I Forgive Him I Don’t Forgive Him

Thoughts on Forgiveness

I’ve had some recent breakthroughs with my amazing psychologist and conversations with amazing partners in regards to forgiveness. I’m really understanding that when it comes to forgiving someone who has done something horrible to you, it’s a process and should never be a requirement. Often, when someone has deeply wounded us with their bad behaviour, we need to be allowed to be furious with them, disgusted with them, we need the freedom to never have to forgive them. I have a feeling telling victims that they should forgive those who have hurt them has the real potential of inhibiting their healing process because it is projecting your own morals and ideals onto the ways in which they work through their trauma.

Forgiveness is a deeply personal and internal process, forgiveness may mean never forgiving the adult who left you wounded and scarred, it may only mean forgiving the hurting child in them who left you wounded. I believe that healing requires the freedom to never have to forgive someone when they have done deep and violent damage and then left you to pick up the pieces alone. Forgiveness cannot be demanded of the victim who is left to deal with the aftermath of bad behaviour. Only the victim can feel forgiveness, if and when they are ready. They may never be ready because some hurts go deep and some last a lifetime.

It’s also important to recognise that forgiveness is not about forgetting – some things you will never forget; they leave you with sore spots and triggers that colour the ways you navigate future relationships and so forgetting really isn’t a possibility.

My personal forgiveness has come in waves. In the early days, I felt too much of it and needed to access my rage, my disgust, my loathing. When the trauma I experienced as a result of emotional abuse left me with a complex soup of emotional problems, I needed access to my truth. I’ve been through much of that process and am now at a point in my healing and moving on where I feel forgiveness and sadness for the person who really hurt me coming back into my heart but even this forgiveness comes in waves; some days I still loathe the bastard, others I only wish him well.

Early on, forgiveness was unhealthy for me because it contained the risk of me returning to the person who hurt me and not giving my trauma the safety and space it needed. In love as I was with my ex, I needed hate and rage to keep me safe. Now, having been through that process, I can feel the same love towards him that I feel for all hurting creatures. I never wish to see him again for as long as I live, but I can now access the sorrow I feel for all beautiful things which trauma, pain and anger destroy.


Reflections on Broken Love

The other day, I showed my new Dom a love letter that I had asked my previous Dom to write me towards the end of our relationship. I’d asked for this because after my ex Dom had spent so much time telling me all the reasons he thought I was a piece of shit, I needed to find a way to believe it when he also constantly told me I was the love of his life. He wrote the love letter, as requested, but it didn’t help. In fact, it made me feel worse as I felt it read like a shopping list of things I gave him, rather than a love for who and what I am.

The reason I showed it to my new Dom is that I realised my experiences of emotional abuse with my previous Dom had fundamentally shaken my ability to trust the words “I love you”. When my first Dom said “I love you” I had believed and felt those words with all my heart, and so when he said “you’re just a worthless piece of shit to me right now” I also felt those words as truth. And then when he was absent and distant while I was suicidal and traumatised from the experience in New York, his “I love you” felt empty. The words “I love you” became something I could no longer trust.

When I left my first Dom, people were telling me he didn’t love me and this became the story I told myself for quite some time. The other story I told myself, to protect myself and distance myself, was that he was a hateful, spiteful, cruel and cold bastard who was fundamentally incapable of love. This perception of him helped create enough coldness and distance in my heart for me to connect to the rage and disgust that would protect me long enough to help me heal. I needed, for a long time, to hate him. Truly, deeply, hate him.

But recently that hate has started to feel like a rut I’m trapped in. Recently, writing more publically about my experiences with my emotionally abusive ex Dom has shifted something in me, like clearing out the cobwebs. I’ve felt more space inside myself and a desire to move forward, especially as I fall more deeply in love with my two current partners. I want to move forward into life with my two loves and start to leave my old pains in the past as much as possible (though I never want to entirely let them go as my own experiences have left me with a wisdom and compassion for other people that I would never trade away). So perhaps that’s also why I showed my new Dom my old love letter.

“I can see why this letter left you unhappy,” he said. “It made me feel sad for both of you. I can see that he did really love you.”

I started crying. “Thank you for saying that. I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that. He did love me. We really did love each other. He hated me and he loved me.”

“I can see that. And it makes sense. It must have been so painful when you left him, you must have felt so much grief.”

I started sobbing. “Yes I did. It was the most fucking painful decision I’ve ever made in my life. And everyone around me just hated him and was glad I left him and that’s good because I needed to leave him – his behaviour was dangerous for me. But my heart was completely fucking broken and I never really got sympathy for that.”

I sobbed and was hugged. I felt, for the first time in a long time, the memories of all the good times with my first Dom flooding back into my heart and this time they no longer felt dangerous, like they could hurt me. For the first time in over two years, those memories felt safe. And beautiful. And I felt my heart break in sorrow for my first Dom who truly did love me but who was too hurt and broken inside to love me properly.

The next day, I told my psychologist about my experience. He talked about different types of love, he mentioned infatuation, lust; early stage types of love. But this didn’t connect with me. I told him that I actually felt myself and my Dom had formed a very deeply bonded sort of love. All up, we had spent three years together, slowly revealing our deep traumas, our vulnerabilities, learning to talk, learning to love. I felt we had truly loved one another, and to heal I needed that truth acknowledged.

My psychologist said he didn’t like to diagnose people he’s never met but we both had independently come to suspect that my ex might have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). He said that when he saw clients with NPD, his heart broke for them because it is such a profoundly difficult disorder for people to have. Now please take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt as I am not a trained psychologist, only a regular person with an interest in how people work. Disclaimer aside, here are my thoughts on trauma, schemas and NPD. As far as I understand, NPD stems from childhood traumas and dysfunctional schemas that cause them to have a deep belief in their own fundamental unlovableness. They compensate for this by becoming self-aggrandising, ego-centric and superficial with their relationships. Intimacy is profoundly difficult because when someone loves them, it confronts their deeply held belief that they are worthless.

When we are children, we are creatures of ego. When children are traumatised and abused, they feel it must be because of something about them. If a child is neglected and deprived of love, they may come to believe that this is because they are fundamentally unlovable. People with narcissistic personality traits were often deprived of love in their childhood and so they had to be self-sufficient from the start. They may come to view their self-sufficiency as a sign of their superiority to others. I suspect this may in fact be the reason that so many men seem to have traits of NPD and go on to become abusive – because we, as a culture, tend far too often to deprive young boys of their need for love, safety and a place to be vulnerable. A culture that doesn’t let boys be soft and loved is like a factory that produces narcissistic, abusive men.

The view we have of ourselves is largely formed in our childhood, and if our childhood didn’t contain the love, consistency, validation and safety we needed, we form faulty views about ourselves, or “schemas”. These schemas are powerful; they are deeply held and are very difficult to challenge or shift. They are not impossible to work on but it requires a lot of work, a lot of therapy, a lot of patience and a lot of mistakes.

If your childhood schemas include the idea that you are worthless and unlovable, then when somebody loves you it puts these schemas into a profound state of shock and confusion. Schemas will try anything to maintain their “truth” and so they will tell you that the person who loves you must have something wrong with them. And when that person doesn’t behave the way you think they should, this will put you into a critic mode; a horrible, judgemental, cruel critic mode. You will start to find all the things “wrong” with the person who loves you. And then, if you feel the person who loves you is seeing the real you, the worthless and unlovable you, this will put you into attack mode.

A person with narcissistic traits in attack mode is not a pretty thing. My memories of the man who had held me and whispered “I love you babe” contrast so deeply with my memory of the same person looking at me with pure disgust in his eyes and saying “you’re a worthless piece of shit”. For so long it was impossible for me to understand. Had he tricked me? Was he a sociopath who was incapable of love? Was I insane? Was I a fool for believing him when he said “you’re the love of my life”?

