This is a very different kind of post than I've made previously, deeply personal, and merits a content warning to those who've been intimately and/or sexually abused, just a heads up. I removed any direct references to possible criminal acts.
I was abused. I've talked about it at length with only a very small number of people, my mother, my spouse and maybe 2-3 very close friends. Even in those relationships, it took me years to formulate the words, first to identify it as abuse, then to identify it as lasting and complex, and then to explain what I meant (to anyone besides my therapist) in a way that justified the more explicit words I used to describe it.
It lasted for a few years and has been over for a few years. It's hard to describe someone you loved, still love in some way, as capable of abuse.
N is very smart, very good with words, sees and relates beauty and complexity that others don't, puts a great deal of time into beautiful, complex gifts for friends and lovers, and has legitimately earned the respect of those beyond his immediate community for his talents and efforts.
We were together for a few years. I lived with him, spent time with and became close to his parents and other family, imagined a future together, but a year in we'd developed horribly toxic ways of communicating with each other. When upset, N was cold, removed, exacting. I'd had a similar relationship to an adult as a child, meaning I reacted to this very poorly, wanting to win N back, but also wanting him to be kinder to me. I would lose control and scream and cry, and N felt manipulated by that. We should've broken up. We didn't. I kept trying to please him, but couldn't, and my emotions and behavior became more erratic.
We went on a trip for my birthday. We got into a horrible fight. On the way back I apologized for my behavior, and asked him to apologize for his. He hadn't up to that point, by which I mean he'd never apologized, not once in our entire history, for anything. I apologized for asking him to apologize, for my weak nature in needing an apology, but told him I really desperately needed him to admit that I did not create our problems alone.
He didn't speak for the rest of the hours-long car ride. When we got back to my house, he got out of my car, got into his, and drove away, all without a word.
For six weeks he ignored messages and calls. When he finally did speak to me, he had terms: I would write him a letter in an attempt to atone, and if I was able to do so properly, there was a slim chance he might be willing to speak to me again.
I was desperate, and I wrote the letter. He corrected it, and make me write it again, over and over. I don't remember how many that time - 5 or 10, maybe more. When I'd managed to atone to his satisfaction, he did welcome me back, telling me he was very proud of me, telling me he was sorry he'd had to do that to me, but now I understood why, he said.
I believe we were happy for a short time after this, while all of my security lie with him and he was pleased with me. I know there was at least one other period of protracted letter writing, so I'm not sure. My memory is a bit out of order and missing pieces, as trauma does. The letters, in retrospect, were not helping me to become a better, more responsible person, as N had explained they would in his instructions. They had made me dependent on him for confidence in my own thoughts.
Eventually, I started to develop feelings of some kind for a friend of mine. I told N. We'd discussed an open relationship, so he said something crude about casual sex and indicated he thought it was amusing, said he did not care. My friend and I had a brief relationship, during which she and her eventual wife also hit it off, so we stopped seeing one another. In that brief time, I realized I had stronger feelings for my friend than I'd realized, that I was no longer into my relationship with N, and knew I had to break it off.
I still loved him, tho, and was bound to him in an extremely unhealthy way, so I tried to come up with a way we could be platonic in our relationship. It was very foolish, but sincere. We talked and cried a lot one night and it was very hard but felt good.
A day or more later he asked me to come over. I was in Baltimore. I'd made a date that I'd already postponed, and let him know I'd be there as soon as I could. I had the brief, awkward date, and went to his place. He was in pain, and when he found out I'd delayed for a date with a stranger, he turned. He said I had lied to and manipulated him about all of it. This time I believe I was unable to atone. Any relationship between us was over.
Shortly afterward I left town and went to Los Angeles to work for a month. N had planned to go with me before we split up, but now he just appeared there, pretending to have been surprised and devastated that I was also coincidentally in LA. He sat across from me in an apartment I'd rented and made new demands. First, he demanded I begin to write a series of apologies to everyone I knew, starting with the abusive figure from my childhood [I credit my eventual relationship with that person to their work on themselves, not me apologizing to them for being upset when they hurt me, which I did not do thankfully], and then moving on to another person who'd assaulted me, everyone I'd ever worked with, etc. I did this to an extent, and deeply regret it, as I did and do owe a few people real amends and instead I gave some frantic, desperate, incoherent half-apologies. Second, he demanded that I buy a friend of his some expensive dj equipment. For this, I might have possibly been rewarded with N's forgiveness for having wondered if he might not be in love with this friend. I did this. Still paying off the charge to my credit card.
I went home. I had top surgery. My mother stayed with me for two weeks. After this, N began coming to my apartment, where I lived alone and was still recovering from surgery. This is when I felt my mind begin to really disintegrate, though the framework had been laid for years. He, again, sat across from me, and told me such things: my family did not love me. They'd had enough. My friends also were tired and sick of me. No one, in fact, had the patience to be anywhere near me anymore. He'd either spoken to them or didn't need to. He knew. He was the only one that could still tolerate me. He alone was even capable of love for me, seeing as how I was so awful, so miserable, such a drain. I was a liar, a manipulator, he said, not even fully aware of how I used and abused people. I told him I'd thought about ending my life after I finished the record my band were working on. He said it wasn't that good of a record.
Now, there's a kind of big thing I've left out because it's quite triggering for me, but it's important here.
(CW sexual violence)
He changed the way we had sex after a misdeed, with a psychologically reformative purpose, and made it a choice between that or no relationship. I don't remember how long. Months at least. I considered describing the method and supposed justification but it's too much, and I'm sorry to the friends I did tell about it for dumping my trauma on them. It was painful and I hated it. He'd stop, look me in the eye, and wait for me to acquiesce. I cried a lot. It definitely taught me how to further ignore what my mind and body were telling me about my safety.
