunt and a slut and bitch and a cow and to punch things and throw things and break things in front of me — and even spit on me — as long as he didn't lay on hand on me. When he did, when he inevitably and uncontrollably did, he was arrested and we have been apart since then. It is still hard for me to call what happened abuse and he makes me doubt it all the time. He has called me a drama queen and selfish and said that when I called the police the first time (which wasn't the last time) I did it for attention. Thank you for this post.


  4. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I was with an emotional abuser for nearly 2 years, and that was 20 years ago. I'm in a good marriage now and have been for 18 years. I'm an artist too, and my abuser must have been tracking me online because he found a blog post where my art had been featured and commented that he “missed me”. Ugh. That really shook me up, even though it's been many years and I have a good life now, seeing that comment shook me up big time.


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