I wasn’t. He did love me. The healthy, evolving, adult in him loved me. The child in him who needs love, like we all do, loved me.

And then… he didn’t love me. When his schemas were triggered, he reverted to a childlike ego state and in that state, he despised me as much as he despised himself. In attack mode, he wanted to destroy me and he used all my vulnerabilities as weapons against me.

So the truth, as I now believe it, is that he loved me and then he didn’t. And then he loved me again but he couldn’t face the consequences of his actions so instead he started to shut down and push me from his heart.

How heartbreaking for both of us. How deeply, fundamentally tragic that his childhood traumas destroyed the beautiful, precious, irreplaceable thing that we had together.

Because it was beautiful. It was imperfect and there were many unhealthy aspects to it which I was not experienced or wise enough to see. But there were so many truly beautiful, profound, bonding moments that we had together. That those beautiful times have forever had a shadow cast upon them is… devastating. It still breaks my heart.

My Forgiveness

About a year ago while I was intoxicated, I sent my ex Dom, who I no longer speak to, a sloppy email telling him that I would never forgive him but that he should forgive himself. However, I said that first he needed to look in the mirror and face the fact of how appalling his behaviour was. I also said a lot of stupid shit about how I was going to become a feminist porn star – ha! I never got a response and to be honest, I would never have sent that email sober.

I never saw him take accountability for his actions and perhaps he never will. This is the reason I had to remove him from my life and this is the reason I needed to connect to my rage and disgust, because he wounded me and then I had to do all the recovery work by myself. Yes, while we were together he had suggested that we get couples therapy, but he expected me to do all the work to find a therapist, and underlying this was his belief that I was overreacting; that dealing with it was my responsibility, not his.

I will never forgive that. I forgive the child he once was who never received the love he needed. I forgive the adult he is who still needs love but may never be capable of holding onto it. I forgive the person who held me in his arms and whispered “babe, I need you.” But I will never forgive the adult who shrugged when I was suicidal, who abandoned me to the trauma he caused me, who said “sorry” but had no idea how little that meant when he continued to justify his behaviour and attack me. The pain of his attacks was tremendous and traumatic but his indifference to my pain in the following months was the most wounding thing of all. That was the biggest betrayal of our love.

This made his words “babe, I’ve got you” hollow and painful.
Now that I can sit with some of the beautiful memories we once shared I can see the complexity of the truth. None of this could come from trying to force myself into a narrative that others felt about how I should relate to my experience, though of course their thoughts, emotions and opinions helped me gain better clarity on my own. Ultimately, I needed ownership over the specificities of my story and the complexities of my truth. None of this can be simplified or put into trite statements about forgiveness.

He loved me, he didn’t love me. I forgive him, I don’t forgive him.

That’s how I feel today. All of this may be different tomorrow.

That’s ok.

Consensual Non-Consent and Me

(Content warning: this post discusses rape fantasies, heavy BDSM play, emotional abuse and sexual assault.)

Rape fantasies. An incredibly common sexual fantasy, emphasis on the word “fantasy”. I believe this is one of the biggest things at the core of my own sexuality, this is the fantasy that has led me to BDSM.

Except that “fantasy” doesn’t feel like a good enough word for my sexual inclinations, the word “fantasy” feels reductive. Let’s see if I can unpack my feelings here. Please note, this is not going to be a guide on how to do rape play, in fact if you are new to these explorations I would very much NOT recommend doing what I’m doing. Rather this is an attempt to better articulate the specificities of my own desires and how I explore them in my sex life. In my opinion, whatever takes place in the realms of fantasy or between two consenting adults is just fine and dandy. If your opinion differs, or the eroticisation of dark subjects is a trigger for you, you might want to proceed with caution.

In my mind, there are two modalities within which it is common to engage with this fantasy. The first is “rape play”, this involves consenting adults engaging in a type of role-play that involves the acting out of forced sex fantasies. Rape play has never particularly worked for me, I could never really suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy sexual roleplay, it has always become something of a cerebral activity, done more out of curiosity rather than genuine excitement. In short, it feels like acting and I want it to feel “real”.

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And then there is “consensual non-consent” or CNC for short. CNC tends to involve two people, often within an established kink relationship (in my case, a Dom/sub dynamic) where one partner will give their blanket consent to the other at any time, any place. Generally this involves a list of ground rules such as hard limits (certain acts that remain off bounds) and a safeword that functions as a genuine “no”, as opposed to a fun “no”. Sometimes however, and I’ve seen this become a heatedly debated topic in BDSM communities, there may be a decision to do away with the safeword. Basically, a mutually agreed upon dynamic where both partners have agreed that there is no such thing as “no”. There may also be no hard limits.

I have been in two D/s relationships where, through mutual desire and negotiation, we have limited the efficacy and power of my safeword. I am currently in my second such relationship. I have never before written publicly about my experiences and the exact rules of my dynamic as to do away with a safe word is considered foolish and potentially dangerous. In fact, I’d be the first to agree that it is potentially dangerous as I have indeed had this sort of agreement cause me a great deal of confusion in the past. However my sexual desire for this type of dynamic has meant that I have not remained deterred and so I am now in my second D/s relationship where I have given away my “right” to consent and put some degree of disclaimers on my safeword so that the functionality of my “no” is limited. As someone who has often been drawn to the more sensorially and psychologically intense and therefore risker forms of BDSM play, I prescribe to the Risk Aware Consensual Kink framework within which I consider the risks vs benefits and make an informed choice.

So I have evaluated the risks and have had experienced when things go wrong. I have also looked at the rewards and for me and the way my sexuality works, the rewards have so far outweighed the risks.

The Rules

At some point within my relationship with my current Dom, I had grown comfortable enough and felt safe enough with him that I requested a change in our rules. I wanted my safeword to no longer mean “stop”. We agreed that this was risky and to do away with the safeword altogether would be foolish. So now, instead of my safeword functioning as a true “no”, it instead has a more limited and practical application in that it only serves the purpose of being something I can use if I feel that the scene is going wrong and might put me in actual danger. Essentially, if I fear a scene runs the risk of doing me genuine and lasting damage, then my safe word is my way of saying “this has to stop and it has to stop now.” However, if I simply don’t like something that happens to me, simply really, really don’t like it, then there is the agreement that I have no ability to back out. I’ve consented to my Dom not needing my consent.

Within this framework, I have no hard limits, only acts that I hate but must endure. This does not apply to anything which will put my health at serious risk – we do not engage in any form of particularly risky edge-play without prior discussion and a great deal of caution. After all, it is a priority for myself and my Dom that I remain healthy and in one piece so that we may continue to play for many years to come.

And of course, if this agreement ever stops working for me, I can halt this agreement. Ultimately, my consent does still belong to me but we’ve done our best to create a framework within which I feel as if I do not have any rights because this is what we both deeply desire.

The Rewards

My erotic imagination has always gone towards darkness. Sensual touch has never done much for me, for as long as I can remember, the things that give me the greatest erotic charge have been much more violent and contained elements of coercion and violation. Sex for me isn’t so much about bodies and orgasms (though I do love those things) but the core of my sexuality comes down to this feeling of me being helpless, humiliated, violated, abused and, yes, raped. Why is this? I, like many, have theorised on this for years and at times in the past I would try to re-wire my erotic inclinations towards something gentler and simpler but our erotic inclinations so often go deep to our very core and honestly, that is how I feel about my drive.

