Today I’m going to talk about scars. Not the flesh kind that give the physical body its unique character and where an injury didn’t quite correct itself on the skin, but where the scar is ripped or worn into your psyche.
Reading based on stereotypes, it’s not a ‘done’ thing to be a dominant and have been an abuse victim- not unless it’s well into the past and you are speaking from a place of power. I’m not old enough that my relationship mistakes are youthful foibles compared with my current conduct. I went through a really, really bad relationship and it ended at the start of last year. The impact of that lives on.
I can’t masturbate while someone fondles and touches me from my right side. That’s the legacy from my Ex. Being touched that way was a typical conclusion of sex I was profoundly not into, and the flashpoint for one of the major sticking points of the relationship, my ability to leave into the inside of my own head. When things soured, I was too pissed off at his mistreatment of me, and him too selfish about my needs for us to work well as a couple, and I was too terrified of dealing with him and how treated me when he was upset to want to address my anger- besides, I fundamentally had lost trust of him and thought he didn’t care about my needs.
So we had a lot of sex based on me being annoyed that my orgasms were slaved to his, and that I had no choice- I had to come to get him to fuck off. It was an earlier trend- when our relationship was mostly cybersex based, when I wanted to sign off and go to bed he would make sad noises at me unless he himself was physically tired enough to sleep and emotionally satiated- and he needed to know I had an orgasm in order to not make noises of distress at me, distress I found almost impossible to respond to. Net result, a bad trend that self replicated through our relationship.
Why I was dealing in defensive mode with him all the time is partially where he had demonstrated himself to be frightening to me, and partially from scars that were cut into myself by earlier relationships. Likewise, the endless need to fix and tend is a part of my personality that seems to be my biggest strength and one of my biggest drawbacks. I’ve talked about the darker side of caretaking already, but more personally I know damn well that my childhood was the textbook of how to raise someone particularly inclined towards the sort of victimization that happened to me. Getting away from my Ex meant referring back to where I got my first scars, and learning where I’d learned to be helpless.
Because I had a family life that taught me I was needy, undeserving and my feelings didn’t matter, it was easy to accept a relationship that was like that. Living with a parent who was mercurial with their indulgence and gave out affection and attention only with a heavy toll later in accusations of being demanding; who enabled and modelled accommodating abusers; and who taught, early on that I was only there because I had a need they couldn’t stop themselves from filling, as was everyone else, gave me the sort of scars that teach you to accept abuse, and to try your best to be an every full vessel for others to drink out of.
But getting free also meant escaping another sort of scar, the kind intimacy leaves on everyone.
I don’t feel this gets talked about enough with advice about breaking up, but relationships thrive on comfortingly familiar patterns. The way your bodies fit together, the way you learn to talk beyond words and the way that the other person responds. It builds a bond and in that bond people end up tied together as strong as an addiction. Love is wonderful and terrible, it grows where it shouldn’t, the roots burrowing in and cracking apart what seems like perfectly sensible social constructions, or holding together edifices that have no sensible or sane business being upright or together.
It gets some lip service that breakup advice tells you to take some time off, two weeks being the standard time keeping, to accept that you are not in your right mind in a parting. What popular culture doesn’t tell you about is what to do when a person who is bad for you sucks you in easily. It is mentioned as weak and silly that someone’s words can sway you, but never why you might want to return to something you know to be terrible. My Ex and I developed a cycle- I would get some time away from him and stop feeling so emotionally exhausted I could think again. I would feel better and happier than I had in months, like a weight was taken off my shoulders. Then whatever was keeping him away would end and I’d start feeling a full body sensation of frantic panic, bracing myself for when he’d come back and I’d be smothered again. I’d use the remaining solitude to try to escape…
Only to get sucked back in as soon as he was in my life again. A little bit of contact and I went from solid and upright, to crumpling down into a doll-person who couldn’t do anything but react. The least bit of positive overture from him was like the rush of a drug. I wanted, more than anything else, to be wrong and for him to actually care about me as a person. Since the work of being a relationship with him generally left me with a patchy support network and limited resources, I ended up being hauled back in.
