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Sticks and stones: Of words that broke my spirit

Its nearly noon on a Friday as I type this to you dear reader. I do so half hesitantly and part defiantly. And i do so fully aware of the mixed reaction this post will bring forth. At this point I really don’t care anymore. I have lived with the consequences of my silence for far too long and anything that follows on from this post will pale in comparison. So i begin.

Anyone who has known me long enough knows my propensity to speak my mind. In the past this has managed to ruffle more than a few feathers in my personal and professional circles. I am “that angry brown feminist killjoy”. I am that chick that would sooner punch you in the ‘nads than laugh at your racist jibe, your disgusting rape jokes or share sympathy over your “friendzoning” sob story. I am THAT girl. And I am super proud of being this person. Except, there were times when I felt i let that girl down. There were times when I wish that girl was more prominent behind closed doors.

I am an angry brown feminist killjoy.

I am also a survivor of several abusive relationships.

And I wish I had come out about this sooner.

The who and the when is omitted from this piece because I don’t have the energy or the  spoons to deal with those people anymore. They are merely a footnote in time – I don’t want to talk about what they did or said. I want to focus solely on the impact of their words and actions because these were the only signs my friends could pick up on and save me from myself.

When i was 16 years old, my mother found me nursing a broken nose after a visit to a friends house. I wasn’t allowed to date when i was younger and said friend was actually a secret boyfriend who saw the clandestine nature of our relationship as an excuse to get away with just about anything. I am certain she must have known because we had a long chat about relationships and abuse, the gist of which was if anyone so much as violated my personal space again, i was to sock it back to them in the same measure. Bodily autonomy was high on my mother’s list of priorities and she did her darn best to ensure i was comfortable in saying “NO” to anyone violating my physical space. Emotional abuse, however, was a completely different kettle of fish.

You see, i spent most of my childhood being told that i was “overly sensitive”, that I needed to toughen up. I was a child of the “sticks and stones” generation, where bullying was seen as a rite of passage. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in my teens, i used my illness as a further coverup for the emotional abuse i was put through by my partners.

“What they said isn’t really hurtful, i am just overly sensitive. Its because I am sick”.

Just like that I would write off a whole slew of things that  I should not have let slide. I saw myself as a “fixer upper”, someone so useless and broken because of their mental illness that it was only fair to allow my partners to help “fix me”. If they said I needed to lose weight, it was for my own good. If they said I was lazy and useless (usually during my depressive lows) then it was because they cared. I spent years rationalising my abuse because it was easier than believing that I, the “angry brown feminist”, could be a victim. Because in my mind abusive relationships involved broken noses and bruises not me having anxiety attacks in pub toilets or feeling like a horrible human being for having a depressive low.

There was no semblance of stability in these relationships. I spent most of my time walking on eggshells, worrying that a single word or action would set them off. I made myself oh so very small, measuring out love and affection so as not to come across as “clingy” but also made myself available to whenever their needs took them because God forbid i came across as “frigid”.  I knew when to make myself scarce. I knew that calling up at 2 am because I was having an anxiety attack was a no no that would designate me to the ‘too hard’ basket. Anxiety that was brought upon by an afternoon of nitpicking at my general unruliness, my inability to drive, my appearance and my baking habits (yes you read that correctly). In one of these relationships I had been broken up with every consecutive Thursday for a month, only to be picked back up on a Monday like dry cleaning. In another, I was put on a diet because my partner at the time had her own body issues that she thought fair to deflect on to me. The idea that my mental illness made me less lovable was constantly reaffirmed in all of these relationships to the point where I began to believe that these abusers were doing me a favour by allowing me into their lives. I was to be thankful and quiet.

Over the last month, several women I love and respect have come forward with similar stories- women whose lives and relationships I had envied from afar while I was suffering my own ordeals. It was a strange feeling reading their stories, a sense of intense sorrow and great relief balled into one. I was not alone in my experience but that in and of itself was alienating. How many of us are there that march through life pretending to be unaffected by the callousness of our lovers? How many of us attend our feminist conferences and chant our slogans at domestic violence rallies and return home to the beds of our abusers? Is my “angry brown feminist” label merely modern day concealer? I must have used it to hide a thousand tell tale signs. I am grateful to the friends who saw past my tough girl exterior and removed me from the situation. The ones who let me sleep on their couches, who distracted me with burlesque routines, the ones who called me each morning to see how i was. I am grateful for the ones who stood by me and reassured me when I doubted my own goodness.

I really don’t know what else to say. I could go on  about the countless things said and done to make me feel ashamed of myself, that made me doubt myself, that made me feel less of a human being. But I know my healing doesn’t lie in the past. That was not the intention of this post.

If this blog post achieves only one thing, I hope it serves as a reminder that even the angriest of “angry brown feminists” can fall prey to abuse. That we need to keep our doors open and couches available to our friend’s in need. We need to love them harder and unconditionally when they feel they are at their worst, when they feel “unworthy” or “unlovable”. And we need to stop pretending abuse only exists in the physical realm of broken noses and bruises.

“Sticks and stones broke my bones

But over the years

words broke my spirit.”

Edit: This Mermaid would like to assure readers that she is currently in a very loving and supportive relationship. If you or anyone you know is in need of support please visit http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/finding-help.

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