I met my first Dom when I was 26 and the first time we played was the first time I was ever truly dominated, made to feel the emotions of humiliation, desire, fear and arousal which are so profoundly potent to me. Though I had dabbled in kinky play for years and had an enjoyable and adventurous sex life, the first time I ever played with my first Dom was an erotic awakening, a discovery of the core truth of my sexuality. Before then, though I’d always found sex immensely pleasurable, something had been missing but that first time with him, I found myself thinking “this must be how it feels to normal people when they get sexually aroused!” For the first time in my adult life, I actually discovered what it meant to have my cunt become truly wet with desire. Like, properly wet. Slippery wet.  That was new to me, to discover how much my body responds to mistreatment by someone I’m attracted to in a sexual context.

Since then, my explorations of my submission and masochism have involved my chasing that high. As someone who has very few hang-ups or taboos around sexuality, it takes a lot to make me genuinely uncomfortable and there are very few things that I am unwilling to try. For me, being simply tied up and spanked, for example, sounds a bit dull and old hat – after all, I’ve been asking partners to tie me up and hit me since I was 16 years old. I am someone with a large libido and an insatiable desire to explore the depths of my own experiences and so sexual activities such as rape play, or entry-level S&M simply do little to give me the sort of erotic intensity I crave. The acts one does within sex and kink don’t necessarily mean a lot to me, I wouldn’t say I have a lot of fetishes as such, rather what is important is the context and energetics surrounding the act.

My current Dom and I have created a psychological space for us within which my consent means nothing. When I am unable to say “yes” or “no” to any given act, suddenly every sexual act becomes potent. His hand groping my breast is molestation, his cock pushing inside me is violation. Outside of our D/s dynamic, my Dom is very much my partner, friend and equal but in our D/s dynamic, we have created a hierarchy where his desires rule and I am simply a glorified fleshlight, fuckdoll and punching bag. It’s mutually beneficial. It’s what we both desire.

In essence, the feeling we both crave is a sense of coming as close to stepping off the edge of what is right and into a dark and violent void. As ethical, principled, intelligent and emotionally aware people, we of course understand that to actually step off the edge and into darkness would not be a sane or reasonable thing to do. However, we have acknowledged and accepted the depths of our desires and we like to get as close to the edge as possible.

The closest comparison, and I think it is an apt one, is to someone who engages in extreme and risky sports such as mountain climbing. There are very real risks you consciously desire to take on because the thrill of exploring rarely visited territories and the thrilling feeling of touching the void is utterly intoxicating.  The explorer of hostile but fascinating landscapes does all they can to educate themselves and equip themselves for their adventures but also acknowledges that this cannot be completely free of risk. It is exactly the same with our explorations of the subterranean world of dark sexual fantasies. The risks are worth it, the rewards are incredible.

What are the rewards? Aside from just being really fucking hot? It is bonding. Deeply bonding. There is nothing like going on an adventure to really bring people close together. It is thrilling, profoundly thrilling, to feel in a moment like you cannot possibly take any more, only to be pushed even further beyond that threshold and survive the experience! It expands your sense of who you are and what you can do. D/s has shown me that I am far stronger and braver than I ever thought possible. But mostly… it’s hot. When my Dom touches me nowadays, it is as if my mind switches off and I am floating in a murky haze of arousal. When his eyes go dark and my gut clenches with fear, it is a thrilling and intoxicating fear that I suspect is paralleled by people who are addicted to sky-diving. Finally, as a masochist, when I am forced by my Dom into doing something I genuinely do not want, when I am made to feel truly miserable… these experiences will turn into the most potent memories of which I will later furiously masturbate to.

The Risks

As I have written about extensively before, my relationship with my previous Dom contained some elements of genuine emotional abuse, as well as a time, before we had a full CNC agreement, where my previous Dom crossed a hard limit of mine by engaging in breath play.

Breath play is an inherently dangerous activity and so for a long time, it was a hard limit of mine. One day towards the end of the first year of our relationship, heavily intoxicated and in the midst of something of an emotional breakdown, he one night started to choke me and restrict my breathing. At the time, I found this experience terrifying which made me profoundly aroused and I tentatively broached the subject very soon after as he had crossed a boundary that I had not consented to. (In retrospect, I wish I had broached it more assertively but it took me awhile to properly realise how much the experience troubled me.) He was apologetic and expressed gratitude for my communicating to him and in fact, because fear and non-consent are such a turn-on for me, I felt this experience as profoundly arousing. I even wrote erotica about it. A month or two later, I broke up with him for unrelated reasons but the sense of confusion around my being turned on – by what was essentially assault  – really left me feeling a lot of fear and distrust around my own sexuality. Because I had been so turned on by the experience, I do believe it stopped me from realising how fucked up what happened was. It stopped me from properly addressing my concerns and fears with him.

And so two years later I once again entered a relationship with this Dom. This time, our intimacy and love grew to a point where, at my request, we entered into a CNC agreement that was similar to the one I am currently in, albeit a tad more rudimentary. This became, at that point in my life, the most powerfully intense sexual connection I had yet experienced. I believe there is a psychological shift that can take place within a submissive in a long term relationship where at some point, you start to truly believe in your dynamic and in your lack of rights. I would sometimes describe it as a feeling of being brainwashed. It is, in fact, incredibly erotically potent but it’s also risky in ways I did not yet perceive (though may have gleaned with the breath play experience). I did not realise the risks until after that night in New York…

As aforementioned, I’ve already written in great detail about his emotionally abusive behaviour in New York, in particular one night when he extensively verbally abused me. Within that writing, I mention what happened at the end of that night:

“I remember that night he held me down and fucked me while whispering the cruel, nasty, humiliating things that had always been a part of our D/s dynamic and which had always turned me on intensely. Except now it felt different and so I lay there, crying, until he came inside me. My crying was not an unusual part of our sex life, in fact it was something that we both sought out as it turned us on, but this felt different. I no longer felt emotionally safe. “I probably shouldn’t have done that tonight” he said as he held me. “I’m ok” I whispered back, through tears.”

I believe that this was the moment when something between us broke irreparably. I am not sure that either he or I could have realised how deeply it would break things but our D/s have been built upon a deep foundation of trust and fundamental safety. Though his fucking me that night was technically within our rules, I believe it hurt us both. I remember that night as he fucked me… I had this sick, cold feeling inside me which would not leave me for the entire duration of our New York holiday and for several months afterwards. It felt like something had died inside me, like we had gone too close to the edge and fallen into the void. The fact that I almost committed suicide the very next day is deeply interrelated in ways that I am still unpacking. Trauma takes time to understand.

I was, however, in denial. Deeply in love and desperate for things to feel ok when we returned from New York, I pushed for us to reconnect through BDSM. He was, understandably, reticent but I insisted it was what I wanted, I felt this desperate desire to be close to him again and I suppose I hoped our D/s bond would… fix us.

One night I said to him “I want you to make me afraid, really afraid.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

He put his hand around my throat and lifted me into the air for a brief moment before he did something we hadn’t done before, he punched me in the stomach. Hard. Winded and in pain, I started immediately sobbing and he did it several more times. It was terrifying and I was, of course, profoundly aroused.

When he then fucked me, I screamed at him.

“You bastard. You stupid fucking bastard.”

When we were finished, he whispered to me.

“Babe, I need you.”

“I need you too…” I whispered back through tears “I’m lonely without you.”

Then I asked him about the punching. My stomach still hurt and I wondered, out loud, if he had researched this type of play before.

“No.”

The cold, sick feeling came back. The same feeling I’d had the day after he broke my hard limit three years ago, the same feeling I had that night in New York… I realised that I was not safe. Some later research confirmed this, punching someone without understanding the risks is incredibly reckless and dangerous.  Shortly after, I ended the relationship and have not seen him since. I hope never to.