So when I sat across from him in my apartment, recovering from major gender affirming surgery, and he told me that I was insane for even considering going back on testosterone (they make you quit for surgery), given how badly it was going to fuck with my already impaired thinking, he was saying it to someone he'd effectively owned psychologically and sexually. We never got back together as a couple after this, but it did take me several months to regain the courage to begin testosterone therapy again. And you know what? He was right. Coming out of that relationship and going right into HRT was a real mindfuck. Thank fucking g-d I did it, because I had no idea how badly I needed to think for myself, and there was no better way to do it (for me personally) than affirming the gender identity I'd had robbed from me several times.
I began to recover after he stopped coming over, but not fast or well, so I moved to Los Angeles. There, I started to feel better. I wasn't functional, but I was smoking weed and being in the sun and seeing people that loved me and whom I loved. I thought a lot about N, trying still at that point to understand why he'd done what he'd done, believing he'd loved me, still believing most things he'd said actually, trying to change my perspective so that I could incorporate him into my healing process, still wanting to beg his forgiveness.
And then he appeared again. He came to LA to visit friends. He came over. At first, it was kinda great. He seemed more relaxed. Maybe we smoked weed. I did. At some point, he said, "I'm sorry about all that horrible shit I said," or thereabouts. I said thank you, and was so grateful for that crumb, as it was and is the only apology he ever offered, but told him I needed more. He brushed it off, and then he told me about his more recent relationship. He told me how deeply he'd fallen for her, the very special things he'd bought or made for her, and how she threw it all away by choosing to go to rehab instead of visiting him for the holidays. He told me explicit details about their sex life that he used to paint her in a very bad light. I listened quietly (I regret this), but it scared me. I was scared for her. I was glad she got away from him.
The next day he invited me to a gathering of his friends, aspiring comedians and weed reviewers. I was very awkward, he seemed to enjoy that, and I left. For a while after, he let me buy weed cartridges for his dad who had cancer, but when I asked again about that apology and said I couldn't continue any sort of relationship without one, he stopped responding. I told him not to contact me again for any reason until he was prepared to make a real apology.
I started seeing the person I eventually married, and moved back to Maryland. I started back with a good therapist who helped me understand that I'd been abused. She asked me several times to go to the police. I didn't know what to do, but don't believe in carceral punishment, or think it'd help him. I considered reaching out to the woman he'd told me about dating but someone else said I might be injuring her further, so I didn't. I told a handful of people we knew mutually, and a few were supportive, but many of those responses were devastating. (Now former) friends refused to hear details, declined to speak up in my defense or to challenge him in any way, made fun of me, and my spouse, for enforcing no-contact boundaries when he sent them on errands to make sure I knew he could and would still reach me when he wanted to.
I tried to write about it and send it to friends. I was yet too incoherent, blamed myself, didn't believe myself, heard his words in my head shaming me. I was so ashamed and embarrassed about my continuing inability to function that I withdrew further and further from everyone I knew.
Finally I wrote a close friend of his, explained that N had crossed the no-contact boundary, and told him some of what I've written here. I explained I was frightened of N and retaliation. I told him I wasn't going to the police, and probably wouldn't ever be able to tell N's parents what happened, but that I just wanted him to stay the fuck away from me. It worked, I think. I thought that was the end of it, and I think other people around me have hoped the same.
I think they've been worried that if I did ever write something like this, I'd be too fragile to handle retaliation. They were right for a long time. For several years following this relationship, I struggled, and tbh still do. I lost all confidence in my ability to think, smoked a lot of weed to cope, lost all routines that helped keep me functionally afloat and many relationships that helped keep me steady, mostly from an almost complete inability to communicate with anyone outside my family.
Unfortunately, I never stopped needing to say it. I need to be unafraid to challenge his version of things, and to do it coherently. I want people that know him to know what he did. I want people that know or knew me to know why I disappeared and became so different, and for a while just the husk of a person. I used to have a strong voice, and I wanted it back.
I do not keep tabs on this person, and it's entirely possible he's made great strides in personal responsibility and accountability in the last few years, but never to me.
I hope that people can understand I was independent, successful, and of sound mind during my early time with N, not that anyone should require defenses against this treatment. It took years to break me down, and it all happened pretty quietly as far as what outsiders were allowed to hear. Even those that loved me very much had no idea what was happening, and I took every opportunity to convince them everything was fine until long after the relationship was over, because I was truly brainwashed. I did have a couple people warning me, to whom I am super grateful for their efforts, but I took his word for everything. I never would have thought I'd end up in that situation. I didn't know how to protect myself, or to trust myself. If I could tell my younger self anything, it'd be to remember that the person I was shielding inside of myself was someone I could trust*.
.Thank you to all of you for reading, and for support. I've been able to work some lately and am thinking about cancelling all the paid subscriptions and re-routing the buy me a coffee link, and will if things continue to improve. I hope this post is a key to unlocking more, and becomes a distant, foggy memory in a sea of posts over time. I'm still learning what has kept me from feeling like it's ok for me to have a voice in the world. I haven't responded to any of your notes (I have read and appreciated them). Beginning to wonder why I made that an option. Anyhow, sincere apologies.
.I was talking to my mom about N yesterday and asked jokingly why (her) christianity doesn't include curses. She told me a story from her youth where she mentally cursed a girl who had the affection of the boy she liked, wishing that the girl fell in a hole, at which point my mom immediately fell in a hole.
*the idea of trusting the person you've been hiding inside of you is borrowed with deep gratitude from Unmasking Autism (Introduction, pp 13) by Dr. Devon Price