Or I would try to break up and somehow shut down, my head screaming “no, no, what are you doing?” and I folded up where I needed to be strong. I know in hindsight that some of it was that the deck was stacked with abusers tricks- that he would fuck up shared expenses to keep me broke and then arguments would tell me to physically get out of the house, that I had no personal space or room for myself- but that intimacy groove and his ability to maintain a pattern kept me locked closer than if he’d leg shackled me to something.
Meanwhile our fights got less and less rational and his behaviour in the relationship incrementally but steadily worse. Eventually I gave up and hid as much as I could, losing a summer to hiding in fantasy games with strangers where he couldn’t get to me. And we fought, but I was past exhausted and straight into numb- I could no longer perform as he wanted me to and I just lay flat out and cried helplessly while he tried all the tactics to try to get me to do what he wanted. I was pretty much sucked dry- I didn’t even feel miserable anymore as much as numb.
But this complete surrender ended up giving me some space- the online environment give me some friends beyond his reach, Strong became among them. Strong was, to be frank, blanketed in need. Without going into the intimate details of his life, I began to interact with him as a tool to motivate myself- I never really got beyond my base over-nurturing tendency but it was part of getting distracted enough that my ex faded into background noise. Strong was tempting in a way that reminded me that I had alternatives.
So I fixed my life- I found a job, started stockpiling money, started getting exercise every morning and trying to look after myself, and started taking long walks in the evening, talking to Strong to push the walls my Ex had built around me. I tested myself, repeatedly, making myself do physically unpleasant things as a sort of inoculation, telling myself that the actual breakup would mean the same amount of discomfort. Until, eventually I broke away like a person fleeing the country, and I was gone.
But the scars he left remain. Dealing with my Ex was always very unsettling because I was never sure that my backbone would hold. Fortunately for me the fact that I was helpless enough to need him to the degree he could control me was an elaborate fantasy he had built in his head and got me to buy into- independence gives great perspective. He stopped sounding like he had anything positive to offer and started sounding a little unhinged- joking about putting a shock collar on me so I couldn’t run away became an all too real, literal interpretation of what he wanted, while efforts to offer me a loan came out as bald faced bribe that disrespected the fact that I made my own damn money.
But in the most fragile few months of building that solid space, a fair quantity of credit has to go to Strong for being distracting. Simply keeping me busy, alongside preemptively blocking my Ex’s ability to reach me were two things that mattered more than relying on raw willpower. But it was amazingly hard- even though all talking to my Ex meant being unhappy, a part of me stubbornly wished that I could just talk and be friends and it would be okay. Knowing about that means self loathing and guilt- fighting that’s taken many months
It took a long time, about half a year, to get to the point of being able to feel better enough i didn’t tear up anymore. And even now, with Wildcard, I still find little landmines leftover, scars that are rough, echoes of the past. He occasionally ends up asking “Was [Ex’s name] literally an ogre?” He sees me flinch at something, finding a splinter from the past lodged somewhere tender. It can run up against my prickly sense of independence- if the Ex did anything it was re-affirm my early lessons that my needs were my weakness, but now I have to unlearn that, soothing what is hard scars with something to soften them so I can unbend.
I don’t want to be a person who can’t relax and rely on other people, it’s literally insane behaviour and it’s going to take me a long time to let go, if I ever can completely. I might be a dominant by self description, but I’m not some unassailable bastion of good sense.
But all the scars from my experience gave me one other gift. Knowing the hard way, where I was vulnerable and my Ex hurt and held me stuck to him, meant that when the time came to pay it forward I knew how. So there’s that- my escape let me serve in vigil to others who needed the same framework and support- and frankly, distractions. And that is the upside of the scars that never leave you- the lesson you learn doesn’t either.