CNC in My Current Relationship

I’ve always eroticised fear, violation and degradation. However, my relationship with my first Dom gave me a deep distrust, disgust and fear of my desires. My experiences taught me that within the sort of relationship I crave, the boundaries between true violation and consensual play can be… grey and slippery. I had learned that when I was genuinely in danger, with a partner who didn’t have my best interests at heart, the situation would become confused by the fact that danger and violation arouses me so greatly.

For some time after my New York experience, I was unable to orgasm without crying. My sexuality felt unsafe to me and so I deeply wished to rid myself of it. For awhile, I felt it would be most wise for me to simply not engage in any more BDSM play, I felt I was responsible for getting myself into such messy experiences and that the safest course of action would be a sort of kink related abstinence.

But the heart wants what the heart wants and the cunt wants what the cunt wants. Over time I started dabbling in play again, with my then girlfriend, with friends and with this one person at a festival which is a story for another day… And then I met my current Dom. Our connection was at first a cerebral one of deep friendship, growing love and a shared affinity towards many things such as art, nature, comedy and so on. Unlike my relationship with my first Dom (where into D/s fast and hard long before we knew one another as people) my new D/s relationship bloomed slowly, organically, cautiously, thoughtfully and intentionally. It continues to do so.

I now believe that this slow bloom and creation of trust is fundamental to a healthy D/s dynamic. With my new Dom, I have in fact played in ways that have felt more intense, more terrifying and more intoxicating than what I experienced with my first Dom and we both feel that this is only the very beginning as we are only a year in and still building the foundations of trust, stability and security around our relationship. In short, we are gently tangling our lives together and building something that feels strong. And increasingly safe.

My last Dom was resistant to intimacy to say the least. He found conversations and communication gruelling and while I do not regret my sexual experiences with him as they led me to where I am today, his emotional abuse and the lack of safety, comfort and trust I felt with him was dangerous when combined with the complexities of my sexual desire.

So while the CNC agreement I have with my current Dom might bear some superficial resemblances to my current dynamic, the structures that support it are fundamentally different. Yes, with CNC I accept some degree of emotional risk but I now feel that I have a partner who had my deepest interests at heart and will, if things go wrong, be there besides me to pick up the pieces. This is completely, fundamentally different to what I had with my first Dom.

I have handed my body and self to someone who understands the gravity and immensity of his responsibility to me. We stand side by side and like partners who climb mountains together, we have each other’s backs.

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My Little Trauma

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Some memories spoil other memories. My last memories of you have tarnished all the ones that came before. Even after all this time, the recollections that should be fond are quickly followed by that sick feeling I had when I was so utterly alone, broken and vulnerable with you lying right beside me.

I don’t think of you as much as I used to but when I do, it is not a pleasure. The problem with completely breaking the deepest sort of trust is that it destroys one’s faith in all the kind things that were said and done prior, so that they seem to be tricks, lies, a thin and false veneer over something profoundly ugly. The problem with trust is that it takes a long time to build but only a moment to destroy.

I always thought I’d remember you as one of the great loves of my life, instead my strongest memory is the pure disgust in your eyes as you looked at me like a roach that you wanted to crush underfoot.

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Emotional violence thrives in silence and so I feel compelled to tell my own little story, though it feels so small and so insignificant compared to what many endure. A microcosmic moment of emotional abuse that gives me an empathetic point of connection when I hear the far more harrowing tales of others.

I’m afraid to write this. Afraid of responses from other people that suggest I overreacted, that I’m oversensitive. Afraid of being told, by others, that I am playing victim. Basically, I am afraid of other people saying the same things that he did. I am afraid of feeling confused and stupid and small again. And I’m afraid he’ll read this. Because this isn’t for him.

In the early days, I did want him to read my words. I wanted to tell this story out of anger, to get revenge, and at that point, I did not trust the motivations behind my writing this. Nowadays, I am tired of this part of my history and very much ready to move on from it so the idea of writing about this makes me feel weary. However, as time passes and I learn the intimate details of the emotionally abusive relationships so many people experience, I am realising how much shame and self-blame we collectively hold on to for the ways in which we have been treated. It’s painful, isolating, incredibly damaging stuff and so I suppose I hope that by telling my own tiny tale of being in an emotionally abusive relationship, it might help other people recognise violence occurring within their own dynamics.

I am afraid of my small story taking away from people’s far more horrible experiences. I do not want to pretend mine was nearly as traumatic as what some have been through, I only wish to add to the stories about what is unacceptable in a relationship because I think our idea of abuse needs more nuance so that perhaps people will be able to see red flags earlier, not only realising it is abuse when things are horrifically bad or that abuse only occurs in traditional relationship structures. I also fear that people will use my alternative sexuality, relationships, lifestyle and flaws to read into this as somehow being my fault but… fuck that noise.

I will do my best to make this coherent but not overly edit it lest this entire exercise becomes too exhausting. Here goes something.

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I should perhaps start by mentioning that I am polyamorous. In early 2017, where this story mostly takes place, I had a husband with whom I had been for almost ten years and a girlfriend of just under a year. I am also a sexually submissive masochist and had a Dom, who this story mostly revolves around.

We had been in a D/s relationship for the year of 2013, when I was 27 and he was 36 (I think.) I was the submissive, he was the dominant. It was my first D/s relationship and it was passionate, intimate, intense during the short times we were together and profoundly lonely when we were apart. During that time I had fallen madly in love with him but the feelings were not returned, I was not his first submissive and so, perhaps, I was something less special to him. One night towards the end of 2013, overwhelmed by my feelings, I asked him if he thought he could ever love me to which his reply was “no” and indicated his general feelings of being closed to romantic prospects. I fell asleep crying and the next morning, I woke up utterly miserable so I wrote a note “so long and thanks for all the fish” and then I cried all the way home. Unrequited love is a profoundly painful experience and so, while I had the strength to do so, I broke up with him over email, knowing that I couldn’t do it face to face because I really, deeply did not want to. I told him to get in touch if he ever felt that he could see to loving me.

His reply broke my heart; “Well, this is sad news indeed. So long beautiful girl, you were the best thing about 2013.” I knew for certain then that he did not love me because the hardest decision I’d ever made in my life was merely sad for him. It wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t help how he felt, but the feeling was acutely painful.

I spent the next couple of years pining after him, not a day went by where he wasn’t on my mind. I had other loves and other adventures but my heart was still stuck on him so that when he emailed me at the end of 2015, I had two years of hope stockpiled under my ribcage. And we started talking, and we started bonding, and this time it was different. I knew how much of a cliché this was, but I swore he had changed. In fact, it truly seemed as if he had, he’d put in a lot of work after all. He’d been getting therapy and doing work on himself and the closed off person I’d once known was communicating, was open, was looking at me when I spoke. I felt seen.

Over the next several months, we began to open to one another and quickly, my love began to deepen. One night, in a burst of intense emotion and vulnerable fear that I was once again foolishly putting myself through the horrific pain of unrequited love, I wrote him, demanding that he let me know how he was feeling, demanding that if he loved me, he should “man up” and tell me that he loved me. Not one of my finer moments but I had spent two years trying to forget him and now I was falling ever deeper. I needed to know.

He called me. He was furious. He was disgusted that I would tell him to “man up” and not control my emotions, he was angry that I wasn’t giving him time. He had been feeling closer to me, like things were going so well and now he was questioning whether he wanted to be in a relationship with someone who acted on the impulse of their emotions. Shaking, I apologised, I told him he was right, I listened to his angry words for a while and gradually, he calmed down. I felt stupid, I believed he was right. I needed to better control my behaviour in response to my emotions – that’s exactly what I was told all the time when I was a child.

