So much of my abuse experience has been guilt over thinking about it, labeling it, bringing it up at all—comparing it to worst-case scenarios and thinking it wasn’t as bad as that, beating myself up for being so weak as to be affected like this, point to anyone other than myself. Then I actually recount what happened, and I see how alarmed people become, and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. And I read others’ accounts, and I read long articles and manuals about abuse, and they’re like a glossary of my experience. I’m told it’s a textbook case. Then I look for any little crack. Surely I must be exaggerating. There must be an extenuating factor. It has to be my fault somehow. I know I didn’t always act perfectly either. Sometimes things just happen and they’re messy. Then I look at the damage I’m still working through.
It’s, like. The self-doubt. This is what keeps people down. This is why people don’t speak out. The mind games. Abusers seek out people with low confidence, and they write the story. They make it clear that any contradiction is a betrayal, and in fact an attack on them.
It’s so hard to resolve the imbalance. The mind, it keeps dancing to make things equal. Yes, they did this, but… either it’s not as heavy as it looks or it must offset something on my end. One is so trained toward fairness. A sense of reason. I must have deserved it somehow. Approached as a closed system, you keep adjusting the scale, trying to make it even out. It has to make sense. The person you rely on for everything, that you invest everything in, you adore so deeply, it must have taken something huge on your end for them to treat you like this.
I have breathing problems. It’s not a physical thing; it’s that I keep forgetting to breathe. Even when I remember, stress constricts my airways. For close to a decade I had this mysterious chronic cough and lightheadedness, that went away as soon as I was on my own again.
I used to be a singer, technically. I at least had years of singing lessons. The thing that came hardest to me was breath control. The slightest anxiety, and my body cinched up. My lung capacity shriveled. I didn’t have the tools to work against it, or even communicate my trouble.
My voice lesson the other day, I brought this up. They suggested a few ways to break the tension—applying some outside pressure, some other frame of reference. Pressing on the diaphragm with the heel of one’s hand, for instance. And it’s tough, but it sort of works. So far.
And that’s why they isolate you. That’s why they try to strip you of your friends, your tools, your resources. Why they insist talking about even neutral internal business is considered a betrayal of trust. Because their control is predicated entirely on a closed system. The moment you start to talk about what’s been happening, the moment people can give you feedback, that you can start to compare notes, the system begins to break down. They no longer control the scale. And that’s the moment they live in terror of. Because, what comes next?
This is the moment that it feels like we are entering as a society. Hundreds of years of abuse, it’s all starting to come out. Everyone the world over, to an extent regardless of ideology, is starting to recognize it for what it is—while the powerful scramble, and scream. In the way that they will.
- There’s a reason we don’t have healthcare.
- There’s a reason we don’t have food.
- There’s a reason we don’t have guaranteed housing.
- There’s a reason we’re poor.
- There’s a reason we’re punished so heavily, for minor offenses.
- There’s a reason we’re triangulated against each other.
None of this is natural. None of it has to be like this. We deserve better. We deserve to have our own lives. To be allowed to care about each other. This is all done to us. And just the littlest resistance, it scares them this much.
Their hold is so tenuous. It’s all a story. It’s the story written in these statues that we’re tearing down. It’s a story that weaves and wraps through every unnatural system we’re taught to rely on for our basic survival. Wall Street. Banks. Corporations. This notion of a 9-to-5 job. Productivity. Real estate. Copyright. It’s all just a story.
We can write a new one. A just one. We have everything we need to take care of each other. What if we just… did it?
To every oppressor, and to those who benefit from abuse, the abused are internalized as the bogeyman. They have to keep up the abuse, because what if one day the victims activate and turn against them? If the victims are ostensibly freed, then what if they come back for revenge?
This is in particular the white narrative in this country, and in every other colonial society. It’s the basis for every horror story we tell. There’s a reason zombies are based on Haitian culture. Haiti, the free Black nation that famously overthrew white rule, that we have punished ever since out of fear the ideas might spread. What if They turned on us? What if They came back, and we were called to pay for our sins?
This is the fear on an individual level. This is the fear on a structural level. It’s the fear the in-some-way privileged are coached to repeat to ourselves in our deepest metaphors. It becomes justification for every abuse. It’s necessary, because it’s too late now.
To which my brain responds with… say, for instance, CHAZ. Weeks of police violence; then out of terror of retribution, they left the station to the masses… who occupied that fraught space, and started a farmer’s market.
I’m not talking forgiveness, because what good is that and what does it even mean, really. I just mean, like. Who gives a shit about them. All their power is illusory. We don’t have to grant it. What if we just ignored them, and checked on each other instead. That whole thing where you see someone in danger—a woman, BIPOC, Muslim, queer—and you step between them. You ignore the attacker and you just check in with your old friend whom you’ve never met before. Demonstrate solidarity in the face of irrelevance. Often that’s all it takes.
What they fear more than anything is a loss of power, of irrelevance. Of our realizing we don’t need them, we don’t have to fear them. That we can take care of each other. That against every story we’re told, kindness and compassion and support are what make a functioning world.
I am still very ill, and fraught, and stretched too thin to clearly see, and I don’t know what I have to give at the moment, either materially or emotionally. It’s all theoretical. But. Maybe it’s time to trust a bit in compassion, and a recognition that we are in this together.