In retrospect, I see his angry response that was devoid of any compassion for my feelings (of which he was well aware) as a red flag but at the time, I only felt remorse for my own behaviour. At the time, I was only grateful that I had not ruined things.

About a month later, while we were both inebriated and hanging out with a friend of his, he finally told me he loved me. I could see that he meant it and I felt a sort of joy that is difficult to describe. At last! He loved me!

I feel tremendously revealed writing out these details of this relationship, how pathetic I felt in my obsession with him, how deeply gratifying it felt to be finally loved by him, like a dream come true. I feel how foolish I might seem from the outside. But this doesn’t consider the genuine connection we had, this devalues the way we would laugh so much together, the way we lay in bed reading books to one another, the youtube vortexes we went down, the adventures we went on, the special places we took one another, the camping trips, the visits to his grandmother where we had singalongs, the wild, passionate, filthy sex and the profound intimacy of BDSM. To judge how much I loved him fails to consider the way we cried in one another’s arms, the secrets we told one another and the way he would, towards the end of our relationship, whisper “babe, you’ve changed my life.”

I wore a collar he had purchased for me and became his property, a deeply meaningful act of love and trust within a D/s relationship.

“Babe,” he would whisper “I need you.”

“You’re the love of my life.”

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My mental health was not in a good place back then, many years of battling with my chronic pain and disability in my arms had me feeling overwhelmed, helpless and deeply depressed. Suicidal ideation was my constant companion and yes, I felt the bitterness of envy towards the freedom experienced by others. So when, over dinner one night at the end of 2016, he told me that later that year, he was flying to visit China and then New York, I burst into tears.

Embarrassed about my emotional outburst (I often felt self-conscious about being “too emotional” around him as this something he had often accused me of being, while conversely stating that my depth of feeling was what he loved about me) I attempted to explain myself. When I was younger and my disability was not yet an issue, I set myself the admittedly arbitrary goal of having an exhibition in New York by the time I was 30. Instead, I was already past that age and at that time my arm pain was becoming so bad that I was wondering if I might have to give up visual arts completely. So the fact that he was able to fly himself around the world, particularly to New York, just made me feel so heartbroken and bitterly jealous because of the current state of my own life. It was not my intention to make him feel bad, it was simply that the contrast between our lives felt stark. And yes, comparison is the thief of joy but like I said, at that time, my mental health was not in a good place.

A week or two later, I received a call from him. He said that he didn’t like spending money on other people but that that he wanted to get over this hang-up and he would like me to come with him to China and New York. My heart was racing; I had not expected this and something about the offer made me feel apprehensive. I suggested to him that we should both take some time to think about the offer, he insisted that he had already thought about it but I asked for some time to think it through, I very much wanted to say “yes” but needed some time.

In the end, I said “yes” to going to New York with him but not China, as I was launching a web series during that time and as it had been my only recent accomplishment and often a big reason for my wanting to live – some sort of purpose and meaning to hold on to. He was excited and so was I, though I was also preoccupied with the launch of our web series and still feeling a little apprehensive, in ways I couldn’t quite define about the upcoming trip and so perhaps I disappointed him by not matching his enthusiasm, excitement and planning. During this time, I dimly perceived some sort of coldness and distance from him, but told myself I was being paranoid and besides, I was preoccupied with the launch of the web series.

Then, suddenly, it was the end of April and I was waiting at an airport in China to join him on a connecting flight to New York. I had my Lonely Planet guide filled with bookmarks and underlined parts, a sturdy new suitcase, black walking shoes and just over $1000 that I had made from sex work which is legal in Australia. It wasn’t a lot but given my disability severely limiting my employment options and general capabilities, I felt tentatively excited that I had recently been brave enough to give sex work a try and had managed to make a bit of money to help out during our two week holiday. I had mentioned to him that I’d do some work so I would have some cash to help out, I felt good to be able to make that offer as I had not had my own income in some time. I was nervous but excited, we had never spent this much time together yet we’d already had so many incredible adventures and this was set to be our biggest one yet. I was deeply, passionately in love with this man and projected him deep into my future, imagined us watching one another grow old together. My other partners knew and got along with him, it all felt like a polyamorous utopia.

And then we arrived in New York.

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I really don’t want to write about my time in New York, I don’t enjoy thinking about it and in fact all this time later, it’s still hard for me to look at footage of the city without getting an echo of the sick feeling I had in my stomach almost the entire time we were there. For my own sake, I’m going to break this into some of the standout memories. Some of them have little to do with him, more to do with my chronic pain and depression at the time.

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It is day one and we are sitting in a diner in the fancy part of town where he has gotten us lodging. The cost of what I expected to be a cheap breakfast is shocking to me and I anxiously express my fears about money and suggest that we go to supermarkets and cook together. He expresses that he too is worried about the cost of things in the city as he was hoping to return from the holiday with some savings but that his favourite part of travelling is to eat out and he doesn’t want to miss that experience so he suggests that I just cook for myself and we can eat separately.

This suggestion upsets me. I feel sad at the idea of eating separately but don’t want him to think I am clingy. I feel hurt that he, who has much more money than I do, would not want to help me out but I also feel ungrateful because after all, he flew me here in the first place. I stare out the window, my eyes welling up with tears which has always happened to me at the slightest hint of emotion and I tell myself not to be silly and ruin this holiday over something as insignificant as whether or not we eat meals together. Aren’t I lucky that he has flown me here? Hasn’t our relationship always been one of intimacy and independence? I resolve to have a good time.

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I am lying in our Airbnb in Alphabet City, crying big gulping sobs. We only recently arrived at the Airbnb and he has gone out cycling to explore the area but I have had a bad pain flare and the combination of the burning of neuropathic pain with the intense hyper-stimulation of the city has me desperate to rest. I am feeling a deep sorrow that though I am on holiday, I have not been able to leave my pain back in Australia. I feel afraid that I am letting him down by not also exploring the city. I feel lonely and preoccupied with my health concerns, I want someone to hold me and tell me this pain isn’t my fault but I’ve never felt especially comfortable talking about it with him. I didn’t want him to see me crying too much, in any case, as I often felt he was frustrated with how frequently I tended to cry.

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It is night time and we are walking along the water. We have just had a wonderful day being shown various sights by a dear and generous old friend of mine and now it is just him and I. He has requested that we do not talk for a while and I think it is wonderful that he can communicate that, though often he walks ahead of me so quickly that when I stop to take photos of the water, I realise he has walked off ahead of me and now I am alone in the night-time city. I have a feeling as if he doesn’t like me but tell myself not to be silly, I have a feeling of anxiety for being left by the dark water by myself but tell myself not to be a big baby. I run to catch up with him further down the path and he takes us to a bar.

At the bar we order two beers which he suggests I pay for, as he had shouted myself and my friend drinks earlier in the day. Earlier that day, I had also bought my friend lunch (as she was dear to me and had taken me out to a marvellous dinner the night previous) but now was feeling anxious about all the money I’d spent so when he suggested I pay, my financial anxieties came to the surface and, once again, tears welled up in my eyes. I paid for the drinks and we went to sit down.

I cannot recall what he said to me at this point but I do recall his anger as he spoke in a low voice about his frustration with me for worrying about money, yet spending all the money earlier on my friend and the various ways in which I’d been unlikeable and needy on this holiday until I snapped back “you’re the one who invited me on this holiday you asshole.”

I stormed out of the bar and down several streets. Shortly I calmed down and decided it would just be wise to head back to our Airbnb and give us both some space. So that he would not worry, I sent him an SMS saying that I was going to head back to our accommodation. “I have the keys” was his reply. “Ok,” I wrote “I’ll come back.” As I walked back to the bar, I thought to myself about how what had just happened wasn’t a big deal and that now I was calm, we could talk through our feelings and sort things out. Travelling was just emotionally fraught, all we needed to do was communicate and it’d be ok. He was sitting where I had left him and had drunk both our beers. He was silent and looked sullen as I sat down beside him and sheepishly said “hi…”

He looked at me with an expression I hadn’t seen before, his eyes were burning with disgust and loathing. “You are just an absolute piece of shit to me right now.” He said. What followed was the most brutal character assassination I have ever received. For what felt like two hours, though could have been ten minutes, he listed everything about me that pissed him off. I was ungrateful for the holiday, I had not come to China with him when I was lucky to have the opportunity, I was ungrateful for all the things he did for me because I was used to having people do things for me. I was hopelessly dependent which he blamed on the fact that I had been chronically ill in my childhood and was disabled in my adulthood, he believed that this had taught me a learned helplessness and that other people were perfectly capable of making a living despite their disability. He told me that travelling with me was frustrating and horrible, that he’d been thinking on taking me to another trip he had planned to Syria but now he was thanking God he knew not to do that. He told me that I was really hot and could make a killing as a sex worker but that I just hadn’t pursued it like I said I would and when I expressed that the work was hard on my pain and if I did it, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any art whatsoever, he told me that this was just the real world and I had to grow up and deal with it. He said that if he had one ethical stance, it was self-sufficiency and I was pathetically dependent, childish and whinging. He said he’d never wanted a wife.

Honestly, his words are a blur but what I remember is the look on his face. It was a look as if I was a fly he wanted to swat. I remember the way his nose crinkled in disgust, as if I was a terrible smell. I remember the low, quiet growl of his voice and the way my body trembled. I remember experiencing a sick feeling of gratitude, at last someone who knew me had the guts to speak the truth. I was, indeed, a piece of shit. I remember the feeling of deep, humiliating, abject shame unlike anything I’ve felt before. I remember pleading with him to please stop talking to me this way because it felt in this moment that he no longer loved me. I remember imploring him that we could figure things out but I just needed to know if he loved me.

I guess it calmed down at some point. I don’t know. I remember him hugging me outside of the bar and whispering “I’m sorry babe”. I remember that when we got back to our Airbnb, I admitted, ashamed, that I was feeling terrible about myself and asked him to tell me why he loved me. I remember he held me and told me things such as how he loved my friends and how weird and hot I was but somehow the compliments had no sticking power.

I remember that night he held me down and fucked me while whispering the cruel, nasty, humiliating things that had always been a part of our D/s dynamic and which had always turned me on intensely. Except now it felt different and so I lay there, crying, until he came inside me. My crying was not an unusual part of our sex life, in fact it was something that we both sought out as it turned us on, but this felt different. I no longer felt emotionally safe. “I probably shouldn’t have done that tonight” he said as he held me. “I’m ok” I whispered back, through tears.

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The next day I needed to be alone and for a while I wandered aimlessly. At some point I found myself at a train station. At some point I found myself standing too close to the tracks. I could hear a train coming and I could feel the vertigo, I could feel the pull, I thought of the relief that would come from halting my own existence and I felt my body tense in preparation to jump.

An image flashed in my head of my husband, Wes, having to have my gory, mangled corpse shipped back to Australia. I did not jump but the fact that I was only a split second’s decision away from doing so still sickens me with horror.

Instead I visited an incredible contemporary art exhibition. I was fascinating and thrilling and gave me enough energy to message my Dom and ask to talk about what had happened the night before. He agreed that we should but he told me tonight he first wanted to meet with a friend of his and he wanted me to meet her too, he wanted us to party together. I shouldn’t have agreed to that but I was honestly still afraid of letting him down as he’d already made it apparent that he felt I was ruining our holiday and so I did on the condition that we talked afterwards.

That night I joined him in a bar with his friend. An incredible pianist from New Orleans was playing and he was back to his old self, laughing and joking with his old friend. He put his arm around me lovingly and I was confused by the emotions I felt – relief that he still loved me and confusion when he had been so revolted by me just the night before. Now he seemed so proud of me, so in love. That night we got increasingly inebriated at his friend’s house and as I became more intoxicated, I found my mind wandering with a desperate feeling of rage and confusion. Why was this scene so normal? So light-hearted? Had I imagined how much he loathed me the night before? Was I overreacting? I felt so bewildered, it was a long night for me.

At last we got back to our Airbnb in the very early hours of the morning and I requested that we talk. As we spoke, he began to explain why he had been so angry at me which felt to me like justifications. Rapidly, he became frustrated and snapped at me for bringing this up so late at night. I went to sleep crying silently.

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The rest of the holiday is a whirlwind of the sort of amazing adventures we always had but also many uncomfortable memories of him getting frustrated with and snapping at me for minor things. There   are many microscopic stories I could tell but I’m weary about rehashing them all. I feel this anxiety that I should tell more of my story, every single detail to “prove” how horrible the holiday felt and “prove” that he was emotionally abusive but I don’t know that this would achieve anything more.

Something I recall is that over time we did “talk” about what happened but somehow the conversation ended up being about his frustration with me because he felt he was always spending a lot of money on me and I was ungrateful. I suggested I’d start cooking more things for him at home and he seemed satisfied with this. I felt awful but supposed he was right, just because I was disabled and unemployed, didn’t mean he should have to pay for everything. I told myself his criticisms of me were good opportunities for me to grow, that he only wanted me to be the best version of myself. He wanted me to grow up and so did I.

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There was also a night when I became very drunk and after he snapped at me in front of a friend we had made, I stormed home with him walking a block behind me, occasionally calling out to me “I know you can hear me”. When we got home he said “I know you’re angry and want to talk but honestly I’m sick of this shit and can’t be fucked” at which point I flew into a rage at him for the way he had been treating me that holiday. I cannot recall what I said, though I do recall it being along the lines of calling him an emotional coward and behaving nastily to me. I regret getting drunk and angry and perhaps behaving in exactly the same way he had. Abuse is a contagious disease.

I do not think fondly of New York, though at the time I told myself I was in love with it and explored it ravenously. I have too many memories of wandering around all day, unable to bring myself to eat because I had a sick feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away and a whole lot of money fears. I have too many memories of crying on trains by myself. I have too many memories of overly assertive men hitting on me, of my not being accustomed to dealing with such men and of my Dom getting angry at me for being weak and not asserting myself so they would leave me alone.  I have too many memories of being street harassed while I was feeling broken, vulnerable and suicidal. I’ve never been exposed to such relentless street harassment and I found it incredibly confronting.

In short, I was traumatised and that informs every memory of New York. Even all the good ones. This feeling of misery compounded my feeling that he was right – I was ungrateful and unable to care for myself.

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I returned home an absolute mess and suffering from several breakdowns. My loved ones had me on suicide watch and I came uncomfortably close to the edge several times more.

Over the next couple of months, I continued to try to talk with him about what had happened but this only lead to new insults. That I was needy, that I played victim, that I would always hold this against him just like I was always throwing other misdeeds of him in his face, such as the time back in 2013 when, drunk and on the verge of a breakdown, he choked me when it was a hard limit of mine. He spoke of how amazing our holiday had been but how I only fixated on the negative things which was also typical of me. What I wanted from him was a promise that no such thing would ever happen again, what I got was him telling me that I was bad at dealing with confrontations and anger. He would tell me he hadn’t meant the things he said but then double down on them with lines about how I was “needy” and he had made the mistake of thinking I was “more self-actualised” than I was.

In the meantime, my therapist was telling me I’d been through trauma and my friends were using words like “emotional abuse” and “gaslighting”. Those words seemed too dramatic for what was going on with us and when I suggested it to him, he said “do you honestly believe I’m capable of the illegal act of abuse?” I told him I didn’t think he was an abuser but that his behaviour was abuse. I don’t know what the fuck I meant by that, I so often found myself trapped in debates with him where I came out feeling stupid and confused.

Eventually I told him we needed a break. I didn’t want that break, I was still so deeply in love with him but I could see no other way. He was angry, he told me that this was typical behaviour of mine, to not accept his apologies, to give up on what we had, that he had offered to get couples counselling with me and I had not researched it, that he now believed he loved me more than I loved him because he’d never give up on me but I was giving up on him.

Heart aching with the idea that he would think I didn’t love him, I confessed to him that I had nearly jumped in front of a train in New York but had been too ashamed to tell him. His face softened in shock and horror and he came over to hug me “I’m sorry babe” he whispered.

I told him I had to go. My very last memory of his was of him pouring a glass of wine and scowling as I softly shut his apartment door behind me. I officially ended the relationship over email several weeks later and began the process of healing. I haven’t seen him since and I hope I never have to.

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I feel as if I want to make this story ten times longer to flesh out the nuances of my experience because it is not my wish to portray him as a monster, though for a while I had to believe he was to push him out of my heart. But he wasn’t, he was a creature who had had some deep wounds in his childhood which made him angry and in pain. He and I had a lot of beautiful moments together and if you had seen the way he loved his grandmother, you would see why I loved him. But this doesn’t excuse or negate how deeply wounding and painful his behaviour towards me was. Somebody once described it to me as “emotional rape” and that description gave me goosebumps as I realised how deeply I had been wounded.

Yes, along the spectrum of abusive relationships, ours was lower down but it was nonetheless a violence that he did to me. He took the trauma of my childhood, my health problems and the secret vulnerabilities I had trusted him with and weaponised them in a moment of anger. During that moment, his anger created in him a desire to destroy me and it almost worked.

To this day, I remain grateful to me two other partners who supported me during this time, I feel lucky that being polyamorous seemed to protect me from some of the dangers of emotional abuse because for every nasty thing he said about me, my other two partners were adamant that he was wrong and that his behaviour was not ok. They did not see my vulnerabilities as weakness and they vehemently disagreed with his criticisms. Because I was in a dark headspace, I wondered if they were wrong and he was the only one who could see the real me, the piece of shit me. But of course, that was the depression, low self-esteem and trauma speaking.

I do believe that if I had stayed with him, things could have gotten increasingly worse. I also believe I would have stayed with him longer if I’d not had the support of my other two lovers who were boosting me up and furiously angry at him.  Even then I might have stayed with him – I was still wildly in love with him after all – had a dear friend not flown me to Sydney, taken me whale watching and shown me what it was like to be loved and cared for without shame or anger. I felt better when I was away from him… That was a revelation.

At the time that I was leaving, he was angry that I did not seek out couples counselling for us but honestly I was afraid. Afraid because he had such a way with words that I could imagine him convincing a couple’s counsellor that I was the one who needed to fix their behaviour and deep in my gut, I knew it wasn’t me who needed to alter their behaviour. As this article on the ways society gaslights abuse survivors states:

“The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship problem.” Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.”

It was not my job to get couples counselling for us and the fact that he made it my responsibility speaks to his inability to accept accountability for his own actions. This was the crux of my dissatisfaction with every conversation we had about what happened in New York – I wanted him to realise it was horrible, emotionally violent, abusive behaviour. I wanted him to be horrified with his actions and seeking counselling for himself. I wanted to be told he’d do everything he could to make sure it never happened again. I wanted his “sorry” to feel genuine and I wanted him to be patient in regaining my trust.

Instead, all I got was his anger and resentment that I wasn’t “letting it go.” All I ever got was conversations about the ways in which he was just expressing reasonable frustration with me. All I ever got was being told I was oversensitive, whingy, needy and unable to deal with anger. He never faced the violence of his behaviour and so I was left to do so on my own.

Leaving him was painful and for a very long time, I pined for him. This may seem hard to understand from the outside, given how nasty he was, but I was deeply in love with him. His words wouldn’t have hurt nearly as deeply if I hadn’t been so profoundly in love.

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Thankfully, I was not destroyed by the experience. In fact, that trauma was a catalyst for many changes in my self-perception as I confronted the internalised ableism, self-loathing and childhood hurts that had made his words so brutally effective. He knew me well so he knew how to hurt me. So I was not destroyed but I do have new trust issues and triggers which I am working on overcoming with my psychologist and my loved ones.

But it did destroy our relationship. Not only did it end the relationship, but it discoloured every memory I have of it prior to New York. There are a few memories that still glow with brilliant beauty, but they are surrounded by grief, rage and aching sadness. And to be honest, nowadays the love I once had for him is dull and faded because part of me cannot trust the good times were true or genuine. Part of me wonders what kind of person could be so cruel to someone who they called “the love of my life”.

That cognitive dissonance has, at times, been profoundly difficult to sit with. Sometimes it’s easier to simply believe he was a narcissistic asshole. Maybe he was. Holding memories of us staring lovingly into one another’s eyes and sharing our secrets along with the memories of him looking at me with loathing and disgust… like I said, that cognitive dissonance has been difficult to sit with.

Ultimately I am not interested in painting him as a monster but I do believe his behaviour was monstrous and I hope by shedding light on the darkness, perhaps it will give other people who might read this the validation to realise when they are being emotionally abused. It’s not always obvious, in fact chances are it’s murky, confusing and mixed up with a deep love and connection you have with someone. And perhaps neither of you realise just how abusive the relationship has become because you both believe their abuse is just them being “honest” and “genuine”. That is what I believed.

I believe the idea that only monsters are abusive is a deeply dangerous idea because it simply isn’t true. The people who abuse us are often the people who love us and who we love in return. They are real, complex, nuanced humans who have light and beauty within them.

But this doesn’t make their behaviour ok. In many moments he treated me brilliantly but that in no way excuses the deep psychological violence he enacted on me, using me as an emotional punching bag when I was vulnerable and alone in a city he had insisted on flying me to.

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On the very last day I ever saw him, he angrily told me that this was just going to become another of my stories where I am a victim. He told me I’d never let this go and that I’d whinge to all my friends about how abusive he was. That was his final parting blow and it worked. In my weaker moments, I wonder if he was right and I was just overreacting. It worked because I’m afraid to post this writing online in case the people who read this think the same things he did.

But I was not overreacting. What happened in New York was a profound trauma that took a lot of time for me to heal from. I’m ok now, despite the occasional triggers and trust issues, I’m better than ok, but that will never make what happened ok.

Some things are never ok. And so I’m going to share this messy, complicated, small experience of mine because yes, this is one of my stories that I tell my friends but no, I’m not playing victim. I’m processing pain and shedding light on darkness.

He will never understand this and if he ever reads this, I imagine he’ll be angry and disgusted with me. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve realised his behaviour was inexcusable and his opinion of me was incorrect, unloving and cruel. That it has taken a long time for me to heal from his emotional violence is not due to my weakness… but his.

First Feelings

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Just around this time last year, my husband Wes whisked me away in an aeroplane for an emergency holiday in Bali. I say “emergency” because that is how it felt to him, digging deep into his tax return, he flew me to a place that was tropical and vibrant as a means of emotional resuscitation, a life-saving procedure. We were lucky to be in a privileged enough situation to be able to do so and I am lucky to be so loved.

Only a few months earlier, a different lover (Wes and I identify as polyamorous, that is to say we are in an open relationship where we both have multiple loves and yes thank you we’re very happy that way) let’s call him Pete, had flown me to holiday with him in New York where things between us had gone incredibly sour. Upon my return, I was diagnosed with a sort of post-traumatic syndrome and my therapist and my closest people were telling me that Pete was behaving in ways that were emotionally abusive. Combine that with the depression, chronic pain condition and suicidal ideation I had been struggling with for the last couple of years and you’ve got yourself a recipe for someone who doesn’t really want to exist anymore. Suicide was constantly on my mind, I had planned how and had come close one too many times. The light within me was flickering dangerously and Wes, who knew and loved me best, was terrified.

So he flew me to Bali and just as he had hoped, the change in the air and colour and the company of my beloved quickly had me waking up. I adore the tropics like no other place and the ugly beautiful intensity of Bali mirrored something within my own internal landscapes. I started to feel excitement again, particularly as we were to do a diving course which would have us realising one of my lifelong dreams of scuba-diving in coral reefs.

Except as I already knew too well, life doesn’t always go according to plan. On the first day of our diving instructions, an over-eager instructor gave us flawed lessons which caused us both to sustain inner-ear injuries which we only became aware of late in the day. That night, Wes and I sat in a restaurant overlooking palm trees, chickens and tourist resorts and realised we were not going to be able to complete our diving course.

Heart swamped by bitter disappointment, the vision of my green cocktail blurred with tears. I felt miserable and I felt stupid for feeling so miserable when here I was drinking a cocktail in the tropics, a vision of privilege and good fortune. I felt ashamed of myself for feeling so unhappy when our holiday had only just begun. Optimistically, Wes said “Hey, no need to be upset, we’ll still have a good holiday, you know?” and at those words, something inside me clicked and, emotionally, angrily I snapped “I know, ok? I know it’ll be a good holiday! I know we are lucky to be here and I know we will find other things to do but right now I’m really fucking disappointed because this is something I’ve always wanted to do and now it’s just another fucking broken dream, you know? Just another thing I can’t do to add to the giant list of things I can’t do! Can I just wallow in this misery for awhile? I’ll be okay but can I just fucking be upset for awhile?”

“You know what, you’re right. That’s fair. I’m upset too. This fucking sucks.” And so when we went back to our hostel, we wallowed. We ate junk food, drank beer and I cried in Wes’s arms. I cried giant, heaving sobs of bitter disappointment that were a little about the ear injury but much more about the broken dreams caused by my chronic pain condition and disability as well as the deep hurt I was feeling over the betrayal of trust and emotional violence enacted upon me within my relationship with Pete who I was still deeply in love with. I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself, really, truly sorry.

Wes held me and I bathed head to toe in the bitterness of my disappointment and misery and after only an hour or so of wallowing… I felt fine. Better than fine, I felt good. Better than good. And happily, we planned out the rest of our holiday, adjusting our plans, discussing possible new adventures. We then went on to have an incredible holiday, one that was full of exploring, eating, fucking, nature, beauty, art and healing. During that time, we read Buddhist books together and I discovered the philosophy which has helped me develop a deep compassion for myself and a capacity for coping with my struggles with greater equilibrium.

So I learnt something really important through that experience. I learnt to take my emotions seriously, to stop judging them and stifling them and instead to let myself feel them completely so that they might pass through me and shift and metamorphose into something else. My therapist spoke of that phenomena as the idea that we experience both primary emotions and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are the first emotions we have in response to the phenomena of our lives and those emotions are understandable, reasonable things to have. Secondary emotions, the emotions we have in response to our emotions, more often than not, those guys are cunts. In my experience, secondary emotions tend to be judgemental emotions, the guilt that says “I shouldn’t be feeling this, I’m stupid for feeling this.” Secondary emotions are perhaps useful in helping us keep some perspective on our emotional landscape. Maybe secondary emotions are like our conscience, but left unchecked, they’re the jerks that stop us from giving ourselves the compassion and mental space to actually process what we’re feeling.

Similar concepts are described in Buddhism. My friend, Chance, explains it well in her excellent writing here:

“There is a Buddhist parable (or koan) about “the second arrow”. In short, the parable says that if a person is shot with an arrow, there is no point shooting a second one. The teaching is that sometimes in life you will get hit with an arrow. But many of us then shoot one at ourselves in response.

Buddhist teacher Tara Brach uses this parable to explain the phenomenon of blame – the human tendency to react to painful events by blaming others, or blaming ourselves. I remember when I first heard this parable (not from Tara but another teacher, Gil Fronsdal), I was struck by the idea that we could separate feeling awful, burdened or weary from being angry with ourselves for feeling those things. Perhaps it would be easier if we could just feel them.

This is what often happens with depression: we feel like crap, and then feel ashamed of feeling like crap, partly because we see the impact of it on those who love us. Sometimes shame is useful, and there is room for looking for answers, but if you are already wounded, injuring yourself further doesn’t help. It makes it doubly hard to put the pieces back together.”

So when I experienced the disappointment of not being able to complete the diving course, my habitual pattern was to emotionally attack myself for feeling disappointed, to tell myself that emotion was self-indulgent. But this time, I allowed myself to indulge that emotion, I validated the reasons I was disappointed and gave myself the compassion and space to feel unhappy for awhile. Through the act of doing so, I was amazed to see how quickly the miserable feelings passed and how quickly I was able to go about the task of having an amazing holiday with my gorgeous husband.

When we returned home, I ended things with Pete via email because I realised that there was no reason I should have to endure another verbal sparring match with him, no reason I had to listen to another cruel word. It would still take me over six months to start taking seriously the depths of the hurt his emotional abuse had caused because of course his default position had always been that I was overreacting and playing victim. Gaslighting is like the externalisation of the second arrow – your abuser shoots you with the arrow of their initial violence and then the second arrow is their denial of their responsibility, their insistence that you, in fact, are the one to blame for their bad behaviour. Their stubborn belief that your recovery from their wounds is your responsibility alone. For a long time, I internalised that message and in fact I’ve only recently allowed myself to feel the deep rage and disgust I have towards him for his behaviour. That has been healing as for a long time, I denied myself my fury.

Several months after returning from Bali, I had my first surgery for my thoracic outlet syndrome, a scary prospect with no guarantees. After my surgery, the surgeon came to me and said that mine was the worst case that himself and his assistant surgeon had seen and, after thanking him for such incredibly validating news, I broke into tears while my mother and husband held me and cried with me. After many years of not being taken seriously by a great multitude of medical professionals who made me feel as if my struggles with my health were just me being a hysterical woman, or incompetent, or crazy or just overreacting to my pain, after so many years of essentially being gaslit by medical professionals, to discover tangible evidence of the reality of my experiences was profound. And healing.

I’ve always been an emotional person, as a child I was told by adults that I was too sensitive, and as an adult I have often been told the same thing. After the experience in Bali, after the experience with Pete and after the experience with my surgery, I resolved never to disregard or minimise my emotions again. Yes, it is true that I feel emotions with perhaps more intensity than many and it is important for me to regulate and manage my responses to them with self-awareness, however emotions are a type of intelligence and more often than not, a reasonable response to the circumstances of our lives. We do not have to be controlled by our emotions but nor do we have to deny them, our emotions are a fundamental aspect of our lived experience and they have a great deal of wisdom to impart to us.

From now on, I am determined to listen to my emotions. I am determined to sit with the truth and wisdom and beauty of them. I am determined to give myself the compassion I deserve when I struggle because life is goddamn hard sometimes. And I am determined to do the same for others. Contrary to the belief of some, becoming better acquainted with emotions does not weaken me, in fact I have never felt stronger, never felt more resilient.

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